This image shows a young boy thinking about why there are some customs like reading Panchangam (Tamil Calendar), celebrating Pongal festival , visiting temples often

The Science behind Myths and Superstitions in India

Why do myths and superstitions exist?

When there are tales told for generations that are being passed on over and over, its time that we sit back and think why were they even created. India, historically is an ancient land with profound culture, heritage, tradition and knowledge. Indians were aware of the most advanced techniques and had deep knowledge in Mathematics, Science, Literature and Medicine. This is evident from the construction and lifestyle memoirs of Indus valley civilization found in the current cities Punjab and Sindh of Pakistan and Vaigai Valley civilization, which is currently being excavated in Keezhadi, Tamilnadu – India.

The excavated remains of Indus Valley Civilization, the cities of Harappa and Mohenjadaro. This shows large areas surrounded by brick walls, taken in present day Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh province
Indus Valley Civilization (Image Credit: thebetterindia)
The picture shows excavated findings from Keezhadi, a 3000 year old Vaigai Valley civilization, which could be older than Indus Valley civilization. This has been built with brick walls, has steps and spreads in a large area. The site is in Tamilnadu, India.
Vaigai Valley Civilization (Image Credit: thebetterindia)

They seemed to be habitats with drainage facilities and proper water management systems. They found that burnt bricks were used for construction and pieces of gold ornaments, pots, weapons, scripts and so on were in use. This means that there was perfect urban planners to build cities with advanced infrastructure.

Even today, one can draw a simple comparison between a typical Indian astrologer versus great astronomers and sky watchers from around the world. Both of them could give us forecasts on various outer-space events. But, without the aid of any instrument or onerous observations, Indians were able to exactly predict the occurrence of eclipse, weather, overall lifestyle changes and many other happenings in the outer space and on earth, during 3rd Millennium BC. Doesn’t it seem queer that the land filled with scholars and ancient scientists has also given some myths and superstitions to be followed and believed by people?

One needs to explore the reasons behind why, Indian ancestors had passed on such legends along with immense knowledge. Superficially, it looks like they wanted people to follow some practices and trust certain things for the welfare of themselves and the community. But the people might have been too obedient to raise questions against their elders then or they were firm believers of God. So, it may not have been easy to persuade them to adhere certain practices. Which is why, perhaps connecting everything to God was an easier method adopted by the then teachers / scholars to make people strictly follow some practices. As a result, there have been seemingly baseless and irrational practices followed by generations and over.

What are Myths and Superstitions?

There is a general tendency to see spiritual entities and rituals as myths and superstitions by the people who claim themselves to be “Rational and Modern thinkers”. To make it very clear, the most sought after controversy of whether there is God or not, could perhaps be taken as grounds to say that, existence of such a things as God is a myth. But this not the topic of interest. Are the religious / spiritual / social practices and some customs myths? This is the question I am trying to give answer for. So, the debate of theist versus atheist is totally out of scope of the current context.

The idea of always calling some customary practices to be superstitious is because ,they (so called “Rationalists”) say that they cannot find any scientific proof to convince themselves to have a reason to follow the customs. But, on the other hand one cannot neglect the fact that “Science” has its own limitations too. Even today, being in the “Digital era” of the 21st century, there are so many observations on the very planet we are living in, that are mysterious. “Science” or “Scientific Research”, still is unable to explain or understand a lot of such happenings. Following are some of those mysteries:

