Saptajit Sen’s article provides valuable insights into different superstitious practices that govern our lived realities in more ways than one
In any middle class family of a small town, where the advice of senior citizens is still sought, superstitions constitute a concrete part in governing daily activities. Whether it be a black cat crossing your path, or putting water on your plate after meals—superstitions are everywhere.
Origin, history, logical explanations –all usually are absent in superstitions. Religious books or even almanacs—none speak of these erratic set of rules. You ask anyone about the one who made them memorise these rules, with ease they’ll reply ,’ I don’t know. Grandma tells me.’ Okay, let’s ask Grandma about the origin and she’ll say, ‘Our parents did that. So we do.’
In today’s times of biodiversity crisis, where spotting any bird other than a crow seems lucky, the residents of my place and the neighbouring lands have a famous superstition centering around the sight of a Common Mynah (locally called shaalik). It is thoroughly believed that the sight of one brings ill luck and the sight of two brings good luck. On the contrary, I’d like to narrate a significant incident of my life linked with these birds.
I was in the 9th class and had my Adv. Mathematics exam. Indeed, as the name suggests, the subject was capable of making you lose water—as sweat and in severe cases-tears. I vividly remember the scene when I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by two of these mynahs. Naturally I was overwhelmed and thought it to be a sign from Heaven that my exam would go real smooth. To my utter dissatisfaction, the question paper was terribly hard and I scored the lowest I have till date in any subject. (Yes, I did pass in the subject).
While ailurophilic people might actually pick a cat up and make it cross the road, other people are sure to get an adrenaline rush at the sight of a cat crossing their path. These small animals that probably need just some fish a day are powerful enough to stop a car. However, the good part of this superstition is that the person who had first ‘discovered’ that a cat brings ill luck on crossing your path, had also suggested a remedy. All you need to do is take three steps back, no matter how convulsed you may appear in the middle of the road to vanquish all the ill luck that the cat implemented on you. Though now, man has become quite liberal in his thoughts and has come up with an alternative theory that the cat isn’t the one that brings ill luck; it simply warns you of upcoming danger in your life.
Moving on from animals, let’s take a look at some other interesting superstitions that occupy our monotonous activities. Putting water on our plate after a wholesome meal now happens quite involuntarily. It is simply an indication of a saturated appetite and is quite harmless unlike an upcoming one. Though the reason behind it is still unknown but in most Bengali homes, it is a common observation and occurs without much complaint from anyone. Likewise, stepping on a doorframe (choukhat) is considered spiteful , though it has a mythological significance —The Demon King Hiranyakashipu was killed by Lord Narsimha (half lion, half man) on the door frame of the house and hence it is quite sinful to step on the frame. Eggs, one of the most prime sources of proteins that are scientifically known to boost mental power, are prohibited before exams. Yes, it is believed that eating eggs before exams will result in getting an egg shaped number in the mark sheet. Sitting on pillows is also believed to be causing blisters in various parts of the body, though nowadays, this belief is losing its significance due to lack of evidences. Lemon and chillies are hung on doors to keep away evil spirits from the house, and it is a very common feature of a Hindu middle class house.
Speaking of repelling evil spirits, I can’t help but mention an incident. In the year 2011, I had visited New Delhi to my Uncle’s house who lives in a completely residential area named Srinivaspuri. A very interesting feature that I noticed in almost all of the houses was a Demon mask hung on the balconies. Being a child of just 10, I asked my father in curiosity about it. It was then that I learnt that we humans had successfully tamed demons and appointed them as guards against paranormal beings. The demon masks are also believed to protect the house from evil thoughts of envious people(the ‘phenomenon’ of which is called buri nazar).
Another superstition which, in my opinion, is a brilliant way to initiate romance in two different people. When two people accidentally headbutt each other, it is believed that they must re-headbutt, else they’ll grow horns out of their foreheads. Never have I heard or seen a human with horns and hence no biological studies have been made on it. However, when two people of opposite genders who give each other a hormonal surge, accidentally collide by God’s wish, they surely wouldn’t miss another chance to get in close proximity under the pretext of not growing a horn.
These common practices along with many more are quite harmless and innocuous.
There is, however, a very serious superstition present till date in many families with parochial attitude. It is the isolation of women during menstrual cycles.
Many families still consider women as ‘impure’ during their menstrual bleeding. I personally know of such families where women are made to sleep on the floor and eat separately during thus phase. The chief reason behind it is the lack of scientific awareness. A simple biological process that simply paves the path for creation of new life is considered impure, which certainly doesn’t make good sense. Infact, in these times, the women should be treated kindly, cared for and given adequate amount of rest.
Elders often launch omens on us when we fail to abide by the common superstitional rules. It is merely the unexplained and quite irrational fear of unknown troubles that forcibly make us avoid cutting nails on a weekday we were born on, putting wet towels on the bed and so on. Scientists are trying to discover the underlying science of these beliefs. And surprisingly enough, they have succeeded. For instance, prevention of certain activities on full moon nights having bad aftermaths now has a scientific support. Sweet or sour, these beliefs that we have inherited can be practised as long as they don’t cause any damage to the society and the search for scientific and logical reasonings shall always go on.
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Saptajit is a teenager who enjoys creative writing from a very early age. Though he's an aspiring doctor but has a great passion for literature and writes short, romance touched poetry mostly in free verse. He also takes great interest in painting and understanding the depths of human psychology.