SUPERSTITION AND INDIANS - N.ANANDAN
Superstition refers to the blind faith in an
idea without giving any consideration to reason, logic and evidence. Many superstitions have originated in human society on account of ignorance and fear of the unknown and incomprehensible. They thrive mainly on the greed of human beings. Many superstitions have disappeared in course of time as well. For instance, for many centuries lightning, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and epidemics were assumed as the reflection of God’s anger over the behaviour of human beings. To appease God, many rituals were carried out. Prayers were offered; fasting was undertaken and offerings were given to temples and even human sacrifices were made. These superstitions have vanished gradually during the last two centuries due to development and spread of scientific knowledge about nature and her manifestations.
History of humankind gives an account of how many superstitions have prevailed and caused misery to human beings in the past. In the Western societies, during the Middle ages ( about 1,100 to 1.500) thousands of innocent men and women were killed merely on the grounds that they practised witchcraft. In Medico, during Azetic regime, hundreds of men were brutally sacrificed every year to appease God. In India, till mid-nineteenth century, thousands of women were burnt alive in the funeral pyre of their husbands on the superstition that they would live in heaven with their husbands. In addition, human sacrifices were carried out in both North and South India, either to appease God or to get his favour. Likewise, many barbaric superstitions existed in India.
For example, during Puri Jegannath Temple’s car festival, many devotees would voluntarily fall before the wheels of the chariot to get killed. They committed this suicide on the supposition that they would go to heaven. In that period, many forms of suicides and female infanticide were in practice. Such cruel customs were abolished by the British Governor General, Lord William Bentinck in the 1830s.
Even in this age, numerous superstitions continue in human society. For example, in Western societies, Friday is an unlucky day and thirteen is an unlucky number. Contrarily, Friday is an auspicious day to Muslims and Hindus. Similarly, crossing of black cat on one’s path is bad omen in Western countries and India. But, it is a good omen in Egypt. Thus, the kind of superstitions vary from country to country.
All superstitions are harmful since they inactivate the reasoning capacity of human beings. Secondly, they arrest human endeavour and initiative. Thirdly they make people waste their energy, time and money in worthless rituals and ceremonies. There things lead to decline and decay of civilization. So, we have to be vigilant and guard ourselves against the superstitions.
In India, superstitions are numerous and varied in nature. Our superstition of attaching sacredness to ‘Cow’ is well-known world over. Our caste based obscurantist ideas and beliefs are proverbial. So, let us study the major superstitions that prevail in Indian society and their impact.
In Indian societies, idol worship is one of the major superstitions that preclude the development of scientific bent of mind. It its history is probed into, we find that idolatry has been one of the oldest superstitious belief of humankind. Almost all societies of the world practised them in one form or another during certain period. But, considering its evil effect, many societies began to shed ‘Idol worship’. Jewish society dropped it during 600 BC. European societies gave-up idol worship from the third century onwards synchronizing with the spread of Christianity. Arabian societies dispensed with idolatry from seventh century onwards coinciding with the spread of Islam. Thus, most of the societies of the world have given up the practice of idol worship. A few African and Asian countries do practise them but they do not perform any odd and meaningless rituals and ceremonies to idols. While worldwide situation in respect of idol worship is so, it is widespread in Indian society.
In India, idolatry remains as an integral part of Hindu religion. It is being given much importance by the priestly class to further their interests. Many fictitious stories about the effectiveness of worship of the idols of Gods and Goddesses are being spread by priestly class. Believing those fictitious stories, Hindus throng the temples in large numbers to worship the different idols.
People visit famous temples to get good fortune. For instance, about 30,000 to 60,000 people visit Lord Venkateswara Temple at Thirupathi every day. They wait for days and hours to get a glimpse of that statue for a few minutes. They offer their hard earned money to the temple fund. Their contribution in an average per day runs to about one to one and a half crore rupees. Likewise, more than seven million pilgrimstrek to the mountain shrine of the Goddess Vaishno Devi every year seeking blessing, protection and miracle. About four crore people visit Lord Ayyappa Temple in Kerala every year.
