Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are you superstitious or religious?

A man from the Hindu Tantric sect holds skulls as he performs black magic inside a makeshift tent in..

Religion and superstition, how do we draw the distinction? If start thinking about it then if you have ‘faith’ then would it not be hypocritical to look at your faith as more  ‘rational’ than someone else’s faith just because they do not appeal to your sensibilities. There are many similarities than we should actually be ready to accept (Religion vs. Superstition  ). I was writing about this particular case study on superstition that I came across during a visit to a village in Maharashtra. It set me thinking on the ‘difference’ between religious beliefs and superstitions.

Walking around the fringe of a village, we chanced upon a boy with really long and thick hair. I was fascinated by his hair and asked whether he is from a particular religion. The lady with me explained to me that he has been pledged to the Goddess Laxmi! I asked what does that mean. Then she said lets go and talk to the grandmother of the boy who would explain better.

We went to the house of the boy where we the grandmother of the boy who explained that the boy and her sister were born to the her son outside the wedlock from a Muslim woman who ran away leaving her son and children. The son was now with his first wife and had also abandoned his children. So the grandmother had to take care of them along with her paralysed husband. The family was surviving solely on the wage earned by the old lady as a farm labourer. The father of the children rarely visited them and did not provide for their education or anything.

The grandmother explained to us that before the boy was born, Goddess Laxmi had come to her in her dreams and asked for the boy. The Goddess told her that there were going to be complications in birth and a boy would be born through her ‘blessings’ and thus the boy had to be pledged to her. And so the unborn child’s destiny was decided for him before his birth.

Now what are the exact terms of this arrangement we were not able to completely understand. He could be educated and take up a job, but he is not supposed to cut his hair. And in case he has to marry then a pregnant goat has to be sacrificed! The ritual was also described to us. The pregnant goat has to be sacrificed and the head of the semi formed kid would have to be severed and decorated and used to light a diya for ten days. This has to be followed by arranging a feast for few people. Only after all of this can the boy be freed of the pledge that his grandmother made.

The imagery of this ‘ritual’ itself grossed me out. The lady with me started telling the old lady that all this is just superstition and she should not spoil the life of this boy and ensure that he continued his education. I later asked the lady whether she fasted on the designated days for the good of her family and whether that would be superstition that starving oneself would lead to blessing of the God and fulfill our desires. She could not answer my question.

Few days earlier I was reading an article on ‘witch-hunting’ in another district of Maharashtra. Women, usually the ones who are more vocal or active in a village, can be branded by anyone  and be killed by the villagers for bringing bad luck, allegedly causing death of somebody or any other reason.

In the guise of witch hunting, the proactive or ‘rebellious’ women of the community can be conveniently disposed of, same as used to happen in some western countries with the blessings of the Church. More so, even personal vendetta could be settled in this manner. Religion, superstition all seem to be murky ponds where there is immense scope to simply use the ‘power’ over the other in the interest of oneself.

We tend to always look down upon the ‘other’. Their ‘otherness’ is mostly due to the fact that their reality does not appeal to our sensibilities or may be we do not know anything about them. This breeds fear, biases and disgust even. But what is our own, we do not question that. The so called ‘rationality’ never seems to come into our homes, our beliefs but is the lens used to question the ‘other’.

Is belief in God the supreme form of superstition? I do not have a comment for that. I myself am not clear about the existence of this God. What I will however question is the various practices, rituals that different religions perpetuate in the name of this God’s teachings. How do we know whether these practices are superstitious or are they religious?

Why does such superstition persist? Which superstition is better than the other? Mine, yours or theirs? Can we claim to be above superstitions?

This post is the updated version of the one posted on