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Overview of Superstitions

Overview of Superstitions

Introduction

No matter which part of the world you tour, you will find the people nurturing certain beliefs and superstitions and India is no exception in this case. Though the Indian society is fast progressing, there are many people who are still superstitious and have a strong faith in the local beliefs. Most of the beliefs have originated from  Indian religious texts and scriptures. Dharmsindhu, a Sanskrit scripture, prescribes the day-to-day behavioral patterns for the followers of Hindu religion without assigning any reason/logic for its directives.  The standard viewpoint is that most of the Indian beliefs have sprung with an objective to protect from evil spirits,  but some were based on reasoning.

Superstition is a belief that can be negated by common sense or scientific knowledge based on evidence. With the passage of time, the reasoning part behind the origin of these religious beliefs got eroded. That is exactly why most of these beliefs appear unsubstantiated and false. However, in reality, there are many such beliefs in the Indians culture which are absolutely absurd and have no logic behind them.

Superstitions are deemed as pertinent in India and specially in Maharashtra, because these, generally, hint at future occurrences and can be either good or bad. Thus, anything from the call of a bird to the falling of utensils is considered an (ill) omen in India. Many of the traditional superstitions in India are connected with some particular places, certain body parts, trees, animals, birds and reptiles.

Once upon a time life was extremely hazardous and the central feature of day-to-day existence was a preoccupation with the explanation for the relief of human misfortune. Vagaries of climatic and geographical conditions, hostile neighborhood, fear of predators etc were constant concern of the human society during those days. These things might have influenced for the superstitious behavior  which are being carried  till date. Witchcraft, women wedded to the gods, marked by the evil eye, stars that affect earthly actions – these are just some superstitious phenomena that inspire fear. We can see the superstition, therefore, as a constancy; a kind of reassurance against fluctuation as though we are part of an impenetrable mystery with incomprehensible rules. All superstitions remain as outward expressions of the tensions and anxieties that hold sway over humanity as it struggles down the corridor of life from   birth to death irrespective of education, status and richness.

Scientists are also prone to having their untenable beliefs despite their eminence in their field of specialization.  Even   scientists can  err  in matters as religious superstitions. Clearly one man’s belief is another man’s superstition. Does education help remove superstitions? Not necessarily. Education will not help much to eradicate superstition; the latter will merely shift its ground from time to time without losing appreciably its hold over the human mind.  There will still be that murmuring to intimates, or consciences, that it is after all better to be safe than sorry: I don't really believe, but . . .

Does religion help? Not necessarily. Religion may in fact fuel  irrational beliefs. In this respect no religion is exempt. Some of the most basic beliefs of  most  religions can be classified as superstitions  if the test of common sense and evidence is applied. The superstitions were taken for granted and none was dare enough to question them.

Perhaps there is an unshaken belief in miraculous cures, magical remedies and supernatural  phenomena which might have persuaded to remain superstitious even in this age of reason and scientific progress. As such there is a section of the society which manipulates the minds of the gullible to their advantage and amass wealth and power exhibiting so called miracles and supernatural feats  under the garb  of divine blessings. These Godmen, Babas, Buvas, Matajis and Maharajas are main transporters of superstitions and have got their stronghold on Maharashtrian society. Educated and elite class also supports these godmen to protect their vested interests. This class has completely twisted the meaning of superstition (Andhshraddha) under the name of faith (shraddha).

One person's faith is a superstition for another and what a third person considers to be a superstition is a very strong faith, almost a question of life and death for a fourth one. The faith that does not allow to be questioned on the basis of facts or truth is superstition. Whether   faith is superstition or not can be assessed by using following four criteria:

Verify the facts or the truth. When faith is used in everyday affairs, it generally means religious faith, faith in the other world or in the liberation of soul from the cycle of birth and death. While verifying the facts should not be based upon the testimony of words of some individual, or the testimony of the person  or testimony of the book.

Ascertain whether faith adheres to non-violence principle. In any society people have diverse faiths. They all should be allowed to preach and propagate their faiths as long as they confine their activities within bounds of propriety. It is tolerance that is rooted in non-violence.

Fear and lure should not weaken the determination to adhere to faith. It should be dynamic.

Faith sublimates value judgment while superstition debases it. Faith should be replaced with loyalty towards human values, moral principles and ethical behaviour.

Since superstitions do not allow people to think and act rationally, irrational behaviour leads to heavy losses in terms of money, health, peace of mind and sometimes life also. The superstitious activities harm the environment.  It leads to intolerance and violence which  disturbs  the law and order situation in the society. The strong belief in alternate therapies like psychic healers, faith healers, acupuncturists, homeopaths etc my ruin someone's health beyond cure. People still believe in miraculous cures offered by witchdoctors and faith healers (mostly babas and buvas) even though science and modern medicine has gone into depth about prognosis, diagnosis and cure of most of the diseases.

How then can we eradicate superstition?  As Einstein endorses" Over thousands of years of evolution, everything has changed except the way we think " . There seems to be something in the human condition,  in the  thought process that makes us surrender to superstitions and  to  believe in the unbelievable. The primordial emotions of man have remained the same over millennia—fear, greed, hatred, envy, anger, desire. Every religion asks us to conquer these but to no avail. No Prophet, saint or holy man or woman has made much of a difference to humanity at large in our conquest of these negative emotions.

MANS is doing its best to eradicate prevailing superstitions, inculcate scientific temperament and instill value based rationalism among the society members so as to bring a new beginning in the life of an individual. MANS is trying its best to enact the Bill on Eradication of Black Magic and Evil Practices which seeks to prohibit practice, promotion and propagation of Black Magic. In fact MANS drafted the bill and placed in the assembly.  A comprehensive definition of the term ‘practice of Black Magic’ contains the evil practices, customs, etc., and also the unauthorized and illegal practice of medicine or healing or curing by quacks, conmen and the so called godmen. MANS activists expose the Godmen who takes the advantage of innocent people by promising miraculous cures. Hundred of Godmen in and around Maharashtra have been exposed by MANS activists. MANS publishes books and booklets and undertakes awareness programs about prevailing superstitions like astrology, Nostradamus, Bermuda triangle, Vaastushastra, hypnotic cure, etc.

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