The masses assume that by worshipping idols, their sins will be forgiven and they will be rewarded in this life as well as after life. Only under that notion, they perform costly pilgrimages to the so called holy places and fill the temple coffers with money and valuables. This illusion prevents people from acquiring worldly wisdom. It also averts people from realizing the value of thought and work. As a result, people live in vain hope. They expect wonders to happen in their lives. Under this false hope, they don’t involve themselves in any productive and creative activities sincerely. This wrong mental attitude towards life and work acts as a major hurdle to our progress.
Belief in auspicious days and time is the other widely prevailing superstition in Indian society. This superstition has been in existence in human society for a long period. Many moral preachers such as Buddha, Confucius, Christ and Prophet Mohammed have condemned this belief. As a result, faith in this superstition is less in the Western and the Eastern societies. But, this exists widely in India society. According to this belief, a few days are auspicious and other days are not. For example, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday are auspicious days. Tuesday and Saturday are inauspicious days, unfit to conduct any social functions. Likewise, in a day, different times are auspicious while other times are inauspicious.
Only on auspicious days and time, festivals and ceremonies and functions are being held in Indian society. In an anxiety to carry out rituals and ceremonies in auspicious time, people experience several hardships. Fanatic adherence to this superstition leads to human sufferings at times. For instance, during the famous Kumba Mela festival, lakhs and lakhs of people gather and all of them are keen in having a dip in the Ganga river during the auspicious time fixed by the priests. While doing so, hundreds of people fall on one another and in the ensuing rush hundreds of people die. Similarly, stampedes are common in temple festivals across the country.
Auspicious day and time are being adhered to while conducting social functions. Auspicious days for solemnizing marriages are only 55 to 60 days in a year. The rest of the days i.e. 310 days in a year are marked as inauspicious days, not suitable for solemnising marriages. Believing this superstition, most of the people in the South conduct marriages only on those days. Not only Hindus but also Muslims and Christians conduct marriages only on those days. To that extent, this superstition governs the minds of Indians, irrespective of one’s religious conviction.
While the faith in auspicious days and timings is so strong and widespread in India, they are not uniform throughout the country. Different auspicious “months”, “days”, and “time” are being prescribed by different astrological systems. For example, Tuesday is an inauspicious day in the South whereas it is not so in North India. Interestingly, to the Hindus of Nepal, all week days are auspicious and marriages are being solemnized on all days in a year. This clearly indicates the senselessness of this belief. Such a belief has vanished in all the civilized societies. Only the Indians cling to this superstition fanatically.
The belief in the prophesy based on the position of some stars and planets at the time of one’s birth is another widespread superstition. This belief has been in existence since pre-Christian era. Its origin goes back to Chaldeans and Babylonians of 2000 BC. This belief had a jolt in the sixteenth century after the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473- 1543) pronounced his theory that earth rotates in its axis and moves around the sun. From the seventeenth century onwards the belief that the position of stars and planets influence the lives of human beings has started to fade due to the development of scientific knowledge about the solar system and better understanding of the planetary movements. The eighteenth century Europe witnessed rejection of astrology in view of the age of reason. In modern India, this belief should have died out. But, it continues.
In India, majority are under the impression that they can peep into their future with the help of astrology. Even the educated Indians believe the blabbering of the illiterate astrologers. In South India, bride and groom’s birth stars and horoscopes are still the deciding factors for marriages. Even in Kerala where the literacy rate is high, the belief in astrology and watercraft is at fanatic level. Likewise, faith in numerous superstitions such as palmistry, numerology, namology, Vasthu etc. is strong in India. In no other society, are the believers of these superstitions so numerous and make up such a larger percentages in our society. Based on astrology, people take un-wise decisions and dissipate their energy and natural resources in useless rituals and ceremonies. These wasteful activities are the great impediments to our progress.
