Halloween: A Festival of the Dead and Its Role in India

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Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of ‘Samhain’ when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. It’s been known as the ‘Festival of the Dead’ as the first night of Halloween shows us how wicked the world was before the great flood. The second night is all about the people who survived from the severe flood and finally, the last night is about those who would beget the earth.

So why is Halloween not a very popular tradition in India?

Every country has its own way of celebrating the dead. India is known for its long and stressful spirit festivals. Pitru Paksha is one of them and lasts for around two weeks (Pitru-Father to Paksha fortnight). It doesn’t always occur on the same date as it depends on the sighting of the full moon which can be either in September or October. During this time, in order to keep the souls at peace, the eldest son of a family is expected to perform rituals everyday.

Firstly, two feet are drawn on the ground from a paste mixture of rice flour and water. These foot impressions symbolize ancestors walking into the houses. During this time prayers are conducted and food and water is offered, which is called shraddha. This usually takes place by a river and is guided by a priest. Candles are lit and placed on the river and also birds are fed as they are spirits of the dead and messengers of Yama, the god of death.

The methods of performing shraddha vary across regions of India. Some may fast, or avoid eating non-vegetarian food, or others choose to shave their heads to mark shraddha.

If the souls are finally put at rest and pleased, they give health, wealth, well-being and even give them moksha, the Hindu form of salvation to the person who performed them. Then, two rice flour foot impressions walking away are drawn to represent the ancestors’ departure.

Oddly, there are some similarities between Pitru Pakshka and Hallow Eve pagan Celtic rituals. These include feeding the ghosts (ancestors), lighting fires (candles), and trying to make the spirits happy. Additionally, the pumpkin can be found in the meal given to Hindu ancestors.

Brought about by our addiction to American soap operas, the tradition of Halloween celebrations has caught up in India as well, as many youngsters enrol in higher education or work in the USA. They often return with the idea of Halloween ingrained in them, which in turn has increasingly led companies in India to organize their own Halloween parties. These are considered jovial affairs and a great way to bond with your colleagues and friends.

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Local newspapers advertise such Halloween parties and Bollywood has entered into the tradition particularly. One of the most memorable parties which took place in the film fraternity of India was actor Hrithik Roshan’s Bollywood party in 2010 where fellow actor, Arjun Rampal, dressed up as a joker.

If Halloween was a commonly-celebrated Indian festival, ‘trick or treat’ would be known as ‘chakma ya dawat’ (‘deceit or feast’) and instead of candy, ladoo (Indian sweets) would be given out. It’s also likely that Halloween costumes would be heavily inspired by the hit anthology horror TV series, Darr Sabko Lagta Hai, which aired for two series between 2015 and 2016.

In summary, some sections of Indian society celebrate Halloween, but overall, it’s not recognised as much as in other countries.

For a somewhat Indian-themed Halloween movie ‘The Dead 2’ is a sequel Zombie movie made by Ford Brothers and was shot in India. Do take a look and hopefully, it’s not too frightening!

Lastly, I wish one and all a ‘Spooktacular Halloween’!

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