  • Bermuda Triangle, is a place over North Atlantic Ocean, off North America where around 50 ships and 20 air crafts roughly have been reported missing.
    • Compass is said to oscillate in the region without pointing in one direction. Supernatural theories were speculated to explain this.
    • U.S Coast Guards and Maritime associations dismiss these theories citing the lack of any evidence to prove that the casualties were caused by “extraordinary factors”
    • Some tried to give scientific reasons to explain the compass behavior and missing cases of transports, but they were unable to provide any conclusive evidence, and hence ended up becoming Scientific theories
    • But till date, there is no probable rational theory or the one theory that explains the mystery behind this “Devil Triangle” concretely
  • The missing Malaysian Aircraft Boeing 777-200ER , with 239 occupants that flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8th March 2014
    • Shortly after the aircraft took off, there was a loss of communication between the aircraft and ATC (Air Traffic Control) base station
    • After entering the Vietnamese airspace, the airplane disappeared from the secondary radar. Even four hours later, the designated landing time at Beijing, there was no response from the aircraft nor was it caught in any radar. Later it was found that the aircraft was flying for 6 hours after disconnection
    • The search to find this missing aircraft was launched with international aids from countries like India. It was the costliest search in the aviation history. There were few debris found near French island of Reunion located in the west of Indian Ocean, shores of Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius in the years 2015 and 2016
    • But the findings of Inmarsat satellite and debris of the plane proved to be of no use as there was no concrete evidence to explain what exactly caused the disappearance.
    • The search ended after four years when the Malaysian Government released a final report in July 2018 that was inconclusive and admitted that there has been a mechanical failure which is obvious as there was loss of connection in the mid air
    • But the actual reason behind its disappearance is still a question mark
  • The pandemic due to Corona Virus that began in China by end of 2019 swept the entire globe and brought to a standstill by March 2020
    • From then, till today all the countries are trying to combat and adapt to the new normal with Covid-19 restrictions in place and lockdowns are being imposed from time to time
    • This laid severe economic burden on all the countries and the effect is still felt, as the threat for life is still on
    • Living in the most advanced age of Science and Technology, I bet no one expected that people will have to save their lives by wearing masks and sanitizing everything constantly. But it did happen
    • Currently, researchers and scientists around the world are studying the virus and have succeeded in producing vaccines
    • But while administering the vaccine to public, there were side effects and some were unfortunately fatal
    • Hopefully, after ongoing research there will be a perfect vaccine and one day the world will return to its old normal with everything back in its place

Thanks to Science and technology. Given the facts, from “Stone age” to the current “Digital Age” of mankind, it was only the scientific discoveries and inventions that kept civilizing and developing our society. Whereas ,the above are few citations where the most rational Science, Technology or Mathematics failed to prove their reasoning and theories. Not to blame these subjects or believers of them, the above section only aimed at highlighting the possible downfalls of “Science and Technology”.

Are Ancient Indians Magicians?

There are certain magnificent facts that make me think that ancient Indians could have been very thoughtful and intelligent. But they gave away their knowledge without much history to it, that it appears to me like they were Magicians who never revealed the secrets behind their tricks. Hence we are unable to easily decipher the in-depth meanings and messages that they have left behind for the years to come. Some of the facts listed below may convince you to believe this

