Hinduism and Halloween

In the middle of the holiest time of the Hindu year, with nearly non-stop holidays, it’s strange to shift gears and remember that here in America, Halloween will leap right into the middle of the holiday season.

I’m not really sure what to do with Halloween in my life. It’s been years, of course, since I “trick or treated” (and I tended to dislike the trick or treating, being shy and self-conscious about knocking on stranger’s doors and demanding things from them), and I don’t have children yet. As an adult, I do usually get dressed up in a costume and go to a party that my friends host every year. It’s a nice tradition. Fun to see everyone and fun to dress differently from normal (I nearly always go as a character from a book or TV show).

But then Diwali comes up at nearly (and sometimes exactly) the same time. Two such different events. One about light and newness and the other about death and fear.

Vineet Chander is far better able than I to explain the mix of feelings for a Hindu American around Halloween in her post Trick or Treat? Not Quite Sure.

Her experience is different from mine, since her parents are immigrants from India…

“‘What kind of depressing holiday is this supposed to be, anyway?’ my Mom would ask, disapproval in her voice as she suspiciously surveyed the plastic skeletons and cardboard tombstones now decorating our neighbors’ lawns. ‘A waste of time,’ my father would mutter even as he begrudgingly bought bags of cheap candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters. (Some of their more orthodox Hindu friends had even stronger objections to the holiday. ‘All this meditating on death and gore, and openly celebrating ghosts and goblins! It’s ashubh, inauspicious.’)”

Not that Hindus don’t meditate upon death in our own way. Creation and destruction paired together. Kali’s intensity in forcing us to see what is frightening. But to give power to ghosts and demons does seem like rather a poor idea (As one saying goes: “where the eye goes, the mind goes; where the mind goes, the heart goes.”)

Chandar explores costume issues, discussing first how her parents realized they could easily dress her up in Indian clothes and call that a costume and then how dressing as Hindu Gods and Goddesses could be problematic (despite several Hindu holidays where children are dressed up as Krishna or Rama).

“Does it denigrate Hinduism to have a portrayal of Lord Krishna soliciting candy door-to-door alongside Spiderman or Harry Potter? Are we putting divinity in the same character as fictional superheroes or, worse yet, freaks and creatures that only get to come out into the light of day once a year? And what does that communicate about Hinduism among other faiths?”

She includes a discussion of Heidi Klum’s choice to dress as Kali a while back.

You should definitely go and read her whole article. It brings up so many important issues.

***

There aren’t easy answers on how to integrate Halloween in your life as an American Hindu. Different people have different thoughts about it. Apni Soch suggests that Hindus can use this opportunity to display Ramayana decorations and invite conversation about Hindu lore.

The only thing I’m certain of is that “Indian princess” costumes sold mass market and labeled as “sexy” are a problem. A sari is a modest form of dress appropriate to wear at temple, so this description billing it as “sexy” is really disturbingly wrong.

Orange Sari India Costume – India Costume – Adult Costumes – This lovely and sexy adult Orange Sari includes the Sari and Top.

It seems like the only place right now where Halloween and Hinduism are intersecting is racism.


Well, at least she also did a Biblical costume a couple years before. No. Actually, that doesn’t make this any better. (Even sadder, the person who compiled her costumes for this article doesn’t know what her Kali costume is. Sigh.)

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

    It all keeps coming back to context for me.

    “Harvest festivals” and Biblical characters are easily recognizable in a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture. Put a girl in a long light blue dress and give her a baby doll with a halo, and most Americans would be pretty sure to know exactly who she’s supposed to be. (Not to mention that this image mimics art that the culture is familiar with, likely not what Mary and Jesus actually looked like)

    But the first time I heard the name Kali was in regards to Christian missions in India, talking about this “terrifying goddess” with blood and a necklace of skulls and wondering how people can even worship such an “evil” being when there is a nice benign Jesus waiting to accept them. The nuance and meaning of Kali was completely lost on them, as it would be a Kali costume at Halloween. Which is why that is really not okay; the culture does not understand it and has its own preconceived notions. Wearing it in full knowledge of that does nothing to enlighten people. People will only seek knowledge if they want to; otherwise they will just see the costume as a spectacle.

    Hindus do dress their kids up as Krishna on Janmashtami in parts of India… so the dressing up thing is not really the problem, the context in which it’s done is. I’d stick with ghosts or witches or ballerinas or sexy bees on Halloween.

  • myownashram

    I view Halloween as the secular counterpart to the surrounding holidays. I enjoy it, mostly now that I have kids. Ok, I tentatively enjoy it. I hate the overabundance of cheap, sugary candy that is for good no one. And I LOATHE the ‘sexy’ costume fetish for females of every age. There are even ‘sexy’ costumes for 4 year olds!! I could rage about this concept for hours.

    But the seasonal idea behind it isn’t all death and ghouls. It’s not giving spirits power. Most people don’t know the first thing about interacting with death and spirits (and good thing too)! Most people view Halloween as an excuse for some skulls, too much candy, and ladies in sexy costumes. It’s rather banal.

