Monday, June 24, 2024

Traditions and Customs -

Tamil Beliefs and Superstitions


There are endless beliefs and superstitions governing every aspect of life in Jaffna. Although some people believed in many of these, some others disregarded them. It is uncertain if anyone was affected by these or if there were any meaning to these. However a list of such beliefs is given below and although it looks exhaustive, certainly it is not. There may be more and if anyone can remember any please write to us.

Regarding Child Birth:

  1. A pregnant woman is not allowed to go to temples and crowded places or walk in the dark especially when in the last few months of pregnancy for fear of attack by spirits.
  2. A toad (Therai) which by nature hops up and down should not fall on a pregnant woman and if it did causes the baby to be diseased.
  3. A wasp nest or birds nest in or around the house where pregnant woman lives will not be disturbed until after delivery.
  4. A pregnant woman will request for various edibles and consumer articles and it is generally obliged by her husband or parents as any refusal may lead to disease child. Some pregnant women use this excuse to get what they want!
  5. Every newly married couple and their parents wish a baby boy to be born first in their family so he can look after the family after father's death and also he is needed to do the last rites for his parents.
  6. The astrologers have many beliefs about the days and star signs for a child to be born, they are irrelevant here.
  7. A fifth girl to be in the family will bring money and wealth to the family.
  8. A baby should not be photographed.
  9. A big black pottu (a round mark on the forehead) will be applied on the forehead of the baby to ward off the evil eye of the visitors.
  10. When a child falls ill or in case of some misery in the family and if it is suspected that some person's jealous and evil eye is the cause then a handful of earth on which that person has set foot is collected and this hand is circled three times over the head of the affected person who will spit on it three times and this earth is thrown in the fire in the kitchen with three dry chillies to ward off the evil spirits, evil eyes and evil tongue.

Regarding Travel

  1. When anyone is to travel or go out of the house on a journey they looked for a good omen (சகுனம்) for their travel to be successful or complete without hindrance. It is auspicious and a good omen if you see a pot full of water, flowers, a married woman, a dog, squirrel, a cow crossing the path, a Garuda seen hovering on the sky, milk, honey, prostitute, dhobi carrying dirty clothes, horse and hearing the sounds of temple bell and so many others.
  2. It is unlucky and inauspicious to a see a snake, cat, a monk, a lonely Brahmin, a barber, widow, dhobi carrying washed clothes, to hear any unpleasant sound, or you slip or trip over something as you walk out, or at the start of the journey if any one questions the person as to where he is going, or stops him from going or calls him back or someone sneezes. In these cases it is recommended that you go back into the house, rest for few seconds and drink a cup of water and restart the journey.
  3. Oil and dirty linen should not be carried on a journey.
  4. Husbands do not travel during the wife's menstruation times.
  5. Another prohibited time of travel is Rahu Kalam or in inauspicious part of the day.
  6. Anyone going on a long journey and will not come back for a while, will not embark on that journey on a Friday as they may never come back. So are the brides after marriage ceremony do not leave their home on a Friday and the departure is postponed to the next day. Even dead bodies are not removed from the house for cremation on a Friday. The belief is that all the wealth in that house will go with them.

