Tuesday, November 15, 2011

scientific reasons behind indian traditions

scientific reasons behind indian traditions

NaNamaskarmaskar or Namaste is the most popular form of greeting in India. It is a general salutation that is used to welcome somebody and also for bidding farewell. While doing namaskar, both the palms are placed together and raised below the face to greet a person.
It is believed that both the hands symbolise one mind, or the self meeting the self. While the right hand represents higher nature, the left hand denotes worldly or lower nature.
Other common forms of greetings by various communities and regions in India are - Sat-sri-akal by the Sikhs, Adaab by the Muslims, Vannakkam by the Tamilians, Juley by the Laddhakis and Tashi Delag by the Sikkimese, amongst others.
Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing , greeting or auspiciousness. The tilak is usually made out of a red vermilion paste (kumkum)which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor, etc. It can also be of a sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk.
The tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration, and is very important for worship. This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with Lord Brahma. It also indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. All thoughts and actions are said to be governed by this spot. Putting of the coloured mark symbolizes the quest for the 'opening ' of the third eye. All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin with a tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.
Is Aratiperformed as an act of veneration and love. It is often performed as a mark of worship and to seek blessings from God, to welcome the guests, for children on their birthdays, family members on auspicious occasions or to welcome a newly wedded couple.
For performing Arati, five small lamps called niranjanas are filled with ghee or oil and arranged in a small tray made of metal. A wick is made out of cotton wool and placed in the lamps. A conchshell filled with water, auspicious leaves or flowers, incense or lighted camphor are also placed in the tray. The lamps are lit and the tray is rotated in a circular motion in front of the deity or the person to be welcomed. The purpose of performing arati is to ward off evil effects and the malefic influence of the ‘evil eye’.
FGarlandinglower garlands are generally offered as a mark of respect and honour. They are offered to welcome the visitors or in honour to the Gods and Goddesses. The garlands are generally made with white jasmine and orange marigold flowers. They are weaved in thread tied in the end with a help of a knot.

ABindi bindi is an auspicious mark worn by young girls and women . Bindi is derived from bindu, the Sanskrit word for dot . It is usually a red dot made with vermilion powder which is worn by women between their eyebrows on their forehead. Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally a symbol of marriage, it has also become decorative and is worn today by unmarried girls and women as well.
No longer restricted in colour or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colours and in different shapes and designs. They are also made of coloured felt and embellished with coloured glass or glitter.
Essential Ornaments
Nose Pin
Many Indian women wear a pin on their nose studded with stones, called a nose pin. A symbol of purity and marriage, the nose pin is today adorned by many unmarried girls as well.
IMangalsutras a necklace made of black beads, worn only by the married women as a mark of being married. It is the Indian equivalent of the western wedding ring.
The mangalsutra is tied by the groom around his bride's neck. Mangalsutra is generally made out of two strings of small black beads with a gold pendant. The black beads are believed to act as protection against evil. The married women wear this to protect their marriage and the life of their husband.
In southern India, the mangalsutra is called 'tali'. It is a small gold ornament, strung on a cotton cord or a gold chain.
Are a pair of shell (shakha) and red coral (paula) bangles worn as marriage symbols by the Bengali women.



Nose Pin
Many Indian women wear a pin on their nose studded with stones, called a nose pin. A symbol of purity and marriage, the nose pin is today adorned by many unmarried girls as well.

Mangal Sutra
Is a necklace made of black .beads, worn only by the married women as a mark of being married. It is the Indian equivalent of the western wedding ring. The mangalsutra is tied by the groom around his bride's neck. Mangalsutra is generally made out of two strings of small black beads with a gold pendant. The black beads are believed to act as protection.

Are a pair of shell ( shakha ) and red coral ( paula ) bangles worn as marriage symbols by the Bengali women.

‘Customs’ Vs ‘Scientific Reasons’.

India is a country that prevails from one of the oldest known civilizations in the world. Located in the southern Asian subcontinent, India has the second largest population in the world. Indian population contains people from diverse backgrounds and customs. India is a secular state, where in every one has a fundamental right to “freedom of religion”. India hosts the world’s largest Muslim and Hindu population. Today India is the world’s largest democratic country. With people from varied backgrounds living in the same country, India customs and traditions are infinite to describe.

