ironServices.com

Omens and Superstitions of Southern India

The Telugu Tottiyans, who have settled in the Tamil country, are said by Mr F. R. Hemingway not to recognise the superiority of Brāhmans. They are supposed to possess unholy powers, especially the Nalla (black) Gollas, and are much dreaded by their neighbours. They do [29]not allow any stranger to enter their villages with shoes on, or on horseback, or holding up an umbrella, lest their god should be offended. It is believed that, if any one breaks this rule, he will be visited with illness or some other punishment.

I am informed by Mr S. P. Rice that, when smallpox breaks out in a Hindu house, it is a popular belief that to allow strangers or unclean persons to go into the house, to observe festivals, and even to permit persons who have combed their hair, bathed in oil, or had a shave, to see the patient, would arouse the anger of the goddess, and bring certain death to the sick person. Strangers, and young married women are not admitted to, and may not approach the house, as they may have had sexual intercourse on the previous day.

It is believed that the sight or breath of Muhammadans, just after they have said their prayers at a mosque, will do good to children suffering from various disorders. For this purpose, women carry or take their children, and post themselves at the entrance to a mosque at the time when worshippers leave it. Most of them are Hindus, but sometimes poor Eurasians may be seen there. I once received a pathetic appeal from a Eurasian woman in Malabar, imploring me to lay my hands on the head of her sick child, so that its life might be spared.

In teaching the Grāndha alphabet to children, they are made to repeat the letter “ca” twice quickly without pausing, as the word “ca” means “die.” In Malabar, the instruction of a Tiyan child in the alphabet is said by Mr F. Fawcett to begin on the last day of the Dasara festival in the fifth year of its life. A teacher, who has been selected with care, or a lucky person, holds the child’s right hand, and makes it trace the letters of the [30]Malayālam alphabet in rice spread on a plate. The forefinger, which is the one used in offering water to the souls of the dead, and in other parts of the death ceremonies, must not be used for tracing the letters, but is placed above the middle finger, merely to steady it. For the same reason, a doctor, when making a pill, will not use the forefinger. To mention the number seven in Telugu is unlucky, because the word (yēdu) is the same as that for weeping. Even a treasury officer, who is an enlightened university graduate, in counting money, will say six and one. The number seven is, for the same reason, considered unlucky by the Koravas, and a house-breaking expedition should not consist of seven men. Should this, however, be unavoidable, a fiction is indulged in of making the house-breaking implement the eighth member of the gang.24 In Tamil the word ten is considered inauspicious, because, on the tenth day after the death of her husband, a widow removes the emblems of married life. Probably for this reason, the offspring of Kallan polyandrous marriages style themselves the children of eight and two, not ten fathers. Lābha is a Sanskrit word meaning profit or gain, and has its equivalent in all the vernacular languages. Hindus, when counting, commence with this word instead of the word signifying one. In like manner, Muhammadans use the word Bismillah or Burketh, apparently as an invocation like the medicinal ℞ (Oh! Jupiter, aid us). When the number a hundred has been counted, they again begin with the substitute for one, and this serves as a one for the person who is keeping the tally. Oriya merchants say labho (gain) instead of eko (one), when counting out the seers of rice for the elephants’ rations. The people of the Oriya Zemindaris often use, not the year of the [31]Hindu cycle or Muhammadan era, but the year of the reigning Rāja of Puri. The first year of the reign is called, not one, but labho. The counting then proceeds in the ordinary course, but, with the exception of the number ten, all numbers ending with seven or nothing are omitted. This is called the onko. Thus, if a Rāja has reigned two and a half years, he would be said to be in the twenty-fifth onko, seven, seventeen and twenty being omitted.25 For chewing betel, two other ingredients are necessary, viz., areca nuts and chunam (lime). For some reason, Tamil Vaishnavas object to mentioning the last by name, and call it moonavadu, or the third.

At a Brāhman funeral, the sons and nephews of the deceased go round the corpse, and untie their kudumi (hair knot), leaving part thereof loose, tie up the rest into a small bunch, and slap their thighs. Consequently, when children at play have their kudumi partially tied, and slap their thighs, they are invariably scolded owing to the association with funerals. Among all Hindu classes it is considered as an insult to the god to bathe or wash the feet on returning home from worship at a temple, and, by so doing, the punyam (good) would be lost. Moreover, washing the feet at the entrance to a home is connected with funerals, inasmuch as, on the return from the burning-ground, a mourner may not enter the house until he has washed his feet. The Badagas of the Nīlgiris hold an agricultural festival called devvē, which should on no account be pronounced duvvē, which means burning-ground.

