Thursday, 27 October 2016

Halloween and Bhoot Chaturdashi !

Just a few days away from the famously scary festival of Halloween, this year, I find myself in North America, amusingly in the seat of the pumpkin carving, howling and wailing, trick-or-treating, supposedly scary celebration of the spirits and ghosts from the other world! Halloween is not new to me, but something which I hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy from close quarters hitherto.

The festival traces its roots to the very old Celtic and Gaelic rituals of celebrating “Samhain”, during harvest times, of honoring and warding off the spirits of the dead. As tradition and superstition blend together even in modern day Halloween concepts, people cling to their beliefs of not crossing paths with black cats or passing beneath a leaning ladder, believing that witches still disguise themselves as black cats to avoid detection or ghosts easily get attracted to leaning ladders.

What was once observed as “All Saints Day” and the eve prior as Hallow’s Eve has now christened itself to Halloween, the funny yet scary event that kids and grown-ups alike, look forward to. While there have been many myths weaved around Halloween to make it appear scarier, tradition still holds that the spirits of the dead return to the earth on this night! And as they do, they tend to create more confusion than joy, thus scaring away the living to their fears’ end! Hence, people want to carve out pumpkins and turn them into lighted lanterns, leave food outside their homes, and light large bonfires in the fields to mis-lead and ward off the evil fairy spirits from the neighbourhood.

Passing through the streets of the Canadian capital and seeing Halloween preparations at almost every turn, I cannot help but be amused. Also, my childhood memory of our very own Bengali “Bhoot Chaturdashi” seems to come back very strongly in the spirit of Halloween! 

A ritual celebrated on the fourteenth night of the moon’s cycle at this time of the year, and just preceding the worship of the goddess Kali, Bhoot Chaturdashi is a simple yet sinister celebration without doubt. Fourteen earthen prayer lamps (now replaced by candles in many homes) are lighted and placed in different locations and corners of the home; it is believed that these lamps burn to ward off evil spirits.

Goddess Kali, the slayer of all monsters and ghostly spirits, is in herself quite unnerving to behold in some of her avatars, and heralding her arrival it is believed that all the creepy and spooky creatures of the netherworld run helter-skelter the night before! That these spirits do not hide in any dark corner, or cast their evil spells, people light the earthen prayer lamps in their homes. 

Children in many a Bengali household even today run around behind their elders fanning away such imaginary spirits as the lamps are dutifully placed in every room! The delight and fun in this activity is forever etched in childhood memories!

So, with the pumpkin lanterns of Halloween and the decorated earthen lamps of Bhoot Chaturdashi, ghosts and spirits of every form, shape and size that haunt the world, certainly do not enjoy such frightening  ‘fun and abandon’ by us at their expense, this time every year!

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