At a time when scientists are planning colonisation of Mars, there are many who still believe in supernatural influences. To weed out blind beliefs from the psyche of the people, National Science Day is observed every year February 28. The day also aims to underscore the importance of science and technology in daily life. The theme of National Science Day is ‘Science for People and People for Science,’ so Orissa POST talked to people from different strata of the society to get their views on the subject.
“We have a tendency to follow others ignoring basic science. Ignorance, family pressure and illiteracy play a role in this,” says Pranab Kumar Mohanty, a reader in Physics, PN Autonomous College of Khurda. Forget the rural population, even people who live in big cities like Bhubaneswar believe in superstitions.
The practice of branding kids with hot iron rods, a traditional healing method, to cure them of various diseases is still prevalent in rural pockets. Though such a practice is life threatening, people still seem to believe in it even though they have access to health care facilities at government hospitals, Pranab added. “However, some practices in our daily life do have a scientific basis and we need to learn the science behind them,” he said.
Science has always played an important role in unveiling the truth behind the common beliefs in our society, says Ranjita Sethy, a professor from Khurdha.
There are some rituals that have scientific reasons behind them. For example, Hindus stay away from eating non vegetarian food, especially fish, in the holy month of Kartik. It is considered a sin to consume fish during this month. In reality, the practice was introduced long back to ensure good human health as at this point of time the fish are affected by various diseases, Ranjita points out. Similarly, women are traditionally not allowed to do heavy household chores during their menstruation. But, according to medical science, these days are the most stressful for a woman in the month, therefore, it is best for her if she is not involved in strenuous physical activities, she added.
Abinash Pradhan is a short film maker from Odisha who highlights social issues in his films to create awareness. He says, “There are many villages in Odisha where witchcraft is widespread. Many innocent people are killed during this practice of black magic. Appalled by such news, I took the initiative to make people aware of the harmful effects of such practice.”
One practice that has a valid scientific basis is the ban on being outdoors during a total solar eclipse. It was commonly believed that Rahu swallows the sun and harmful agents are at play during this period. But preventing the loss of eyesight is the scientific reason behind it. According to science, sun rays during this period can cause retinal burns or eclipse blindness.
Abinash further said, “Using lemon and green chillies to ward off evil eye is another practice which is prevalent in many places in the country. We can find these tiny bundles of lemon-chilli hanging at the entrance of a house, in front of a vehicle or in the reception of a shop or business premises. The fact is that during ancient times there were no pucca houses and people used lemons and chillies as natural disinfectants. The strong smell and taste of lemon and chilli helped to keep insects and pests away from entering kutcha houses. But it is still unknown as to how this totka became a part of belief.”
Saphik Kumar Nanda, a social science student of Utkal University who belongs to a remote village in Phulbani district, said people in his village still consult quacks and traditional healers instead of physicians to cure diseases. But there is a set of post-death rituals that, though they seem irrational, have their scientific reasons, he said, and explained, “Even today, pall bearers are asked to chew some neem leaves and take proper bath after cremating a body. Such a tradition started as there were no vaccinations to prevent infections in the past. As there are chances of contracting infection from a corpse, neem leaves are taken as they work as disinfectant.”
Another practice that many Indians follow is that we don’t cut our nails after sunset. There is a simple explanation for this, says Saphik. In the absence of sufficient light in the night in earlier days, one could get hurt while cutting nails. However, though we have access to electricity these days, many people still go by the old practice. Similarly not washing hair on certain days is a practice to save water, he says.
Sraddha Suchismita, a student from BJB College, Bhubaneswar said her grandma asks them not to sweep the floor after sunset saying it would bring bad luck for the family. But the actual reason is that there was no electricity in the past. So, there were chances of missing some valuables lying on the floor if it was swept in the dark. Eating curd and sugar before going for an important work or examination is another practice many families follow even today to get positive results. But it is highly recommended to consume curd during day time in tropical climate to have a cooling effect on the stomach. Similarly, sugar offers instant glucose and energy to keep one active the entire day.
A poet and businessman of Khurdha Hemant Pani sometimes follows these superstitions as many of them are not harmful. “In rural belts, people use cow dung to plaster their floors. They also sprinkle dung-mixed water in their homes after a death in the house. Such traditions have their reasons. Cow dung is used in kutcha houses as it works as a natural disinfectant. Our ancestors probably started this practice to guard against insects and reptiles that are repelled by the pungent smell of cow dung. Over a period, this practice became a ritual and we still follow it though it is redundant in the contemporary world. We are told not to go near a peepal tree at night as it is believed to be the abode of the ghosts. But it may be because trees release carbon dioxide at night, so by staying away we can avoid inhalation of carbon dioxide,” he says.
BRATATI BARAL, OP