A bazaar shop-keeper who deals in colours will not sell white paint after the lamps have been lighted. In like manner, a cloth-dealer refuses to sell black cloth, [32]and the dealer in hardware to sell nails, needles, etc., lest poverty should ensue. Digging operations with a spade should be stopped before the lamps are lighted. A betel-vine cultivator objects to entering his garden or plucking a leaf after the lighting of the lamps; but, if some leaves are urgently required, he will, before plucking them, pour water from a pot at the foot of the tree on which the vine is growing.

Arrack (liquor) vendors consider it unlucky to set their measures upside down. Some time ago, the Excise Commissioner informs me, the Madras Excise Department had some aluminium measures made for measuring arrack in liquor shops. It was found that the arrack corroded the aluminium, and the measures soon leaked. The shop-keepers were told to turn their measures upside down, in order that they might drain. This they refused to do, as it would bring bad luck to their shops. New measures with round bottoms, which would not stand up, were evolved. But the shop-keepers began to use rings of indiarubber from soda-water bottles, to make them stand. An endeavour was then made to induce them to keep their measures inverted by hanging them on pegs, so that they would drain without being turned upside down. The case illustrates how important a knowledge of the superstitions of the people is in the administration of their affairs. Even so trifling an innovation as the introduction of a new arrangement for maintaining tension in the warp during the process of weaving gave rise a few years ago to a strike among the hand-loom weavers at the Madras School of Arts.

When a Paidi (agriculturists and weavers in Ganjam) is seriously ill, a male or female sorcerer (bejjo or bejjano) is consulted. A square divided into sixteen compartments is drawn on the floor with rice flour. In each compartment [33]are placed a leaf-cup of Butea frondosa, a quarter-anna piece, and some food. Seven small bows and arrows are set up in front thereof in two lines. On one side of the square, a big cup filled with food is placed. A fowl is sacrificed, and its blood poured thrice round this cup. Then, placing water in a vessel near the cup, the sorcerer or sorceress throws into it a grain of rice, giving out at the same time the name of some god or goddess. If the rice sinks, it is believed that the illness is caused by the anger of the deity, whose name has been mentioned. If the rice floats, the names of various deities are called out, until a grain sinks. When selecting a site for a new dwelling hut, the Māliah Savaras place on the proposed site as many grains of rice in pairs as there are married members in the family, and cover them over with a cocoanut shell. They are examined on the following day, and, if they are all there, the site is considered auspicious. Among the Kāpu Savaras, the grains of rice are folded up in leaflets of the bael tree (Ægle Marmelos), and placed in a split bamboo.

It is recorded by Gloyer26 that “when a Dōmb (Vizagapatam hill tribe) house has to be built, the first thing is to select a favourable spot, to which few evil spirits (dūmas) resort. At this spot they put, in several places, three grains of rice arranged in such a way that the two lower grains support the upper one. To protect the grains, they pile up stones round them, and the whole is lightly covered with earth. When, after some time, they find on inspection that the upper grain has fallen off, the spot is regarded as unlucky, and must not be used. If the position of the grains remains unchanged, the omen is regarded as auspicious. They drive in the first post, which must have a certain length, say of [34]five, seven, or nine ells, the ell being measured from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. The post is covered on the top with rice straw, leaves, and shrubs, so that birds may not foul it, which would be an evil omen.”

In Madras, a story is current with reference to the statue of Sir Thomas Munro, that he seized upon all the rice depôts, and starved the people by selling rice in egg-shells, at one shell for a rupee. To punish him, the Government erected the statue in an open place without a canopy, so that the birds of the air might insult him by polluting his face. In the Bellary district, the names Munrol and Munrolappa are common, and are given in hope that the boy may attain the same celebrity as the former Governor of Madras. (I once came across a Telugu cultivator, who rejoiced in the name of Curzon). One of Sir Thomas Munro’s good qualities was that, like Rāma and Rob Roy, his arms reached to his knees, or, in other words, he possessed the quality of an Ajanubahu, which is the heritage of kings, or those who have blue blood in them.

