The Myths and Superstitions of India

October 4, 2011
I wrote about 'Anugunj' an exhibition on the Myths beliefs and folk lore of India, which is being presented in the National Museum, New Delhi. 

Undoubtedly, myths, legends, folk tales, stories which pass on from generation to generation only through the word of mouth are so very common in India. Along with that superstitions also constitute a major part of our lives.

These myths vary from place to place, from on State to another, from one community to another.  Depending on what place to belong to, you grow up with a few superstitions.  With time, either we begin to question them or follow them mindlessly.
A scary ugly face is put on the facade of buildings to ward off evil spirits

As a 6-7 year old I had asked my mother - "Tell Me Why??" I guess, no parents would give a proper answer to their children for such question in those days.

Elderly ladies in my family have always said that there was a lot of wisdom in those beliefs which we call myths today.  Since my childhood,  I have tried to find some logic in the superstitions followed in my home. If I was able to find any sane logic in them, I would follow. 

Here are a few superstitions and the possible thought behind it or the logic supporting it.

My mother always told not to sweep the floor after sunset. I think it was because there was no electricity in the rural India and sweeping floor after the sunset, when they only had oil lamps, can result in sweeping away small jewellery pieces or money from the home.  But, I don't think it hold any relevance in today's time.

Also, switching on the lights in the evening with chanting the name of God along with that was always funny for me!  Was it some means of thanking the Fire God in the old days when a oil lamp was burnt in the evening? Possibly.  Although, there is no harm in showing gratitude, but now with living in smaller and closed homes we switch on the lights right from the morning, I think the practice of thanking God for light got vanished.

Another interesting myth is that we should not cross over or jump over the legs of a person who is sitting or lying down, as this may lead to stunted growth! And this was followed with all the zeal in those growing up years.  I think, this superstition has a logic behind it.  While a person is walking and crossing over the legs of another person, there are chances of his losing balance and falling over the person who is sitting and can cause medium to severe injury to both the people, especially the one who is sitting. So, even today I tell my children to follow it but have clarified why I want them to follow this age old practice.
Never cross the road if a black cat has crossed the road before you is one myth, which brings out the meanness of our society.  There is a great amount of fear in people even today when they see a black cat, or a cat crossing the road or path they are travelling upon. I have seen that people stop besides the road, or slow down their car/scooter and wait for another person to cross it, before they do so.  This shows the height of selfishness and meanness to which we go.  I think this is one baseless belief we are still carrying on, without thinking that a healthy animal is bound to move around whether we think it's a good omen or bad.

Not washing clothes, not shaving or not buying oil/iron or not eating non vegetarian food on certain days of the week are also one of the most followed superstition in India.  Hair saloons and beauty parlours are closed on Tuesday, as it is believed as bad luck to cut hair/shave on this day. On Thursday clothes are not washed.  Non veg food is not consumed on Tuesday and Thursday, Oil or iron is not bought on Saturday.  It's baffling to see a sturdy and macho looking young man with a thick stubble uttering sheepishly that his mother has prohibited him to shave for that day!

Finding logic in this is rather simple. The superstitions which ask to not to do something on a week day breaks your monotony and burden of daily chore - say washing clothes daily.  And the one's telling you to do a thing on a weekday encourages you to take up that activity at least once a week - say going vegetarian for a day.  I think, instead of strictly (read fearfully) following this words, we should rationalize our living style, as was desired by our forefathers.

Dreams are believed to be one major indicator of the future happenings in our lives.  Seeing various animals like snake, dogs, wolf, tigers, elephants, lizards, cats mean different things and accordingly they call for prayers or donation in temples.

Warding off the evil eye is one very interesting feature of Indian myths.  Be it your house or shop or any building, your car or truck or any mode of conveyance and be it your child, everything has to be saved from evil eyes!  Selling green chillies and lemons sewn together in a thread to shop keepers is a means of livelihood for many a people in cities.  People tie cat's eye in their cars and black paranda ( black threaded hair extension used by women in rural areas of Punjab).  Black scary face made on an earthen pot is placed on the facade of the building to scare away evil spirits.  Similarly, black colour of kajal (eye make up) is used to make a dot on small children's cheek or forehead for the same purpose. Also, black thread is tied on their wrists, or near the ankle or around the neck, like a beaded string.


paranda
The idea of placing something black and/or ugly is to lessen the beauty of the thing or the person.  I don't know whether it really wards off evil effects on that person or not??

Now after the preventive measure, there is also a whole gamut of corrective measure involved too.  If a child is crying too much, then the first thing a mother would do is to take off the evil eye or effect from the child.  I thought only ladies of my mother's generation did it, but surprisingly, it's seen in even the young and happening mommy's of this time! 

Different people use different ways.  The most commonly heard is to burn red dried and whole chillies after rotating it around the child's face and whole body.  Of course, you have to burn it at an open place and have to run away from there, as the burning of chillies emanate a lot of smoke and cause burning in eyes.  The myth is that the more the chillies crackle and burn, the more the child was affected!

Another simple method, I have myself practiced, though reluctantly and on insistence of my Mother In law is rotating a handful of salt around a child's face and body and then throw it in running water.  The elderly ladies in my house have believed in this like they have believed in their religion.  And a cranky and crying child would be often treated with this remedy.

