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SUPERSTITIONS: A Bane of Modern India

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A crow perching on the statue of Commonman at Vile Parle in Mumbai

India is a growing super power. But the rise of Godmen and God-women across the country are ruining the spirit of Modern India. It’s bane of New India. The Constitution of India vividly mentions about the ‘Article 51 A (h)’- that states that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen of the country to inculcate scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform in everyday life. It is high time to change and it must come within….writes GURJOT S. KALER

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A crow perching on the statue of Commonman at Vile Parle in Mumbai. – If a crow drop falls on any person, it is often interpreted as a sign of prosperity and increase of wealth coming one’s way.

If you have been born, brought-up or nurtured in India- the land of innumerable myths, religions, superstitions and cultures, there are high chances that you might discover yourself as meticulously following various many so-called superstitious activities as a part and parcel of your daily life, even if you indulge in them unconsciously or sub-consciously.

Let us take a look at some of the routine habits of self-belief which we follow in our daily lives. For example- keeping our fingers crossed as we wait to hear some important announcement or saying touch-wood multiple times to avoid bad-luck from coming our way or eating sugar/jaggery with curd before initiating our morning steps outside homes or tying ritualistic threads on our arms or wearing multiple rings like pearls, ruby, etc on our fingers to gather considerable good-luck or putting vermillion, lemon and chillies outside the house doors to ward off any evil eye or always using the right leg to make a step forward while entering the office or temple etc as well as wearing chains with GOD’s images as pendants to invite good fortunes are a significant indicator of our deep rooted self-beliefs in mythology, astrology, numerology and various superstitions.

To be specific, any belief or practice in our life that cannot be answered satisfactorily through the systematic and careful application of the usual procedures, principles and reliability-cum-validity rationalization techniques of natural sciences can be fairly described as something called – ‘superstition.’ An interesting thing to note here is that something which is considered as superstitious, backward or orthodox by one person may not be considered as superstition by others or vice-versa.

Similarly, we may be in favour or against the various so-called superstitions in India, but we need to accept the fact that they do not only exist in our imaginations; their presence can also be felt in real terms in a substantial manner as a pan-nation phenomenon. Infact, superstitions can be labeled as a step-sister of mass hysteria and these do travel across distance and time from one generation to another.

Some people attribute the existence of superstitions as a threat to the modern sciences and label lack of proper literacy levels or absence of self-realization amongst the masses as the main reason behind widespread existence of superstitions. However, even though there appears to be a grain of scientific truth in this proclamation, the reality is that even the highly aware educated classes have also been known to follow various rituals, customs and ceremonies which can be easily dubbed by others as pure superstition.

For instance, it is a common practice to see the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) organise ‘havans’ and religious prayers before launching any new satellites in the Earth’s orbit. Similarly, many doctors in renowned hospitals can be seen organizing ‘poojas’ or prayers for ensuring the well-being of their patients before performing major surgeries. This shows that even in modern contemporary India, where the working classes believe in achieving great heights of technological prowess and world-class superiority, the science and superstitions go hand-in-hand and even appear to complement each other in many facets of Indian life.

Similarly, the degree of superstition levels also varies from person to person, region to region. Deplorable cases of witch hunting, condemnable practice of ancient sati system, prohibition of women from entering holy places like temples or mosques by branding them as ‘impure’, creepy instances of black magic-‘tantrik vidya’ performed by so-called God-men or faith healers, human sacrifices made to please the GOD’s for having abundant rainfalls or seeking supernatural blessings for conceiving male children, curing physical and mental ailments through exorcism, branding children with hot irons , etc can be termed as extreme cases of superstition.