In a case of dispute between two Koravas,27 “the decision is sometimes arrived at by means of an ordeal. An equal quantity of rice is placed in two pots of equal weight, having the same quantity of water, and there is an equal quantity of fire-wood. The judges satisfy themselves most carefully as to quantity, weights, and so on. The water is boiled, and the man whose rice boils first is declared to be the winner of the dispute. The loser has to recoup the winner all his expenses. It sometimes happens that both pots boil at the same time; then a coin is to be picked out of a pot containing boiling oil.”

At one of the religious ceremonies of the Koravas, offerings of boiled rice (pongal) are made to the deity, [35]Polēramma, by fasting women. The manner in which the boiling food bubbles over from the cooking-pot is eagerly watched, and accepted as an omen for good or evil. A festival called Pongal is observed by Hindus on the first day of the Tamil month Tai, and derives its name from the fact that rice boiled in milk is offered to propitiate the Sun God.

Before the ceremony of walking through fire28 (burning embers) at Nidugala on the Nīlgiris, the omens are taken by boiling two pots of milk, side by side, on two hearths. If the milk overflows uniformly on all sides, the crops will be abundant for all the villages. But, if it flows over on one side only, there will be plentiful crops for villages on that side only. For boiling the milk, a light obtained by friction must be used. After the milk-boiling ceremonial, the pūjāri (priest), tying bells on his legs, approaches the fire-pit, carrying milk freshly drawn from a cow, which has calved for the first time, and flowers of Rhododendron, Leucas, or jasmine. After doing pūja (worship), he throws the flowers on the embers, and they should remain unscorched for a few seconds. He then pours some of the milk over the embers, and no hissing sound should be produced. The omens being propitious, he walks over the glowing embers, followed by a Udaya29 and the crowd of celebrants, who, before going through the ordeal, count the hairs on their feet. If any are singed, it is a sign of approaching ill-fortune, or even death.

It is recorded by the Rev. J. Cain30 that, when the [36]Koyis of the Godaāvari district determine to appease the goddess of smallpox or cholera, they erect a pandal (booth) outside their village under a nīm tree (Melia Azadirachta). They make the image of a woman with earth from a white-ant hill, tie a cloth or two round it, hang a few peacock’s feathers round its neck, and place it under the pandal on a three-legged stool made from the wood of the silk-cotton tree (Cochlospermum Gossypium). They then bring forward a chicken, and try to persuade it to eat some of the grains which they have thrown before the image, requesting the goddess to inform them whether she will leave their village or not. If the chicken picks up some of the grains, they regard it as a most favourable omen; but, if not, their hearts are filled with dread of the continued anger of the goddess. At the Bhūdēvi Panduga, or festival of the earth goddess, according to Mr F. R. Hemingway, the Koyis set up a stone beneath a Terminalia tomentosa tree, which is thus dedicated to the goddess Kodalamma. Each worshipper brings a cock to the priest, who holds it over grains of rice, which have been sprinkled before the goddess. If the bird pecks at the rice, good luck is ensured for the coming year, whilst, if perchance the bird pecks three times, the offerer of that particular bird can scarcely contain himself for joy. If the bird declines to touch the grains, ill-luck is sure to visit the owner’s house during the ensuing year.

Concerning a boundary oath in the Mulkangiri tāluk of Vizagapatam, Mr C. A. Henderson writes to me as follows:—

“The pūjāri (priest) levelled a piece of ground about a foot square, and smeared it with cow-dung. The boundary was marked with rice-flour and turmeric, and a small heap of rice and cow-dung was left in the middle. A sword was laid across the heap. The pūjāri touched the rice-flour [37]line with the tips of his fingers, and then pressed his knuckles on the same place, thus leaving an exit on the south side. He then held a chicken over the central heap, and muttered some mantrams. The chicken pecked at the rice, and an egg was placed on the heap. The chicken then pecked at the rice again. The ceremony then waited for another party, who performed a similar ceremony. There was some amusement because their chickens would not eat. The chickens were decapitated, and their heads placed in the square. The eggs were then broken. It was raining, and there was a resulting puddle of cow-dung, chicken’s blood, egg, and rice, of which the representatives of each party took a portion, and eat it, or pretended to do so, stating to whom the land belonged. There is said to be a belief that, if a man swears falsely, he will die.”