    In witchcraft circles, it is the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Dark Season – the dark being literally the hours of daylight, but also that, in the northern hemisphere, this is the period of rest. The earth holds still and so do we as we reflect on the coming light. If barren and fallow mean death then so be it.

    In the same circles it is also the time when the ‘veil between the worlds is thinnest.’ Reaching out to the Dead or other spirits can be a good thing. In my house we have a Dumb Supper, where we lay an altar at the dining table with pictures of our beloved dead, mostly but entirely ancestors. We set food before them and we have a ‘family’ dinner by candle light. And then, on another day, I do something ‘witchy’ for the season. This year I’ll likely be heading to Seattle to circle with my teachers.

    It’s not all morbid. And death isn’t inauspicious – at least not to the Left Hand Tantrikas. ;)

    • 5w_haul

      whatever you say it doesn’t have any significance.

      • Ambaa

        HEY! Knock it off. I asked for My Own Ashram’s opinion on this. She isn’t Hindu, but I was curious to get a pagan take on things. So be nice to her.

        • 5w_haul

          i didn’t say anything wrong her i just said that its not significant to hindus

          • Ambaa

            This is an interfaith website and I have asked for people of different faiths to discuss things with me. I think that I can learn something, even as a Hindu, from finding out more about Halloween from the people for whom it is a significant holiday.

          • 5w_haul

            ok

          • Jeramy Hansen

            I understand that the internet is relatively anonymous, and that anonymity tends to breed a certain amount of callousness, but I suspect you’d find whatever your argument is to be more persuasive if you were less of a jerk about how you presented it.

          • 5w_haul

            well mate i am certainly not a callous, i am just straightforward.and about being jerk i can only say Neti neti

          • Jeramy Hansen

            “whatever you say it doesn’t have any significance.”

            You have an interesting definition of not being calloused.

            Not being advaitan myself, I’m not sure I understand the concept of neti neti enough to understand what you’re trying to say there, let alone respond to it in an intelligent fashion.

          • 5w_haul

            what i intended is cleared in above comment.
            and about being calloused remember that there is only Vidya and Avidya rest is just wishy washy

          • Ambaa

            Telling someone who spent time and effort to make a well-thought out comment expressing an opinion on something that I asked for an opinion on that her comment is irrelevant is pretty mean.

            Remember that the Internet has no tone of voice and something may turn out sounding a lot harsher than you intended.

            But what you actually said was dismissive and very rude. When people put the effort into writing out a long comment, they don’t deserve to be told that it was a waste.

          • 5w_haul

            well i expressed my opinion but did not intend to dismise her opinion. english is not my language so there is bit problem there.what i did meant was it doesn’t have any significance to sanatanis.

          • Ambaa

            Alright. I understand. The way it read was overly harsh and unwelcoming, but I see now what you meant.

          • myownashram

            Well, then I suppose you disregard the entire post, as Ambaa has written about Halloween. We learn from one another. My comments are entirely relevant to the post at hand. Please also see my comment above: “All faiths learn from one another. No tradition is ‘pure.’ Even Hinduism
            is not monolithic. I find that my witchcraft practices have TONS in
            common with Left Hand Tantra, but almost nothing in common with Vedanta
            or more traditionally Vedic Hinduism. And yet, there are still threads
            of connection. Hinduism is a vast river of belief!”

          • 5w_haul

            i understood what you are saying, my 1st comment was wrongly replied under your comment instead of amba so my bad. thats it

            purity is subjective isn’t it, and may be people learn from each other but dharma is natural order of things and constant.

        • myownashram

          I do not label myself Hindu at this time, but I do have a dual observance, and have for several years now. I definitely have a devoted Hindu practice. As the practice becomes more and more a part of me, who knows? Maybe in time I will claim that label, but it does not feel right at this time.

          All faiths learn from one another. No tradition is ‘pure.’ Even Hinduism is not monolithic. I find that my witchcraft practices have TONS in common with Left Hand Tantra, but almost nothing in common with Vedanta or more traditionally Vedic Hinduism. And yet, there are still threads of connection. Hinduism is a vast river of belief!

          • Ambaa

            Sorry to jump in and label you. Should have let you label yourself! :D

          • myownashram

            No worries! I just found that your comment made me stop and think. Always a good thing!

          • 5w_haul

            Hinduism (if word actually means anything) is certainly not a belief or faith, because faith,belief are premade opinion and judgement of human mind which it self is ever changing and not constant, hinduism is a highly refined scientific system of spirituality where you can seek truth and remove ignorance, when ignorance is removed you no longer need belief and faith because you know the truth.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you so much for your insight on this. I appreciate it!

  • Sam Webster

    It may be worth while to have a conversation with some Pagan folk. I think we would both have something to gain. For us, this holiday, which comes out of our Celtic past, has a deep spirituality of which the commercial presentation is a pale reflection. Fear and inauspiciousness are not part of Hallows for us, though it is a time for honoring the Dead. It is also New Year, and the entering into the dark before the dawn. And we often share similar feelings about folks costuming as our Gods, too.
    Blessings
    )O+
    sam webster

    • Ambaa

      I appreciate the Pagan perspective on this for sure! :)

    • 5w_haul

      refering yourselves with word “pagan” is highly offensive and disrespectful mate.

      its invented and used by certain people with ”true god” to derogatorily label the inferior rest.

