Monday, October 28, 2013

SAMHAIN EVE--SPIRITUAL ALTERNATIVE TO HALLOWEEN NIGHT

DRUID (SAMHAIN) RITUALS SIMILAR TO DRAVIDIANS

(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN,  BRENTWOOD, TN, USA, OCTOBER 2013)

Celtic brand of Christianity bypasses some of the intellectualized habits of Western religious thought, keeping an openness to the poetry of belief and the goodness of creation, and love of scripture. Celtic style of belief in Christ differs in remarkable ways from the faiths of Mediterranean tradition. Celtic Christianity had grown out of tribal system.  Its beliefs, what is deepest in us is the image of God, unique system of penance, belief in reincarnation, worship and love of nature reflects Hindu thoughts and spirituality. As you are aware Hinduism  includes  a many of the practices of tribal worship the famous among them is that of Murugan of Tamil Nadu, a hill tribe deity whom they merged with the worship of Kartikeya, identifying Murugan with Kartikeya of Puranas. Thus they have joined the main stream. Christianity coming from Rome. Though triumphed over what they called pagan practices among its converts, many of its followers still practice festivals like Halloween, Ground Hog’s day etc.  Celtic Christianity still lingers on to  earlier Christian thoughts of vivid mysticism of nature, a connection between Earth and divinity.

The so called pagan religion by the West of the ancient Cults has much in common with the Hindu languages and culture and spiritual thinking. Both practice temple worship of Gods and Goddesses, deep in philosophical traditions, worship nature and glorify Mother Earth at each turn of the season, caring for the flora and fauna as revealed in their prayers. In spite of the house cleaning by the Christianity based in Rome the mystical side of the Celtic religion remains prominent as seen in the Samhain celebration.  Of course, the Western culture does not stop calling Hinduism also sometimes pagan,   isolating its ritualistic aspect which they do not want to understand while they do not comprehend their spiritual wisdom of Vedas and Upanishads.

St Patrick’s morning prayer reads as follows: “I arise to-day; Through the strength of heaven; Light of the sun, radiance of the moon; splendor of fire, speed of lightning; Swiftness of wind, depth of sea; Stability of earth and firmness of rock; I arise today; Through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me; God’s eye to look before me; God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak to me; God’s hands to guard me; God’s way to lie before me; God’s a shield to protect me; From the snares of devils, from temptation of vices; From everyone who shall wish me ill, Afar and near, alone and in a multitude”

The earlier part of this prayer sounds very much like Hindu Shanti Path and the latter oft repeated thought of Upanishad often chanted at the end of Hindu Prayers:
Dyauh Saantih Antariksham Saantih Prithvee saantih Aaapah saanrth Oshadhayah saantih Vanaspatayah saantih Viswedevaah saaantih Brahma saantih sarvam saantih Saantireva saantih saa maa saantiredhi”—There is peace in the heavenly region; there is peace in the atmosphere; peace reigns on Earth; there is coolness in water; the medicinal herbs are healing; the plants are peace-giving; there is harmony in the celestial objects and  perfection in eternal knowledge;  everything in the Universe is peaceful; peace pervades everywhere; May that peace come to me!  You have heard before my quote from Upanishads, He is the  Eye of the eyes, Ear of the ears etc.

The Hindu calendar has six seasons or Ritus.--These are Greeshma (Summer), Varsha (Rains), Sharad (Autumn), Hemanta (early Winter), Shisira (winter) and Vasanta (Spring). Most Indian festivals are related to these six seasons. Celtic calendar is divided into two parts, the light part and the dark part. These are marked with four great feast days making the year. These are:
Samhain (November 1) (Celtic Halloween) which was the Celtic New Year, marks the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the dark half of the year. All lights are extinguished until relit by a central bonfire. This day is a "gap" in time and consciousness when travel to the other world and through time was possible.
Imbolc (February 1) (Celtic Ground Hog Day): St. Bridget's Day, which marks the first day of spring and the middle of the dark half, the time for the reemergence of green things. This marks the first flowing of milk in the udders of the ewes (associated with the goddess Brídget).
Bealtaine (May 1): First day of the light part of the year. Cattle are driven through great bonfires to protect them and ensure fertility. Young couples jump through the fire also.
Lúghnasadh (August 1): Marks the beginning of harvest and celebrates the victory of the God Lúgh against the earth spirits that would keep the harvest. Lúgh is very much a "Christ" figure in that he died for the sake of humans, pierced and hanging from a tree.

You do not fail to notice how these festivals are season oriented like our Makara Sankranti, Teej, Onam, Baisakhi etc and are also dedicated to chosen deities.