Though not bearing on the subject of omens, some further boundary ceremonies may be placed under reference. At Sāttamangalam, in the South Arcot district, the festival of the goddess Māriamma is said to be crowned by the sacrifice at midnight of a goat, the entrails of which are hung round the neck of the Toti (scavenger), who then goes, stark naked, save for this one adornment, round all the village boundaries.31

It is recorded by Bishop Whitehead32 that, in some parts of the Tamil country, e.g., in the Trichinopoly district, at the ceremony for the propitiation of the village boundary goddess, a priest carries a pot containing boiled rice and the blood of a lamb which has been sacrificed to the boundary stone, round which he runs three times. The third time he throws the pot over his shoulder on to another smaller stone, which stands at the foot of the boundary stone. The pot is dashed to pieces, and [38]the rice and blood scatter over the two stones and all round them. The priest then goes away without looking back, followed by the crowd of villagers in dead silence. In the Cuddapah district, when there is a boundary dispute in a village, an image of the goddess Gangamma is placed in the street, and left there for two days. The head of a buffalo and several sheep are offered to her, and the blood is allowed to run into the gutter. The goddess is then worshipped, and she is implored to point out the correct boundary.33 In Mysore, if there is a dispute as to the village boundaries, the Holeya34 Kuluvādi is believed to be the only person competent to take the oath as to how the boundary ought to run. The old custom for settling such disputes is thus described by Captain J. S. F. Mackenzie:35

“The Kuluvādi, carrying on his head a ball made of the village earth, in the centre of which is placed some earth, passes along the boundary. If he has kept the proper line, everything goes well, but, should he, by accident even, go beyond his own proper boundary, then the ball of earth, of its own accord, goes to pieces. The Kuluvādi is said to die within fifteen days, and his house becomes a ruin. Such is the popular belief.”

Some years ago Mr H. D. Taylor was called on to settle a boundary dispute between two villages in Jeypore under the following circumstances. As the result of a panchāyat (council meeting), the men of one village had agreed to accept the boundary claimed by the other party if the head of their village walked round the boundary and eat earth at intervals, provided that no harm came to him within six months. The man accordingly perambulated [39]the boundary eating earth, and a conditional order of possession was given. Shortly afterwards the man’s cattle died, one of his children died of smallpox, and finally he himself died within three months. The other party then claimed the land on the ground that the earth-goddess had proved him to have perjured himself. It was urged in defence that the man had been made to eat earth at such frequent intervals that he contracted dysentery, and died from the effects of earth-eating.36

When the time for the annual festival of the tribal goddess of the Kuruvikkārans (Marāthi-speaking beggars) draws nigh, the headman or an elder piles up Vigna Catiang seeds in five small heaps. He then decides in his mind whether there is an odd or even number of seeds in the majority of heaps. If, when the seeds are counted, the result agrees with his forecast, it is taken as a sign of the approval of the goddess, and arrangements for the festival are made. Otherwise it is abandoned for the year.

At the annual festival of Chaudēswari, the tribal goddess of Dēvānga weavers, the priest tries to balance a long sword on its point on the edge of the mouth of a pot. A lime fruit is placed in the region of the navel of the idol, who should throw it down spontaneously. A bundle of betel leaves is cut across with a knife, and the cut ends should unite. If the omens are favourable, a lamp made of rice-flour is lighted, and pongal (boiled rice) offered to it.

It is recorded by Canter Visscher37 that, in the building of a house in Malabar, the carpenters open three or four cocoanuts, spilling the juice as little as possible, and put some tips of betel leaves into them. From the way these float on the liquid they foretell whether the house will [40]be lucky or unlucky, whether it will stand for a long or short period, and whether another will ever be erected on its site.

Korava women, if their husbands are absent on a criminal expedition long enough to arouse apprehension of danger, pull a long piece out of a broom, and tie to one end of it several small pieces dipped in oil. If the stick floats in water, all is well; but, should it sink, two of the women start at once to find the men.38

In the village of Chakibunda in the Cuddapah district, there is a pool of water at the foot of a hill. Those who are desirous of getting children, wealth, etc., go there and pour oil into the water. The oil is said not to float as is usual in greasy bubbles, but to sink and never rise. They also offer betel leaves, on which turmeric and kunkumam have been placed. If these leaves sink, and after some time reappear without the turmeric and kunkumam, but with the marks of nails upon them, the person offering them will gain his wishes. The contents of the leaves, and the oil, are supposed to be consumed by some divine being at the bottom of the pool.39 At Madicheruvu, in the Cuddapah district, there is a small waterfall in the midst of a jungle, which is visited annually by a large number of pilgrims. Those who are anxious to know if their sins are forgiven stand under the fall. If they are acceptable the water falls on their heads, but, if they have some great guilt weighing on them, the water swerves on one side, and refuses to be polluted by contact with the sinner.40

Among the Vādas (Telugu fishermen) the Mannāru is an important individual who not only performs worship, but is consulted on many points. If a man does not [41]secure good catches of fish, he goes to the Mannāru to ascertain the cause of his bad luck. The Mannāru holds in his hand a string on which a stone is tied, and invokes various gods and goddesses by name. Every time a name is mentioned, the stone either swings to and fro like a pendulum, or performs a circular movement. If the former occurs, it is a sign that the deity whose name has been pronounced is the cause of the misfortune, and must be propitiated in a suitable manner.

