Superstitions are not uniquely Indian and exist in every culture and region across the globe. However, there is no denying that at times Indian superstitions are both amusing and even ludicrous to say the least. No matter how we feel about superstitions it is often difficult to shake it off entirely as we are more often than not conditioned in childhood.
Perhaps when these superstitions originated, there was some meaning behind them. Some may be steeped in religious beliefs while others seem like a simple means of discouraging certain types of behaviour or were meant to protect people from the circumstances at that time. And then there are those superstitions which seem so ridiculous at times that it is difficult to even fathom from where it may have originated.
Superstitions Related to Birds and Animals
Superstitions commonly involve beliefs about birds and animals. For instance, to Hindus is considered auspicious to see an elephant on a journey. This is because an elephant symbolizes Lord Ganesha, the God of prosperity and the remover of obstacles. Similarly, sighting a peacock is also considered a good omen. However, the peacock’s shrill cry is inauspicious as it supposedly portends robbery.
According to another superstition, some Hindus consider seeing a cat’s face in the morning as being bad luck. However, cats are often seen in a more positive light in Islam and seeing your pet’s face would not be considered ominous. Some people interpret the crow’s call as a sign that guests are on their way. The howling of a dog or hoot of an owl near a sick person is often taken as a sign of the patient’s further decline in health.
Superstitions Related to the Body
Interestingly, some superstitions are related to the body and regular activities that should in no way be considered ominous. For instance, nails are usually not trimmed at night for fear of arousing the evil spirits. Similarly for Hindus, Tuesday is not considered a good day for washing the hair and Saturday is not the day for purchasing cosmetics.
When a person hiccups, others commonly say that someone is thinking of him or her. According to another superstition, the itching of the right palm signifies the coming of money and good luck. However, if the left palm itches then the reverse holds true. Usually, the right side of the body is considered holy and clean whereas the opposite is believed of the left side. Therefore, gifts and money are always offered with the right hand.
Superstitions Based on Planetary Positions
Believers in Vedic astrology are also very particular about keeping track of the planetary positions at different phases of their lives. Rahu and Ketu are the two planets whose influence evidently dooms a person and those who consult astrologers try to do everything to escape this bad period. They look for a shubh mahurat (good time) when they will marry, take big career leaps and so on.
Superstitions Related to Married Women
There are superstitions concerning married women too. A woman who is menstruating is considered unclean and is not allowed to enter the kitchen or to take part in any religious ceremonies. Maybe one way of looking at it is that a menstruating woman needs rest at this time. However, these superstitious beliefs have often embarrassed women and been the cause of their exclusion from social participation.
Some superstitious people insist that a bride must enter her new home by putting her right foot forward first. Sometimes a new bride is judged based on the fortunes her family faces in the first year after her marriage. According to another superstition, a pregnant woman must not roam about alone at night lest evil spirits possess her or her baby.
Superstitions Related to Travel
There are quite a few supersitions related to travel too. For instance, when someone is on their way somewhere, questions such as ‘Don’t go!’ and ‘Why are you going?’ are considered inauspicious. Similarly, sneezing before the journey begins is considered inauspicious. People who believe in such superstitions will ask the person to restart the journey again or wait for some time before resuming their journey again.
Some Indians are very superstitious right from the start of the day. They believe that what they see in the morning will determine how their day will continue. It is believed that looking at a picture of God, or seeing one’s mother, a bride or a Brahmin is lucky first thing in the morning. Indeed an unpleasant event early in the morning sets forth a day of mishaps for some. It may rather be a matter of the mindset of the individual than actual esoteric effects.
There are countless such superstitions and no end to how many of them can be followed. Due to the spread of formal education in India, many of these beliefs are declining. However, there are still some superstitions that are strictly followed even by the educated.
Perhaps what is more interesting to note in Indian superstitions are that they are not all isolated to the Indian sub-continent. Many cultures in different regions across the world have similar superstitions. Whether you choose to believe in superstitions or not, it is important to use some degree of common sense so as not to hold back your life or that of others in beliefs that are largely unfounded.