For Druids, their New Year Eve arrives on October 31. Their New Year Samhain falls on November 1. A Druid or Pagan celebrates his New Year Eve on 31 October, while majority of Christian followers celebrate it as a haunted night  of goblins called Halloween. This festival is highly commercialized and they make a good business merchandizing Halloween costumes and candies.

Druids are believed to be of Dravidian origin. They were earlier priests as well high intellectuals. The Neolithic people lived in many parts of India and for thousands of years. But about six or seven thousands years ago a new set of people appeared to have come to India.  These people were called Dravidians. Recent excavations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro reveals five thousand years before The Dravidians built kingdom in the Indus valley before Aryans. In this vast area the Dravidians had a big kingdom.  Two of their biggest cities now excavated are Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Druids are identified with this Dravidian lot.  Even some say they derive their names from Dravidian. Their spirituality, method of worship, celebration of festivals etc. closely resemble that of Dravidians even today.

Samhain the beginning of the "darker half" of the year; the veil is thin between the worlds of the living and dead. As at Beltane, special bonfires are lit to protect the community. Feasts are also held, at which the souls of dead kin are invited and a place set at the table for them. Originally the "Feast of the Dead" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". Single candles are also lit in a window to guide the spirits home.

Manusmriti says that whatever one offers ceremoniously with devotion to the deceased reaches them in heaven in an imperishable from—“Yad dadaati vidhivat samyak sraddhaa samanvitah| tattat pithroonaam bhavati paratraanantamakshayam ||”. This is the basis of Sraaddha ceremony of Hindus in fond memory of the deceased.  In Shraddha ceremony performed by South Indian Brahmins (who are often identified with Dravidian culture), they offer rice balls (called Pinda) along with black sesame seeds and black-gram cakes to the departed souls. For   this, they leave the food items towards the end of the ceremony on house tops to enable crows to carry them to the departed souls in the pitruloka (region of departed souls). You can thus find similarity in the  practice of Druids who are often identified with Dravidian culture as stated before.  Samhain song my machinime sings to the glory of this great festival paying tributes to the departed ancestors who are supposed to visit them to share their experience.  


It is believed that it was Brahma who first performed the Pind daan (offering of rice balls) ceremony in Gaya. Since then this tradition has continued. Offering of Pinda daan (food ) to the departed souls during dark fortnight of  Hindu calendar month of Aswin is of special significance. This time is called Mahalaya Paksha. This is almost around the same period as Samhain or Halloween festival time. 

The picture Hindu Americans  get of Halloween is that it captivates children with goblin dresses roaming in the neighborhood collecting Candy with their ghost appearances. Hindu children join the fun for they can't avoid it. Therefore Hindu temples are not kept open all day long for this festival like other American holidays.  If you look into origin of this festival this is based on the Druid tradition which the Christians follow   copying the ugliness than spirituality and we blindly believe and join the fun.  Druids call it Samhain, a spiritual festival which has much in common with Hinduism in its thinking.  In the ancient British Isles October 31 was the night when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest. The shadow play of imagination, with its great hunches about the great and beyond, was given license amid bonfires and new beginnings.  Bonfires are associated with dark and cold night festivities which is also common practice in Hinduism like Kaamadahan and Holy.  As we all know the Druids believe that the soul never dies and also believe in reincarnation. Christianity also believed till recently  in reincarnation (punarjanma) till a house cleaning was done around 15th century. It is interesting to note Mahaalaya Paksha falls near about this period (Sept-Oct). The last day Mahalaya Amavasya is the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites to departed souls. To an average Druid this jack-o'-lantern lit night is the most sacred night of the year like Hindu Mahalaya Amavasya observed during that time.

Yet another fact is Samahain salutes the end of harvest time and the start of winter dark. At this time of the year, nature gets into its pensive mood. The swirling orange leaves are a signal of dramatic transition.   Day Light Saving Time ends on November 3 this year. We celebrate Diwali with plenty of lights to get over the darkness during this time. By strange coincidence Sunday 3 November this year is Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights) and comes about the same time as Halloween. You know Deepaavali is celebrated for five days in many parts of India. In some Hindu traditions Deepavali lighting continues month long culminating in Kartikai Deepam being the darker nights of the year. Probably we are more conscious because of the sudden change till we get used to it for a longer period.  Also in some Hindu Traditions New year starts on Deepavali day. Samhain is a logical time for a New Year. It has a lot going for it. It is New Year day for Druids. This was shifted to Gregorian calendar later by Christianity to the nearness of Christmas as the date of birth of Christmas is disputed. Any how it is a disguised worship of birth of Christ which the wise men announced to the world on January 6.