The Nomad Bauris or Bāwariyas, who commit robberies and manufacture counterfeit coin, keep with them a small quantity of wheat and sandal seeds in a tin or brass case, which they call dēvakadana or god’s grain, and a tuft of peacock’s feathers. They are very superstitious, and do not embark on any enterprise without first ascertaining by omens whether it will be attended with success or not. This they do by taking at random a small quantity of grains out of the dēvakadana, and counting the number thereof, the omen being considered good or bad according as the number is odd or even.41 A gang of Donga Dāsaris, before starting on a thieving expedition, proceed to the jungle near their village in the early part of the night, worship their favourite goddesses, Huligavva and Ellamma, and sacrifice a sheep or fowl before them. They place one of their turbans on the head of the animal as soon as its head falls on the ground. If the turban turns to the right it is considered a good sign, the goddess having permitted them to proceed on the expedition; if to the left they return home. Hanumān (the monkey god) is also consulted as to such expeditions. They go to a Hanumān temple, and, after worshipping him, garland him with a wreath of flowers. The garland hangs [42]on both sides of the neck. If any of the flowers on the right side drop down first, it is regarded as a permission granted by the god to start on a plundering expedition; and, conversely, an expedition is never undertaken if any flower happens to drop from the left side first.42 The Kallans are said by Mr F. S. Mullaly43 to consult the deity before starting on depredations. Two flowers, the one red and the other white, are placed before the idol, a symbol of their god Kalla Alagar. The white flower is the emblem of success. A child of tender years is told to pluck a petal of one of the two flowers, and the success of the undertaking rests upon the choice made by the child. The Pulluvan astrologers of Malabar sometimes calculate beforehand the result of a project in which they are engaged, by placing before the god two bouquets of flowers, one red, the other white, of which a child picks out one with its eyes closed. Selection of the white bouquet predicts auspicious results, of the red the reverse. In the same way, when the Kammālans (Tamil artisans) appoint their Anjivīttu Nāttāmaikkāran to preside over them, five men selected from each of the five divisions meet at the temple of the caste goddess, Kāmākshi Amman. The names of the five men are written on five slips of paper, which, together with some blank slips, are thrown before the shrine of the goddess. A child, taken at random from the assembled crowd, is made to pick up the slips, and he whose name turns up first is proclaimed Anjivīttu Nāttāmaikkāran.

Eclipses are regarded as precursors of evil, which must, if possible, be averted. Concerning the origin thereof, according to tradition in Malabar, Mr Gopal Panikkar writes as follows44:— [43]

“Tradition says that, when an eclipse takes place, Rāhu the huge serpent is devouring the sun or moon, as the case may be. An eclipse being thus the decease of one of those heavenly bodies, people must, of necessity, observe pollution for the period during which the eclipse lasts. When the monster spits out the body, the eclipse is over. Food and drink taken during an eclipse possess poisonous properties, and people therefore abstain from eating and drinking until the eclipse is over. They bathe at the end of the eclipse, so as to get rid of the pollution. Any one shutting himself up from exposure may be exempted from this obligation to take a bath.”

Deaths from drowning are not unknown in Madras at times of eclipse, when Hindus bathe in the sea, and get washed away by the surf. It is said45 that, before an eclipse, the people prepare their drums, etc., to frighten the giant, lest he should eat up the moon entirely. Images of snakes are offered to the deity on days of eclipse by Brāhmans on whose star day the eclipse falls, to appease the wrath of the terrible Rāhu. It is noted by Mr S. M. Natesa Sastri46 that “the eclipse must take place on some asterism or other, and, if that asterism happens to be that in which any Hindu was born, he has to perform some special ceremonies to absolve himself from impending evil. He makes a plate of gold or silver, or of palm leaf, according to his means, and ties it on his forehead with Sanskrit verses inscribed on it. He sits with this plate for some time, performs certain ceremonies, bathes with the plate untied, and presents it to a Brāhman with some fee, ranging from four annas to several thousands of rupees. The belief that an eclipse is a calamity to the sun or moon is such a strong Hindu belief, that no [44]marriage takes place in the month in which an eclipse falls.”

