Countries give birth to states, which give birth to societies that give birth to communities, which follow religions, or come up with their own community norms and practices. And practices are most eager to go the bizarre route, not simply because they command quite a loyal following, but mostly because very few are likely to want to change what is the norm. And India that prides itself on the most indigenous cultures also has a long list of some of the weirdest traditions and rituals you will ever hear of.
Homegrown lists you its favourites.
1. The Aghori Babas
And their cannibalism
The Aghori Babas make for one of the country’s most interesting counter culture groups. They are chaste devotees of Lord Shiva and believe everything in the universe is unto him, and hence, not any facet of this earth is devoid of consumption or use. They blatantly consume alcohol and smoke weed but the most interesting thing about Aghoris is that they are the most popular cannibals in the country. Most commonly found residing in Varanasi, they live in cremation grounds, and often pull out unburned bodies or bodies found or ones found floating in the river Ganges, and consume them, finding nothing morally wrong about it as they consider a dead body a piece of meat devoid of life. The Aghori Babas also use the remaining skull of the bodies for drinking, or collecting alms. You try saying no to that.
2. The Zoroastrians
And their sky burials
A Dakhma or ‘Cheel Ghar’ and more popularly known as ‘The Tower of Silence’ are exclusive buildings made as per the Zoroastrian culture, or the Parsi culture, for the sky burial of the dead. Sky burial is a tradition that is ostensibly followed by the Parsi and the Buddhist community, where they leave the dead for birds or scavengers to feed on. For the Parsi community, this practice is carried out in a special place that’s known as ‘The Tower of Silence.’ While it is a practice heralded by ecologists as there is no cremation or burning, the sight is not a exactly a pretty one but rooted in years of history nonetheless. Upon entering the tower, you will find a number of corpses placed around the area, meant for burial.
Muharram is the period of mourning that is followed by the Muslim community around the world. On the 10th day of the month of Muharram, called Ashura, the day when Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein who died in the battle of Kerbala in 680 AD. The Shi’a sect of the Muslim community mourn this day by punishing themselves as they could not take part in the very same battle to protect Imam Hussein. They self-flagellate with chains and other sharp objects, beat their foreheads with razors till they bleed and engage in ritual self-harm.
4. Baby Tossing
In Karnataka’s Bagalkot district
While people around the world resort to talismans, lockets and charms to bring luck upon themselves, a group of people in the state of Karnataka stick to tossing babies. In Karnataka’s Bagalkot district, hundreds of people gather while infants under 2 years of age are tossed from a height of 30 feet by temple priests, while a group of men holding a white cloth scurry around to catch the falling child. Every ‘catch’ is cheered and celebrated with noise. Despite the obvious danger, people are willing to take part in this bizarre ritual as it is believed to bring luck.
5. Kukke Subrahmanya Temple’s Devotees
And their made snanas/ rolling over food
The Kukke Subrahmanya temple in Karnataka watches a flurry of activity in a certain periodic time in winter. The leftovers of the food consumed by Brahmins on the banana leaves are taken along with the leaf and spread out around the temple. People of various castes then begin to roll around the temples, over these leaves, after which they are covered with the vestiges of the remaining food. They then clean themselves in the Kumaradhara River that flows nearby. This apparently cures the devotees of their bad luck and any ailments that plague their body.
6. Timiti-Walking on Fire
At the Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu
The fire-walking ritual is celebrated to mark the end of the Mahabharata, in the Draupadi Ammam temples in and around the Kanchipuram district in Tamil Nadu. As a mark of celebration, devotees gather around and walk on pyres of coal, lit up with fire, and burning, to show their reverence to the event that took place, when Draupadi walked on a pit to prove her purity. The unevenness of the coal laid out out often leads to devotees stumbling and falling on the pyre, and ultimately suffering injuries.
7. The Marrying Of Frogs
in Orissa and Chattisgarh
Rain is a substantial need of any region in India. But if the rain were to be late by any reason, what could a mere human do? Well, marry off frogs, of course. The croaking of a frog signals the advancement of rain, and some groups in Orissa and Chattisgarh believe that a frog best croaks, when it enters the life of blissful matrimony. Thus, they find a pair of frogs and marry them off, in a traditional ceremony, in order to please the rain gods to bless them with some showers.
8. Jallikattu Or Bull-Fighting
in Madurai, Tamil Nadu
For the people who thought that the practice of bull fighting is an ancient Spanish tradition only, you are mistaken. In the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, the festival of bull fighting or Jalikattu is celebrated as Pongal celebrations. A package of coins or reward is tied to the bull’s horn while participants fight with the bull to take hold of the pouch, and hence earn the reward. Unlike in Spanish bullfighting, the bulls are not killed. But hundreds of people have been injured and killed over the years simply by partaking in this tradition.
9. Marrying Women To Trees
in Hindu culture all over
In Hindu culture, women born with the mangalik dosha in their horoscopes are not allowed to enter matrimony directly. It is believed that this marriage would cost the life of the groom. Hence, to nullify the effect of the dosha, women are first made to marry a peepal tree, in a traditional ceremony. It is only after that, that a marriage with the actual groom takes place. This bizarre ceremony is actually given a lot of importance by the community, and is also considered extremely offensive to women.
10. Tongue Piercing
in Eastern and Southern parts of India
While piercing tongues is a style statement around the world, Hindus in Eastern and Southern parts of India pierce their tongues by driving metal rods through it in an attempt to purify their souls. Devotees of Shiva, the men drive rods through their tongue, walk around the village, collect alms and then upon return the rods are taken off. Banning of the practice has been attempted several times but the groups resist every attempt to do so.
Words: Meher Manda