The fortnight-long “Pitrapaksh” period during which the Hindus consider it auspicious to offer “pindadan” or religious service seeking salvation for the dead began in Gaya on Wednesday, officials said.
More than half a million Hindu pilgrims are likely to visit Gaya during this period, an official of the Gaya district administration said.
“The district administration has made elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims,” he added.
However, the state tourism department officials claimed that they expect nearly one million pilgrims in Gaya, about 100 km from Patna.
The administration has this year decided to run e-rickshaws for elderly pilgrims.
According to district officials, Hindus from across India and abroad gather in the holy town, which has a history of 4,000 years, for the ritual.
“Pindadan” is traditionally offered on the banks of the Falgu river nearby.
The 15 days of the waning moon during the Hindu month of Ashwin is known as “pitrapaksh”. It began this year on September 6 and will end on September 16.
As per Hindu beliefs, the soul wanders after death until “pindadan” is performed. “The soul keeps wandering till this ritual is performed by male descendants of the dead,” said Gaywal Panda, a Hindu priest.
It is mandatory for Hindu devotees offering “pindadan” to shave their heads and take a holy dip and head for the Baitarni pond.
The prayers are performed at the famous Vishnupad temple named after Hindu god Vishnu. Priests known as Gaywal-pandas conduct the rituals.
The festival was officially inaugurated on Tuesday by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi at the temple.
Legend has it that Lord Rama and his wife Sita performed this ritual for his father.