I gather47 that, “during an eclipse, many of the people retire into their houses, and remain behind closed doors until the evil hour has passed. The time is in all respects inauspicious, and no work begun or completed during this period can meet with success; indeed, so great is the dread, that no one would think of initiating any important work at this time. More especially is it fatal to women who are pregnant, for the evil will fall upon the unborn babe, and, in cases of serious malformation or congenital lameness, the cause is said to be that the mother looked on an eclipse. Women, therefore, not only retire into the house, but, in order that they may be further protected from the evil, they burn horn shavings. The evils of an eclipse are not limited to human beings, but cattle and crops also need protection from the malignant spirits which are supposed to be abroad. In order that the cattle may be preserved, they are as far as possible taken indoors, and especially those which have young calves; and, to make assurance doubly sure, their horns are smeared with chunam (lime). The crops are protected by procuring ashes from the potter’s field, which seem to be specially potent against evil spirits. With these ashes images are made, and placed on the four sides of the field. Comets, too, are looked upon as omens of evil.”

When a person is about to occupy a new house, he takes particular care to see that the planet Venus does not face him as he enters it. With this star before him, he sometimes postpones the occupation, or, if he is obliged to enter, he reluctantly does so through the back-door.

On the day of the capture of Seringaptam, which, being the last day of a lunar month, was inauspicious, [45]the astrologer repeated the unfavourable omen to Tīpu Sultān, who was slain in the course of the battle. It is recorded48 that “to different Bramins he gave a black buffalo, a milch buffalo, a male buffalo, a black she-goat, a jacket of coarse black cloth, a cap of the same material, ninety rupees, and an iron pot filled with oil; and, previous to the delivery of this last article, he held his head over the pot for the purpose of seeing the image of his face; a ceremony used in Hindostan to avert misfortune.”

The time at which the address of welcome by the Madras Municipal Corporation to Sir Arthur Lawley on his taking over the Governorship of Madras was changed from 12–30 P.M. to 1 P.M. on a Wednesday, as the time originally fixed fell within the period of Rahukālam, which is an inauspicious hour on that day.

It is considered by a Hindu unlucky to get shaved for ceremonial purposes in the months of Ādi, Purattāsi, Margali, and Māsi, and, in the remaining months, Sunday, Tuesday, and Saturday should be avoided. Further, the star under which a man was born has to be taken into consideration, and it may happen that an auspicious day for being shaved does not occur for some weeks. It is on this account that orthodox Hindus are sometimes compelled to go about with unkempt chins. Even for anointing the body, auspicious and inauspicious days are prescribed. Thus, anointing on Sunday causes loss of beauty, on Monday brings increase of riches, and on Thursday loss of intellect. If a person is obliged to anoint himself on Sunday, he should put a bit of the root of oleander (Nerium) in the oil, and heat it before applying it. This is supposed to avert the evil influences. Similarly on Tuesday dry earth, on Thursday roots of Cynodou Dactylon, and on Friday ashes must be used. [46]

It is considered auspicious if a girl attains puberty on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and the omens vary according to the month in which the first menstrual period occurs. Thus the month of Vaiyāsi ensures prosperity, Āni male issue, Māsi happiness, Margali well-behaved children, Punguni long life and many children. At the first menstrual ceremony of a Tiyan girl in Malabar, her aunt, or, if she is married, her husband’s sister, pours gingelly (Sesamum) oil over her head, on the top of which a gold fanam (coin) has been placed. The oil is poured from a little cup made from a leaf of the jak tree (Artocarpus integrifolia), flows over the forehead, and is received with the fanam in a dish. It is a good omen if the coin falls with the obverse upwards.