      • Ambaa

        He is a Pagan. I invited some people who practice paganism to come and discuss this with me.

      • Sam Webster

        5w_haul:

        There are a few million of us in the US alone who call ourselves Pagan. There is an entire channel on Patheos dedicated to Paganism.

        You might look at mine and where I discuss who we are: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paganrestoration/2013/08/who-is-pagan/

        And we capitalize ‘Pagan’. . .

        • 5w_haul

          i am saying eradicate the word itself don’t just define it differently hope you understand my feelings.

          • Ambaa

            I think it’s one of those “take back” the word kind of situations. It has great meaning for those who identify as Pagan and it is not referring at all to Hindus or anyone other than those who identify themselves as Pagan. I think the important thing to remember is that “Pagan” does not mean a Hindu at all in any way.

          • Derek_anny

            Unless an individual Hindu person identifies as pagan. While I don’t expect that to actually happen, in theory the term Pagan covers it. Originally, it meant something like “hillbilly” or “hick,” someone not of the religion of Rome/Christianity. Due to some bad scholarship in the early 20th century people thought Paganism was one monolithic religion; see the Hinduism parallel? As the movement’s grown, it’s shed much of it’s imperialist baggage, which is why people don’t tell Hindu’s they’re pagans any more, even though the word can still apply to “not-Christians.” So it’s not really a reclaimed word, it truly is a redefined word. But saying people shouldn’t use it is similar to saying people shouldn’t use Hinduism do describe their religion.

            The ascendance of Wicca and similar branches of paganism has led to a disbalance, whereas the word covers a variety in theory, in practice a number of the subgroups have been pushed aside, reconstructionist polytheists and ceremonial magicians most notably.

            That got long. Now on to replying to the original post.

          • 5w_haul

            it is what it is, used in the context of so called ‘others’ and still carry same derogatory spirit of earlier, and i am talking about original native indigenous European belief systems not indic religions. however if they want to recognised with insulting word, its their choice i have no problem with it.
            just reminding the actions of desert tribals

          • Derek_anny

            If you’re going to use definitions from 200CE, and that are outdated by almost 100 years, you should know that you fall under it’s purview. Either pagan refers to anyone and everyone not Christian which includes Indics, or it refers to the modern witchcraft/indegenous european-mediterranean/ceremonial-magic movement which is not subject to the old derogatory meaning. The only way it can be both is if the speaker is a Christian xenophobe, which I presume you’re not.

          • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

            I think it is disrespectful to tell other people how they should or should not label themselves.

    • AnonymousOne

      Honoring the Dead is not only Celtic, also done by Hindus since thousands of years, cannot remember the name of the day. The one article I read long ago said the Halloween (honoring the dead part) holiday has its origins in India. Whether that is true or not no one knows. There are some theories that say people from India migrated west wards tens of thousands of years ago, settled in Europe, now known as Europeans. Some practices of Druids, and their holidays strongly resemble those of Hindus in India. Ancient Hindu texts say Parushurama had driven many warrior caste people out of India, perhaps during this time they went westwards or it could have happened much earlier.
      Here is one interesting link, also play the short video in the link http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/other-paths/druidry-dharma

  • 5w_haul
  • Derek_anny

    I see Halloween as a holiday for inviting blessings on travelers for the upcoming Holiday season/NewYear. This is symbolized by hospitality shown to trick-or-treaters, (who might be gods in disguise). It’s also a time for averting evil, which is why we get Horror out of the way all at once.
    Holding a belief similar to reincarnation, I’ve never connected with the whole visiting dead ancestor thing.

    Doesn’t Hinduism have demons? Quick wikipedia returns the Vinayaka in their disruptive/obstructing mode as well as the Vetala.

    • Ambaa

      I’ve never thought about it as a blessing for travelers. That’s rather lovely!

      • Derek_anny

        With the American Holiday Season (Thanksgiving-Christmas*-NewYears) upcoming, I thought it would be good to get on the good side of They of the Roads, as just about everyone travels a little bit.

        My conceptual jumping-point was the myth of Baucis and Philemon. Short version: The Gods of Hospitality and Travel (Zeus and Hermes) go door to door testing people’s manners. Only one elderly couple meets standards, and they get their house turned into a great temple, they are the priests of said temple, and they get to die together in their even older age.

        The Averters of Evil are part and parcel of They of the Roads, as places between are unusual.

  • Rao

    Please read about Pitr paksh (15 days of ancestors). As soon as Pitr paksh ends Dussehara (Nava raatri) begins. In a way Halloween and Pitr Paksh comes around the same time.

    Similarly check the arrival of spring in US/West and Ugadi (new year) in certain parts of India. This day is close to the entry of Sun into the first sign of the zodiac Aries. Ugadi is the first day of Chaitra maas in Salivahana calendar.

    May be pitr paksh and Ugadi have universal origins.

    Srinivasrao Suryadevara

    • Ambaa

      Good point!

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