Almost all of us are aware that there are things called omens which forebode either good or evil. In my younger years, I rejected omens as superstitious blind beliefs totally divorced from reality. But of late and specially during the past decade, I have revised my views. All omens, without discrimination, are wrongly understood either way, and some are intentionally exaggerated by some miscreants to instil fear into the minds of the simple and the credulous and then exploit them. I shall discuss here two popular omens in order to elucidate my point.

(I) Sighting of a black cat in or around one's dwelling place or while coming out of house or on the street is considered inauspicious. There is no evidence, whatsoever, for such a correlation between seeing a black cat and anything unfortunate or evil happening. Then how come this belief is so strong and persists till today? My interpretation is as follows: A black cat looks frightening to many, especially to young women and children. This could be due to our association of black colour with devil or evil (In Hindu Puranas, Shani, Rahu and Ketu are portrayed black in colour.). I have witnessed children crying out unnaturally and loudly, and women screaming in fear when they sight a black cat in dim light such as moonlight or during dawn and dusk. The scary look of the black cat is reported to have given heart attacks and cause night mares to children, the old and the weak hearted. Some children are impacted adversely more than adults and there are health issues arising from the psychosomatic conditions they are subjected to. So the wise men thought of making a rule to keep black cats away from human habitats.

(II) In my childhood (under 16), I happened to pass a number of times through poorly lighted areas or even darkness, pass through funeral grounds and graveyards. Several times I have accompanied my paternal grandfather in my ancestral home of Patpur to attend feasts thrown in honour on occasions such as wedding, death of a community member or simply going to a fare. I am talking of the early 1950s. In those days, roads or streets were desolate, there were no street-lights and there were areas so dark that a person standing next, you will be unable to see. The silence used to be deadly. The only sound that could be heard were our own footsteps broken occasionally by the howling of jackals or dogs. All through our passage, especially when passing through areas known to be vulnerable or dangerous, my grand papa would utter 'Agasti, Agasti ...' continuously till we clear that area. On one such occasion, I asked him: 'Jeje (grand pa), why are you uttering these words?' He replied: 'Utterance of the word Agasti will ward off snakes. They will not come near us.' What he told was Latin and Greek to me, but I accepted it. It took me many years to grasp the real meaning behind that action. When we pass through areas where danger of the kind described above lurks in darkness, our minds are gripped with fear - may be imaginary - of being bitten by a snake, and therefore, continuous recitation of a name considered potent distracts and de-focuses the mind from the object of fear. This gives mental strength.

The net effect of the aforementioned two beliefs is: they cater to our safety and the safety of the family and prevent thereby any possible serious medical conditions like losing speech or even deaths. Please note that 80% of snakes are non-poisonous and most deaths due to assumed snake bites are caused by panic.

The beliefs, such as the ones above, prevailed at a time when our knowledge of things around us was either minimal or faulty, environmental hazards were high and emergency medical attendance was non-existent. Even now there are places which are in extremely backward state, culturally and economically.

Instead of blindly calling ALL such beliefs superstitions, I admire the human ingenuity when it comes to preservation of self and family.

Tags: Experience

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