Beliefs and Superstitions ! Part 1.


No matter which part of the world you tour, you will find the natives nurturing certain beliefs and superstitions and India is no exception in this case. Though the Indian society is fast progressing, there are many people who are still superstitious and have a strong faith in the local beliefs. While some of them are quite hilarious, few others are really interesting, as many aspects of life are linked to them. Few beliefs even find their way into the Indian religious texts and scriptures.

The standard viewpoint is that most of the Indian beliefs and values have sprung with an objective to protect from evil spirits, but some were based on scientific reasoning. With the passage of time, the reasoning part behind the origin of these cultural beliefs and superstitions got eroded. That is exactly why most of these beliefs appear unsubstantiated and false. However, in reality, there are many such beliefs in the Indians culture which are absolutely absurd and have no logic behind them.

Superstitions are deemed as pertinent in India because these, generally, hint at future occurrences and can be either good or bad. Thus, anything from the call of a bird to the falling of utensils is considered an omen in India. Many of the traditional superstitions in India are connected with animals, birds and reptiles. For instance, seeing an elephant when one is leaving for a journey is considered lucky. This is because an elephant represents Lord Ganesha, the Indian God who is the harbinger of good luck and removes obstacles.

Similarly, other auspicious signs could be cawing of a black crow in one’s house, as it forecasts the arrival of guests. Seeing a peacock on a journey is also considered lucky, but hearing its shrill sound is bad. Indians feel happy if a sparrow builds a nest in a new house because it signals good fortune. A very old belief is that if you kill a cat, you have to offer one in gold to a priest. This belief or superstition was concocted by the priests to protect the cats, which are useful in killing the rats in people’s houses.

Leaving one’s home after wedding or for some other important task is a significant occasion. Thus, Indians often consult astrological charts to fix an auspicious time for this. Again, it is considered lucky to see cereals, paddy, cotton, hay or a newly wed before embarking on a journey. In India, you may also come across or hear about people who help in interpreting other’s dreams. Even the daily life of Indians is governed by beliefs and superstitions. 

Namaste.A very common word among the Indians.
The moment you step into India, in all probability, the first word you will get to hear will be Namaste! Namaste, also said as Namaskar by the natives, is a traditional Indian style of greeting or parting phrase as well as a gesture. Derived from the Sanskrit language, the literal definition/meaning of the word Namaste is “I bow to you”. If you want to dig deeper to know what does Namaste mean, you can it break up into two Sanskrit words – Namas (meaning – to bow) and Te (meaning – to you). Thus, its real connotation is ‘I bow to you out of respect’.

Namaste happens to be both a formal and an informal form of greeting in India and you can say this to anyone irrespective of age. Normally when you say Namaskar to anybody, you press both your palms together with all the fingers pointing upwards in front of your chest. At the same time, you also bow your head slightly, looking at the person you are saying Namaste to. Even if you simply perform the Namaste gesture with your hands without actually saying the word, it will mean the same thing.

Though saying Namaste to others in daily lives is a part of the Indian protocol, yet many believe it also has religious / spiritual connotation. According to this school of thought, when you greet Namaste, you actually seek to recognize a common divinity within the other person. Interestingly, Namaste can be said in different ways, depending crucially on the person you are saying it to. For instance, when you greet your friend or peer, the traditional style Namaste will suffice.

On the other hand, when it’s a person greeting Namaste to another person of a higher status, this gesture will get intensified. To indicate genuine and deep respect for the other person, you place the hands in front of the forehead. Whereas, you have to pay reverence to God or a holy person then, this feeling can be transmitted through the Namaste gesture by holding / placing the pressed hands above the head. Some natives prostrate on the ground in this posture to show their deep respect and love to God.

The symbolism of the two palms touching each other is of great significance. It is the joining together of two extremities – the feet of the Divine, with the head of the devotee. Yet another theory associates the Namaste greeting with a particular mudra or posture in yoga. However, Namaste being a polite gesture of love and respect can be said to anybody. But traditionally, it’s a Hindu gesture and people of this community greet each other this way only.

Another common gesture you may have observed around you or in Indian based movies is ‘touching feet.
This is, infact, the commonest Indian gesture and touching someone’s feet means the person who is doing the act is showing his respect and subservience to the one whose feet he/she is touching. However, one important aspect related to this gesture is that the person’s whose feet is being touched is always superior in age and position.

Touching elders’ feet is the first lesson in manners and etiquette that all Indian children are taught. So, generally, one is supposed to touch the feet of a person if he/she happens to be an elder member of the family or a respected spiritual person. Since Indians normally live in joint families, this gesture is performed by the sons and daughter-in-laws for their parents and grand parents. Though very young children are guided by their parents to learn this gesture, the comparatively elder ones are expected to do it spontaneously.

In Indian culture, there are specific occasions when a person is expected to touch his / her elders’ feet. These occasions include before one is departing for or arriving back from a journey, weddings, religious and festive occasions, etc. In earlier times, it was a like a custom in India for youngsters to touch their parents’ feet first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Though there are many who still follow this rule, the truth is that the tradition is now slowly waning away with time.

When an elder person’s feet are being touched, he /she, in turn, is supposed to touch the head of the person doing the act and bless him /her for long life, fortune and prosperity. Interestingly, the act of touching feet gets somewhat intensified during certain occasions. For instance, many people prefer prostrating before the deities in temples or before persons of high rank spiritually and even politically. Touching the feet is an integral part of the Indian culture and tradition and not adhering to it by natives is considered as disrespectful.

more later…in part 2.

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