Friday, 31 October 2014

The Number 13

"Never cross a road if a black cat has crossed your path"
"If you sneeze before some work, the work is bound to fail"
"If you mutter the word 'oil' or 'tel' before leaving your home, something unasupicious will befall upon you."
"Wait for the Shubh Muhurat for anything auspicious, be it a medical checkup"
"Consult your horoscopes before getting married"
And the most famous...
"Do not plan anything auspicious on 13th of a month. Dont buy your home on the 13th floor."

I would like to analyze in this post, what caused the above mentioned superstitions to set their stronghold in India, how many of them were based on scientific and logical analogies, and may still hold true even to this day. How many of them are completely baseless, and why do people keep on sticking to them. Needless to say, most of these superstitions have made their way successfully through the new millennium into even this current decade. I may not be able to take up all of them in this post itself, but would definitely like to address all.

The Wicked Black Cat: Surprisingly, this superstition originate in India and has no reference whatsoever in any ancient Indian text. As a matter of fact, black cat was the Vahana of Goddess Shashthi, and symbolized childbirth in ancient India.
What was initially a mere propaganda, is now what people follow with blind faith. In earlier Egypt, the Goddess Bast, who was the Goddess of protection was actually a female black cat. In an attempt to denounce everything non-Christian, the then Christians declared a black cat to be a symbol of bad fate. This superstition propagated further and soon reached India.
Logical/Scientific value: None. This superstition is as good as useless.

Howling dogs: Howling dogs are said to be impeding signs of coming danger. It is believed that if someone listens to a howling dog, some great tragedy would befall on him.
The origin of this superstition turns out to be a very smart move by the ancient Indians. They had learned about the hearing abilities of dogs, and it has also been proved now that dogs have some sixth sense. Hence, howling dogs could very well predict natural calamities like earthquake, tsunami, or even heart attacks in advance and proper measure could be taken.
Logical/Scientific value: Credible to a limit. Not to be followed without reason

Sneeze and drink water: Another one of the most common and widespread superstition of all times is related to sneezing. This again, is based on a scientific logic. When we sneeze, the air and mucus leave our mouth and nose at the speed of 100 miles per hour. Science says that when this much amount of energy is released from the body, body becomes weak for a moment. Just before sneezing, one takes a deep breath  which increases flow of blood to the heart, increasing the heart rate. After sneeze, the heart rate drops all of a sudden, creating the effect of almost missing a heart beat. The western countries have a tradition of saying "Bless You". Saying "have something sweet", or "drink some water" is a way of asking the other person to relax.
Logical/Scientific value: Credible to a limit. Shall not be linked with any jinx or ominous behaviour.

Buri Nazar and the remedies: A superstition as widespread as the black cat and number 13, in the Indian sub-continent, is the Buri Nazar, or the evil-eye. Someone is looking very pretty in a party, or a child genius is celebrated in a parents-teacher meeting, or even getting a meagre salary-hike, can catch someone's fancy or the evil eye, and you are attacked by the Buri Nazar(yes, its that easy). If the person even feels a headache the next day, it confirms someone has set his or her evil eye. The remedy is to take a glass of water and dissolve some salt in it and rotate it around the affected person, immediately flushing it down afterwards.
Stupid, the cause and remedy, may sound, this is based on a solid medical foundation. Salt water attracts negative cosmic energy and breaks it down. It is equally important to throw the contaminated water away regularly.
Logical/Scientific value: Highly credible remedy , but not in the way it is followed in India.

Playing with scissors: Unnecessarily playing with scissors causes rifts in a home. How else would someone educate a child not to play with sharp objects like knife and scissors. A theory was developed around scissors and rifts. Creating fear in a child's mind helps, but thats not the best way always
Logical/Scientific value: Valid only for children, even that is debatable.

Right foot first: The superstition has got more to do with the psych and psychology of a person, than what is right to do and what is wrong. When setting on an important journey or a task, it is important to be in the right and correct frame of mind. Keeping right foot first is training yourself sub-consciously to be upright in the journey. This again, however, depends on the person, rather than "always right foot". Some people may feel more confident setting their left foot forward first. This is a highly personalized practice.
Logical/Scientific value: Again, as good as useless.

The twitching eyes: A left eye twitching on its own is a bad omen, while the right eye twitching on it own means a good news is on its way, or some success on its way. As per modern science, this is nothing more than a sham, this being the only superstition with no logical reasoning whatsoever.
Twitching of eye is a neurological disorder, like Perkinson's disease and should be taken care of, instead of feeling happy about it.
Logical/Scientific value: Again, as good as useless.

The Number 13: A lesser known fact is that 2 days before Diwali(in some regions 1 day before Diwali), Dhanteras is celebrated as the day when one should buy new utensils or jewellery, as it is considered auspicious, however, the day falls on 13th day in the month of Ashwin. Shivratri is celebrated on the 13th night of the Magha month. The probable cause of surge of number 13 as an unlucky number seems to be in the ritual when after death of a person, a ceremonial fast is held in remembrance of the departed soul on the 13th day after his death.
Logical/Scientific value: What began as an innocent practice now faces us in the form of a big and unhealthy superstition with no logical or scientific base whatsoever.

Think of it, India was chosen to be God's own country. Why else would civilization first sow its roots in this land. the intellect of ancient sages, the knowledge of the Vedas, it was all bestowed upon us out of all the lands of the world.
Its a pity, that from being a holy land we are now more of a Land of Superstitions. Most of the practices are followed out of habit and superstition more than intent and the need. people go on teaching these things to their children without even explaining, probably because they themselves are not aware. This awareness has to rise, if we want to get rid of the shackles of superstitions.

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  1. Nice read. Good to know some scientific reasons around so,called superstitions.

    1. Thanks a lot for reading through the post and liking the content