If a Brāhman woman loses her tāli (marriage badge), it is regarded as a bad omen for her husband. As a Dēva-dāsi (dancing-girl) can never become a widow, the beads in her tāli are considered to bring good luck to those who wear them. And some people send the tāli required for a marriage to a Dēva-dāsi, who prepares the string for it, and attaches to it black beads from her own tāli. A Dēva-dāsi is also deputed to walk at the head of Hindu marriage processions. Married women do not like to do this, as they are not proof against evil omens, which the procession may come across, and it is believed that Dēva-dāsis, to whom widowhood is unknown, possess the power of warding off the effects of unlucky omens. It may be remarked, en passant, that Dēva-dāsis are not at the present day so much patronised at Hindu marriages as in former days. Much is due in this direction to the progress of enlightened ideas, which have of late been strongly put forward by Hindu social reformers. General Burton narrates49 how a civilian of the old school built a house at [47]Bhavāni, and established a corps de ballet, i.e., a set of nautch girls, whose accomplishments extended to singing God Save the King, and this was kept up by their descendants, so that, when he visited the place in 1852, he was “greeted by the whole party, bedizened in all their finery, and squalling the National Anthem.” With this may be contrasted a circular from a modern European official, which states that “during my jamabandy (land revenue settlement) tour, people have sometimes been kind enough to arrange singing or dancing parties, and, as it would have been discourteous to decline to attend what had cost money to arrange, I have accepted the compliment in the spirit in which it was offered. I should, however, be glad if you would let it be generally known that I am entirely in accord with what is known as the anti-nautch movement in regard to such performances.”

It was unanimously decided, in 1905, by the Executive Committee of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ reception committee, that there should be no performance by nautch girls at the entertainment to their Royal Highnesses at Madras.

The marriage ceremonies of Ārē Dammaras (Marāthi-speaking acrobats) are supervised by an old Basavi woman, and the marriage badge is tied round the bride’s neck by a Basavi (public woman dedicated to the deity).

When a marriage is contemplated among the Idaiyans (Tamil shepherds) of Coimbatore, the parents of the prospective bride and bridegroom go to the temple, and throw before the idol a red and white flower, each wrapped in a betel leaf. A small child is then told to pick up one of the leaves. If the one selected contains the white flower, it is considered auspicious, and the marriage will be contracted. The Dēvānga weavers, before settling the marriage of a girl, consult some village goddess or the [48]tribal goddess Chaudēswari, and watch the omens. A lizard chirping on the right is good, and on the left bad. Sometimes, red and white flowers wrapped in green leaves are thrown in front of the idol, and the omen is considered good or bad, according to the flower which a child picks up. Among the hill Urālis of Coimbatore, a flower is placed on the top of a stone or figure representing the tribal goddess, and, after worship, it is addressed in the words: “Oh! swāmil (goddess), drop the flower to the right if the marriage is going to be propitious, and to the left if otherwise.” Should the flower remain on the image without falling either way, it is greeted as a very happy omen. When a marriage is in contemplation among the Agamudaiyans (Tamil cultivators), some close relations of the young man proceed to some distance northward, and wait for omens. If these are auspicious, they are satisfied. Some, instead of so doing, go to a temple, and seek the omens either by placing flowers on the idol, and watching the directions in which they fall, or by picking up a flower from a large number strewn in front of the idol. If the flower picked up, and the one thought of, are of the same colour, it is regarded as a good omen. Among the Gudigāras (wood-carvers) of South Canara, the parents of the couple go to a temple, and receive from the priest some flowers which have been used in worship. These are counted, and, if their number is even, the match is arranged. At a marriage among the Malaiālis of the Kollaimalai hills, the garlands with which the bridal couple are adorned, are thrown into a well after the tāli has been tied on the bride’s neck. If they float together, it is an omen that the two will love each other.

Among the Telugu Janappans (gunny-bag makers), on the day fixed for the betrothal, those assembled wait silently listening for the chirping of a lizard, which is [49]an auspicious sign. It is said that the match is broken off if the chirping is not heard. If the omen proves auspicious, a small bundle of nine to twelve kinds of pulses and grain is given by the bridegroom’s father to the father of the bride. This is preserved, and examined several days after the marriage. If the pulses and grain are in good condition, it is a sign that the newly married couple will have a prosperous career. During the marriage ceremonies of the Muhammadan Daknis or Deccanis, two big pots, filled with water, are placed near the milk-post. They are kept for forty days, and then examined. If the water remains sweet, and does not “teem with vermin,” it is regarded as a good omen. The seed grains, too, which, as among many Hindu castes, were sown at the time of the wedding, should by this time have developed into healthy seedlings. At a Rona (Oriya cultivator) wedding, the Dēsāri who officiates ties to the ends of the cloths of the bridal couple a new cloth, to which a quarter-anna piece is attached, betel leaves and areca nuts, and seven grains of rice. Towards the close of the marriage rites on the third day, the rice is examined, to see if it is in a good state of preservation, and its condition is regarded as an omen for good or evil.

