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Superstitions, Rituals and Postmodernism: A discourse in

Indian context.
Indranil Sarkar

Defn. A superstition is a belief based in myth, magic, or irrational


thought that contradicts natural science. It is the belief in
supernatural causality that does not follow the cause and effect
relationship of natural sciences. (Vyse Stuart .A)
Superstition is broadly divided into two categoriesirreligious
faiths on myth, magic etc and religious faiths on the supernatural
power of various deities. The second type is called Rituals which
demands irrational faith and ceremonial observances to appease
and be blessed by the mighty divine powers.
Etymology: The word Superstition was first used in 15 th C. as an
English word modeled after French Superstition meaning a sin.
The Latin word superstitious is a derivative of super-stare
meaning to stand over. It was first used in Classical Literature by
Ovid and Livy in the 1st century. The term superstitio, or
superstitio vana "vain superstition", was applied in the 1st
century to those religious cults in the Roman Empire which were

officially outlawed. It broadly used to mean irreligious and as


such used in a pejorative sense. It was the opposite of religio.
Root of Superstitions: Superstitions are an act of human brain.
Lower animals do not possess this quality. Superstitions are
enrooted in greed, anger, hatred, jealousy and a fear of missing
the materialistic goals. It is prompted by a lack of self-confidence.
A lion need not feel superstitious because he is confident of his
capacity to kill his prey, but a man is never sure whether he will
be able to achieve his goal or not and as such surrenders to
superstitions forgetting rationality. The same motif works behind
Ritualistic observances also.
Causes behind Superstitions: Ignorance is the main pivot of all
superstitions. Inability to understand the Cause and effect
relationship of natural science or the causality principle of
Philosophy infuses superstitions in human mind. An acute and
blind materialism like feeling of insecurity, fear of a loss, lack
of self-confidence, desire to supersede superior rivals, and
greed for gaining windfall benefits work as the main ingredients
behind both superstitions and Rituals.
Though irrational, Rituals are not bad because here man is taught
to be submissive to the superpower Deities. And though motive
oriented, Rituals are deductive propositions and as such beneficial
for both personal and social life. Cultural heritages originate
through religious ritualistic activities. Ritualistic observances do
not cause any harm as these are deduced by socio-religious

thinkers after age old of observations. To supplement the


ignorance about cause and effect relationship between man and
matters, the socio-religious thinkers formulated the Rituals.
Dedication to Rituals makes a man strong and secured both in
individual and in social planes. Moreover, through the socioreligious Ritualistic activities, a strong and secured society is
established. Rituals, thus, act as defensive/protective armour
against cultural invasions and retain ones identity unstained.
Defiance of or disrespect to ones own ritualistic activities
encourages the evil doers and social parasites to vitiate life and
society.
Superstitions are as old as man. No change has been taken place
though man has leaped into the present digital world. All the
causes behind cavemans superstitious behavior have retained to
the modern man as strong as they were. Till today almost all
endeavours

by

rationalist

thinkers,

enlightenment

activist,

scientists, social psychologists and political scientists have been


failed to free man from their primitive adherence to superstitions.
Superstitions are like hydra-headed monsters. They are like
contagious diseases that cripple basic human rationality and
invite disastrous consequences to the society. They are truly
democratic in spirit. Superstitions work with equal magnitude
irrespective of ones class, creed, colour, religion, complexion,
education etc. In some cases people in more privileged position
are seen more prone to superstitious feelings. They even use
superstition as a weapon to defeat their superior rivals or more

powerful enemies. The recent witch-hunting and dainy-slaying


activities all over the country are point to be remembered. An
inferiority complex finds a way of defeating the superior enemies
through the political use of superstition. The words of Iago in
Othello may be recalled when Iago explains the cause of his
hatred towards Rodrigo: His daily beauty makes me ugly.
Although a universal phenomenon, superstition varies from
country to country, from society to society. In other words,
everybody is superstitious in his own manner.
Postmodernism: Saying so much on Superstitions and Rituals
let us see how they are related to post modernity. In order to do
that we have to know the meaning of postmodernism first.
Semantically the term postmodernism is misleading and gives a
vague notion. Literally it means beyond modernism i, e leap a
step forward to modernism and attain a superhuman status. To
become more sophisticated than the modern man. Again, what do
we

mean

rationality

by

modernism.

and

adherence

In
to

word
reason

modernism
and

means

logic.

So,

Postmodernism literally becomes Beyond rationality or beyond


adherence to mere reason and logic. It is something more than
what reason and logic can provide. Postmodernism asks us to dig
out the past cultural heritages including ghosts, fairies, myths and
moralities; make a synthetic analysis of all these; separate the lie
or irrationality inherent and then like a swan suck only the milk
from it. Beyond rationality does not mean irrationality. It is
something more than Rationality. It is a higher rationality; more

sophistication in rational thinking than the modernity could


provide.
But in India we have misinterpreted the phrase Beyond
Rationality

and

have

become

over-indulgent

in

irrational

activities.
In order to understand the matter let us think of our life in the
seventies or eighties. People were religious at that time also. But
how many gods and goddesses were worshipped? How many
godmen used to telecast their divine messages? And how many
people had shown blind-faith on godmen, religious sacraments,
holy tokens, fang-sui, bastu-shatra, pendants, public-yoga and
publicity-prayers? The answer is,Very few. Most of them had lion
like self-confidence and an iron determination to accumulate their
desired goal through hard-work and intelligence. They had faith
on their human power to overcome any problem and achieve
anything they desired. They knew Man is the maker of his own
fate. They believed in the concept Work is worship. That is why
it was the age of inventions. It was the age of doing miraculous
things by dint of simple human endeavours. In post-modernity
there are very few inventions. There are only discoveries. Our
philosophers have no new theory to give like Plato, Rousseau, or
Bertrand Russell. They can only make hybrid theories. Our
litterateurs are practically spent force. They can only re-make,
remix and recreate. The term Originality has given a new
definition. So, in a word, a postmodern man lacks the lion like selfconfidence of his predecessors. He cannot believe in his inborn

power to achieve something by dint of hard work and by using his


human intelligence.
Our desires or demands have become unbound while our
confidence to achieve them has gone to the dogs. As such we
want some miracle; some supernatural assistance to help us
achieving our goals; defeat our rivals and what not. That is why
almost all forgotten gods and goddesses have been brought to
this mundane world from their heavenly abode and almost all
primitive practices have been recalled. We have started wearing
primitive magic ingredients, started eating which our fore-fathers
abandoned on ethical grounds, started practicing black-magic or
feng-shui

which

have

been

abandoned

by

their

original

practitioners.
Summing Up: Our grand-parents would definitely feel ashamed
in seeing their postmodern childrens and grandchildrens utmost
devotion to heavenly deities only for the fulfillment of their
greedy pursuits and shameless slavery to primitive superstitious
views on ghost, devils etc., wearing unscientific and detrimental
dresses and ornaments which they put into oblivion as hated
elements of life for the sake of becoming Humane.
We Indians excelled in this regard. Instead of sucking the milk of
our cultural heritages, we have sucked only the fleshy or harmful
elements of postmodernism and instead of moving forward have
virtually

returned

to

primitivism.

We

are

not

postmodern

grandchildren of our modern ancestors; rather we have become

the

postmodern

posterity

of

our

primitive

cave-dwelling

ancestors. Instead of leaping forward to the enlightenment of post


modernity, to achieve higher-rationality, we have vaulted back
to the dark domain of prehistoric primitivism. [1385 words/Date:
09-07-2015]

-: finis :-