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Keeping fingers crossed

Superstition, to some is an outdated concept attached to conservatism and orthodoxy. Today’s superstitions started off as practical safeguards, writes Sneha Mahale.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2009 19:08 IST
Sneha Mahale

Superstition, to some is an outdated concept attached to conservatism and orthodoxy. Others swear by it and alter their lives to better suit them. But before it is discounted completely, it is important to know that many of today's superstitions started off as just practical safeguards.

Sociologist Vinita Sahai informs that for ages, man has placed his trust in superstition. She says, “This is due to the belief that future events (bad or good) can be predicted and avoided just by watching out and paying heed to certain signs.. say a black cat crossing the path or walking under a ladder.

“This blind trust has such a tight grip on us that many a time we follow beliefs without even realising it.” Still, she goes on to explain the reason, logic or historic origin behind a few common superstitions.

* For Rita Desai, 50, a housewife, the most common ones that she follows blindly are crossing her fingers and touching wood to wish away bad luck.

She says, “I don’t know why I do so but I do it without being aware of it. I don’t believe in superstitions.. but then why take a chance? More importantly they are small, harmless acts.”

Fact: The origin of the crossing fingers comes from the 'cross' on which Christ was crucified. It is the belief that the cross will ward off all evil that has given rise to this superstition.

Similarly, ‘Touch Wood’ too has its origin with the cross. In the early days, the cross was made of wood — and by
touching something wooden, one was said to be touching the cross and inviting good luck.

* Isha Sahai, 23, an MBA student, says she doesn’t know whether the following can be termed as superstition or not. “When I reach home hungry, my mother insists I take my shoes off before entering the kitchen. She says that we should not disrespect the place where we cook our food.”

Fact: For most Hindus, the kitchen is the temple of their home and the highest levels of hygiene are maintained. This belief originated when kitchens were traditional, with mud stoves in a corner. Families sat on the floor and ate off plates or leaves placed on the ground. This required the kitchen to be absolutely clean.

* Another belief linked to this was.. before eating food, people sprinkled water around their plates supposedly in remembrance of their ancestors.

Fact: The reasoning behind this was simple. The water around the plate acted as a barrier against the ants and insects that crept about the kitchen floor.

* Another popular superstition involves cutting one’s nails before sunset.
“I am in college the entire day and I am at home only at night. So imagine my plight when my parents tell me to cut my nails only in the daytime as it is not a good omen to cut one’s nails at night,” says a frustrated Aditi Deshpande, 22, law student.
Fact: This superstition was actually devised for protection. In the days prior to electricity, as it acted as a deterrent to injuring one’s fingers in the dark, but many still enforce this rule at home, the reasoning lost in time.

* Fishermen leaving for a day's haul would be showered with a little salt for good luck.

Fact: The reasoning.. the fisherman’s world is more ocean than land. Thus the men and women that depend on the sea for their livelihood were sprinkled with this gift as good luck. The logic was to show that men and women acted in co-operation and respect for the substances of the ocean in the hope that the feeling would be reciprocated.

So while the reasoning behind these superstitions is now redundant, the logic behind them is hopefully clearer.