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Halloween in India

Oct/31/2022 / by Akhila Jagan

The festival may have a small following in India, but some local ones are comparable

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Halloween is celebrated worldwide, with children dressing up in costumes, trick or treating, carving pumpkins and telling ghost stories. This festival however, dates back to the eighth century, beginning as a Gaelic festival known as Samhain. It celebrated the seasonal changes and the people who celebrated it believed that during this time they were closer in connection with the dead, similar to the holiday of Yom Kippur, in which the Jews would pray to the dead. This is why Halloween is strongly associated with horror and ghosts. As time went on, the rituals that occurred during these religious festivals were turned into fun celebratory festivities and games by pop culture, for example dressing up in costumes and carving jack o lanterns, which were previously religious rituals carried out by the Celts. The concept of trick or treating, where children knock on doors asking for candy, which if they aren’t given, they play a prank, hence the name ‘trick or treat’, originated from a tradition from the festival “All Souls Day” in which children would knock on neighbors doors asking for “soul cakes”(similar to biscuits).

Halloween is now celebrated with parties and costumes, playing games with friends and putting up horror themed home decorations. However the festival is most common in The United States, Canada and The United Kingdom. The festival has different versions around the world. to name a few Samhain is still celebrated by some in Ireland and Scotland, Ognissant, translating to All Saints’ Day in Italy, Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead, in Mexico, and more!

It is uncommon to celebrate Halloween in India, which has many different religious and belief systems. Many believe that talking about these ghostly spirits may bring bad luck. Besides, most Indians are unaware of the festival other than as a foreign concept. However, a small population in India, particularly in urban and metropolitan cities, do enjoy Halloween. This also may be partly because of the boundaries diminishing due to the access to social media.

While Halloween is not a big thing in India, a few similar festivals are observed in different parts of the country. One is Bhoot Chaturdashi, most commonly celebrated in West Bengal, during which families pray to Chamunda, a feared form of Goddess Kali, to help them keep evil spirits from their homes. During this time, people light up 14 candles in dark corners of their homes to invite and ward away 14 forefathers. They also cook a dish called chothyo saag, which involves 14 leaves, for the same reason.

Another festival, Badabadua Daka, is seen in Odisha, state that borders West Bengal. During this festival, lighted sticks pointed to the sky honor their badabadua (forefathers).

Pitru Paksha is a 16-day festival, in which Hindus honor their ancestors. A tradition involves offering food to one’s forebears and praying that their souls be well looked after in heaven.

Shab’ e Barat is a day Muslims in India pray at their ancestors’ graves.

Indian festivals are commonly based on religious beliefs and are observed differ by the practitioners’ religion and region. Nevertheless they are somewhat similar in spirit in remembering and praying for the departed souls, though the traditions and rituals may be different than that of Halloween.