If you go by the Sanskrit meaning of Shradh, this is an act performed with purity of hearth and deep faith as by performing Shradh we offer to our forefathers, what we were unable to offer them during their physical existence on earth. According to Hindu life style, Shradh is time to remember forefathers who left the physical world for heavenly abode. This is said that there is yet another universe between the physical one and heaven called Pitra Lok. Every departed soul has to wait there for a period of three generations and can go to heaven to become one identity with God, only after reaching of fourth generation to Pitra Lok.
According to history actually Shradh or Pitra Pakash as called in northern India, starts with Sun entering into Tula Rashi and ends when sun goes to Vishrak Rashi it takes time period of one month and during this time souls can’t rest in Pitra Lok so they are allowed to visit and live with descendents at earth. Out of this time period, time from the Satnarayan/ Purnima [Full Moon Day] of Hindu month Bhadrapada to Umas / Amavas [New Moon Day], 16 lunar days are treated as the Shradh or Pitra Paksh. It usually starts immediately after the Ganeshotsav often next day of Anant Chaturthi.
Observation of day of performing Shradh of a particular ancestor is decided by the Brahman on the bases of lunar day on which death happens to be. If you don’t know the day you can perform on the last day called Sarv Pitra Amavasiya or consult local Brahaman.
Reason of Observing Shradh or Pitra Paksh
After the war of Mahabharat Karan who had fame of unmatched quality of donating, was offered direct entrance to heaven on account of this act. He was offered Gold and other precious goods as food on asking he was replied that he has never offered food to his forefathers so he is not eligible for normal food. Karna went to Indira, the King of heaven and told as he was not aware of his ancestors so how can he offer food to their souls. Indira allowed Karna to return back to earth for fortnight and perform Shradh of his ancestors. Since that day observation of Shradh or Pitra Paksh started.
Significance of Shradh or Pitra Paksh
According to Garuda Purana and Markandeya Purana this is the moral duty of son to perform Shradh of his deceased father and other ancestors [Pitra] as this one of important step for salvation. This is also believed that observation of Shradh might make happy to ancestors and they bless the performer with health, wealth, long life and even salvation.
Rituals associated with Shrad
On the day of Shradh, Brahaman comes to home on pre fixed time. A Small Pooja is performed and after that Brahaman is invited to have food. Before eating Brahaman gives a small quantity from all the food stuffs, which are kept outside of house, often at roof of house. This is believed that if crows comes and eats the food is reached to forefathers for whom Shradh was performed. Finally Dakshna [Cash] and other things are offered to Brahaman.
In the Sindhi family Seero, Puri / Pudi, Kadhi, Chanvar are the most common food stuff along with fruits and sweet. In many family on this day usually all those food recipes are prepared which were liked by the deceased soul.
In India considering the population this has become almost impossible for Brahamans to be present at every Shradh of the city or area so new tradition has been started according to which unmarried younger girls are invited for having food of Shradh.
Pitaran Ji Umas or Sarv Pitra Amavasiya
On this day small space adjoining to outer door of home cleaned and purified with cow dung and water. An uncooked round shaped “Rot” is made from the wheat flour and Diya is kept on it. Almost at the time close to sunset, every member of family with remembrance of ancestors offers Rice and water. This is taken to nearby river and kept floating on water. This marks the end of fortnight of Shradh or Pitra Paksh.