  • Giant temples were built with its tower(Kumbh / Kalasam) filled with “Navadhanya” meaning nine grains (Barley, Finger millet, Kodo millet, Foxtail millet, Little Millet, Rye, Horse gram, Corn and Paddy) and covered with a metal alloy (a combination of Gold, Silver, Brass, Copper, Lead)
    • The huge spacious structure was laid to accommodate a large number of people during disasters
    • The reason for storing the food grains on top of the building was to save it from flood, so that they can be used as seeds for the next harvest
    • This therefore helped people to survive even after natural calamities to redevelop and make a living. The grains are refilled with fresh ones, once in every 12 years during a function conducted exclusively for this known as “Kudamuzhugu Vizha”
    • The Gold kalasam being a good conductor of electro magnetic waves, acts as lightning conductor protecting the surrounding areas
    • Thus generally no buildings are constructed taller than the height of the temple’s kalasam. For example, Kalasam kept at a height of 50 meters from ground, covers surroundings of 100 meter radius as lightning protector
    • Also, it is known to attract positive energies from the atmosphere and the cosmic energy is forced downwards due to gravity
    • The mantras said and bells rung, create a pattern of vibration in the atmosphere that will strengthen and radiate more positive energy
    • Usage of lot of flowers and incense sticks is to allow easy respiration for the large crowd that gathers to worship the God
The picture depicts the Gold Kalasam / Gold tower top of a temple in India
Temple tower made of Gold/ Kalasam (Image Credit: instructables.com)
  • It was a usual practice to sprinkle turmeric water in front of the house and then draw beautiful rangolis using rice flour at the entrance to welcome guests
    • This became a daily chore for all the households and it was done by the ladies
    • It was and is believed that this will bring happiness and wealth to the home. That is why it is followed everyday even now
    • It is believed to welcome Lakshmi into the house – the Hindu goddess of wealth
    • But the scientific reason behind this is that, turmeric will act as antibacterial agent and cleanse the surroundings of the house
    • The rice flour used for rangoli was to feed ants and the action of the fingers, activates the motors of the hand joints, enhances neurological system and helps improve lateral thinking as the drawing has to do with connecting dots and strokes
    • In the early morning, when the brain is fresh and stress free, this activity typically helps to improve creativity and regulates blood flow in your body
The picture depicts a painting of an Indian women donned in saree, drawing rangoli using rice flour at her house entrance
Indian lady drawing rangoli with rice flour (Image Credit: astroulagam.com)
  • Almost all the animals were and are worshipped as God or transport of any God and festivals are convened to thank the mother earth for the abundant resources the nature has gifted us with
    • For example, the popular Vinayagar / Lord Ganesh has the form of an elephant face and human body
    • When things were connected to God , people feared and undoubtedly followed the rules
    • Hence, these forms of worship was to encourage people to love nature and not harm them by hunting or destroying
    • There are festivals like “Thai Pongal“, “Naga panchami” to emphasize and remind us of the importance of nature and appreciate our co-existence along with other creatures
Picture of "Thai Pongal" depicts a farmer praying and thanking the crops and harvesting them. Cows being decorated and prayed for helping Agriculture and livelihood. Sun is thanked by keeping a pot of rice (Pongal) that is decorated using sugar canes.
Thai Pongal (Image Credit: hobartcity.com.au)
Festival of Nagpanchami is to celebrate Snakes and their existence. The image shows a lady offering milk to snake's burrow.
Naga Panchami (Image Credit: drikpanchang.com)
  • Most of the rituals in Hinduism – the oldest way of life of all the ancient Indians are based on fire.
    • Just like living things, non living things are also given importance
    • The five basic elements are known as “Panchaboothams” , namely Air, Water, Fire , Land and Sky
    • It is believed that “Fire” is the messenger to God, as it rises up above the earth towards sky, where God is assumed to be present (Mel-loham). So, fire is grown on every auspicious occasions to seek the blessings of the almighty
    • The fire pot is called as “Homa kundam”, it is made up of bricks filled with cow dung or tree wastes that are burnt using ghee as a fuel to do fire offerings
    • Researches have proved that this process releases oxygen into the atmosphere and purifies the body, when the smoke of “Homam” / “Havan” is inhaled, one can actually feel this refreshment after attending it
    • There is also a festival to celebrate fire – “Kaarthigai Deepam”. It is celebrated by lighting lamps all round the house, this falls in the time of winter during months of November – December( the “Kaarthigai” month of Tamil calendar).
    • Scientifically, it keeps the atmosphere warm, when all the households light lamps and it keeps away darkness. Therefore, avoid any animals or harmful pathogens from entering the house, which is mostly prone to occur during winter
    • Even today in Tamilnadu, a massive lamp is lit in the mountains of “Thiruvannamalai” which can be seen from every house in the town
    • Thus, India is a land of festivals that celebrates mortal and immortal creations that help us make a better and easier living
This picture of "Kaarthigai Deepam" shows two girls in lighting many mud lamps in their households and decorating their house by arranging them at different places
Kaarthigai Deepam (Image Credit: drikpanchangam.com)
The picture of "Annamalayaar deepam" / "Thiruvannamalai deepam" shows the mountain top if thiruvannamalai that is lit with a gigantic lamp that is visible to all the people of the town from their house
Thiruvannamalai Deepam (Image Credit: cybernag.in)
  • Fasting during “Ekadasi“. This is the eleventh day of the moon cycle from the full moon and the new moon days
    • This occurs twice a month, once in every fifteen days. It is told by the elders that one should fast during these days by observing the importance of food and thanking God for it
    • One can have Water, Milk and Fruits offered to God, called as “Prasadam” on the day of fasting
    • A specific menu is also prescribed the following day, “Dwadasi” that consists of a lot of medicinal values due to dominance of ingredients like Pepper to boost immunity, Sweet to give instant energy, and so on
    • The science behind this is, to give rest to the digestive system. During sleep, almost many systems of our body can take rest, but the digestive system never gets a break, unless you give some time to detoxicate it
    • Especially on the day of “Ekadasi” the air pressure on earth is lowest, so it is the best time to cleanse our digestive system and bowel system
    • When you eat the following day, the food menu is designed in such a way that your system will be able to absorb maximum nutrients to energize yourself
  • Thus, starting from daily chores, to worshipping in temples, observing fasting, conducting rituals at home and even celebrating festivals happily, there is a lot more deeper, scientific meaning to it than one can imagine
  • The list keeps expanding when you try to answer all the questions on why the supposedly called “Myths / superstitions” have to be adhered for

