The Great Indian Halloween – Maybe Not That Western After All
Welcome, bhoot ji, as tonight you wobble back home to your purkho ki haveli from your heavenly abode. Why tonight of all nights? Oh, for ‘tis Halloween!
Now, many of us desi fanatics will shake our heads and express offence over India celebrating Halloween. They will argue, ‘Why should we celebrate a Western holiday when we already have so many of our own? Why oh why this colonial hangover!’ But, bhoot ji, they seem to forget.
Isn’t it a common tradition here to keep aside a part of our meals for the dead forefathers? To feed crows believing they are the forefathers? Aren’t we taught and told that our dead relatives are watching over us, and that they often return among the living? Then why bother frowning upon a day when the dead are believed to stop by to say hi?
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Halloween Too American?
Then let’s put it this way. Indians celebrate Christmas, right? And also Easter and Good Friday. These days are marked away on our Indian calendars as days celebrated by the Christians among us (‘cause they number about 28 million in the country). Halloween, as it happens, is a Christianised holiday too (what are the odds!).
Though its deep roots are set in the Celtic ritual of Samhain, Halloween as we know it today – or All Hallow’s eve – is the anglicised day of remembrance for the dead. It falls on the eve before the Christian holy days of All Saints' day on 1 November, followed by All Souls' Day on 2 November. Ask any of your Christian friends, and they’ll tell you what a big deal it is for many to head to the cemeteries and pray for the dead on these days.
Long story short, not that we need another festival, but if we have to squeeze in Halloween between Durga Puja and Diwali, we’ll be taking one for the team, and not Americans.
Coming back to the origins, historians will tell you that Halloween stems from the ancient pagan traditions of the Celts (in Ireland) on Samhain, the harvest festival that marked the end of summer.
If that story doesn’t scream ‘Bollywood’, our mortal lives in India have been a lie.
Still not buying Halloween? We’ll do you one better.
Bhoot Chaturdashi, the Desi Halloween
O Stree, aaj aana.
But in case our Indian doors are closed for you on All Hallow’s eve, stop by on Bhoot Chaturdashi, won’t you?
Wondering what that is? It’s Halloween’s kumbh-ke-mele-mein-bichhra-hua Hindustani bhai.
Celebrated in Bengal on the night before Kali Pujo, Bhoot Chaturdashi is all about spirits and their return to planet Earth. On this day, many Bengalis cook 14 kinds of leafy greens and light 14 lamps to appease the spirits of their 14 forefathers, as in the Choddo Purush.
The popular belief is that on the eve of Kali Puja – or the 14th day of Krishna Paksha – spirits of dead ancestors come to visit their living family, and the lamps help them find their way.
Ain’t that sweet? And so similar to the plot of the movie Coco, which shows the celebration of the Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos – the Day of the Dead.
See? It’s a small world. And it’s a short life, so celebrate as many as festivals as you can before your die. Maybe then, you’ll be able to come back to haunt your relatives on Halloween every year.