I am a proud Indian who has been brought up along with various Indian customs and traditions followed by my family. We are too young to question these customs and traditions early in our childhood days. But as we grow up, we tend to start questioning most of the routine customs and traditions that we are asked to follow. I always believed that “Necessity is mother of Invention”. Nothing could have become a tradition or custom without having significance. My article tries to list down the customs and the possible scientific reasons and significance the customs carry with them.

Most of the Indian customs and traditions are derived from our ancestors. India has a very long history dating back to thousands of years. Education in ancient times was derived from the elders and preceptors of a family. Traditions and customs were taught at a very young age and followed as part of life. Due to colonization of India over a period of time, different customs and traditions had to co-exist with each other. Most of Indian population lived in villages having agriculture as their main profession. Until post independent times when Education became a necessity, customs and traditions were followed strictly by most Indian families.

Education brings about a transformation in every Individual. We learn to question, reason and understand what ever we intend to do. It may be very common experience for today’s young generation to question our elders when we are asked to follow a custom or tradition. But if we try and figure out the real intention behind what we are being asked to do, we would learn that our forefathers were as educated as we are today. Most of the answers can be got from the elders in the family. Try to get your doubts answered by your grandmother or grandfather. You may be thrilled and happy to know the real intention of the customs we follow in our day to day lives.

I have listed down a few Indian Customs/Traditions along with the possible scientific reason with which I got convinced with. All the reasoning used in this article is solely my thoughts and my understanding of the Indian customs. I have no intention in denying any other interpretation of the same custom or tradition discussed in this article.

Custom 1: “Throwing Currency Coins into a River” Many of us would have noticed our co-passengers throwing coins into rivers especially when traveling over river bridges.


Possible Reason: The general reasoning given for this act is that, it brings Good Luck back to us. It is also believed that it will bring back Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi to our households.

Scientific Reason: In the ancient times, most of the currency used was made of copper unlike the stainless steel coins of today. Most of us even know of the ANNAs (made of copper) which were used in the pre-independent times. Copper is a vital metal very useful to the human body. The intake of copper with water is very good for health. Throwing coins in the river was one way our fore-fathers ensured we intake sufficient copper as part of the water. Rivers were the only source of drinking water. Making it a custom by saying it will bring good fortune to us has ensured that all of us follow the good practice.


Custom 2: “Joining both palms together to greet others”

In Hindu culture, I have seen people greeting others by joining their palms together. This is termed as “Namaskar” as per Hindu traditions. This is the most common way of greeting others.

Possible Reason: The general reason that would be given is that greeting elders and others by joining both the palms is the way of respect given to them.

Scientific Reason: While greeting others, we join both the hands together. Joining both hands ensures joining the tips of all the fingers together; which are denoted to the pressure points of eyes, ears, and mind. Pressing them together is said to activate the pressure points. This helps us to remember the person for a long time.


Custom 3: “Applying Tilak on the forehead”

Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing, greeting or auspiciousness. Applying Tilak on the forehead is a very important and mandatory ritual custom followed by the Hindus. Women should always put this tilak at the center of the forehead, the place in between the two eyebrows. Many of the males belonging to the orthodox communities would also put tilak on their foreheads.

Possible Reason: Hinduism is very much concerned about this custom and I myself faced a great opposition from my family members if I have not put tilak by mistake. This is considered as a evil practice if women do not put tilak.

Scientific Reason: The tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration. This spot present in between the eyebrows is said to have the nerve connection to the brain. And putting tilak in this spot regularly would stimulate this spot and helps us to have good concentration and mental concentration.


Custom 4: “Tying Mango and Neem Leaves to the doors on auspicious days”

Possible Reason: The general reason given for this act is that tying mango and neem leaves would not allow the evil powers to enter the house.