Faith in God-men and God-women and their supernatural powers is another peculiar superstition in Indian society. This odd belief too had existed in all societies long ago. But, with the spread of knowledge and rationalistic ideas, this faith has waned in all the civilized societies. In India, this stupid belief is still alive. The present condition is such that anyone who can perform a few magics can become a god-man and live like a Maharaja of olden times.
For example, an ordinary man known as Sathya Saibaba has become a god-man by performing merely a few magical feats, which any magician can do. By posing himself as avatar of god, he has amassed wealth to hundreds of crores of rupees. Observing his popularity, many cheats and criminals have become self-styled god-men and god-women by waring saffron clothes. They live in great luxury. They have constructed their residences like palaces at an enormous cost. They deceive gullible people in many ways. They hypnotize people by making them sing devotional songs in chorus and do many rituals and ceremonies to hoodwink them. They employ mass media to hoodwink the masses. In no other civilized country, could this sort of cheats become god-men and god-women and have lakhs of disciples of exploit.
Thus, many superstitions rule the minds of our people. They poison the minds of our people fatally and suppress the basic instinct to think and act. They implant an ideology of slavish servility and paralyse the will and mind. They stifle self-reliance and deter people from living productively and creatively.
While the intensity in Indian society is striking, a global survey shows that many superstitions do prevail in all human societies to some extent. Only their role and impact vary. Observing these things, a basic question arises as why numerous superstitions prevail even in this scientific age. To this question, psychologists answer: “Everywhere people assume the existence of powers which could influence their lives for better or worse. To placate the anger of these forces or to buy their goodwill became almost obsession neurosis.”
To this question, the famous British Essayist Francis Bacon (1561-1626) answered: “The causes of superstitions are : pleasing and sensual rites and ceremonies; excess of outward holiness; over great reverence of traditions.”
In India, superstitions’ hold over the people is strong since the hereditary priestly class cunningly rationalize all superstitions and refer them as values and customs of Hindu religion. Secondly, the caste-based setup confuses our people and make them fatalistic. Caste-based customs and values spread slavish servility. These things collectively deaden the reasoning brain of our people and strengthens the roots of superstitions in Indian society.
Commenting on Atheism and superstition, Francis Bacon wrote “Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral values, though religions were not; but superstition dismounts all these and erects an absolute monarchy in the minds of men. True to that comment, superstitions erect an absolute monarchy in the minds of Indians. As a result, most of the Indians follow the dictates of superstitions with the hope that there might be ‘something’ in them. They don’t question the beliefs and customs handed out to them.
Stressing the importance of ‘spirit of enquiry’ the famous rationalist R.G.Ingersoll (1833-1899) says, “Man should think; he should use all his senses; he should examine; he should reason. The man who cannot think is less than man; the man who will not think is a traitor to himself. The man who fears to think is superstitions’ slave.
As per this yardstick, large number of Indians are the slaves of superstitions since they fear to doubt their beliefs and put them to logical and rational analysis. By performing meaningless rituals and ceremonies, they imagine themselves as religious and pious. They are unaware that they are ignorant. To change the condition, spirit of enquiry needs to be encouraged at all levels. People should be motivated to think rationally and review all our values. They should be encouraged to discard the useless and senseless values and at the same time abide by the meaningful values.
Many societies were in a similar condition and by discarding useless values they became progressive. For instance, Japan kicked off the useless rites and rituals and became a powerful nation. Russia dropped many religious customs and became a healthy nation. Recently, many African countries dropped faith in sorcery and black magic and became progressive. These are the lessons to us. They indicate that we should develop a scientific temper in our society; that we should discard all superstitious ideas doled out to us in the name of tradition and that we should get rid of all anarchistic customs and beliefs. A revolution in the world of ideas is the need of the hour.