Did you guys know that in 2019, the Kerala State Government passed this bill – the Kerala Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill. Sounds like something from the Ministry of Magic doesn’t it? However, fact outweighs fantasy and this exotic-sounding bill was meant to oust very real practices prevalent in our society. It is a little unbelievable considering our pride and joy – the literacy rates. So to convince you, let’s start on the smaller myths, the ones that are more inconvenience than life-threatening. After all, small drops make a big sea.
Luck charms are found everywhere in the world. In a land like ours, where spirituality is given a great deal of importance, luck charms or luck myths are extremely commonplace. So much so that some of you reading this might believe in a few luck myths. Seeing a mongoose coming toward you, eating curd before going out, and crows shitting on you are all considered good luck. Well, if the latter was true, it certainly didn’t work so well for Appukuttan in In Harihar Nagar. Sneezing while doing something new, black cat crossing path, flat feet, and broken mirrors are said to indicate bad luck. A twitching right eye brings good luck for men, while a twitching left eye brings good luck for women. Spotting one mynah is bad luck, two mynahs are good and if you spot six, check up the price of the things you’ve always wanted to buy-you are about to get richer! Superstitions, you see!
Now don’t worry if you couldn’t spot six mynahs. There are other monetary myths that can help you find your fortune. Once when I saw a green grasshopper land in front of me, I decided to kill it. My aunt was horrified, “paccha pakki brings money! Don’t kill it”, but the deed was already done and the genuine horror in my aunt’s voice had me worried for the rest of the day, thinking that my money would suddenly disappear. Lucky for me, paccha pakki’s are dime a dozen and I spotted another green pakki to reverse my fortunes. Another common myth is that if your right palm itches, money is on its way to your hand (wallet), but beware if it is your left arm that itches for you might lose money. Also, remember this myth – shake your legs, lose your wealth?
This is perhaps the only category of superstitions with actual potential to impress. Have you ever had someone tell you that you should have a tulsi near your home? Some call it superstition but a tulsi is an incredible plant and having one nearby is almost always beneficial. There is also the myth that you shouldn’t chew tulsi leaves. Logically, this is acceptable since tulsi has fine amounts of toxins that can yellow your teeth. In North India, there is the practice of hanging chillies and lemons on the doorway to keep evil spirits at bay, it is actually a harmless practice that, at the very least, keeps insects away. Then there is the myth that you shouldn’t sleep with your head to the north. The reason behind this myth is that the non-alignment of your biomagnetism with the Earth’s magnetic field might cause cardiovascular diseases. Other myths include don’t step out during eclipses, avoid peepal trees at night, take a bath after funerals, and so on.
Urban myths are modern myths or old myths that have adapted to our modern lives. The aversion to the number 13 is one of those new ones (in our culture). Adding one rupee to whole amounts like 1000 is an old one, but is widely followed in today’s modern society. Some say you shouldn’t buy black dresses or black shoes on Saturday. This is just a carryover from the old week-day myths of Hindus that say don’t cut nails on Saturday, don’t eat non-veg on Tuesday, etc. On a broad spectrum, we can also include urban legends like the monkey man of Delhi and the Muhnochwa of Uttar Pradesh.
These are the most random things parents do to make sure their children grow up in the right way. This includes weird practices like spitting on babies to ward off evil eyes to the more dangerous practices like throwing them down cliffs. Parenting myths also include those baseless things our elders tell us to make us obey them. This ranges from the classic “kokachi pidichond pokum” to the terrifying “you swallowed that watermelon seed? Now a watermelon will grow in your stomach”. To say that such parenting myths are completely harmless would be tantamount to calling the Indian parenting system perfect, which it isn’t.
Hence, this category is a transition into our next section of myths – the harmful ones. Several cases have been charged against parents for abusing children on the basis of myths. In Vijayanagara, babies are thrown down cliffs and caught with a blanket. The parading of children as deities should also come under this. Some parents bury their kids up to the neck when an eclipse happens. Child sacrifices are perhaps the most horrific consequence of such beliefs.
Now let’s move on to the more serious categories of superstitions. Kerala is not the first state to draft a bill such as the Kerala Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill. Such bills are already laws in Maharashtra and Karnataka, where explosive cases of black magic murders get regularly reported. In 2013, anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead after speaking out against the swindling cults of godmen and tantric defrauding people. Soon after, the Maharashtra government passed the bill outlawing such practices. We live in a culture where even popular movies represent tantric exorcisms in a positive light. Hence, it is paramount that we stop for a moment and truly examine what these myths are.
What I call power myths are those practises people are enticed into following to gain supernatural powers. More often than not, it involves black magic and/or cult worship and almost always end with murder. An example is the 2017 incident in Kerala where a young man killed his parents as part of a cult ritual.
These are the kinds of myths perpetrated by social structures that give more power to one group of people and sideline others. Untouchability was the result of the myth that people from lower castes might ‘pollute’ others. There was also a myth in the past that people might lose their caste if they travel abroad. A notable Malayalam work that shows how myths subdue people is Nadugadhika, by K. J. Baby.
When you say ‘witch hunt’ what comes immediately to your mind? The dark ages of old Europe where ‘witches’ were burnt at the stake? Well, what would you say to witch hunts, not metaphorical at all, happening in India? According to this article from The Hindu, a staggering 768 women were killed by mobs who claimed they were witches. A very similar practice was Sati, which thankfully is more or less eradicated except for a few rare cases.
Now, let’s move on to something less gory but very explosive: myths that discriminate against women who menstruate. Now, this is not something restricted to just one religion, we can find this all across the world wherever men lord over women with patriarchal power. The saddest part of this myth is that women support it themselves.
Black Magic Myths
As obsolete as it sounds, black magic rituals are ever-present in Indian society. Just take a look at our movies. Count how many of them glorify tantric and healers operating on abuse and harmful rituals. For example, take that iconic scene in Manichithrathazhu where Ganga, a mentally unstable woman is repeatedly struck with a cane to exorcise a non-existent ghost. According to a BBC article, nearly 200 children had been sacrificed in Uttar Pradesh till 2006 in such black magic rituals. Such practises still continue. Just last year, villagers in Odisha claimed that a six-year-old was killed by her father as a sacrifice. This isn’t just the story of North India. In 2021, in Kerala, a woman killed her six-year-old as a sacrifice to God. The same year, an educated Karnataka couple murdered their adult daughters believing that magic would revive them.
These are those myths that can be easily debunked but go on for a long time till someone finally exposes them. From a weeping crucifix in Mumbai to good luck statues sold in TV commercials, this category of myths is custom made to bleed your purse. I see the appeal in becoming rich fast and easy, but it’s always good to remember that the money and power you don’t earn would never stay in your hands.
That was our list. Are there some myths that you know that should be added to this list? Tell us in comments!