Scientific Reason: On auspicious days and on special occasions, all of us gather at one place along with our relatives and friends. Photosynthesis is a process where in plants take in carbon-di-oxide and give out oxygen. This process helps in circulation of oxygen and in turn keeps the room temperature at an optimum level. Mango leaves and neem leaves are very effective in the photosynthesis process comparative to other plants. Neem leaves purify the bacteria too. In order to keep the temperature cool and to circulate air, we tie mango leaves and neem leaves to all the doors.


Custom 5: “Why do women apply turmeric paste to their foot and legs.”

Possible Reason: The general reason that is given for turmeric application is that it is a to be done act by women.

Scientific Reason: Women traditionally used to perform many household duties which involved bringing water from the river, cleaning the house with water, washing clothes, and cooking. Most of the houses were made of mud and clay which were soaked in water at regular intervals for cleaning purposes. All these activities required women step into/on water. In order to prevent their feet and legs from the bacterial and fungus infections; they were advised to apply turmeric paste to their legs. In today’s medicine we all know that turmeric is an very good antiseptic agent. Our forefathers knew this too and therefore they used turmeric extensively in their day to day lives.


Custom 6: “Madi while cooking”

“Madi” is a process in which an individual cleans himself and dresses himself into a traditional costume to perform an activity like cooking or any other religious activities. This custom is still prevalent in many orthodox families. This custom is commonly followed by Brahmin community in India.

Scientific Reason: Madi is a process of purifying the physical body before undergoing any sort of actions like cooking, religious rituals. It is always good to be clean before cooking to avoid any sort of bacteria and germs entering the food. So our ancestors have introduced a custom, called Madi. But in the recent times, it has been noticed that this custom has misinterpreted by treating people who are not in Madi as un-touchables.


Custom 7“Raangoli in the month of December.”

It is one of the common custom followed by everyone with full of enthusiasm and interest. The home makers and the kids would involve putting rangoli in the month of Deccember, with the mix of rice powder.

Scientific Reason: In India, the month of December, it is a bit cold month comparative to the whole year. And the small insects and ants that live in the soil would not have food for the winter. Indian tradition of India tells us to help others and not to harm, even knowingly or unknowingly. Inorder to help the small insecticides, we would put rangoli on the floor, with rice powder. This would help them in providing food for the winter.


Custom 8: “Women Staying away from rituals during menstrual cycle.”

Women under menstruation are asked to remain indoors and restricted from performing most of their daily activities as a custom in many Indian traditional families.

Scientific Reason: This is probably one of the most misinterpreted customs that prevails in many traditional families. During menstruation women undergo both physical and emotional changes and may not be ready for rituals that required concentration and strength for execution. Women in the ancient times used to do a lot work that required a ritual to be completed. This custom was to ensure that women under menstruation are given rest during rituals. Over time this has been misinterpreted by many that women under menstruation are to stay away from rituals since it brings ill effects to the ritual.


Custom 9: “Why do elders rotate crystal salt, lemon around head?”

Most of the time, I see my maternal grand mother taking crystal salt or lemon and revolve around us, her grand children saying“Drishti”, evil eye. She always does this when I visit her.

Possible Reason: “Dristhi” is stated as an evil eye on the person who feels jealous about others. It is believed that if a person gets “Dristi”, he would be ruined or would fell sick due to the evil eye. As a cure and remedy to this evil eye, elders take dristhi by revolving salt or lemon around the person.

Scientific Reason: Salt can be considered as the first antibiotic. Not only that, the salty and acidic substances would less affect the magnetic field. Keeping these properties if lemon and salt in mind, we revolve salt and lemon around the person.

The salt and lemon when revolved around, it would kill all the bacteria around the person. It forms an aura layer of antibiotics around the person. Not only has this, revolving around the person balance the magnetic field too. This would make the person affected with dristi feel better.

I have stated some of the customs and traditions that have scientific reason. There is no intension to hurt any of the religious believes. These are my personal feelings and views.


Touching Feet: Questioning the Tradition

touch-feet-charan-sparsh-pairi-paunaTouching the feet of elders is one of the most respected traditions among Hindus, probably because the tradition is associated with respect. Most of my relatives are very particular about teaching their kids to touch feet when they are still very small to understand the concept of the tradition.


