Punjabi Culture:The Folk Beliefs
The Folk Beliefs
In the Punjab it is believed that the control of natural powers is one of the possessions of the saints, and, therefore, many such powers have been associated with almost every saint. Stories of miraculous exhibition are associated with every pir, jogi, and saint of repute, including Sikh Gurus, though they condemned these powers and said, “To work miracles is a vain and an empty show.”‘
Beliefs and superstitions are deep rooted habits and fancies. The majority of the population of the Punjab being rural, for centuries these people of the villages, bereft of education and contact with awakened communities, were under the spell of superstition and witchcraft. It is only recently that because of the opening of schools in villages and increase of literacy that the people have become somewhat rational.
Most of the Punjabi superstitions are based upon the movements of the heavenly bodies, because it is widely believed that what happens to man and his world is determined by the movement of the celestial bodies. This belief is based upon imitative magic. Mangal (Mars) and Shani (Saturn) are supposed to be malefic. A Person born under the influence of these two planets, according to this belief, suffers heavily in life. A person born under the influence of these two neither leads a happy life, nor does he enjoy good health. A child born under the influence of Mangal is called Mangleek. He or she must marry a Mangleek and no one else. If this dictate is violated the anger of Mangal is aroused and the couple thus united remains ill and unhappy. Those who are born under the influence of Saturn must on Saturdays, give away in charity copper coins to Bhatras (worshippers of Saturn), who carry an iron-image o f Saturn in a vessel with mustard oil in it and go calling from door to door every Saturday morning. If a person sees his own reflection in some mustard oil, then pours a copper coin into it and gives it to the Bhatra, he is believed to be relieved of all trouble, illness, and misfortune. Since all suffering is caused by the anger of Saturn, a little charity in his name makes all the difference.
Som (Moon), Budh (Mercury), Brihaspati (Jupiter), and Shukra (Venus) are considered beneficial, ‘Shukra’ being the best. A child born under this star lives a successful and prosperous life, attains high status in life, and keeps good health.
Some asterisms are not considered good. Of these Mool is supposed to be the worst. A child born under this group bodes evil to his parents, and so long as he does not attain youth, parents should not come face to face with him. If sometimes a meeting becomes unavoidable, the parent should not see the child’s face directly. They put some oil in a vessel and first see in it the reflection of the child’s face. The Punjab’s famous legendary hero Puran was born under the Mool Dasha and had to be kept away from his parents for twelve years. It was only after that that his father saw his face for the first time.
There are many superstitions connected with the moon. If a newly-married woman sees the new moon regularly, she will deliver a male child as handsome as the moon. It is, however, considered inauspicious to see the new moon on the fourth lunar day. Doing so is supposed to bring a bad name.
During a solar or lunar eclipse, a pregnant woman is not supposed to move. Eating, drinking and even changing clothes must wait till the eclipse is over. Her every movement is believed adversely to affect the child in her womb. If during the eclipse she draws a line, its mark will appear on the body of her baby. All cooked food that stayed unused during the eclipse is given away in charity, because it is supposed to have become impure during the eclipse. Charity given at this time is considered to have great spiritual significance.
If a person sees a shooting star and quickly makes a wish and ties a knot, the wish is generally believed to be fulfilled.
Earth is given the status of mother, and it is believed that if a chaste and devoted woman falls into trouble and her honour is at stake, the mother earth opens out its bosom and absorbs that woman in itself, thus saving her from trouble. In the famous legend Sassi Punnu, when Sassi was wandering in the desert in search of Punnu, one shepherd tried to seduce her. She prayed to Mother Earth to save her honour, at which the ground under her feet opened and received her in. Blowing off a light is not considered good. The wick of the lamp should be turned down and then extinguished with a wave of the hand. Removing the light is not considered a good omen.
Fire in the oven is never put out with impure water, because that rouses the anger of the god of fire.
Many superstitions exist regarding the direction of the journey which one has to take. In olden times, travelling was hazardous and one had to be very careful. On particular days it was not considered proper to travel in certain directions. It was bad, for instance, to travel towards the north on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and good to travel in this direction on Mondays and Fridays. Thursday was regarded as bad for travelling southwards, and Wednesday good. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were not considered good for journey towards the hills. Work started on a Wednesday can be easily and successfully concluded.
