Wednesday December 19, 2018

Halloween origins in Hinduism

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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.”

 

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

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Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

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Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.