While I had personally been following this tradition in a quite unquestionable fashion, I recently realised how often I did not feel like touching feet. It was then that I thought from a kid’s perspective. Whose feet do I have to touch? Is everybody larger in size (a toddler’s definition of an elder) supposed to be respected? Do I have to touch the feet of all my relatives i.e. do they inherit respect? Why don’t people touch my feet?


Have we ever wondered how important it is to teach the meaning of respect to the child before teaching him to touch dont-touch-my-feet-touch-feet-touching-feet-touch-your-feetmy feet? How can one follow such a tradition without understanding an emotion that is closest to the most intense feeling of love?
You must have seen parents asking their child to recite a poem in front of a stranger. The child would, in most cases, be shy. While reciting that poem can be the child’s way of having fun with his or her mother, he may not associate the same feeling of happiness with the activity in relation to a stranger’s presence. Then, imagine teaching children to touch the feet of relatives they have never met before. For them, they are strangers. How will they respect them?


The relatives I respect are not those who have the “touch my feet” expression on their faces. They are the people who touch the heart. It is that love which connects the souls. It does not require any physical connection to express the false respect, but can surely result into affectionate physical expressions.
Anyway, what is an action that is no guided by feelings? Does that define how hollow our traditions are? Is the tradition of touching feet standing up to the values it represents? When we are asking our child to touch a person’s feet just because s/he is older, it ceases to be an action that can come from the feeling of respect. It is pure submission that we demand from our child. Do you still want to teach your child to touch your feet?


Indian Traditions, customs, religions, festivals, pooja


Bathing is an integral part of daily routine in every Indian's life. Special occasions call for holy dips in sacred rivers and lakes as enumerated by the scriptures. That a bath keeps us healthy through personal hygiene is a well known fact. But there are other aspects as well that are not well known. Polygraphic studies proved that water enhances electro-magnetic activity. In the context of this finding, the religious practices like washing hands and feet before entering temples and taking bath everyday, worshipping with wet clothes and offering prayer standing in the middle of water chest-deep in rivers and tanks etc., seem to be more scientific than a mere act of cleanliness. Human body is centre of electric currents and impulses. A continuous process of generation and consumption of electric energy takes place in the human body.   Maharshi Vaatsyaayana has described the various power centres in human body.   More energy is generated in our body whenever we are excited and battle various emotions as well as indulge in intense physical activity.  However, at night when we retire until the next morning this generation and consumption level of power drops drastically. This is the reason why we feel so lethargic on waking up in the morning.   We are neither active physically non mentally.   Washing our face immediately clears the cobwebs of drowsiness.   A bath certainly freshens up completely and puts us in our best shape.  This happens due to the fact that water consumes the electricity in our body.    This is known as Electro-magnetic activity.   Physics describes this in detail.   Therefore, taking bath has more to do with such scientific reasoning
than merely cleanliness.


The time 90 minutes prior to sunrise is called Braahmi Muhurtham. This time is good for academics, purohits and the time where in the later hours, the night the last 48 mins. (2 ghadi) is called Braahmi Muhurtham. 'Braahmi' means Saraswathi, the Goddess of intellect. The above specified time is auspicious for gaining and sustaining intelligence and knowledge, owing to which it is called Braahmi Muhurtham. It is during Braahmi muhurtham that Sun god spreads his rays just as a peacock spreading its feathers. He starts spreading his light and energy throughout the world. The light rays from the Galaxies influence the human brain. The nascent sun spreads thousand arms in the form of rays across the sky, which emit light-blue devine rays. These rays bring to life the cells and the brain. Lord Surya or the sun god is also the god of life. If the man can synchronise his senses with these rays during this hour he will be empowered with unchallengeable energy. This observation was endorsed by sages. This is the time when the life under the sun still remains in deep sleep supported by the tranquil and pleasant environment, the sages and munis spread the power of penance, which comes out in the form of high powered electrical and magnetic charge, for the upliftment of the living creatures on the earth. If one keep awake during these hours, it is possible to benefit from this charge.


One should apply the sacred religious marks (Tilakam) after performing aachamana(sipping water sanctified and fortified with mantras). The sacred texts enjoin that the forehead must never be left unannointed.

