Faith And Superstition

Faith And Superstition

Faith is faith, how can we define it. But yes, sometimes because of lack of knowledge or pain and fear or even because of traditions, we do certain things or we follow certain rituals. We can see an error in these traditions but we still have faith or belief in them. Is it Superstition or Lack of Vision?

This depends upon person to person. Sometimes we follow superstitious traditions which are harmless to others, but the person following them gets mental stability and inspiration.

In India, we have a tradition that before starting a new business or if you have bought a new vehicle or before starting any new thing, we break Coconut.

I have seen many people who go to the temple and break the coconut in front of God daily. Coconut is a unique fruit. Its shell is hard, but on the inside it is tender. We have this belief that our ego is like the hard shell of a Coconut, if we break it then on the inside it is tender and pure. We break the Coconut in the temple in front of God to get rid of our ego and all the negative qualities.

Tradition Behind Lighting A Lamp (Deep)

In every Hindu home, a lamp is lit daily before prayer. Hindu Dharma gives a lot of importance to the lamp. I remember, when I was young, Mom used to lit the lamp in front of God in the morning and evening. Mornings we used to be in school. But in the evening after the lamp was lit, Mom used to make us sit with palms joined in Namaskar position, and chant the Shlokas. These Shlokas are mainly thanking God for blessing us with physical and mental health and all the happiness. After the Shlokas, we used to say the tables (from 2 to 20 and alphabets).

It is said that Goddess Rajarajeshwari resides in a lamp – she represents the combined form of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati (Durga is the goddess of power or physical health, Lakshmi is considered as the goddess of prosperity and Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge.

A Deep (lamp) is said to remove darkness from the mind and heart of a person.

Scientific Reason Behind Lighting The Lamp

The scientific reason behind lighting the lamp is, earlier there were no electric lights. Homes were built from organic materials so people couldn’t afford to open up huge windows. Generally, the houses in ancient times were dark inside. That is why additional lamps were required.

I personally think that a faith or a ritual which doesn’t hurt anybody – then how much ever strange it may sound, if it makes a person mentally strong and stable then it is worth following for the individual.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi says, “Mind is never a problem. Mindset is.”

Sometimes superstitions can have a soothing effect, relieving anxiety about the unknown and giving people a sense of control over their lives. This may also be the reason why superstitions have survived for so long. People have passed them on from generation to generation.

What is Superstition?

According to Richard Webster – “Superstitions are irrational fears of the unknown or blindly accepted irrational beliefs or practices which are not based on knowledge of facts but ignorance.”

In other words, superstitions are long-held beliefs that appear to be rooted in coincidence or cultural tradition rather than logic or facts.

Few Indian Superstitions and Theories Behind Them

Ours is a country of diverse culture and traditions and a lot of superstitions. The most common of them which we see around every day is –

1. A Black Cat Crosses Your Path, It’s A Bad Omen

if you are going somewhere in a hurry and a black cat crosses your path, that means nothing but just that an animal has crossed your path. The best part is we know that nothing is going to happen but we still believe in this superstition. And we stop when a black cat crosses our path and wait for someone else to pass first.

2. Hanging Lemon and 7 Green Chilies

We believe in the goddess of wealth i.e., goddess Lakshmi and we also believe in goddess Alakshmi, the goddess of misfortune. Shop owners or business owners, even on vehicles we see lemon and green chillies hanging. We believe that goddess Alakshmi likes sour, pungent and hot things to eat. So, shop or business owners or even on vehicles hang lemon and green chillies at their door or in front of vehicles, so that goddess can satisfy her hunger leave without entering the shop or vehicle. But the scientific reason might be because lemon and green chillies have disinfectant and pesticide qualities.

3. Adding One Rupee to Gift Sum

This is an interesting one. At a wedding or on special occasions we gift money but that amount is never round in figure. We add One Rupee coin to an entire sum like 101 or 1001 etc. If we add one rupee to the sum then the amount will be indivisible and it is good because like this math, our relation will go on. But if we don’t add one rupee coin then the sum will end in zero which means ‘The end. Interestingly right!!

4. Don’t Sweep After Sunset

Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth will walk out of your house if you sweep your place after sunset. We all want wealth, but why sunset? In old times when electric bulbs were not invented, we used to rely on oil lamps during the nights and in the evening. In such a situation, if we sweep the floor and some costly item has fallen down then it will be thrown away in the garbage bin. With limited visibility, this ritual was made and we follow it to date.

