“You just sneezed: we cannot leave the house for another fifteen minutes.”
How many of us have heard that phrase before, or are even guilty of saying it ourselves? Hindu dharma, or perhaps our own culture, is full of superstitions.
Superstitions play a large part in either our grandparents or parents’ generation. They guide decisions such as when you can or can’t wash your hair, or having to marry a tree due to the time of year when you were born!
So do any of these superstitions have any basis? Do they have a dharmic context? Or is it all just nonsense? Below are some common superstitions that are commonly practised; each one will be followed by the scientific reasoning behind it.
Hanging lemons and chillies outside shops and houses will ward off Alakshmi, who is the goddess of bad luck. When the goddess comes she will eat all the lemon and chillies, and it will prevent her from wanting to enter. She will go away without casting the eye of evil on the house or shop.
An alternative suggestion to why chillies and lemons are hung on cotton thread is that the thread absorbs the acid whilst fresh, and realises a smell into the air which acts as a simple, natural effective pesticide.
I’m sure everyone has had their mum chasing them around the house with a spoonful of yoghurt and sugar shouting “if you don’t eat this you will fail your exam.” It is also something done before people set off on long journeys or other potentially stressful situations.
A simple explanation is that yoghurt is a natural coolant, digestive agent and stomach settler, and the sugar is an instant source of glucose which gives you energy. When the two are given together it makes sense: one is to calm your nerves by settling your stomach, and the other is to give you energy to sit the exam.
The house should not be swept in the evening after sunset as it said that Lakshmi Mata will leave your house, leading to poverty.
When there was no electricity or light was limited, sweeping the house in darkness created a chance that small gold ornaments would drop onto the floor and be swept away.
These are just a few example of common superstitions in society which have logical explanations. Are superstitions really all that bad? They are funny quirks of our dharma or culture which I believe help us stay connected in a bizarre way. They also provide great conversation starters amongst groups of Hindus, and it is also interesting to see how people from different parts of India have different superstitions. Another way to view it is that Hindu dharma has some interesting stories which don’t always make logical sense, and can sound a bit ridiculous. These stories should not, however, be taken at face value, as there is always a deeper message that they are trying to get across.
What will you do with all the superstitions you have heard or are practised in your household? If you have children, will you raise them with the superstitions of your family? When we next listen to a story from Hindu dharma, we must try to search for its deeper meaning.
— Shivangee Maurya (Pharmacist), Events Team Member