I really don't understand the logic behind it.

What do you think about it? What superstitions you have followed or questioned in your life? Do you think there was any wisdom in the myths we carry along with us generation to generation?  Have you ever tried to think about the possible logic about the common beliefs your mother always told you?

Let me know


RESTLESS

17 comments:

BookWorm said...

Yes.. indeed...!!! even i am not a big believer of all these rituals.. but somehow end up following it on elder's advice.. very recently i saw those rituals being performed in my own home like those to ward of the evil eye.. and bingo.. it was done the same way you mentioned it.. i mean.. the red chilly one.. it was red chillies along with a little bit of salt and sesame seeds.. rotate it around ..and along the body of the child.. and you know how many times.. 21 times it is.. and thrown in open fire.. 

Nyhow...what i feel is.. even if we dont believe in these, we end up following these for we are afraid of certain things.. like.. we dont follow it. .and then what if something happens.. ?? so instead of getting the wrath of the family elders, we follow it too.. though reluctantly.. 

and by the way.. astonished a little bit.. seeing that most of the rituals that you have mentioned is being done by us mallus in kerala.. !! are these rituals have a pan india presence..? i thought they would be different in teh way they are done.. 

Racahs said...

Well some of the myths I do follow like crossing of the black cat but find it bit amazing when people don't eat nonveg on some specific week days.

Weakest LINK

Jack said...

Restless,

I agree with you that we need to apply our mind to find logic behind each  before following it blindly. As you said not washing clothes may be to have a break in monotony. Or not eat non-veg on certain days is for giving system rest. We should not follow anything blindly but at times there seems to be no logic on first thought but deeper thinking may provide it.

Take care

Vishal . said...

Well, you'll find me as one of the guys who'll sheepishly sport a stubble on a Saturday and say I can't shave. Mom says [;)] this is to ensure we do not invite the wrath of Lord Shani... :)

RESTLESS said...

Vishal, glad u r honest to admit it :)

RESTLESS said...

That was the aim behind the post, to elicit the curiosity to understand why we follow rituals.

Towards Harmony said...

So well written! I am not at all superstitious. But I have the salt in fist thing done to me SO many times :-)
 I agree with you on the roots of some of them, I think in a certain context they made sense.

RESTLESS said...

Oh u mean, u don't follow the latter? yeah some ritual would be strange for some one!

RESTLESS said...

Oh yes there is a great similarity in North and South india rituals then!!! but we rotate about 7 times..... and didn't know about sesame seeds about this... it seems it depends on the availiability of certain product in certain area.

Yes, we do follow becoz we are scared and we care for our people, esp children.

Sowjanyaweb said...

Let me add one more superstition:
If you slip or if anyone sneezes while going out, you should return, sit for a while, drink some water and then proceed...
My room-mate followed it BLINDLYY. And I was like "Come on! You are an educated girl (she was doing MCA, mind u).. For God sake! what if u have cold caught badly, u will end up not going anywhere.. :D"

And, yes, salt thing was done to me as well, when I got fever soon after getting graduation results in which I stood first in my class... Not sure of the Logic... but have felt that it seems to be working at times...

Remember kajal  under the feet and over the hair for infants? ,for infants, no one wants to take risk... what's bad if we put kajal as prescribed by elders?? even if we dont understand the logic.

-Sowjee
http://sowjee-crux-of-life.blogspot.com/

Racahs said...

I'm a pure vegi ...

Druv said...

 
The scary face is of Kal Bhairava -- God Shiva who is time himself, and consumes both Good and evil. hence its best to walk the higher road to watch out for the wraith of time.

It is only your ignorance that does not allow you to see beyond what is in-front of you. Stop being a ignoramous about your own world, its shameful.

It would be illogical to call these stories Mythological.

Firstly, the word mythology comes from the word "Mythya or Mithya" from Sanskrit which means a lie or deception. Hence from the beginning you are adding some thing very wrongful to begin with.

 It has been an Abrahmic ploy to warp history , and people keep using the subtle manipulation which will destroy the foundations of Vedic civilization.
Its best you become more aware of the destruction happening around you.

Augadha

Druv said...

The eye is the eye of Shiva, the enlightened eye can see through all lies and  deceptions. So when your time comes to pay the price, nothing will stop justice.

Its time you started opening your eyes and become less ignorant buddy.

Reema said...

some of the beliefs had some logic behind them and are actually good
practices but most of them are absurd. I don't follow any beliefs.  it
is true..modern moms are also following this evil eye thing and decorate
their poor babies with kajal dots and everything which can be actually
harmful for the infant!

Asha Pradeep said...

Reema, kajal is good for the eyes, it soothes & has a cooling effect, also putting kajal/chandan tika on the forehead has a similar effect and last but not the least for beauty...

Shiva Prasad said...

F*** all these rituals and beliefs, i haven't been following anyone of these or others for past 5 yrs and haven't faced any severe consequences, i am not afraid of my death or some pain i'll get from buri aatma.. :P but i am afraid and will prefer to die if i follow any of them someday, living your life on lies can't be worse than dreadful death, be free and just do whatever your mind says...

Shivang Bhanushali said...

may be this works for vehicle driving, u see, if cat crossing the way, there must be dog behind it, so if we are driving we can harm dog.

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