Halloween A Pop Culture Hit But India Has It’s Own Days Of The Dead

In the internet age, culture travels easily and the most exciting part of any culture is its festivals. While India itself is home to a multitude of its own festivals, the country has over the years adopted various festivals from the West – New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day. these occasions have become commonplace across the country and are celebrated or acknowledged by much of the population in both urban and rural India. But, one festival that though popular in films and pop cultures, but has failed to capture the overall spirit of festivities in India is the festival of All Sants’ Day, better known as’ Halloween ‘. Despite gaining popularity among urban youth in recent years, the phenomenon remains relegated to certain sections of urban partygoers and horror movie buffs.

In the West, All Saints’ Day is celebrated to honor the dead ancestors – it is believed that their souls come to visit, on this day. But the modern-day Halloween draws its roots from the Celtic festival of Samhain. It was a harvest festival to mark winter. Its origin dates back to a thousand years. It is said that on this day, spirits were believed to visit the Earth and people wore costumes and lit bonfires to ward off the ghost. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as All Saints’ Day. But the occasion was moved to November 1, the date if Samhain, in the next century. Historians see it as an attempt by Christianity to appropriate the Pagan holiday of Samhain. November 1, thus became All Saints’ / Souls Day, and October 31, the eve before that, became Halloween.

The entry of the festival into pop- culture, however, transformed it. Though started as a religious festival, Halloween today has become a largely secular holiday, enjoyed mostly by children and young adults in the west who dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. American shows and sitcoms exported the idea everywhere. Practices like carving spooky pumpkins, wearing absurd costumes, over-the-top makeup, horror-themed parties – transformed this festival into a capitalist extravaganza. But in India, Halloween celebrations remain a niche.

Nevertheless, India has its own ways and days to remember its dead ancestors. Unlike the west, though, Indians do not use horror and ghosts as a metaphor for the dead. Instead, they remember the dead by observing fasts and offering special prayers. One such festival is Narak Chaturdashi, celebrated on the 14th day of Krishna Paksh of Kartik Month. On this day, 14 forefathers are called through rituals and prayers and then warded off.

In West Bengal, the day is known as ‘Bhoot Chaturdashi’ and is celebrated before Kali Puja (Diwali in north India). On this day, it is believed that the veil between this and the netherworld is thin and ancestors descend upon the world to bless their families. To show the 14 forefathers around the house, 14 diyas are placed around the house so that the forefathers don’t get lost.

A man performing Pitru Paksh rituals
A man performing Pitru Paksh rituals Shutterstock

Another festival is Pitru Paksha, a 16-day- festival phase when ancestors are remembered. During this period, Hindus perform rituals to make departed ancestors happy by offering food and water. It is a festival to make sure that a family is taking care of their ancestors even after their soul has departed to heaven. Muslim community celebrate Shab-e-Barat on the 14th night of Sha’aban. They celebrate it by praying at the graves of their loved ones. It is believed that Allah writes the destiny of all based on deeds for the next year.Apart from these, there are various other festivals and family-specific rituals to remember departed souls.

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