It is believed that if a new dress is worn on a Saturday, it lasts longer. Wearing a new piece of jewellery on a Sunday is good, because then it does not get lost. Even at harvest-lime and at the time of sowing seeds, the auspicious and inauspicious days are taken into account. Tuesdays are regarded good for reaping and Wednesdays for sowing.
For the purchase of cattle due consideration is given to the influence of the day. Wednesdays are good for the purchase of a cow, Fridays for a mare, and Saturdays for a buffalo. Certain beliefs and superstitions are associated with animals, birds ‘and insects.
An owl symbolises desolation, a vulture settling on a house-top brings bad luck. If one sees a snake, one should not utter the word ‘snake’ but euphemistically call it a kira (insect). If that is done, according to belief, the snake goes blind and cannot move. When a snake is killed it is not advisable to throw it out through the door. It is thrown either out through the window or a few bricks are removed from the wall and it is pushed out through the hole thus improvised. If that is not done its spirits get into the house and gives a lot of trouble. When a cobra completes its hundred years of life, it develops a metamorphic power. It is then called an Ichhadhari (capable of assuming any form) or a Chhaleda (phantom). The gem in the head of a snake is considered a very precious thing. It is supposed to bring riches and prosperity to the family that possesses it.
When a new utensil is bought, a horse is first made to smell it. Eating pork or wearing the teeth of a pig round the neck protects a person from the evil eye and witchcraft. Augury of ants carrying grain of food into a house is a promise of prosperity; but if the ants are seen going out they are a symptom of a heavy loss in the near future. Whooping cough is said to be cured by riding a bear. The hair of a bear round the necks can keep evil eyes off a child.
Particular months of the year are considered inauspicious for particular animals to litter. Chet is not good for a bitch, Vaisakh for a she-camel, Jeth for a cat, Sawan for a mare or a she-ass, Bhadon for a cow, Maghar for a buffalo, and Poh for a goat. If they litter in the months considered inauspicious for them they, according to belief, bring calamities upon the family that keeps them. Such animals are quickly sold off.
A human baby born in Kartik is considered inauspicious, but a baby born early in the morning is always lucky. A child of the other sex born after three consecutive children of one sex is considered unlucky. Thus a boy born after three girls or a girl after three boys is unlucky. The girl is unlucky for the father and the boy for the mother. Such a child is called Trikhal. There are certain rituals which ward off the evils associated with the birth of this type of baby. As soon as such child is born, it is made to pass through a hole in a sieve which is specially torn for this purpose. Alternatively, earth is dug up from under the threshold and the baby is made to pass under it.It the evil is thus removed, such a child proves immensely lucky.
If the shadow of a pregnant woman falls on a snake, it is said that its pace is slowed. At the time of childbirth thorny bushes are placed on the roof of the room of the mother so that a dog or a cat which augurs ill may not cross over the roof. Care is taken to see that no broom remains lying anywhere in that room because it will sweep off all the luck of the newborn baby. To make childbirth easy the knots of the jute cot are loosened. Some people go to the extent of removing all locks in the house because that way, it is said, all obstructions are removed. This superstition is also based on imitative magic. An iron knife is kept in the room in order to protect the mother and her newborn baby from evil spirits. To protect a child from the evil eye, a black mark is invariably put on its forehead, a piece of coal put in its milk, or a black thread is tied to the golden bangles worn on the arm. A black object is hung on the terrace of a newly constructed house. Some people paint a gargoyle on a black pot, break it from underneath, and hang a red strip below it in order to make it look like a demon. All this is done to protect a house against the evil eye. Some women make their children wear round their neck nazarbattus (protectors from the evil eye), for this purpose, or sometimes for the same purpose hang pig’s teeth round their neck.
There is a treatment for a child affected by the evil eye. A couple of dried red chillies are first waved over the head of the child and then thrown into the fire. If the smoke does not hurt the eyes, it is a sure sign that the evil look had affected the child.