It has been a tradition in all Hindu families, irrespective of caste and creed to mark the body with some sacred sign.It is an ancient practice still in use wherein women, men and children of all castes apply such signs according to their traditions to this date. It is decreed imperative in case of women. Any women who sports a Tilakam on her forehead anywhere in world appears to owe her roots to bharatavarsha, i.e, India. It is our tradition to invite people to any auspicious ritual by applying a "Tilakam", vermilon dot on the forehead. It also signifies pleasantly the subsistence of her beloved husband. Even the most poverty sticken bid their relatives, friends, etc,farewell by applying a Tilakam. The havemores and the havenot, all commonly sport Tilakam. The splendour of a Tilakam is compared with that of Goddess Laxmi Devi herself and therefore, Indians paint even the portal of their residence with beautiful bindies lending unparalleled grace to it. The is not only a beautifying aid for women but also a charm to ward off evil, the elders opine. Beginning with a child in a cradle to a grandma, all women wear a Tilak.


Pooja is a part of Indian tradition. However, pooja in the Indian context is not just as simple as reading something from a holy book. All those performing the pooja are involved in the process of worship. This is considered to be a direct way communicating with the god.

Indians have a practice of worshipping god in different forms. It is said that there are about 30 million forms of god. It is also believed that there is only one sole supreme. There are different schools of worship. Some advocate worshipping the supreme god without a form or a shape since god is considered to be the cosmic power. Others give a form or a shape to the god. It is reflected in the idols they pray. Worshiping Yantras or the algebric forms of mantras encrypted on a variety of surfaces like metal, wood and stone is also a popular form. However, worshiping idols of different gods are the most followed.


Ghantaa or bell is a common sight in any temple. Bell has a signficant place in the process of worship. While the bell made of gold and silver produce mild sound it is said that the bells made of copper, brass help in controlling the evils and germs.


Abhishekam is an important part of idol worship. Normally, abhishekam, or bathing the idol, is performed to the gods (in the form of idols) with Panchaamrita. It is a mixture of cow milk, curds, pure ghee, sugar and honey. Devotees also mix banana and coconut water in Panchaamrita.
After completing the abhisheka, the panchaamrita used for the purpose is consumed by the devotees as teertha.It is said that panchaamrita, being the mixture of various milk products, has medicinal values and will provide health and nourishment to the body. However, since it is used for worshipping the god, there are spiritual values too attached to this teertha. For non-believers, the fact that it adds to the health would convince them to consume it.


Festoon (Toranam)Decorating the main door of the houses, temples or any other place, where some ritual is performed, with a festoon (Toranam or a string of mango leaves) is part of the Indian culture. Normally, this kind of decoration is done during festivals or celebrations. Though there is a scientific reason behind this festoon decoration, this has become a part of the tradition and majority does not even bother to know the actual reason behind doing so. Indians use a festoon made of fresh and green mango leaves. However, leaves of other species like Neem are also used for this purpose. Most of us know that the green leaves absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This helps in keeping the surrounding atmosphere clean and hygienic. Keeping, the aesthetics in view, mango leaves are preferred, since their shape adds to the ambience. However, all other advantages of having a festoon revolve around this basic reason. According to a theory, the air filled with carbon dioxide, which is lighter than the pure air, gets purified immediately while passing through the festoon. In addition, insects get attracted to the green leaves. This stops the insects from entering the room.


Even this is an age-old practice in every house according to the Hindu culture and tradition. Applying Turmeric on the threshold is as important as having bath in every Indian house. Again, every one knows the reason. But the modern Indian has a habit of ridiculing all such practices and branding them as blind beliefs or meaningless practices.It is beyond doubt that turmeric has anti-septic characters. It is an anti-bacterial too. While the green festoon hanging on the top of the main door frame stops insects and other visible but small flying objects from entering the room, turmeric applied on the door sill stops bacteria or other microscopic organisms from making their way into the house. Turmeric checks every invisible organism.
In addition, the yellow color makes the main door colorful and is an aesthetic combination for the green festoon on the top of the doorframe.

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