5. Don’t Go Near A Peepal Tree In The Night

Peepal is one tree, the ghosts like to have around and if you sleep under a Peepal tree at night, the ghost will kill you. Plants and living beings keep a balance in nature. In the morning during the process of photosynthesis, they absorb Carbon Dioxide and give Oxygen but at night they give Carbon Dioxide and absorb Oxygen. There might be few cases because of the lack of Oxygen. But ghosts…..?

There are many beliefs and superstitions in India that range from amusing to downright bizarre. Jane Risen, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth in Illinois says that – “Humans can think both ‘fast’ and ‘slow’. The former mode of thinking is snappy and intuitive while the latter is more rational and its main job is to override the intuitive judgement when it finds errors.” This is called a dual-process model of cognition to explain our belief in superstition. (Cognition is the process by which knowledge and understanding are developed in the mind.)

The dual thinking model is an established one but in the case of superstition, Risen suggests that the model should undergo refinements. The researcher notes that error detection does not automatically involve error correction. In other words, people can realize that their belief is wrong but still act on it.

Jane Risen continues that, “The thinking fast and slow model” must allow for the possibility that people can recognize – at the moment – that their belief does not make sense, but act on it nevertheless. People can detect an error, but choose not to correct it. She refers to it as Acquiescence (consent).

Superstitions are belief which originates either from coincidence or culture and tradition, rather than logic or facts.

What Causes Superstition?

If you grow up in a family which is steeped (full of) in superstitions, then you may also carry these beliefs forward subconsciously. A few of them are:

  • Do not cut nails after dark
  • Eat curd before heading out
  • Eclipses are a bad omen for a pregnant woman
  • Wearing gemstones brings good luck etc.

Superstitions can also be followed by individual experiences. I remember for my job interview I wore the same Kurti and the same earrings which I wore on the first interview. I very well knew that my Kurti and jewellery had nothing to do with my interview but still I did that.

We are Indians, we are unique with our cultural diversity. We have given brilliant Scientists, Engineers and Doctors to the world. Even now before sending powerful rockets into space, we don’t forget to do our Puja for success.

We all remember the 2011 Cricket World Cup finals between India and Sri Lanka. After the first inning and half of the second inning when there were nail-biting moments, my son chanted Hanuman Chalisa 16 times. We believe that Lord Hanuman is an exemplification of strength, devotion and perseverance. By chanting his name, my son was helping the Indian team win. We won that Cup. But the important thing is along with the blessings of elders, family, god, we won because we worked hard to win the match. In India, culture and science go hand-in-hand.

Research shows that the literacy rate in India, the year 2020 is 77.7%. Being literate doesn’t mean being educated in the case of superstition. This has always been the case in our country. Superstitions, beliefs and practices vary from one region to another, ranging from harmless practices like lemon and chillies, totems in order to ward off the evil eye, to harmful acts like witch-burning.  The Indian government has tried to put new laws, prohibiting such practices. But these laws often face a lot of opposition from the general public.

Narendra Dabholkar was an Indian Medical Doctor, Social Activist, Rationalist and Author from Maharashtra. In 1989, he founded ‘The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti’. This committee was made to eradicate superstition in Maharashtra. Mentioning Dr Narendra Dabholkar’s name when we are discussing a few evil superstition practices is very important.

Sati Pratha and Human Sacrifice are not prevalent in our country now. On 3rd January 1988, the Indian parliament passed a new law against Sati Pratha. It is alleged that cases often go unreported or are covered up in case of Human Sacrifices. In some cases, humans have been replaced by animals and birds.

The prevalent dangerous superstitions are Godmen and Faith Healers, Witch Hunts. Mostly in villages, have the belief that Witchcraft and Blackmagic are effective. They seek advice from the Witch Doctor for health, finance and marital status.  Unfortunately, women are mainly accused of Witchcraft and occasionally killed.

The word Godmen in colloquial terms, used for spiritual Kader or Baba, Swami, Guru. Many of them claim to have magic and psychic power and prefer miracles. There are also female Gurus.

There were certain traditions, whatever rationale they had to follow these traditions, AND THEY HAD….., is not acceptable in today’s context. Whether those rationales they had even after that time, was good or bad is left for the individual to judge.