The Japanese observe a period every year called Obon, which the Indians observe as Mahalaya Amavasya. This is one of the most important traditions in Japan. It is a time when people pray for the spirits of their ancestors.

Obon 1.jpg

They invite the spirits of their ancestors back to their homes to reunite with their family. Hence most Japanese, wherever they may work, try to make it back home for Obon.

The name Obon originally comes from Urabon which in turn traces its origin to the Samskrt word Ullambana meaning hovering. This is the time to pray for the spirit of the ancestors that are hovering around.

Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. It continues to be so in some parts of Japan such as Okinawa, whereas in some others it has shifted to the 15th of the 7th / 8th month of the Gregorian Calendar, namely July and August.

It is interesting to note further similarities not only in the philosophy of the practice of praying for the souls of the ancestors but also in the rationale behind the time of doing so, namely the 7th month of the lunar calendar.

In the Gregorian calendar, even though September and October are the 9th and 10th month in sequence starting from January, September – October was originally the 7th month of the lunar calendar, as the names Septa, 7 in September and Octa, 8 in October suggest.

The star Bharani, ruled by Yama, the divinity of death, throws light on Mahalaya and Obon.


Food set aside for ancestors during Obon in Japan

More on this Japanese festival in our book “Indo Japan – A Connect Over Millennia”.


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