Chinese All Souls' Day
Tangra is a region in east Kolkata that traditionally housed a large number of tanneries owned by people of Hakka Chinese origin. Chinese people, principally ethnic Hakka from the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Fujian, have lived in Kolkata for at least 230 years, dating back to the time when the city was the capital of the British Empire in India.
Chinese people observe a Spring All Soul’s Day during the month of March and an Autumn All Soul’s Day during the month of October. It’s a month long celebration with the Gates of Hell opening on the first day and closing on the last day of the month. Its believed that the spirit of the ancestors roam freely during this month and their family pay tribute to the ancestors at their respective graves.
On such day the Chinese people visit the graveyard and first offer food to their respective ancestors in front of the tomb stones and then burn personal items like clothes, television, house, car, money etc. (symbolically made with coloured paper) in front of the tombstone in the belief that their ancestors will need these items in their other dimensional existence. Thereafter, all the people gather together in front of the biggest tombstone believed to be the God of the graveyard who look after all those resting there. A bigger feast is offered to the God and more articles are burnt, including a mile long crackers. They burn incense sticks and pray in unison before the God. Thereafter, all the people from the community meet for a grand feast in the name of their ancestors.
I happened to visit the Choong Ye Thong Cemetery, Tangra on one such day in a Spring All Soul’s Day with my dear friendsMichael Liu (Chinese name Liu Kuo Wen)and Mary Liu (Chinese name Liu Wei Ni)and their daughter Adora Liu (Chinese name Xin Ye).
We reached the graveyard located within the China Town at 7:30 a.m. Michael’s ancestors had 2 tomb-stones. One was for Michael’s Grand Father and Grand Mother and the other was for his Great Grand Father and Great Grand Mother. Mary and Michael placed all the food items in front of the tomb-stones and lit incense sticks. They prayed before the tombstones for the well-being of their ancestors.
The other Liu families were also observing the rituals before their respective tomb-stones of their ancestors.
Then at 8 a.m, all gathered before the relic of the graveyard God, who is the guardian of the entire graveyard. Lot of food items were placed before the relic, including a whole roasted pig. Everyone, by turn, lit incense sticks and prayed. After that, everyone burnt paper money and paper gold bars. They concluded the graveyard ritual by bursting a long string of crackers.
Then everyone proceeded to a famous restaurant within Tangra called ‘Kafulok’, for a community feast.