Shraadh is performed every year on the anniversary of the death of the person as per the Panchang or during the dark fortnight called Pitri Paksha. The Mahalaya Shraadh is performed during a fortnight called as the " Pitru paksha" in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu Vikram samvat. The Pitri- Paksha usually falls falls between 27th September 2007 and 11th October 2007. Shraadh can also be performed on every New Moon day or " Amavasya".
During the period of the Shraadh, the relatives of the deceased only take vegetables, protein-less food, and sunned rice without salt. Sons of the deceased shave their head on the day prior to Shraadh and observe various rituals. On the day of the obsequies, the karta treats his family, the priests and even the neighbours to a feast prepared according to their means. People also donate clothes and other items to Brahmins and relations. A Shraadh is actually performed for three generations of Pitris (the father, the grand-father and the great grand-father), or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, grandfather and great grandfather.
During the Shraadh offerings of round balls of rice, flour along with accompaniments of sacred grass, flowers is made, along with repetitions of mantras and texts from the Sam Veda. The entire ceremony is conducted at any sacred spot such as the margin of a river. A person who performs Shraadh is known as the "Karta" and he invites Brahmins on that day and performs a "Homa" as way of expressing his heartfelt gratitude and thanks to his parents and ancestors. The karta offers food to the Pitra by putting cooked rice and vegetable into the fire in very small quantities and also adding just a small piece of cooked vegetable. He serves and treats them with all hospitality and finally does "pinda Pradaana". The Brahmin priest helps the Karta to perform the ritual.
Similarly, there are a series of actions to be performed and karta repeats the mantras after the priest and performs the actions as instructed by the former. In addition, to the main priest, two more brahmins are invited to the house during the ritual. Through mantras, one is nominated as the Pitra and the other as the guide; hence the karta is supposed to imagine they are his own father, grandfather and great grandfather and treat them as such with all respect. After the ritual is over, the Karta then gives "dakshina" to the priests and only after the consent of the priests, he and his family have the food. The karta also shows respect to the Brahmins, like giving a foot-wash and dress consisting of cotton dhoti.
There are 12 types of Shraadh in the Hindu religion. These are explained as follows:
1. Nitya Shraadh: In this ceremony sesame seeds, grains, water, milk, fruit, vegetables and food are offered to the departed soul daily.
2. Neimitik Shraadh: It is also known as Ekodisht Shraadh and here, food is offered to an odd number of priests say 1, 3, or 5 in number.
3. Kaamya Shraadh: Here, prayers and respect is offered to the departed soul with the aim of fulfilment of some wish.
4. Vriddhi Shraadh: It is done for gain of prosperity and children. Only those people who have gone through Upanayan Samskar should perform it.
5. Sapindan Shraadh:Here four clean vessels are taken and in each some water mixed with fragrance and sesame seeds is taken. These four are symbolic of Pretaatma (wandering spirits), Pitaatmaa (spirits of higher souls), Devaatmaa (spirits which are divine) and other unknown souls. Then the water from the first vessel is poured into the second.
6. Paarvann Shraadh: It is done on a moonless night or on some special occasion.
7. Goshtth Shraadh: It is done for the gain of cattle.
8. Shurdhyarth Shraadh: It is done with the help of priests for gain of wealth, amd for appeasing scholars and ancestors.
9. Karmaang Shraadh: Here, prayers are offered to the ancestors when a woman becomes pregnant or when Seemaantonayan and Punsavan Samskars are being accomplished.
10. Deivik Shraadh:Here, oblations are made with ghee in the holy fire for good luck in travels and to seek the well wishes of deities.
11. Oupcharik Shraadh: It is done for physical health and riddance from diseases.
12. Saanvatsarik Shraadh: It is the best among all Shraadhs and it is accomplished on the day on which the soul departed. It is a very important ritual for in the text Bhavishya Purann Lord Sun says - I do not accept the prayers of a person who does not perform Saanvatsarik Shraadh and neither do Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra and other deities.
Hence, one should surely carry out this ritual each year on the day the ancestor passed away. Since Shraadh is one of the most important it is imperative that the karta should perform the same, with faith, devotion and reverence. Only then, will the true intent of the ritual be fulfilled and the performer of the ritual feel completely gratified. The ceremonies performed during Pitr-Paksha have very special effects. According to a legend, the offerings during the Shraadh to the departed reach the "Pitris" immediately, due to a boon from Lord Yama (the God of death). It is also stated in the texts that a person who does not accomplish the Shraadh of his dead parents has to suffer much in life and even after. He may even be born in lower planes of existence as a result.