Truth behind Superstitions and Traditions

Ashok Sharma

Superstitions are widely held irrational beliefs in supernatural influences. especially leading to good or bad luck.Indian society is generally considered to be steeped in superstitions but some superstitions do have amazing logic behind them.Sometimes, we question these age old practices but adopt them at other times.Perhaps, these rituals which we label as superstitions came into existence in those times when there was need for them due to social, economic or religious reasons or they were carefully and scientifically planned.For example, it is a superstition in our society that we should not walk when there is a solar or lunar eclipse.Now science has proved that exposing our eyes to sun or moon during solar/lunar eclipses can cause severe damage to our eyes.Similarly, it is not considered good to sleep facing one’s heard in the North.Perhaps our ancestors knew the relationship between the earth’s magnetic field and human magnetic field.So they probably made use of this rule to avoid the practice of sleeping with one’s face in the south to prevent cardiovascular diseases.There is another superstition commonly prevalent among Hindus in India, Generally people take a bath after attending the funeral ceremony of a person.The logic behind it is that in the olden days,people were not vaccinated against deadly diseases such as Hepatitis, Chickenpox and other deadly diseases which took a great toll of human lives.As such, it had become a ritual to take bath after funeral rites in order to prevent infection from the dead body.
Washing of hair and clothes on certain days such as Tuesday and Thursday was forbidden.The possible logic could be that people in the past had few sources of water and they were poor with no source of income other than farming.So,it was to save water and money that washing of clothes and hair was not allowed on certain days of the week.Then, it was a ritual not to eat food where death had taken place.Perhaps, the motive was to give more time and rest to the relatives to mourn the death and tide over the shock.Breaking of mirror and loss of gold was considered a sign of ill omen, perhaps due to the reason that both these items were very costly in the past.Sweeping the floor, throwing the garbage outside and combing the hair at night were also forbidden owing to the fact that something valuable might be lost in the darkness as sources of light were not available at that time.Our ancestors were very careful about the use and importance of plants and trees.Therefore, cutting of tree before sunrise and after sunset was considered a sinful act.Similarly after completion of a pilgrimage, the people would usually plant a peepal tree and perform community feast.Not only this some plants such as mangoes,palash, amla, tulsi etc were used during religious and funeral occasions in view of their importance. Another commonly practised superstition was that women and girls were not allowed to go to kitchen on days of menstruation .The possible reason could be that in those times, there were no sanitary pads or painkillers.Therefore women and girls felt cramps and pain during those days and also the loss of blood made them weak.As such, they were provided rest by being considered ‘impure’ on those days.
A common superstition is to take curd or sugar while setting out for a journey.The possible reason could be that the curd has a cooling effect on the stomach as it is digestible while sugar is a source of energy which provided instant energy to the person as in those times travellers had to travel on foot to move from one place to another.It is also a superstition not to chew tulsi.
Tulsi has arsenic in it, which can cause harm to the teeth.So one should take tulsi without chewing it .Then there is a common superstition to hang a lemon and seven chillies outside a new shop or house, to ward off evil forces.The reason behind this is that the cotton thread passing through the lemon absorbs the lemon juice, which has vitamin C and other nutrients , which on slow evaporation, has a healthy effect on the environment.Moreover, the smell of lemon and chillies also helps in keeping the pests away.There is also a logic behind the custom of Hindu women wearing silver ring on their second toe as a nerve passing through this toe goes to the uterus and regulates menstrual cycle and keeps the uterus fit.Applying bindi on the forehead between the eyebrows helps in concentration and retention of positive energy in the body.Similarly, applying haldi and mehndi at the time of marriage, lighting the holy fire,watering and worshipping the peepal tree and touching the feet of elder relatives and wishing namaskar with folded hands all have a sound logic behind them.In the olden times, it was considered auspicious to plaster the floor because, due to pungent smell, it acts as repellent for insects and reptiles, which has become unnecessary in the contemporary houses.It was also customary to take sweets after eating spicy food.The logic behind it is that spicy foods produce acids in the stomach while sweets contain sugar and carbohydrates which break down the digestion.There is also a custom to add Re1 to offer a gift perhaps due to the fact that if we offer a gift in cash of Rs 100, 500 etc, it would end in zero,which is considered inauspicious.So the ritual of adding Re1 to replace the zero and make it auspicious started.
There are also some rituals associated with the funeral rites.In the past, medical science had not achieved breakthroughs and there was no way to determine whether the person is dead or in coma.ways were invented to whether the person to be cremated is really dead or still alive.So the pot was broken as the funeral procession reached the cremation ground probably due to the fact that its sound might wake up the person from deep sleep and trigger movement in him.Similarly, ghee was put into the nostrils of the dead and fire was lighted at the feet lest there should be no harm to the person in case he /she was alive.So before questioning and discarding these rituals altogether,we ought to find out the rationale behind them and adopt them only if they have a sound rational and scientific basis.