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All Souls Day for all faiths is a day to remember

Revering the departed is cause for celebration

  • Ivan Fernandes, Hyderabad
  • India
  • November 1, 2013
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It is not only Christians who celebrate All Souls Day. A time to remember those who have gone before us is celebrated by various faiths.

The Muslims have it when they celebrate Shab-e-Barat, the Hindus during Pithru Paksha, and the Buddhists as well as the Parsis also observe it. The dates and origins may differ from religion to religion but commemorating the dead remains unvarying.

Pope Gregory IV (827-844) officially declared November 1 as the Feast of All Saints and Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 institutionalized All Souls Day on November 2.  Historically, the two feasts date back even further to the early Church when the names of those departed faithful were circulated among the congregation so that people could pray for them.

Among other Churches, the Eastern Orthodox communities traditionally celebrate All Souls Day more than once a year and many Protestant denominations, who may not distinguish between the two days set aside by Catholics, pray for all the departed they consider as saints.

Muslims also commemorate All Souls Day when they celebrate Shab-e-Barat or “night of deliverance” on the 14th of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.

They remember the night when the Prophet Mohammed told his followers, “God registers all the actions men are to perform in the ensuing year and records the names of those who are to be born and to die.’’ 

Just like many Christians, Muslims too visit cemeteries, place flowers and light oil lamps and candles on the graves of their dead as they offer “fateha” or prayers for the departed.

Hindus during Pitri Paksha or “fortnight of the ancestors,” pray for a peaceful rest for their forefathers. 

Buddhists also celebrate an All Souls Day and All Saints Day although some may argue that this is not originally part of Buddhism. As Buddhism spread across East Asia, it incorporated many prevalent traditional practices of revering ancestors.

During the Festival of Souls in China and Japan, families hang lanterns outside their homes and graves are cleaned.

I have always wondered the significance of these special days among various religions.

As a boy these festivals conjured up images of death and ghosts and were viewed as a day of focused sorrow for those who have died. But as I grew older, I came to understand they are festivals as much for the living as for the dead.

At one level they remind us of our own mortality since death is a universal phenomenon and that for sure as one is born, one has to die. At another level they do more than that by fixing me within the present and linking me to the past and the future for in time I too will pass on.

Having lost loved ones and friends, I understand the pain of separation death causes. But to only grieve for their loss is missing the point.

I have come to understand All Souls Day as a celebration to the testimony of those great people who have gone on before us and who, by the way they lived and interacted with me, encourage me to be a better person.

I have also come to understand it as a time to commemorate those I did not know and celebrate their lives for they too have helped by giving me a history and culture because of their presence.

That is why I believe different religions have a special day to commemorate the departed.

Ivan Fernandes is a journalist and commentator based in Hyderabad.

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