The State of the Superstition 2007

As the year winds to a close, I could always sit back and write a post about the “Best Moments in Politics – 2007” or “Hottest six-pack Bollywood moments of 2007” or even “2007 – The year when Indian cricket came into its own by winning a world cup through the cunning use of cliched Mallu humour“. But I will not.

Instead, I will do a retrospective on traditional Tambram superstitions (Well. At least the ones that I am familiar with from my own family) and where they stand at the end of 2007.

ps: As I sat down to write these down, I quickly realized that I had to draw a line between superstition, custom and ritual. I meditated for a few..er..seconds and came to a conclusion that I didn’t quite know how to distinguish between the three with clarity and depth.

So I just had to try.

Ritual is like wearing a school uniform. It comes packaged with religion just like school uniforms are mandatory .Custom is like a Raymonds suit. One just wears them without stopping to think if fine Merino wool makes sense in the not-so-arctic city of Chennai. Superstition is like cotton bermudas sold at street side shops in Pondy Bazaar. People continue to buy them despite their questionable quality. In fact, they can be worn precisely just once after which they tear and then end up getting converted to general purpose pieces of crumpled cloth used to wipe the granite slab in the kitchen. Superstitions are sort of like that.

But superstitions didn’t exactly board the bus at Irrationality Terminus. That just happened to be the destination. So there is some history and in most cases, some logic that made sense at some point in the past.

So here we go, the state of the superstition 2007 (the Tambram edition, Vadoola Gotram flavour)

Note: The history.jpg describes the history and symbolism behind the belief, as gleaned from family sources.

The number of cow.jpgdescribes the superstition’s current level of sacredcowness.


Thou shalt not accept pickles, salt, bitter gourd and chillies for free. In fact, the best thing to do is to not accept those things at all.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg One should not give sourness, saltiness and ulcer-causing hotness as gifts.

Thou shalt not accept anything with thine sinistral hand.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Peechaankai matter.

Thou shalt enter a new house with thine right foot forward.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Same as the previous. In general, “left” is bad.

Thou shalt not cut thine hair on Fridays.

  • cow.jpg
  • history.jpg It’s Goddess Lakshmi’s day and she loves hair.

The circular movement of a plate of red liquid held by 2 (preferably) elderly ladies shall ward off the evil eye.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Turmeric, Kumkum powder + water has Boori-Nazar-removal capabilities.

Thou shalt not begin any new activity during a period of the day owned by a fictional celestial body invented to explain eclipses.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Astrological in origin. Legend has it that Confucius once said “Those who have sight see stars, those are are blind see the future in them”. Legend also has it that Darth Vaadhiar killed Confucius. During his Sani Dasai (Period of Saturn).

Thou shalt not touch the vessel holding milk or curd after touching the vessel holding sambar or rice.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Cooked matter is patthu, while milk matter is not. If the both meet, they can potentially annihilate each other and release destructive energy according to the famous formula
    • E = mcยฒ , where
      • m = maamis,
      • c = See, I told you to obey patthu rules

The involuntary, high-velocity expulsion of air from one’s nose has the evil ability to sabotage good activities.

  • cow.jpg
  • history.jpg Sneezing spreads diseases. Those planning good activities could contract aforesaid diseases. And therefore be prevented from doing aforementioned good activities.

The movement of black Felix silvestris catus perpendicular to one’s path can cause bad things to happen.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Witches used to require slaves/assistants to carry out nefarious activities. Witches put up job offer on monster.com. Black cats signed up.

The presence of widows and barren women at auspicious ceremonies can cause the addition of the prefix “in” to the word “auspicious”.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Men wrote the Vedas. And nobody ever bothered to write a Womanusmriti. That’s why.

Women carry a dangerous, incurable, highly infectious disease for 4-5 days of the month, during which time they must be quarantined.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Men don’t like blood, except in war and video games.
  • history.jpg Thoppai Maama informs us that there was another specific reason – Women who used to gather firewood were under risk from being attacked by sabre-toothed tigers that could smell blood from a few hundred miles away. Therefore it made for forest-dwelling hunter-gather societies to intern their precious baby incubators during that time of the month.

If a piece of food gets stuck in the windpipe causing a person to choke, Dr. Heimlich is generally not called to the rescue. Because, Dr. Heimlich must be thinking about the choking person from where ever he is. And thinking good thoughts about him. Therefore, a few taps on the head followed by a “Somebody must be thinking of you” is considered the official cure.

  • cow.jpg
  • history.jpg No clue.

Nails clipped after sundown can potentially turn the clipper into Dracula.

  • cow.jpg
  • history.jpg Back in the days of no electricity, clipped nails could hurt somebody walking in the dark.

Houses should not be swept after sundown, because Lakshmi hangs out with dust particles after dark. One might accidentally sweep her out along with the dust.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Lakshmi = metaphor for valuables. In a pre-electricity era, sweeping in the dark could result in GRT Gold bangles being mistakenly swept out.

The direct ascertaining of the geographical coordinates of a departing person’s destination can cause bad things to happen to the departer.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg No clue.