Regarding days and time

  1. Generally people do not make large payments to anyone on a Friday except making small payments preferably in coins for fear of losing their possessions.
  2. They do not dispose their property or vacate a house on a Friday for fear of losing their property and money.
  3. They do not start any new venture or important work on a Sunday as this will drag along for long and the mission will never be successful. They do not do this on a new moon day (Amavasai) too for the same reason.
  4. Any patient who is bed ridden with illness is believed to get worse on a new moon day as it is a heavy day.
  5. If food is to be carried to another place after sunset, the food packet should be carried along with a piece of charcoal and a piece of metal usually a key.
  6. After sunset and the lamps are lit in the house, no one will give money to another person.
  7. Cutting nails or hair, talk of snake or discussing any dreams, giving salt and needles or any sharp tools like knife and even giving dirty clothes to the dhobi after sunset are to be avoided.
  8. When waking up in the morning it is good to see a pot of water, milk, gold, lotus flower, sunlight etc.
  9. After the New Year has dawned you do not visit someone's house for the first time on a Thursday, you will be quarrelling.
  10. Cash received first in the morning in a business is accepted religiously; the receiver places the hand with the money on his eye and says a small prayer and places the money in the cash box.
  11. Viewing the moon on the fourth day after new moon is not good for your memory.
  12. In the New Year celebrations, new garments are smeared with turmeric powder before they are worn to ward off evils. Shop keepers do not sell oil first thing in the morning.
  13. Visiting some ones house on a Tuesday is not appreciated but if you did you will not be offered any drink or food as it is a bad day.
  14. Wednesdays and Saturdays are good days for oil bath.
  15. There are many and varied beliefs about the day and time a child should be born ideally and there is no room to elaborate all that.

Regarding Dreams

  1. A dream of a temple, policeman, falling of a tooth or burglary foretells the death of a relative.
  2. A dream of a house on fire foretells the attainment of puberty of a girl relative.
  3. Dreams in the early mornings usually come true.

Regarding Numbers

  1. When donation or gifts are made, the preferred amount is in odd numbers like 11 or 101 or 1001.
  2. When performing any auspicious ceremony, groups of three is avoided perhaps five is a good number.
  3. When paddy is measured the first measure is called out as ‘profit' (lapam) and number one is avoided.

Miscellaneous Beliefs

  1. When a coconut is broken at a ceremony, it should break into two equal halves cleanly and not break irregularly or shatter.
  2. You do not bite nails in the house it is a bad omen.
  3. No dwelling house should be taller than the tower of the local temple.
  4. After sneezing people exclaim ‘Shiva' or ‘Muruga' or the name of their favourite deity.
  5. As in travel, sneezing at the start of a ceremony or any auspicious rites should not be heard and better avoided. In most auspicious occasions, they play the Nathaswaram and drums and the fact is they make so much noise that anybody sneezing will not be heard.
  6. Itching of the right palm means income from unknown source.
  7. Another bad omen is the chirping sound of the Gecko made during their social interactions with one another. If this sound is heard when someone is thinking of something or starting to do something or beginning on a journey and similar things, it is regarded as bad omen. There are different meanings as to from which direction the sound came from, the time of day etc and the astrologers have an almanac which gives a full description of the meaning.
  8. Itching of the sole of the foot indicates a forthcoming journey.
  9. Salesmen do not say ‘No' in a shop; they always say they have something else if they do not have what you ask for.
  10. When a vehicle is bought the first trip is made to a temple and a pooja ceremony is carried out.
  11. In case of doubt or dilemma, people go to the temple and let the priest know who then wraps two packets with one containing a red flower and the other white flower and these are placed at the foot of the deity during a pooja. After the pooja, the priest offers the two packets to them who then choose one of  the chosen packet contains white flower, then it indicates victory and they go ahead with whatever they wanted to do.
  12. It is unlucky for a wedding procession to meet another.
  13. Dust and cobwebs in a dwelling house is never accepted and is a sign of ghost occupation of the house.
  14. People never use broken mirrors to look at their face.
  15. People do not spend money on a new year's day as this brings same end throughout that year.
  16. There are two types of crows in Jaffna; one smaller and if this crows in the morning, you expect a good news, a visitor or a letter and the other a bigger crow and if this crows, it is evil.
  17. In the New Year people would like to receive money for the first time from someone who is rich or has money coming in like business men. Even at home the husband receives his first money from his wife or child. This is called Kai Visesham and some coins and a pinch of paddy are placed on a betel leaf and handed over to the recipient.
  18. Many things are done on auspicious day and time; thatching a house, cutting palmyrah leaves moving into a new home, travel, sow seeds, harvesting, begin selling in a shop etc
  19. Shops do not sell eggs, salt or needles after the lights are on.
  20. Afterbirth of the cow or goat is wrapped in a palm leaf and hung on banyan tree believing that there will be more milk production.

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