Pitris (devanāgarī: पितृ pitṛ, plural: pitara) is a Sanskrit term that means "fathers". There are two classes of Pitris in Hinduism: the human and the divine. The human pitris (manuṣyāḥ pitaraḥ) are the spirits of the departed ancestors. They are often remembered annually. The divine Pitris (devāḥ pitaraḥ) are gods of different origins, forms, grades, and abodes, regarded to be the progenitors of mankind.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky used this term in her writings to refer to the divine fashioners of humanity:
Pitris (Sk.). The ancestors, or creators of mankind. They are of seven classes, three of which are incorporeal, arupa, and four corporeal. In popular theology they are said to be created from Brahmâ’s side. They are variously genealogized, but in esoteric philosophy they are as given in the Secret Doctrine.
Occultism defines and limits the number of primordial races to seven, because of the “seven progenitors,” or prajâpatis, the evolvers of beings. These are neither gods, nor supernatural Beings, but advanced Spirits from another and lower planet, reborn on this one, and giving birth in their turn in the present Round to present Humanity.
Divine Pitris in Hinduism
There are seven classes of the devāḥ pitaraḥ (divine Pitris). Three of them are amurtayah (incorporeal; composed of intellectual, not elementary substance) while the other four are samurtayah (corporeal). The names and function of the different classes of Pitris vary considerably in different texts. The commonest classification is given below:
1. Agnishvātta are the pitṛs of the gods.
2. Barhishad are the pitṛs of the demons.3. Vairāja are the pitṛs of the great ascetics.
4. Somapa are the pitṛs of the brāhmins.
5. Havishmat are the pitṛs of the kshattriyas.7. Sukālin are the pitṛs of the of the śudras.
6. Ājyapa are the pitṛs of the vaiśyas.
There is an eight category sometimes listed:
8. Vyāma, "fumes", the pitṛs of the barbarians.
The Rig Veda and Manu make two independent classes: those who kept up the household flame (Agni-dagdhas) and those who did not keep it up (Anagni-dagdhas). The Vishnu Purana identifies the Barishads with the fromer and the Agnishwāttas with the latter.
Mme. Blavatsky's interpretation
Regarding the question of the "sacred fire", Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
Exoteric Hindu books mention seven classes of Pitris, and among them two distinct kinds of Progenitors or Ancestors: the Barhishad and the Agnishwatta; or those possessed of the “sacred fire” and those devoid of it. Hindu ritualism seems to connect them with sacrificial fires, and with Grihasta Brahmins in earlier incarnations: those who have, and those who have not attended as they should to their household sacred fires in their previous births. The distinction, as said, is derived from the Vedas. The first and highest class (esoterically) the Agnishwatta, are represented in the exoteric allegory as Grihasta (Brahman-householders) who, in their past births in other Manvantaras having failed to maintain their domestic fires and to offer burnt sacrifices, have lost every right to have oblations with fire presented to them. Whereas the Barhishad, being Brahmins who have kept up their household sacred fires, are thus honoured to this day. Thence the Agnishwatta are represented as devoid of, and the Barhishad as possessed of, fires.
But esoteric philosophy explains the original qualifications as being due to the difference between the natures of the two classes: the Agnishwatta Pitris are devoid of fire (i.e., of creative passion), because too divine and pure (vide supra, Sloka 11th); whereas the Barhishad, being the lunar spirits more closely connected with Earth, became the creative Elohim of form, or the Adam of dust.
Pitris in Theosophy
According to H. P. Blavatsky our humanity had divine ancestors:
“Divine origin” does not mean here a revelation from an anthropomorphic god on a mount amidst thunder and lightning; but, as we understand it, a language and a system of science imparted to the early mankind by a more advanced mankind, so much higher as to be divine in the sight of that infant humanity. By a “mankind,” in short, from other spheres; an idea which contains nothing supernatural in it.
In her writings Blavatsky called these divine ancestors "Pitris", although she declared this is not the term used in the Esoteric Philosophy:
The term Pitris is used by us in these Slokas to facilitate their comprehension, but it is not so used in the original Stanzas, where they have distinct appellations of their own, besides being called “Fathers” and “Progenitors.”
There are seven classes of Pitris, as shown below, three incorporeal and four corporeal; and two kinds, the Agnishwatta and the Barhishad. And we may add that, as there are two kinds of Pitris, so there is a double and a triple set of Barhishad and Agnishwatta. The former, having given birth to their astral doubles, are reborn as Sons of Atri, and are the “Pitris of the Demons,” or corporeal beings, on the authority of Manu (III., 196); while the Agnishwatta are reborn as Sons of Marichi (a son of Brahmâ), and are the Pitris of the Gods (Manu again, Matsya and Padma Purânas and Kulluka in the Laws of the Manavas, III., 195).* Moreover, the Vâyu Purâna declares all the seven orders to have originally been the first gods, the Vairâjas, whom Brahmâ “with the eye of Yoga, beheld in the eternal spheres, and who are the gods of gods”; and the Matsya adds that the Gods worshipped them; while the Harivansa (S. I, 935) distinguishes the Virâjas as one class of the Pitris only—a statement corroborated in the Secret Teachings, which, however, identify the Virâjas with the elder Agnishwattas † and the Rajasas, or Abhutarajasas, who are incorporeal without even an astral phantom.
THE Progenitors of Man, called in India “Fathers,” Pitara or Pitris, are the creators of our bodies and lower principles. They are ourselves, as the first personalities, and we are they. Primeval man would be “the bone of their bone and the flesh of their flesh,” if they had body and flesh. As stated, they were “lunar Beings.” The Endowers of man with his conscious, immortal EGO, are the “Solar Angels”—whether so regarded metaphorically or literally. The mysteries of the Conscious EGO or human Soul are great. The esoteric name of these “Solar Angels” is, literally, the “Lords” (Nath) of “persevering ceaseless devotion” (pranidhâna). Therefore they of the fifth principle (Manas) seem to be connected with, or to have originated the system of the Yogis who make of pranidhâna their fifth observance (see Yoga Shastra, II., 32.) It has already been explained why the trans-Himalayan Occultists regard them as evidently identical with those who in India are termed Kumâras, Agnishwattas, and the Barhishads.
- Barborka, Geoffrey A. The Peopling of the Earth. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. See the chapters on "The Lunar Pitris" and "The Lords of the Flame."
- Pitris at Theosopedia
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 254-255.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 611.
- Benjamin Walker, The Hindu World vol. I, "Ancestors", (New York, Frederick A. Praeger, 1968), 40.
- John Dowson, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology, "Pitris" (London, Routedge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1968), 236.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 77-78.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 309.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 34, fn.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 89.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 88.