If I were an Hindu traditionalist, I would be delighted yet again, for I keep coming across “scientific” explanations for our Hindu traditions time and again. I say our Hindu traditions because I am aware of their influence on my mind, having been born into the fold. And for that reason, I have taken for granted the value of, but not the truth thereof, various practices that are generally associated with Hinduism namely yoga and ayurveda – a view that is now increasingly being challenged and as a testimony to its success, we see people from all sorts of religious and cultural backgrounds trying these out. I have experienced the positive impact of yoga whenever I have stuck to a regimen but for someone to tell me that yoga can cure “gay”-ness, or even AIDS – as someone has indeed – I’d have to say, “find better things to do”. One of which would be research, through scientific inquiry.
With all such things as astrology, traditions, customs, we often hear them being called “scientific”, oftener “our religion is so scientifically based” than “their religion is so scientifically based!”. Therein lies the prejudice, however else we may wish to see it – our pride in our antecedents or our emotional bias for them. Platitudes such as “There is some truth in every religion”, “some science in every custom” are ready reckoners for those in doubt. Well, to that I agree: there must be some truth in every religion otherwise, what would we be? And, I am sure there is some science in every custom. Here, I want a bit more.
If there is anything that should afford us a proof, an understanding, a scope of institutionalizing a body of knowledge and experience, it is science. It explains, it measures, it validates, it shows us patterns, it throws light where there used to be ignorance, superstition, and belief without real basis. If customs had science in them, they would have remained science, not turned into customs that require that we avoid intellectual inquiry. I think people are rational enough to value science just for the sake of science: if you tell me that a “namaste” is scientifically inclined to helping me remember the person I am extending the gesture to for a long time, I would use it with greater discretion.
If you tell me that wearing a toe ring as prescribed by our culture will balance my menstrual cycle and “strengthen” (whatever this means) the uterus, I will decide if I need to wear it or not.
Throwing coins into the river to increase the copper content of water we drink? Why not zinc, magnesium, and so many other equally important trace elements?
So the kumkum Tilak helps one retain “energy” – so written in quotes, whatever that means – and that pressing this “nerve” point helps blood flow to the facial muscles… if this were science, would we not be able to direct blood flow wherever we wished, with a pinch of kumkum and a deft little pressing of the thumb? Besides, I think age-defying concoctions would be out the window.
The bells in the temples creating such a “healing” echo for a precise 7 seconds as to activate all seven healing centres in our body and ridding our mind of negative thoughts… If this were scientific, priests would not commit acts not befitting their position, devotees would not feel like sullying their surroundings, would they? Also, would you not put bells in sanatoriums?
Starting our meals with spicy foods and ending with sweets… a practice that is mostly common across cultures globally, while at the same time it must be said that ayurveda actually differs. I don’t understand how this practice becomes a traditionally Hindu one.
As for mehndi, again not just a Hindu custom, it is a part of the Arab customs as well. There may be something about its soothing effect but I may freely say that it cannot be so significant as to be termed as scientifically proven; were it so, I have half a reason to believe that in these stressful times, people would be caked in the olive green paste.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor while eating… hmm… sukhasan. I adopt this asana even while sitting on a chair as is my habit. But in no case have I experience a noticeable difference in my powers of digestion when sitting on a chair as we ought. I see the science behind sitting erect. I just do not understand the emphasis on sitting on the floor. That needs to be explained scientifically.
Wow. Should not sleep with your head towards north because our body’s magnetic field become asymmetrical to that of the earth’s. I should like to see some numbers about the intensity of the magnetic field created by the human body, which, I am sure can be measured. Scientists at desinema, I hope you take note.
This one is truly amazing: ear piercing helps develop power of thinking, intellect, decision-making, as much as it helps with speech-restraint! Perhaps that is why we pierce our girls’ ears from the time they are mere babies… enough said!
Surya namaskar! Uff, again, don’t merge yoga with Hindu traditions. All I’ll say is, stretching is great to limber up for the day, whether you offer your prayers to the Sun (God) or not. What are these prayers anyway! – asking for this comfort, that comfort. Goes against the grain of Hindu philosophy of Karma.
Choti on the male head. Doesn’t say much about the choti on the female head – which was until a few decades ago a rule rather than exception. Apparently, Sushruta was least concerned about the Adhipati Marma in women. Of course!
Touching feet of someone “old or pious” “completes a circuit” of “positive energy” and boosts “cosmic energy”… so on and so forth. I would ask dear readers to think back on how many times they’ve touched feet because they suddenly decided to “reduce” their egos as against having done so for it being as Sheldon Cooper would have said, “a non-optional social convention”.
This one takes the cake though: Why married women apply sindoor or vermilion – because it enhances blood flow and increases sexual drive. Really? Just when all scientists in the world are trying their best to have mercury-filled products phased out: including mercury lamps and red-tinted lipsticks. True, vermilion is obtained from a compound of mercury but there is mounting body of evidence as to its toxic effects on human body and ecology in general. And sexual drive, you say? Maybe there should be a condition for only happily married women to wear sindoor… Of course, widows are not allowed to wear it, no question about it! By the way, this implies that with sindoor on and your ear-rings on too with their speech-restraint, you can’t be anything but happily married.
Another winner: Indian women wear bangles so as to enhance their blood circulation and have the electricity passing out of their bodies reverted back into their body! Quite a lot of emphasis on blood circulation in women. Of course, widows have to take everything off, and we are sure there is scientific basis even for that.
Temples are strategically located! Yes, I believe land mafia in the country have realised the science in it more than the faith mafia ruling the country. More I need not say. I see how positive people become by going round and round a temple. They become positively steeped into their own identities while becoming less and less rational.
No wonder this scientific attitude was not employed to develop the Pill or the computer or other modern means of scientific and medical progress – all of which we cannot consider living without anymore. Articles such as these just serve to shore up our superficial pride for things we can neither explain nor justify. In true Indian spirit, if we cannot but meekly submit, at least let us defend the indefensible!