Ours is a country where superstitions abound. Some have their basis in religious beliefs, others in scientific facts and still others in no conceivable reason. Yet, they are prevalent and they are followed stringently, even by the so-called liberated, ‘modern’, scientific minds. Listed below are just some of the more famous superstitions in India-
10- One rupee
In India, the traditional gift to give at weddings and other auspicious occasions in money. However, the amount of money presented should always end in 1. It should not be an even number. It is considered auspicious to add one rupee to the amount you want to present. This is the reason why wedding envelopes come ready-made with a one rupee coin on them. This is also the reason why people offer ‘gyarah rupaye ka prasad’ or an offering of eleven rupees at temples. This superstition has its basis in religious beliefs. The extra rupee is said to bring good luck!
9- Lemon and chillies charm
It is so common to find a string of lemons and chillies hanging on the doorway of shops, offices and homes. Doing this is supposed to ward off the evil eye and bring in good luck. People usually thread one lemon along with seven chillies. This ‘totka’ is said o bring prosperity. It is changed every Friday. It is also believed that if one steps on one of the discarded totkas, one invites the evil influence that the charm has gathered. The idea behind hanging such a charm is that it keeps away ‘Alakshmi’ or the goddess of poverty who is considered inauspicious in Hindu mythology. Alakshmi is said to like sour and spicy things, so the lemon and chillies satisfy her and she does not enter the home or the establishment. In a way then, this charm is also a sort of appeasement to a goddess.
8- Peepal Trees
A lot of superstitious beliefs in our country are centered around various trees and plants. One such superstition is that peepal trees are the abode of ghosts and spirits. To avoid these malevolent ghosts and spirits, one must avoid resting under a peepal tree at night. The legendary ‘Munja’ ghost is also believed to reside in the peepal tree. The idea behind this popular superstition could be that peepal trees give out a lot of carbon dioxide at night, and hence standing underneath them could be potentially dangerous to one’s health. So widespread is this belief, in fact, that Ruskin Bond even wrote a brilliant short story with reference to it. It is the story of a ‘pret’ or ghost who leaves his peepal tree and enters the house.
Poor Saturday seems to be a day that seems to bear the brunt of all things inauspicious. In Hindi, Saturday is called “Shanivaar” or the day of Shani Dev. Hindus generally live under the fear of his planet Shani or Saturn. Anyone born under the influence of this planet is destined to live a life of bad-luck, according to Hindu belief. This is perhaps why the day named after this deity is considered inauspicious for engaging in monetary matters or venturing on a new business. Saturdays are also considered inauspicious for conducting social functions like marriages. A lot of people even avoid day to day activities like cutting their nails and buying certain items on this day. In fact, the superstitions associated with Saturday have given birth to a saying in Marathi- Naakartyaacha Vaar Shanivaar. This literally means ‘Saturday, the day of hopeless people’
6- ‘Nazar utarna’
The phrase ‘nazar utarna’ is a phrase in Hindi which literally translates into ‘getting rid of the effects of the evil eye.’ In India, it is believed that the ‘evil eye’ can cause damage to the person towards whom it turns. The effects of the evil eye may range from general bad luck to ill health and other problems. This is why, a lot of the superstitions in our country originated in an effort to ward off the evil eye. One such method which is said to counteract the effect of the evil is putting a small spot of kajal on the forehead or behind the ear of children. This is done even to people who look exceptionally attractive. The elders of the family put a small spot of lampblack or of kajal on the forehead to the child. The logic behind this process of ‘nazar utarna’ is that doing so makes the child in question look ugly, and therefore unattractive to the ‘evil eye.’
5- Eye twitching
Eye twitching or a temporary spasm in one or both eyes is something that almost all of us have experienced at one point or the other. The plethora of superstitions that revolve around this phenomenon, however, is astounding.
-Right eye twitching is good for men
-Left eye twitching is good for women
-Eye twitching signifies that somebody is about to arrive
-Right eye twitching is a bad omen/ Left eye twitching is a bad omen
The superstitions surrounding eye twitching are so many and so varied depending upon where you are, it is almost impossible to list them all.
4- Widows are unlucky
This is perhaps one of the saddest superstitions still prevalent in India. The deeply embedded patriarchy in our country found one more way to assert its superiority over the ‘weaker sex’ by delegating widows as unlucky and inauspicious. Widows are not allowed to remarry, they must always wear white, they must not wear jewelry, not participate in festivities and so on and so forth. The social stigma of being a widow in India is a comment upon the way the mindset of our country still functions. Widowers, on the other hand, face no such social constraints. It is even considered unlucky to see a widow while going out- it might signify that the work you are going out for will not be completed successfully. The superstitions regarding widows are evidently wide and many, and need to be addressed.
3- Cutting Nails and Washing Hair
Again, there are a huge number of superstitions that surround these two simple daily activities. And they’re also very common in most households. According to some beliefs, one must not cut one’s nails on a Saturday or Tuesday. It is also bad luck to wash one’s hair on a Saturday or a Thursday. I remember my own Grandmother scolding me for washing my hair on Saturdays (it is really such a convenient day for washing hair). Moreover, one must not cut one’s nails after sunset. The origin of this belief could be that in sweeping away the cut nails in the darkness, one could inadvertently sweep away small valuables because of poor visibility (Not sweeping after dark is also a superstition in India) One almost funny superstition associated with washing hair is that a student must never wash his/her hair before an exam. Doing so will ensure that everything the student has learned will be washed away. I’m sure, however, that many students will actually refrain from doing the same after reading this, just to be on the safer side.
2- Menstruation Myths
In India, menstruating women are considered impure and unclean. This, of course, gives rise to many superstitious beliefs. In fact, it is such a taboo for a woman to be menstruating that people don’t even refer to the natural phenomenon by its name. It is instead called as ‘being down’ or ‘chumming.’ Women who are menstruating are not allowed to enter the kitchen. They are also supposed to stay away from temples, mosques and all religious spots in the house itself. A woman on her period is not allowed to perform regular household duties like cooking food. Some might argue that the reason behind this superstition is scientific, and that a woman menstruating loses a lot of blood and thus becomes weak and must refrain from strenuous activities. Others claim that there is nothing scientific in this belief and it is just another superstition created to subordinate the position of women in society. I, personally, am inclined to agree with the latter.
This one seems to be a favourite of superstition-makers. Solar eclipses have traditionally been linked to a lot of superstitions in India. One must not venture out during an eclipse, since it is believed that the Sun is swallowed up by the demon. Pregnant women, especially, must stay indoors in order to ensure that their babies are not born with any deformities. In fact, pregnant women are often not allowed to sew or cut vegetables during an eclipse. Some families avoid cooking and eating altogether during an eclipse. On the other hand, some people believe that it brings good luck to bathe in holy water bodies during or after an eclipse. Astrologers often have a field day during eclipses predicting death, doom and gloom in store. However, the reason behind some of these superstitions can be scientific. For example, one should actually avoid going out during an eclipse in order to keep away from the harmful UV rays.
Do you know of any other popular Indian superstition? Let us know below in comments and we would make sure that we include that in our list above.