Gifts should not be black in colour.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg Black is the colour of death and also the name of a famous album by Metallica. Since maamis don’t like sandmen entering their homes and consider it sad but true that nothing else matters except the unforgiven, holier-than-thou attitude of wolf and man, gifts should not absorb all frequencies of light falling on them.

The stove that is heating milk shall be turned off at the precise moment when the milk is just about to overflow, not before, not after.

  • cow.jpgcow.jpg
  • history.jpg The best filter coffee is made with milk boiled just so.

43 Comments

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  1. Have any explanation for these?
    -One shouldn’t wear mehendi/gold in your lower limb area
    -When girl is looking particularly attractive, uglify her by putting drishti pottu on her countenance
    -Do not get a haircut when the lunar cycle is in it’s waning phase (theiy-pirai)

  2. This was a super stitch i only wish I had rutten on and weaved such a tapestry of words. Nut, sorry But, I couldn’t excess my computer as it was thittufied by a menstruating mad, meaning maid.

  3. I yam beeying serious for ya change.

    yapparently, wimmen yused to be quarantyned in the yolden days at THAT tayam of the month becaas…they generally yused to go to the kaadu to bring virahu-kkattai for keeping the household fayar burrning…the wyld animals could smell the blood and be drawn..thus it was for the wimmens’ protection vonly.

  4. Gifts should not be black in colour.

    There’s a different reason for this as well – it is believed that a black gift cannot be exchanged or forwarded or disposed of successfully. Hence the warning “Vidaathu Karuppu”.

  5. loved the peechankayi and metallica reference…..

    the curd n sambar thing is somethin unheard of, or maybe coz of my non-chennai status….

    Having born int he month of shani, eclipse is something that fascinates me. Be it astronomy or the IDE.

  6. Krish,…saying this post is funny on yr blog has not become akin to saying ‘the sun rises’ in the east. ๐Ÿ™‚
    funny and informative post also. i kind of understand some of the rules in in-laws have now. can you also include why salt is not supposed to be passed around while eating food, and also why salt is tossed over the shoulder of a woman once the “infectious disease” is over, by the MIL. The latter bit is done by my neighbour and the recipient of the salt tossing couldn’t explain why.

  7. Well the pathi part according to my pati – She says stuff like oil, pickles last longer or remain unspoilt for long so if you touch them after touching stuff like rice and dal which do not last long they tend to get contaminated.. not sure how far it would make sense to others…..

  8. There is another ritual which I do mot understand…

    When you do not have information about somebody or say some person is kinda missing or does not turn up at the right time ( do not know how to put it better) they throw an irimbi karandi or idiki in the water .. any clues why that is done..

  9. Well some elderly ppl also told me that the quarantine period was like some time off for the women, the only time they got a mandatory break…

  10. Well, as far as that “female” point is concerned, I think it was more of a hygiene issue than anything else.

    And is that black cat superstition a brahmin thing? I’m not too sure about that.
    :S

  11. Just reiterating was Renu says. Patthu made perfect sense before the days of the Fridge. Innioda paal nalaikku thairaavum naalaanikku pulichca more aavum irrukkaporadu…thappi thavari paruppu/puli pattudthunaa thirinchidum…appram thair saadam eppadi saapadrathu? …Super post Krish Ashok sir…sooper post.

  12. Otha Brahmanan varapdaathu vazhiyala- brings bad luck. Now we know why vaathiyaars move in packs and do not mingle as singles.

  13. A different insight on not sweepin after sunset…when u sweep after sunset (the assumption is usually after sunset, you close all the doors and windows) dust particles would remain in the house itself…thereby causin breathin and health problems to one and many…and in the long-term, all money(if earned) would go towards spendin on health-related problems…and hence DO NOT SWEEP AFTER SUNSET, I SAY!! :)) (typical maami’s shout)!

  14. One more to the list:
    No stitching done during navarathiri.
    Coz Ambal is doing her penance on the needle point for those nine days. (Don’t know if it applies to the good old Singer sewing machines. She cannot possibly be upside down!)

  15. Nice informative post. I think the milk/sambar simultaneous touch taboo (aajaram?) has parallels in Kashrut law for preparing Kosher food.

    And the coffee thing I can believe – if you read instructions on how to prepare espresso correct, you will agree it must have been written by the Samaiyuthu paar mami ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. ROTFL! Soooper post I shay! ๐Ÿ™‚

    So many times I’ve tried to explain these customs of ours to the uninitiated.

    Now I’m just going to redirect them here! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. To add a few more superstitions
    1. When you are hurt in your house entrance steps
    before you go out on an important work, you are
    asked to come back take water and go.
    2. When ever you go out you have to say POYITTU
    VAREN and not POREN. At the present age of uncerternity in coming back after you leave your
    house you are expected to say POYITTU VAREN.
    3.You should not stitch in the night. (the professional tailors are exempted and the rule is for household only) The reason is, poor lighting will hurt your finger and the stitches may not be proper
    4.while going to see a lady within 10 days of her husbands death , the ladies should carry turmeric (raw) with them.Dont know the reason.
    5.Two Jaadus cannot be kept together as it will sweep the house fast in competition with each other .Sweeping here means wealth of a house.

