As the evil eye emoji’s frantic usage takes over the internet and the obsession with chakras, energy fields and astrology grip the popular discourse, it is important to note their unique connections to eastern cultures. We can either see individuals who obsessively take part in ritual practices in the name of spirituality or see others completely disregard these concepts by labelling them as witchcraft or superstition, however none of these practices are this simplistic in nature. Especially when it comes to the idea of warding off evil eyes, it is important to understand the context and intention behind such fluid concepts.
A recent documentary, ‘Kukeri’, displayed the historic Bulgarian practice involving elaborate fur costumes to chase off the bad juju. Sparking a conversation around similar South Asian belief systems that fear the malevolent gaze of a stranger, evil spirit, or even a loved one. India in particular is steeped into ancient methods that are rooted in Hinduism yet are quite common across people of all faiths. The concept of nazar or drishti asks us to remain cautious of someone's intentional or unintentionally malicious gaze, hence multiple rituals perfected over the past 5000 years are said to provide people with protection.
While there are definitely no scientific or rational ways to test these theories, it's still interesting to revisit the many practices followed by Indian cultures over centuries and inspect the ones that are still practised at present. These old ideas often take an artistic form or utilise indigenous elements to create unique sensory-based practices. The effects of an evil eye are relegated to an outcome that results in illness, discomfort or distress. It is believed that while a person cannot control their environment at all times, they can still protect themselves against malice with the use of ancient wisdom.
A popular sighting in India is of 'Nazar Battu' hung on the exterior of houses. Symbolic of a face icon it is used by many North Indians to ward off negative energies. A real mahakal face mask, nazar battu would be made of eight metals and takes inspiration from Indian mythology. The face has been replicated in a variety of colours, often becoming a vibrant display of protection however the most common nazar battu is black in colour. Other black symbols that are considered to absorb bad omens are a black thread wrapped around the toes or the ankle and a simple black dot put on the face of a baby.
The usage of kohl or kajal is also associated with warding off nazar in addition to enhancing beauty. Similarly while incense sticks are associated with prayer, their sensory abilities are also utilised to form a shield of protection around the house. Some Indian families also grow the Kashi Phal (pumpkin) in their homes to detect evil intentions. If the fruit dries naturally over time, all is well, however, if water starts dripping from the pumpkin, it is considered to be a sign of negative vibrations upon the residence and its people.
Another practice includes using lemon and chillies to be hung at the entrance of a house, in many cases it is also put outside shops and even in vehicles. While it is considered to be a superstition, some Hindus believe that there is scientific backing to the tradition as natural pesticides and natural antibacterials present in the items, protect the environment it is present in. The smallest gesture of adding one rupee while giving people money as a gift or shagan, is also considered auspicious and protects against any evil intentions.
Since Indians also acknowledge the importance of building or decorating a home according to Vastu (planning according to astrology and directions), many people also only choose a house plan that would protect them and even utilise things like mirrors that are considered to reflect away the negative vibes with the same degree and intensity. Lastly coconuts are also part of a famous ritual that involves burning and or crushing them before buying a new item.
There are countless other traditions that are considered to help individuals in safeguarding both their health and wealth, each community or tribe in India has formulated their own set of rules that are rooted in their own heritage. These practices have become integral motifs of Indian culture and identity and even embellish the environments of those who do not believe their usage. While they can definitely be questioned on the grounds of rationality their enduring prevelance in cultures across India cannot be denied.
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