At the moment we are in the middle of ‘Pitru Paksha’, which is a time period of 16 days, from the last full moon until the next new moon. These 16 days are dedicated to the dead. According to religious tradition, every Hindu family remembers their ancestors who passed away. Everybody died on one of the days of the phases of the moon, if that is the fifth or the ninth day of the moon or any other. The family thus remembers which of those days it was and on that day celebrates the following way:
You invite some Brahmans and do a ceremony at your home. At least one person has to be invited for each ancestor you are remembering and if you have a stronger belief and enough money, you invite more of them. You then do a ceremony together with them, cook for them and feed them. These Brahmans represent the person who died. If you know your grandfather liked baked potatoes very much, you will make baked potatoes because you are symbolically feeding your grandfather. Before leaving your home again, the Brahmans get some pots, blankets or other household items. If your grandfather died on the second day of the moon and your uncle on the sixth day of the moon, you have to do this ceremony on the second and on the sixth day of the moon.
In those 16 days, Hindu believers additionally follow certain rules. They don’t shave, they don’t cut their hair and they don’t cut their nails. They don’t buy anything new which leads to it that business gets less during those days and shopkeepers call it a slow time. They also don’t do any auspicious activities. They don’t have sex either. Some people don’t even sleep in their beds but on the floor for two weeks. This all shall help your ancestors’ souls to get liberated after death and the gifts shall make their life after death more pleasant.
Many years ago I was in Bombay during these days and a group of Brahmans always came to my lecture in the evenings. They told me that they are extremely busy during these days and that they are overbooked because during these 16 days everybody wants to invite them for food. They told that they went to four or five homes in one day! I was amazed and asked them how they could eat four times lunch in one day? They answered no, they only ate a little bit in each home but they also got money, pots, blankets and other things, so they booked several appointments at different times. The previous year someone gave less money than they expected and so they now started making an agreement before of how much money they will get. If someone is not ready to give enough, they simply refuse and tell him to get another Brahman to eat at his house. During these 16 days they are busy eating in different houses and getting presents and money for it.
I also grew up with this tradition but now I do not believe in Hinduism anymore and don’t participate in such traditions anymore. If I look into my heart now, I believe it is a nice tradition to remember your forefathers with love and keep them in your memory. I see the idea of those 16 days as a nice way of keeping them in your heart. Until this point I can agree with this tradition but then there is the point of inviting Brahmans. Why do we only invite Brahmans, people who were born into a higher caste? If it was me, I would invite a poor and hungry person! Why do you invite someone who goes to four or five such ceremonies, not for the food but for the money? The only criterion for people is that the guest has to be a Brahman. Do you really think that after leaving his body, your grandfather still believes that you should only invite higher caste people? Wouldn’t he, with his real wisdom now, be happy if you invited a really needed person instead of one who has already eaten four times on that day?
This kind of illusion only exists with the limitations of this earth. Once the soul is liberated and free of the body and this material world, rich or poor, high or low does not matter anymore. It is good to show respect to your forefathers and to remember them with love but do it in a wise way and not with the narrow thinking of castes and old traditions.