Halloween tends to fall bang in the middle of the line of Indian festivals in Autumn such as Durga Puja and Dussehra and often coincides with Diwali or Kali Puja. While the amalgamation of these two festivals where one celebrates life and the other celebrates darkness might seem strange, the true origin of Halloween derives quite a few beliefs from Hinduism among other religions and regional traditions as well.
It was in AD 835, that Pope Gregory IV designated November 1 as All Saints Day or All Hallow’s Day (‘Hallow’ refers to saints), a day for the remembrance of saints and martyred saints. The previous day was called the Hallows evening, later termed ‘Halloween’.
Halloween originated from a celebration by the ancient Druids- the priestly class of the Celtic religion. The Celts were the first Aryans who came from India to settle in Europe. As stated in the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the Celtic religion, presided over by the Druids (the priestly order) presents beliefs in various nature deities and certain ceremonies and practices that are similar to those in Indian religion. The insular Celts and the people of India also shared certain similarities of language and culture, thus indicating a common heritage.”
The Hindu god Siva Pasupati, ‘lord of the animals’, is similar to the Celtic god Cernunnos, a horned god who appears in the yoga position. Savitr, the Hindu ‘god of the sun’ also holds similarities with Celtic god Lug or Lugus, who was perhaps originally a sun god.
The Druids also believed in reincarnation, a belief in Hindu spirituality, and specifically in the transmigration of the soul, which states that people may be reborn as animals.
The Celts, who settled in northern France and the British Isles, engaged in occult arts, worshiped nature. Certain trees or plants, such as oak and mistletoe, were given great spiritual significance. They worshipped the Sun God (Belenus) especially on Beltane, May 1, as their summer festival, and worshiped the Lord of the Dead, on ‘Samhain’, October 31, as their winter festival.
The particular name of the Celtic God of Death for whom the Samhain celebrations are carried out is not known. There was a Celtic hero named Samain or Sawan who supposedly owned a magical cow. However, the similarity in the names of certain other gods to ‘Samhain’ might have contributed to the confusion: Samana (‘the leveler’) is the name of an Aryan God of Death (aka Yama, Sradhadeva, Antaka, or Kritanta) according to the ancient Veda scriptures of Hinduism, and Shamash was the Sun God of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
The Celtic New Year started from November 1 and they believed that on the last night of the year, on October 31, the Lord of Death gathered the souls of the evil dead condemned to enter the bodies of animals. He then decided what animal form they would take for the next year. The souls of the good dead were reincarnated as humans.
Halloween is a cross-quarter date, approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. There are four cross-quarter dates throughout the year, where each is a minor holiday: Groundhog Day (Feb 2nd), May Day (May 1st), Lammas Day (Aug 1st), and Halloween (Oct 31st).
It was believed that those who had died in the preceding year were allowed to return to their early homes for a few hours on this day to associate with their families. “Halloween marked the transition between summer and winter, light and dark — and life and death. On that one night, according to folklore, those who had died during the previous year returned for a final visit to their former homes. People set out food and lit fires to aid them on their journey — but remained on guard for mischief the spirits might do.” (Spooky Astronomy. http://spaceweather.com/ present 10/31/07).
The veil between the living and the dead is believed to be the thinnest on the night of October 31 and bonfires are lit on hilltops to honour the sun god Belenus, and keep away the evil spirits. The donning of masks and costumes came about as a means of pretending that people were being pursued by evil spirits.
The Druids believed that the shapes of various fruits and vegetables could help divine the future. Human sacrifice victims were also used for the same purpose. When Britain was conquered by the Romans, their customs intermingled with the Celtic traditions to create a new celebration where certain Celtic aspects such as human sacrifice, were banned.
Several festivals worldwide celebrate a time when the dead return to mingle with the living. A feast of the dead is celebrated by the Iroquois Native Americans every 12 years, when all those who have died during the preceding 12 years are honored with prayers. The Mexican All Souls’ Day falls on November 2 and is celebrated for several days. The souls of the dead return to the living and doors are decorated with flowers to welcome the souls of children called angelitos.
The Ullambana Sutra speaks of the story of Mahamaudgalyayana, a disciple of Buddha, whose mother had been reborn into a lower realm. Buddha’s instructions to his student are similar to the modern day Halloween practices, which is to offer food and pray for the souls of both living and dead relatives.
Thus Halloween definitely doesn’t originate from a Western or Christian culture. Ruth Hutchison and Ruth Adams, in Every Day’s A Holiday rightly says that the Halloween celebration “probably combines more folk customs the world around than will ever be sorted out, catalogued and traced to their sources.”