What Really Are Superstitions?
By Chandra Edirisuriya
There is science behind every folk superstition and history behind every folk legend! It is common for some people in Sri Lanka to think that it is inauspicious to start on a journey or commence some activity if a gecko cries. A gecko’s body is delicate to the point of being transparent and even its inner organs can be seen from outside. So, it can be sensitive to the thought waves of human beings thereby causing a telepathic effect. When a person thinks about something with doubt in his mind or about a complicated matter such thoughts can adversely affect it and, making it cry. In such an instance the person concerned delays going on his journey or rethinks about what he is about to do and clears his mind of what he is not certain. It is also said that if a crow caws turn towards the cooking area house guests will arrive. Here also the bird may be getting a telepathic message which is conveyed to the less sensitive occupants of the house.
The evil eye and the evil mouth are other concepts about misfortunes caused by the gazes and words of some people. The fact that such persons are very rare, gives credence to their existence. They are so very jealous of the fortunes of others that they are impatient to express it. Once when a matriarch of a family infamous for this evil habits went to the house of the dhoby and was about to leave seeing a jak tree full of fruits had said, “Bola, what a lot of jak fruits” and before she could step on to the road all the jak fruits had come down and the dhoby woman had shouted in anger, “Podi Hamine take these also and go”.
Her husband nicknamed “Rambuttan” as he had assaulted some school boys for plucking a few rambuttan fruits from his garden had pointed to a young man, who was his neighbour, in a bus and told the other passengers “Podi Mahaththaya is in university now” and the young man under Saturn’s worst influence never completed his university education. Their daughter had said “Ralahamy will hit the cup!” seeing the young man’s youngest brother going for the GCE OL Examination and he died at the age of 27. Podi Mahaththaya was doing a good job 40 years later drawing about Rs 100,000 monthly and her daughter Sudu had only to say, “Aiyata bohomahondai luneda?” and falling sick, he quit the job, for lesser pay!
People say it runs in the family
Rambuttan and PodiHamine wanted their daughter to be married to Podi Mahaththaya’s father Abraham Singho but it didn’t work. He used to say she had ungainly legs. Sudu’s father and mother planned to make her daughter marry Bandara Mahaththaya, Abraham Singho’s second son for which the third son Ralahamy had to be bumped off. That was done but Podi Mahaththaya who had contracted a binna marriage came back with his two sons. So, now, all three of them also had to be got rid of for Bandara Mahaththaya to get all the properties and a voodoo (huniyam) was done. However, it got cut by a retired English medium graduate school principal kattadiya from Rajagiriya named Wijesiri whose daughter was in the Foreign Service. He grinding his teeth said all three would have met with their deaths if it was not cut!
Sudu’s father and mother died before long. Podi Mahaththaya’s mother wrote her share of the properties in his name and he moved out saving his life!
Podi Mahaththaya’s mother believed in soothsayers and huniyam cutters too much and one of them named Alagiyawanna charged Rs 50 for each cutting making her finish a sum of Rs 12,500 in her Bank Account in the early 1960s. When the son came home to take his boarding fees he had to return empty-handed making him suffer a nervous break-down as he thought the girl in the house was laughing because of that and end his university education just before the final Modern History (Honours) Examination.
There are quacks in every field and one has to exercise caution in getting things done by them whether it is sorcery or medical treatment.
Astrology is another science that is criticised without knowing what it is. If the stars and the planets including the sun and the moon influence even inanimate things like the ocean and tidal waves, there is no reason why they should not affect human beings. A nurse at a hospital in America had observed that there had been more bleeding after surgeries done on full moon days and the least bleeding was on new moon days and entered the changes in a register, making the surgeons to not operate on full moon days.This also connects up with the lunatic effect and snake bites on new moon days being dangerous.
Time to start
When I worked at the Surveyor General’s Department in the early 1970s there was a Silva who knew Astrology and when the Americans first went to the moon he had informed NASA the time to start on the journey and NASA had written back thanking him saying their time was also the same!
Some of our practices and customs relating to bathing are of North Indian origin because most of the Sinhala people came from India at various times. It is said that bathing on Sundays makes one ugly, bathing on Monday has the opposite effect, bathing on Tuesday makes one sick and bathing on Wednesday brings riches, Thursday quarrels and on Friday bad for the children and Saturday is the best day for bathing. There may be some truth in these assertions and in addition the purpose they serve is to discourage bathing daily which does more bad than good.
It is quite enough to bathe on only three days a week unless one lives in a very hot and dusty place or is engaged in manual work shedding a great deal of sweat. In addition the best time of the day to bathe is before noon. A student of the Colombo Faculty of Medicine also my senior school mate at my alma mater Ananda College, Colombo and the son of a traditional Ayurvedic practitioner told us his boarding house mates that there is also more harm than good in bathing after noon. It is also generally known that the most suitable time of the day to have lunch is before noon. Quite significantly both these practices are prescribed for Buddhist monks. Just as monks are advised not to take any solid food it is bad for laymen to take a heavy meal for dinner. These concepts are coming down the ages and would not have lasted for so long if there is no science behind them. Besides they embellish our culture too.
The Buddha rejected the notion of a creator god and therefore Buddhism does not involve itself in creation at all. With the acceptance of the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural election the belief of creation lost its relevance. So, even non-Buddhists who are science conscious eschew the idea of divine creation today.