As the winters starts to show up in the city with slight morning chill and a pleasant evening it signals the countdown to Christmas but before that we usually celebrate two more days, those are All Souls Day and Harvest Festival. In the west that is in North America and in Canada it’s celebrated as Halloween which happens to fall on 31st of October but in Europe All Saints Day and All souls day are celebrated.
All Saints Day is celebrated on 1st of November, it’s mostly celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church but some Protestant Churches also commemorate this day by honouring all the Saints. Historically 1st of November was celebrated as Samhain during the Pagan era, they celebrated the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. This later was converted into All Saints Day by the Church during the 8th century.
All Souls Day is celebrated on 2nd of November by honouring and remembering the faithfully departed. Families usually go to the grave of then near and dear ones and lay flowers, light candle and burn incense stick. This is also a time for reflection when you remember the contribution that these departed souls have done in your life and thank them. Pastors/Priests are also present at the graveyard during the evening in the event a family request for a private prayer and remembrance.
For me growing up in Kolkata meant that on All Souls Day I had to take the annual pilgrimage to Lower Circular Cemetery along with my parents and later when I got married I had my family with me. History, heritage and archaeology did not mean much to me when I was young, the graves of stalwarts like John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Sir William Casement, Henry Whitelock Torrens, Sri Haren Mookerjee, C. F. Andrews etc. really did not strike any chord.
This all changed when I started blogging and found this place often neglected as a heritage spot and people who did blog about it had complete wrong information about All Saints Day and the very concept why Christians visit the grave of their loved ones.
Many of my friends ask me the significance of burial in Christianity as opposed to cremation in some other religions. Firstly people with Christian faith do cremate also, some prefer cremation and then burial of the ashes while some keep them in an urn in their home. Coming back to burial most Christian denominations believe in the doctrine of Universal Resurrection, according to which the dead who have ever lived will be resurrected from the dead to face God on the Last Judgement.
Similar belief about resurrection is also seen in Judaism where the concept of resurrection from dead is considered as one of the cardinal principles. Many Christian theologians have a different view on the concept of death and resurrection.
Since most of my near and dear ones are buried at Lower Circular Road Cemetery thus on this day our entire family comes here in the evening. First we attend our family grave and then proceed to the grave of other relatives, as a tradition my father sings the favourite Hymn of the deceased when in front of his or her grave. Once my daughter was asked to sing a song in front of the grave of my youngest paternal aunt as she loved music and herself was an accomplished singer, she suddenly started singing “Ba Ba Black Sheep” all of us controlled our laughter but then marvelled upon the simplicity of a child’s mind.
Unlike any other day where all the cemeteries across Kolkata closes at 5 PM on All Saints Day people flock to the cemeteries late evening and continue till late night. Arrangements of additional light and security are done to keep the victors safe. I would recommend you to visit some cemeteries of Kolkata next All Souls Day once to experience something new, there will be enough crowd all around so you will surely not fell alone in a graveyard.