Pitru Paksh Shraddh, Tarpanam or Shraddham are the various names used to describe the rituals performed for the dead relatives and ancestors in Hinduism. Shraddh holds an important place in rituals associated with Hindu religion and it is performed without fail by most Hindus. Apart from the immediate rituals after a death, there are also annual rituals like Pitru Paksh Shraddh in North India and East India, Aadi Amavasai in Tamil Nadu, Karikadaka Vavu Bali in Kerala and Amavasi rituals in other places.
Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita talks about the journey of the dead and about the importance of the rituals dedicated to them. Annual Shraddh is usually performed during the Dakshinayana period (July to December). Prashna Upanishad indicates that the rituals performed on the first Krishna Paksha Amavasi during Dakshinayana period directly reach the Dead. In South India, the first Amavasi after Dakshinayana is considered highly favorable for performing the Shraddham.
Shraddh should be performed with a pious mind. The person who performs the Shraddh should realize that for his birth, body, knowledge, wealth and sanskar he/she is indebted to the ancestors. All that is there was given by the ancestors. So the rituals performed is accepting this fact and is sort of thanksgiving. Both male and female relatives of the dead can perform the rituals.
The rituals including the ‘pind dhan’ that are performed reach the dead ancestors through the rays of Surya (Sun.) It is said that a year of humans is a day for the dead and therefore the ancestors enjoy the fruits of the annual Shraddh throughout the year.
Another belief is that the souls of dead remain in peace in Pitru Loka as a result of the rituals performed by their children or relatives. It is also said that the dead bless them for this and it helps the children and relatives to lead a good life on earth.
Equally important is feeding the poor on the day. Whenever rituals dedicated to the dead are performed, people distribute food and clothes among the poor.
Usually the rituals are performed on a riverbank or on seashore. There are also temples in India where the rituals can be performed. In some places crows are invited to feed on the rice cake that is prepared for the ritual.
The method of performing the rituals slightly varies from region to region. But the essence of the ritual is the same.