Flyer for a Halloween party in Mumbai
Indian people have so many festivals for so many religions; do they celebrate Halloween? Nowadays this festival has nothing to do with religion, not even with superstition. But in some countries, it is an unescapable tradition, in others, it is vade retro satanas! What about India?
A Western festival:
Typical Halloween Cake
In the USA, and more generally in English speaking countries, this festival is still really popular. In the end of October,
shop-windows are filled with cheeky pumpkins, dusty witches, fang-shaped candy or black and orange spooky cakes. People organize barbecues, fancy-dress parties and children go Trick-or-Treating in the streets of their neighbourhood and even at school!
By contrast, in other countries like France, Halloween has almost disappeard. It is nearly impossible to find the least Halloween stuff in Paris’s shops. You often have to go to English stores like Mark and Spencer on the Champs Elysées or WHSmith bookshop rue de Rivoli to find a few plastic cobwebs or ghost cookies. In France, Halloween was fashionable during the 90s but people rapidly forgot it: too ugly, too stupid, too close to Christmas, too disrespectful to All Saints’ day and… too American! Yes, the French are sometimes suspicious towards the American culture which is may be considered as vulgar, superficial and which may endanger our own French culture. (see the fight between la Grande Cuisine and fast food restaurants, Hollywood against French cinema, and so on and so forth.)
The origins of Halloween:
Let me tell you a few words about the origins of Halloween because they are interesting to answer the question asked in the title of this post.
To be short, All Hallows’ Eve comes from celtic rituals in Great-Britain and in the North of France. A long time ago, on the 31st of October, the night before All Saints’ Day, the spirits of the dead were supposed to roam about the villages. To prevent them from entering their homes or destroying their harvest, people dressed up as monsters and lit fires to frighten them. They also put food onto their doorsteps to soothe the spirits’ anger and keep them outside. That’s certainly why children go Trick-or-Treating today.
Thus, the origins of Halloween are not American but European although everybody agrees that American people, -to be precise, Irish immigrants- were those who gradually turned this festival into the garish-ghoulish carnival.
Pitru Paksha…: when Hindus celebrate their dead.
But I haven’t answered the question yet! Do Indian people celebrate Halloween?
The answer is no! …and yes!
Like in every civilization, Indians celebrate their dead. But they don’t put flower pots on tombs like in France on the 1st of November, which should be difficult especially in Hindu cemeteries. (Ah! Ah!Ah!)
Pitru Paksha Shraddha
India is well-known for its long and complicated festivals. Pitru Paksha is one of them and lasts for two weeks; ( पितृ means fathers and पक्ष, fortnight). The dates are not always the same because it depends on the full moon day. It can be in September or October…the same season as Halloween! For example, this year, it was from the 1st of October to the 15th of October. During this period, people’s ancestors are supposed to visit their families. To keep the souls peaceful, people, -especially the oldest sons of the family – must perform rituals everyday.
First of all, you draw two flour-feet on the ground. These feet represent the ancestors walking into the houses*. Everyday, you must pray for the dead and give them some food and some water. These offerings are called Shraddha; they usually take place by the water and are guided by a guru. You must make candles float on rivers or ponds to light your ancestors. You also feed the birds because they are the spirits of the dead and the messenger of Yama, the god of Death.
The rules to perform Shraddhas are very complicated; you have to use special ingredients, and specials containers; there are even tutorials on Youtube to learn how to prepare them! In addition, there are different rituals according to the regions: you can fast or avoid eating meat or shave your head…
Finally, if the ancestors are pleased with the Shraddas, they can give health, wealth and even access to moksha – the Hindu salvation – to the person who performed them. Then, you draw two feet walking away on the ground in front of your house to symbolize the ancestors’ departure*.
Stangely enough, I have been surprised by the common points between Pitr Paksha and All Hallows’ Eve Pagan Celtic rituals: feeding the ghosts, trying to satisfy them, lighting fires, the importance of seasons and astrology…the pumpkin (also called yellow gourd) can also be found in the food given to the Hindu ancestors! And somewhere, in a crazy corner of my mind, I can see Rajiv o’ Lantern hanging around aimlessly in the darkness since it is what may happen to the Hindu son who hasn’t performed the Shraddha properly!
*I read this foot story while surfing the web but I think this ritual is not so widespread.
But Today’s Halloween?
Ad for a Halloween Party in Singapour
As far as the modern version of Halloween is concerned, the American trend has definitely influenced a small part of the Indian population. As many Indian people go studying or working in the USA, they often get back to India with Halloween in their suitcases! That’s why many companies in India organize Halloween parties. This festival is considered as something funny and friendly, a way to have fun with your colleagues and pals. In The Times of India, you can find a great deal of pumpkin recipes, dicotheques in cities organize big Halloween nights and Bollywood still remembers Hrithik Roshan’s Halloween Party – a baaash as they like saying there! – in 2010 and I can tell you that seeing Arjun Rampal as the Joker or Fardeen Khan as a Prince Charming… it’s very scary! (click on the link above if you like being scared!)
So, yes, some people celebrate Halloween in India, like in France it is another excuse to put an ugly costume on and go downtown to have fun.
But after all, the real question is: Why should Indian people celebrate an ugly Western festival which has nothing spiritual anymore whereas they only have to wait for a few days to celebrate a moving and beautiful holy day of their own called Diwali?
Trick or Treats?
Wherever you are, these are my little treats for you for Halloween!
The first one is a piece of news!
The Dead is a Zombie movie made by the Ford Brothers. They have prepared the sequel called…I let you guess…The Dead 2!!! And this new film has been shot in India! The teaser is really exciting! I just hope it isn’t too gory. I like being afraid but not desgusted!
My second treat is a Youtube classic that most of you already know but I can’t help showing it today for Halloween! It is a video from Telugu film Donga realeased in 1985. Actor Chiranjeevi, his red latex trousers and his manly moustache have ended up in the Indian Government ever since!
Information taken from Wikipedia, the Hindu Blog and Astrology Vedic Science.