With the same logic and thinking of the philosophy of Druids, I have said previously it makes lot of sense to start Hindu New Year Day for all traditions on Makara Sankranti Day, when Uttarayana Punyakala begins which is also close to Gregorian calendar.  Makara Sankranti signifies an agricultural bench mark day and spiritual bench mark day.  This day can therefore be celebrated with greater significance in Hindu American Temples clubbing January 1 celebrations.  After all American Holidays are celebrated more often than not on week-ends to suit their convenience.  I have also said that we could shift our New Year Day Celebration in Temples to this Day as the reigning New Year at the start of January looks arbitrary and underachieving by comparison.  In fact Karunanidhi enforced the law for a while in Tamilnadu making Makara Sankranti Tamil New Year day which Jayalalita squashed it politically to embarrass Karunanidhi. January first celebrates no seasonal or agricultural bench mark.  It rolls in like a momentary spasm between Christmas and the Super Bowl, a distraction from the three wise men's trek to Bethlehem robbing their religious thoughts.  These wise men arrived later only on January 6, Epiphany Day.

Celtic Christianity allows some pre-Christian ideas to linger like Samhain, especially a vivid mysticism of nature, a connection between mother Earth and Divinity which is invariably noticed in Hindu religious practices and mantras.   Celtic spirituality is marked by the belief that what is deepest in us is the image of God (the Self within us). Sin (Maaya) has obscured that image but not erased it (avidya). While majority of Christians (Mediterranean Tradition) in their doctrine of original sin teach what is deepest in us is our sinfulness. This has given rise to a tendency to define in terms of the ugliness of their failings instead of the beauty of their origins. Halloween thoughts are diverted to goblins from the thought of Self (aatman) within us or souls and spirituality.  Celtic Benediction declares: "Glory be  to you , O God, for the gift of life unfolding through those who have gone before me; (pitrus); for your life planted within my soul (antaryamin); and in every soul coming into the world;  for the grace of new beginnings (incarnation);  placed before me  In every moment and encounter of  life; for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life" Pagan book of Halloween says : "It  is time when the spirits of deceased loved ones and friends are honored, as well as a time to gaze into the world of things yet to come".

On Mahalya Amaavasya Day when obeisances are paid to the departed souls (please see my discourse on the subject) the ritual ends with the following prayer: “Yeshaa napitaa nabhraataa na  bandur  na  anya gotrinah  | te triptim-akhilaam yaantu mayaa tyaktyaih kusastilaih|| [with this water, sacred grass and sesame seeds I offer my oblations not only to my ancestors, brothers relatives and others outside my lineage but for all entities to achieve their desires.] Thus this is a universal prayer for all souls. Celtic Christianity also believes in the existence of   souls in all animates like Hindus.  This oblation is offered with earthly products to souls in the upper worlds symbolic of connecting earth with other worlds.

Halloween brings forth in the minds of the people the horror of darkness and the resulting Tamoguna (ignorance) which the people cash it by way of collecting candy,  not knowing the consequences and are occupied with the thought of being haunted by goblins in the dark night of Halloween.  Hindus during the same time celebrate Deepaavali with bright lights aspiring for Satvaguna (bright and intelligent), overcoming the darkness or Tamoguna.  It all depends the way you look at things that lead your life. Here I am reminded of a German story during my training in Germany. An artist displayed his art with the caption: “Please carry out corrections if any needed in my art work” after a week he found his beautiful piece of art was in shambles.  He again displayed his master piece with the caption:  “If there is any knowledgeable artist,   I would appreciate your help  in enhancing the beauty of my art”. After a week he was amazed to see a much improved version of his master-piece. Halloween as is celebrated today has given rise to a tendency to define ourselves in terms of our failings instead of the beauty of our origins.

In late October, the scattering of leaves brings mysterious messages of mortality and rebirth. This is the period in which Mahalaya Paksha also comes about which I have spoken.

The Celtic Benediction reads as follows: “Glory to you, O God; for the gift of life unfolding; through those who have gone before me. Glory b to you, O God, for your life planted within my soul and in every soul coming into the world. Glory to you, O God, for the grace of new beginnings placed before me in every moment and encounter of life. Glory; glory; glory, for the grace of new beginnings in every   moment of life”               

Please note in the above benediction, the mention of Self (antaryaamin) within all of us, reincarnation   of soul, obeisance to our ancestors (pitru yajna) and the practice of repeating glory three times just as we repeat ”Saanti” three times in Saanti Mantras.  Thus it is evident Celtic Christianity  and culture has drawn lot of its support from Hinduism.  

REFERENCES:
1) Ray Waddle, Of Spirituality and Samhain, Tennessean, October 26, 2013.
2) Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, Divine Life Society, Sivanandanagar,        India.
3) Seshiengar A., India through The Ages, Sri Ramachandra Book Depot, Mysore, India.
4) David Frawley, Hinduism, Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
5) Srinivasan N.R., Hindu Samskaras, Hindu Reflections, Internet.
6) Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs &Traditions, Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, India.