On the occasion of a wedding among the Badagas of the Nīlgiris, a procession goes before dawn on the marriage day to the forest, where two sticks of Mimusops hexandra are collected, to do duty as the milk-posts. The early hour is selected, to avoid the chance of coming across inauspicious objects. At the close of the Agamudaiyan marriage ceremonies, the twig of Erythrina indica or Odina wodier, of which the milk-post was made, is planted. If it takes root and grows, it is regarded as a favourable omen. At a Palli (Tamil cultivator) wedding [50]two lamps, called kuda vilakku (pot light) and alankara vilakku (ornamental light), are placed by the side of the milk-post. The former consists of a lighted wick in an earthenware tray placed on a pot. It is considered an unlucky omen if it goes out before the conclusion of the ceremonial.

Prior to the betrothal ceremony of the Kammas (Telugu cultivators), a near relation of the future bridegroom proceeds with a party to the home of the future bride. On the way thither, they look for omens, such as the crossing of birds in an auspicious direction. Immediately on the occurrence of a favourable omen, they burn camphor, and break a cocoanut, which must split in two with clean edges. One half is sent to the would-be bridegroom, and the other taken to the bride’s house. When this is reached, she demands the sagunam (omen) cocoanut. If the first cocoanut does not split properly, others are broken till the desired result is obtained.

In the Telugu country, the services of a member of the Bōya caste are required if a Brāhman wishes to perform Vontigadu, a ceremony by which he hopes to induce favourable auspices, under which to celebrate a marriage. The story has it that Vontigadu was a destitute Bōya, who died of starvation. On the morning of the day on which the ceremony, for which favourable auspices are required, is performed, a Bōya is invited to the house. He is given a present of gingelly (Sesamum) oil, wherewith to anoint himself. This done, he returns, carrying in his hand a dagger, on the point of which a lime has been stuck. He is directed to the cowshed, and there given a good meal. After finishing the meal, he steals from the shed, and dashes out of the house, uttering a piercing yell, and waving his dagger. He on no account looks behind him. The inmates of the [51]house follow for some distance, throwing water wherever he has trodden. By this means, all possible evil omens for the coming ceremony are done away with.

A curious mock marriage ceremony is celebrated among Brāhmans, when an individual marries a third wife. It is believed that a third marriage is very inauspicious, and that the bride will become a widow. To prevent this mishap, the man is made to marry the arka plant (Calotropis gigantea), which grows luxuriantly in wastelands, and the real marriage thus becomes the fourth. The bridegroom, accompanied by a Brāhman priest and another Brāhman, repairs to a spot where this plant is growing. It is decorated with a cloth and a piece of string, and symbolised into the sun. All the ceremonies, such as making hōmam (sacred fire), tying the tāli (marriage badge), etc., are performed as at a regular marriage, and the plant is cut down. On rathasapthami day, an orthodox Hindu should bathe his head and shoulders with arka leaves in propitiation of Surya (the sun). The leaves are also used during the worship of ancestors by some Brāhmans. Among the Tangalān Paraiyans, if a young man dies before he is married, a ceremony called kannikazhital (removing bachelorhood) is performed. Before the corpse is laid on the bier, a garland of arka flowers is placed round its neck, and balls of mud from a gutter are laid on the head, knees, and other parts of the body. In some places, a variant of the ceremony consists in the erection of a mimic marriage booth, which is covered with leaves of the arka plant, flowers of which are placed round the neck as a garland. Adulterers were, in former times, seated on a donkey, with their face to the tail, and marched through the village. The public disgrace was enhanced by placing a garland of the despised arka leaves on their head. [52]Uppiliyan women convicted of immorality are said to be garlanded with arka flowers, and made to carry a basket of mud round the village. A Konga Vellāla man, who has been found guilty of undue intimacy with a widow, is readmitted to the caste by being taken to the village common, where he is beaten with an arka stick, and by providing a black sheep for a feast. When a Kuruvikkāran man has to submit to trial by ordeal, seven arka leaves are tied to his palms, and a piece of red-hot iron is placed thereon. His innocence is established, if he is able to carry it while he takes seven long strides. The juice of the arka plant is a favourite agent in the hands of suicides.

At a Brāhman wedding the bridegroom takes a blade of the sacred dharba grass, passes it between the eyebrows of the bride and throws it away saying, “With this grass I remove the influence of any bad mark thou mayest possess, which is likely to cause widowhood.”


1 of 2
2 of 2