Faith, myth, heritage, superstition and ethnic practices make up the intricate body of a religion. Scientific, objective, economic, socialistic, etc. do not suit here. Every religious practice is intimately known to the common people as a part of their tradition. Halloween is the evening before the All Hallow or All Saints Day on 1st November each year. We do not know it intimately from here unless we become a part of it. But we know it through others like the one of us now settled in the US, Jhumpa Lahiri, the fiction writer. We get a reference to Halloween in one of her short stories, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, in her book, interpreter of maladies.
“One day in October Mr. Pirzada asked upon arrival, ‘What are these large orange vegetables on people’s doorsteps? A type of squash?’
‘Pumpkins,’ my mother replied. . . .
‘And the purpose? It indicates what?’
‘You make a jack-O’-lantern,’ I said, grinning ferociously.
‘Like this. To scare people away.’
Then there is a story of how they curved a face out of the pumpkin and finally it was hung at their door.
“For Halloween I was a witch. Dora, my trick-or-treating partner, was a witch too. We wore black capes fashioned from dyed pillowcases and conical hats with wide cardboard brims. We shaded our faces green with a broken eye shadow that belonged to Dora’s mother, and my mother gave us two barlap sacks that had once contained basmati rice, for collecting candy.”
To clear the doubt and fear of Mr. Pirzada the narrator’s mother said, ‘All the children will be out. It’s a tradition.’
It was a dark evening. The story continues, “We went from house to house, walking along pathways and pressing doorbells. Some people had switched off all their lights for effect, or strung rubber bats in their windows. At the McIntyres’ a coffin was placed in front of the door, and Mr. McIntyre rose from it in silence, his face covered with chalk, and deposited a fistful of candy corns into our sacks. . . . As we paved our way with the parallel beams of our flashlights we saw eggs cracked in the middle of the road, and cars covered with shaving cream, and toilet paper garlanding the branches of trees. By the time we reached Dora’s house our hands were chapped from carrying our bulging burlap bags, and our feet were sore and swollen.”
Sometime, usually in September, Lord Ganesh is worshipped. With him the auspicious season of pujas begin in India which continues to the end of October or the beginning of November. Durga puja is celebrated in Bengal with Navaratri and Dashera in the northern parts of India and finally comes the days of Deepavali or the festival of lamps. It coincides with Kali puja in Bengal. These are seasons when the mother Goddess is worshipped, except Ganesh the male God, who are considered the Victors over the demons. The season signifies the Vijaya or victory. The final day for Deepavali is on the new moon night.
Lighting lamps and burning crackers in celebration of Deepavali are the forms of firebrand, showing illumined path to the ancestors; worshipping Bali, yama and other demons along with Lakshmi shows a relation of fire with the dead. Fire has been held as the symbol of rebirth and resurrection. On the Christian All-Souls-Day in Mexico, in the month of November, it is said that the beings already dead join their family. All flock once in a year. In Japan, during ancestor worshipping, all flock to the cemeteries and light lamps all around the place. In Cambodia people offer their ancestors food as in India. In Belgium, a day in early November is fixed to remember their ancestors. In India Chhat puja is held and at the end which is worshipping the Sun. The autumn, the approach of winter and in the winter, the season with Christmas lengthening it to New Year Days are somehow marked as the eerie season when the ancient people sensed some contact with those who left them long back. Even the Christmas celebration includes welcoming the ancestors in some part of the globe. Halloween too suggests the same ideas through its celebration. The modern global village is the off shoot of the electronic, scientific and technological age but ancient global village was linked by strong human faith in the other world bridging the living with the dead. Halloween links us with the past as most other festivals.
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2009