31st October is America’s Halloween when ghosts and spirits are celebrated in a light-hearted manner and on the 2nd of November, much of the Christian world observes All Souls’ Day. They go the graves of departed family members, to lay flowers on their tombs and light candles to brighten these desolate cemeteries. The next day happens to be our Bhoot Chaturdashi. Can we see a pattern?
During this period beginning from Pitri Tarpan during Mahalaya or in Diwali (in north India), the line between the living and dead is the thinnest, as spirits are believed to come back to their successors in the world of living. The Markandeya Purana says (XXXII, 38) “when the pitris are delighted with sraddhas, they bestow long life, wisdom, wealth, knowledge, svarga, final emancipation from existence, and joys and sovereignty”.
European scholars say that the Day of the Dead occurs after the last harvest, when the barren earth is thought to give passage to the souls lying beneath it. More than two thousand years ago, the Romans observed Lemuria with public festivals of sacrifices to propitiate evil spirits of the dead.
Celtic civilisations in Europe still hold on to several pre-Christian customs and their festival of Samhain comes at the end of October. Like the Pitri Paksha in Bengali culture, it is a time to remember their ancestors who return home to garner respect and food from their descendants.