  18. //Thou shalt not cut thine hair on Fridays.//I thought it was Tuesday or may be it is the North Indian thing.
    //Women carry a dangerous, incurable, highly infectious disease for 4-5 days of the month, during which time they must be quarantined.// Is this applicable to the working women? They get something like maternity leave from office ๐Ÿ™‚
    // Men wrote the Vedas. And nobody ever bothered to write a Womanusmriti. Thatโ€™s why.// Mayawati will sure commision somebody to do that in her next term in office.

  19. Wanted to add few more….
    Seeing a Corpse being taken to the crematorium is considered as good luck. ( I wonder lucky for whom???)
    While sleeping, your head should never face the South.
    Do not comb a kids hair before the kid has had its head shaved for the first time.
    Do not leave your hair open when you sleep. (This is specifically for the womenfolk)
    Dont touch a person who has returned from the Barber’s shop!!!
    Katarikool & Kannadi should not be exchanged from A to B. It has to placed onto the floor by A and then picked up by B.

    wonder who makes these up?!?!? Wud love to join them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. loved the E = mcยฒ part…

    always used to question my parents or anyone else who tries to impart these kinda stuff into my head. when they have no answer, i dont even care to follow it. But if they have a logic one, check if the logic is still valid (like cutting nails after dark). If not valid, ill not bother. If valid, (haven’t found anything it) maybe ill think abt it.

    Just a few additions…
    Lizards have formed a lot of superstitious values around them. Their signal are positive signs and them falling on us physically is negative. That too for men, right side and for women left side…very bad…

    Palm itching directly proportional to money about to recieve…

    Waking up to see broomstick or chappels first thing in the morning

    Women with loose hair, while men leaving out for work.

    explanations??? any??

  21. @Akshya

    I have tried to seek answer for these while i was kid… Here is what i found..

    While sleeping, your head should never face the South.

    Myth: Pillayar was in human form and his head was cut off during a fight with Siva. Then siva ordered his guys to get the head of anyone whos is sleeping with head facing south. Only a poor elephant was doing so. Thus pillayar got his head.

    Logic: Body alignment with earth’s magnetic axis, with south facing, will do some harm.

    Do not comb a kids hair before the kid has had its head shaved for the first time.

    Myth: Its God’s hair, so u r not allowed to meddle with it. Only when u shave his head for first time and give it back to God, you can stylize it.

    Logic: Skull is not fully formed, so the comb might injure the fragile scalp.

    Dont touch a person who has returned from the Barberโ€™s shop!!!

    Logic: The tiny shreds of hair, might stick to ur cloths and continue to irritate you throughout, until washed.

    Katarikool & Kannadi should not be exchanged from A to B. It has to placed onto the floor by A and then picked up by B.

    Logic: You can add knife also. The recieving end could injure the reciever. So better keep it on floor or table and let him pick it up himself. So if he injures, the blame is not on the giver.

  22. This sleeping facing south is actually quite a crazy one.When my mom visits me, the first night is spent in her trying to figure out which is north , south in a frantic manner (cuz its bed time and all one wants to do is sleep), and then the turning of the cot and the rest of the furniture and luggage begins at 11 PM, turning everyone mad and the children excited !!!

  23. Ashok, if you can write one on birth starts and how bad it is for the girl, but its just great for a boy, almost all starts seem to have that kinda translation , especially in tambram,.uh tambaram.

  24. What about this one?

    Women should not cut whole pumpkins!

    I wonder why?

    By the way, most of these superstitions have their origin in “Abasthamba sutra”. Incredibly hilarious if only it wasnt so serious

    I remember the good old days when train tickets were available only on days when a “soolam” was supposed to block you in a particular direction. I think this belief has all but disappeared; people are happy to be able to travel at all, soolam or otherwise

  25. I prefer your explanation for E = mc sqrd.

    BTW, one doubt: Back in the days of no electricity, clipped nails could hurt somebody walking in the dark.

    back in the days of no currrent, there weren’t any nail clippers no? what did they use? arival manai aa? or good old gopal palpodi fortified teeth aa?

  26. The part about choking only brings me smiles.

    Whenever I choke while the missus is around, she asks me in a stern voice as to the identity of the person thinking of me.

    I always say it must be my late Mom or my Sis.
    She always responds ‘Yaarukku theriyum, Athaiya , Anniya, illa … ( a meaningful pause) vera evalachuma’

  27. the vessel/curd/milk/vessel/sambar/rice thing: I believe it’s because almost all cooking was done on the kind of flames that created lots of soot on the bottoms of the vessels, and any form of touching that vessel was guaranteed to get that gray stuff on your hand…

  28. Awesome! Friend sent me this link when I was depressed last night.
    Have been scaring my household by mad shrieks of laughter, since.
    ๐Ÿ˜€

  29. It was nice to read. I request everybody who saw this blog to visit my site or get a copy of the magazine brahmintoday particularly this month -june 09 by sending a mail to below ad
    brahmintoday@gmail brahmins and sasthra namblkkaiyum is the topic of cover story of this bilingual issue. Some of the relavant matters of the belifs are discussed. pl post your comment after reading the contents
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