A Tradition of Recalling Ancestors


Courtesy: Google Image


Every year

we light fourteen lamps

in honor

of our departed souls

and to ward off

evil spirits, as the custom

tells us to do

on the day of Bhoot-Chaturdashi*.

One has to consume

14 leafy vegetables

at lunch.

This year too

I lighted the lamps

but skipped that veg-lunch

and sighed,

for I know

this is how traditions die.

*Bhoot-Chaturdashi (‘bhoot’ means ‘ghost’ and ‘chaturdashi’ is the 14th night of the moon’s waning phase before New-moon) is observed on the night before Kali Puja, held in Oct or Nov. This year it was on 28th Oct.  It is said that on this night the dead walk among the living. The evil spiritual powers are seemingly heightened on this night. In order to keep the evil spirits at bay, people ritualistically observe Bhoot-Chaturdashi every year. Bhoot Chaturdashi is known for the famous choddo shaak, or fourteen types of green leafy vegetables, compulsorily eaten for lunch. At dusk, earthen lamps or diyas are lit in the fourteen darkest corners of the household. This is done to ward off evil spirits as well as prevent them from entering the house. Folklore says that the spirits of forefathers come back to the household on this night. Hence, these lamps also serve to guide the spirits of forefathers.

There are many fables around this day. According to one, Bhoot Chaturdashi started with slacker Brahmin many, many years ago. He and his wife never cleaned and tidied their house, and so, in the garbage spill all over the place, ghosts had started living.

One day, when he got the shock of his life upon seeing a spectre rise from a pile of trash in his house, he and his wife learned a lesson. On that day, they cleaned their home, and purified it by sprinkling clean water off 14 kinds of leafy greens around the house. Source.


Posted for Susan’s Midweek Motif ~ The Day of the Dead @ Poets United


9 thoughts on “A Tradition of Recalling Ancestors

  1. 14 leafy veggies..now that’s a challenge, not eating them but finding them one one day!! It’s true a lot of rituals are tapering off, as they lose their relevance in a very changed social circumstance.

  2. I enjoyed this especially your honesty about not fully participating in the tradition, (Not sure I could eat that many greens at once.). It’s a cute story about how the tradition started.

  3. A new custom to me! I sigh, too, about not keeping up with traditions that made me feel complete in the past. As I get age, I too, sigh more about the passing of tradition than what the day will do for me and mine. What will happen if we lay down our role of modeling and teaching “correct” relationships with the universe? If the “musts” no longer dictate to me? Maybe some good as well as some loss? So I not only love learning this tradition, I also love the starkness of the question you raise along with cultural pride and a sense of exhaustion.

  4. Beautiful poem, Sumana. There is a strong sense of tradition and cultural identity expressed in it, but there is also regret: The writer, who obviously values traditions and culture is not observant of a major part the ritual associated with the day. Little by little we lose our cultural identity as time passes and we “progress”. I sensed a similar message in Buddah’s poem and my comment reflects that.

Thank You :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s