Research before burying customary beliefs / practices and mystical anthropology

  • Only the irrelevant practices and customs whose purposes are solved but still followed are myths.
    • For example, after buying a new vehicle, people decorate it with flowers, turmeric paste is applies on its front. Lemons are kept below, which have to be squeezed against the ground before rolling out for the first time
    • This custom was followed in olden times because, animals used to drive vehicles that is, bullock carts, horse chariots and so on. So, when lemons are kept below their foot before driving long distances, it acts as a disinfectant when their legs are bruised while driving through forest
    • Applying turmeric paste and decorating them with flowers also had similar medicinal reasons
    • But this is an irrelevant practice today, as our vehicles run on tyres. Hence, it is unnecessary to follow these now
    • So, this can be called a “Myth / Superstition” as of today’s world
  • As much as we cannot deny the fact that the discovery of fire and invention of wheel has revolutionized the life mankind, so much we also have to agree that Science was blended or rather the base of spiritualism that played an important role in Hinduism, which was the only way of living in ancient India
  • What one can observe and prove becomes a fact, but the evidences are again man made. It is all based on the theories and facts from the past.
  • Because there are facts that can’t be explained by science, would you call science itself a myth?
  • Some spiritual practices have scientific base and science derives its history from spiritual, religious priests who were also ancient scholars
  • In India, “Guru” was one term that defined a teacher to be a person who imparts knowledge and wisdom at their school called “Gurukul”, very similar to the boarding schools these days, to let them learn life values like obedience, independence, practical learning and so on
  • Thus, when ancient Indians had considered education as a wholesome process in the modern world, it has become very channelized and narrowed, to only gaining information and knowledge
  • May be in this process of evolution we lost some precious information pertaining to the practices and customary events/beliefs that are part of Indian lifestyle till this day
  • So, let us not do away with such customary practices/beliefs in any part of the world for that matter, unless we have done enough research to prove that the practice is irrelevant
  • Why are we asked to murmur “Rama Rama” while its lightening? Why should we perform certain customs? Trying to answer such questions that arise, will help us know more about the science hidden inside it
  • It is note worthy that, lately Vedic Mathematics, Vedic Science and other traditional studies like Yoga (a form of exercise), Siddha, Ayurveda are all regaining popularity. Everyone is now learning to unwind the ancient truths and crucial facts realizing its value
  • Thus, it is the duty of everyone born on earth, to pass on the mother nature and the invaluable assets of culture, knowledge, legends, customs, practices and traditions along with the history of these to the upcoming generations, so that they can make the most out of their lives

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