India is home to various cultures and traditional practices. Along with thiscomes various religious beliefs and superstitions. We have all heard from our grandparents or parents some baseless superstitions which seem senseless to us – do not cut your nails after dark,do not ask someone where they are going while they are leaving, do not leave if you sneeze just before leaving, if a cat crosses your path it is a bad omen and so on. However, there is some logic behind a few of the ‘superstitions’and traditions followed by us. This is knowledge that is being passed on to us by our ancestors and surprisingly, there is science involved in some of our old practises.
It is important that one begin by looking at how these superstitions and practices took roots in our country. We have all seen how a broken/ cracked mirror is immediately thrown away. This is because back in the medieval times, mirrors were very expensive and any common man who broke it was immediately punished with a prison sentence. As a result, it is considered as a bad omen to keep a cracked mirror at home. The superstition of cats crossing our path causing bad luck has also been derived from that period. The carts which people used for travel and transport were usually pulled by domestic animals. While crossing thick and dense jungles at night, these domesticated and protected animals would fear the wild cats such as the leopard, cheetah, and tiger and would react in a chaotic manner. This caused the travellers to warn others about how the cats in the path were causing trouble and how they must stay away from them. This fear of wild cats has been misinterpreted and we still consider the furry creatures as carriers of bad luck.
Another popular superstition is that we are not supposed to cut our nails in the evening. This comes from the simple logic that earlier there was no electricity, so chopping nails would be dangerous as one might cut themselves. There was also the possibility that the nails could go into the food or injure someone due to which clipping nails after sunset was avoided. Moreover, there is an interesting reason as to why most barber shops remain closed on Tuesdays. This is attributed to the fact that farmers used to take Monday off as their rest day after their busy week and usually did all their chores, including cutting their hair on that day. So the barbers didn’t have much to do on Tuesday and would keep their shops closed. This practise is still being followed by many traditional barbers.
Our ancestors also followed many practices based on biology. It is customary to have a shower if one attends a funeral. This due to the fact that as the dead body decomposes, it releases bacteria and chemicals in the process. A shower helps in washing away these bacteria and prevents them from spreading. In India, menstruating women are often considered impure and are kept away from the rest of the family and are not required to do any work for that period. It was started with the intention of giving them rest as their body undergoes tremendous changes along with feeling tired and a lack of energy during that time. However, there are several other discriminatory practises that are attached along with this where it seems like they are being punished instead of giving them the well-deserved rest.
Outside of business places and shops, Indians usually hang chillies and lemon joined by a thread. The thread will absorb and release the acids present in the fruits when they are fresh, which acts as a pesticide that keeps away small insects and pests. The religious belief is that the God of bad luck who likes pungent and sour things is satisfied by the lemons and chillies at the doorstep and does not enter the shop to cast an evil eye.
We come from a country with great history and culture, but we are quick to disregard it. Our old practises of Ayurveda, use of turmeric as an antiseptic and using vessels made of copperare now being followed around the world. In fact, America has patented the use of turmeric when the plant is indigenous to our country. We need to realise the value of our culture and traditions and try not to blindly mimic the West. We have as much to learn from our country’s indigenous practices and culture as our duty to promote it.
Picture Credits : indiatoday