Need to end beliefs and superstitions

Need to end beliefs and superstitions

KRISHNA MOHAN                                                                                                JAMMU: India is a land of superstitions and various strange beliefs. Superstitions are found not only among the rural illiterate, but also among the literate Indians, rural as well as urban. Besides, there is a strange unity among Indians in the matter of superstitions.
Let us first take the case of Kerala, one of the states which boasts of having attained the highest literacy. No wonder the great Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, named it the mad-house of India. Keralites have many popular superstitions and even educated Keralites fall prey to them. In northern Kerala, nobody makes any payment from their house to anyone after lighting the lamp at dusk. If you keep credit with any shopkeeper, you have to make your purchases before the evening lamp is lit. Similarly, certain days, like Tuesdays are not considered good to start a travel.
There is village in central Kerala near Thrissur, known as the cultural capital of the state, where open worship of an IMP called ‘Kuttichathan” is done. Most of the jewellers in Trichur, mostly Christians, believe this IMP has given them wealth and worship it. And, a number of people make their living out of this superstition.
People from the nearby Tamil Nadu and Karnataka too come to Trichur to worship this child devil and get its blessings.
Although untouchability is now punishable under law, there are many in Kerala who still practise it. No less a person than former President K.R. Narayan had openly said when he visited his Alma Mater in Kottayam district that he was not allowed to sit with high caste students on the bench when he studied there.
As we travel to other parts of India, we come across many other popular superstitions. Certain animals, birds and even people are considered to be of bad omen while starting a journey. While driving or walking along a road, if a black cat crosses your path, you have to wait there and let the next person pass. The belief is by doing so the ill luck is passed on to that person. I saw some of my friends doing this in Jammu, while driving.
Similarly, brooms, empty vessels, vessels containing milk are all treated as bad omen, as are many other objects we use in our daily life. Recently, I was told of a family to whose house a saint had come. It is said if anyone is bit by a venomous snake in that village, that person is carried to that house, where they chant mantras and cure him sans any medicine. No need to manufacture anti-venom, then! There was a person like this in my own village, who could chant mantras and cure people of snake venom. But, as far as I know, the snake-bitten finally ended up in hospitals. The man was a hermit. Finally, one day, his own nephew died of snake venom. The hermit’s mantras simply failed to cure him.
In Andhra Pradesh, no shopkeeper will give you turmeric after the lamp is lit at dusk. In Bihar, after having tea at a wayside kiosk, you have to keep the empty glass on the floor, not on the table. It is said cutting one’s nails at night brings bad luck. True, in olden days, you could have cut your fingers since there was no power connection!
Mangalore falls in Karnataka. Don’t ever dare to kill a snake in Mangalore. The local people will compel you to shell out a minimum of Rs.3000 for the last rites of the snake. One day, when I was a resident there, a cobra strayed into my room. Since all my efforts to drive it away failed, I took a stick and killed it. Since it was a Muslim colony, I didn’t have to pay for its last rites. But when I threw the dead snake out, a woman came out from the nearby house with some water, flowers and turmeric. Chanting something, she threw the turmeric on the snake’s body, and offered flowers to it. She believed the snake would come back to life!
Animal sacrifice has been banned in many places but not in Andhra Pradesh. Once near Himayat Sagar Police Academy, I saw a goat being sacrificed. Before sacrificing the goat, there are a few conditions to be fulfilled. Since these sacrifices are done mostly in Kalimatha temples, the goat is brought before the deity. Then, the goat is made to look at the deity as if in prayer. It also has to shake its head in assent. Getting the animal’s assent is easy. They sprinkle water on its head, making it shake the head vigorously. In this case also, the goat’s permission for sacrifice was obtained. But the goat simply refused to look at the deity. Finally, some people held its head and turned it towards the deity. Then the axe fell, severing its head from the body.
In Tamil Nadu, worship of snakes is prevalent, as in Kerala. Once, when sitting in a friend’s house, I happened to see a cobra moving on the roof of the building. There was an ant-hill like structure on the roof. I was shocked when he told me that there were 15 cobras living in that house and that at night those cobras come down and even sleep on their beds. They believe those snakes brought them prosperity. In Kerala, many ancient houses have a grove in one corner of the compound set apart as snakes’ abode! That place is treated as holy and every day a ceremonial lamp is lit there.
In parts of Maharashtra as well as Karnataka, while building multi-storied buildings, bridges or other projects, human sacrifice is done to appease the gods. It is believed that the foundation needs to be strong. Strict police intervention has been successful in preventing this to a large extent.