 

The list of ritualistic superstition in India is exhaustive but it still cannot be said to cover the wide spectrum of prevailing superstitions. But it gives a fairly good idea about the extent of beliefs and various practices which are found in India. It needs to be underlined that we may approve or oppose these various superstitions depending on our backgrounds, education levels, evolution of mindsets and exposure to the world-views. However, one must understand that the reason as to why anybody indulges in various superstitions is to achieve peace, solace of mind and eternal happiness. Therefore, we are nobody to impose our own ideologies or notions on others to shun their beliefs as long as their superstitions do not result in any kind of physical harm or mental disturbance to anyone.

The Constitution of India vividly mentions about the ‘Article 51 A (h)’- that states that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen of the country to inculcate scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform in everyday life. However, if any superstition like as basic and harmless as having sugar with curd before stepping outside homes tends to bring mental satisfaction to anyone, then, we must show tolerance and acceptance of other’s views.

It is only the dangerous superstitions like witch-hunting and exorcism etc which need to be banned and condemned outrageously. We need to increase our budget related expenditure on education and scientific research to counter the various harmful superstitions. Spread of education leads to the opening of windows of one’s mind and one automatically starts questioning the rationale governing various beliefs, thus ultimately leading to the enlightenment of one’s life. To conclude, we must remember that superstitions are a product of our own minds and hearts which are further reinforced by our individual successes or failures apart from societal, family and cultural reinforcements. Indeed, long live India where science and superstitions co-breathe in a mutual environment and behave as two sides of the same coin.

The following is brief list of superstitions which have been prevalent over the years in India:

– A black cat crossing one’s way is often construed as a sign of extreme bad luck but to witness a milkman with utensils full of milk before starting any journey is considered very auspicious.

-Parents often put kohl or a black spot (‘kajal’ )on their infants or children’s faces to prevent any bad-luck or ‘buri nazar’ from harming their kids.

– It is thought to be a bad omen if the floor is swept at night or the nails are cut at night.

– Haircuts are avoided on particular days like Tuesdays or Saturdays and clothes-washing is also not preferred on Thursdays.

– Adding one rupee to the ‘shagun’ or gift sum is considered auspicious. For instance, a ‘shagun’ of 21 rupees or 101 rupees is more acceptable than giving 20 or 100 rupees.

– If anybody sneezes before starting any new work or beginning a new journey, it is taken as bad-luck. Similarly, a mirror if broken is believed to inflict seven years of bad-luck and even looking in a broken mirror is also thought to be unlucky. Shaking legs continuously is also believed to bring bad-luck and loss of wealth, just as the footwear lying upside down in homes causes fights between family members.

– It is considered important to bathe after attending a funeral to free oneself from negative energies.

-‘Peepul’ and ‘Banyan’ trees are considered to be the abode of ghosts and malevolent spirits.

– The homes and offices are especially designed with respect to ‘Vaastu-shaastra’ or feng-shui; even the numberplates of cars and digits of mobile phones is also procured in consonance with one’s wishful lucky numbers.

-Throwing coins in holy rivers is associated with getting one’s desires fulfilled by GOD’s.

– Number 13 is considered unlucky and many hotels or apartments hence do not even have a 13th floor. Similarly, number 3 is also labeled as unlucky in various ventures.

-Keeping knives, onions and water under bed is believed to drive away evil spirits and nightmare dreams.

– Right eye twitching is attributed to good-luck for men and the left one brings good news for women.

– If a crow drop falls on any person, it is often interpreted as a sign of prosperity and increase of wealth coming one’s way.

– People with flat feet are considered to be associated with bringing bad-luck. Also, people born under the influence of Mars are referred to as ‘mangliks’ and a plethora of rituals are specified for their matrimonial alliances.

– Sacrifice of animals like goats, sheeps etc is believed to please the GOD’s and bring in good-luck.

– Howling or whining of a group of dogs at night in the street is also taken as a sign of upcoming bad times.

-Bats hanging in one’s balcony or flying into homes is taken as a sign of death. Seeing an owl is also considered inauspicious.

– Saturday is labeled as a bad day for purchasing leather or metal.

-A coconut is cracked before entering a new office or a new home as a sign of good fortune.