Once, when a spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, a cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. One day the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session, because it always had been the practice to do so. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice. –Source–
This story is an excellent example of the way in which meaningless superstitions are perpetuated across generations as being important, significant and even necessary.
The one such belief that I have always had difficulty accepting is the one that labels widows as unlucky or inauspicious. Over the years, I have seen so many widows around me, my own mother included, being subjected to varying degrees of emotional abuse because of their widow status. Not only have they had to deal with the trauma of losing their husbands at a young age, and face the relentless task of raising their children on their own, they are also subjected to discrimination and hurt by their own families, friends and even strangers.
The shunning of widows originated as a practice in ancient India where patriarchy was a way of life. Given that girls were married off at a young age, they were often uneducated and incapable of fending for themselves. As such, when their husbands passed on, they were considered to be a financial burden on their families, and on society, and are exiled to a life of solitude.
The grief that they are destined to endure for the rest of their lives starts with the archaic, revolting practice of them being ceremoniously stripped of all things considered to be auspicious on the day of their husband’s funeral (We refused to allow my mother to be subjected to this). They are decked out in their wedding sari, made to wear a headful of flowers, and an armful of bangles. At the end of the funeral, the bangles are broken, the nuptial chain is removed and the flowers are yanked off. This formalises their transition into widowhood and sets the stage for a lifetime of prejudice.
The stigma associated with widows is such that they are forbidden from actively participating in social occasions such as weddings, bangle ceremonies and so on and so forth, in the event that their misfortune miraculously gets passed on to others.
I have always thought of my mother as a remarkable woman. She singlehandedly raised me and my brother. I finished my degree, and my brother is currently in the process of doing his. We are both in good jobs that allow us to take care of ourselves and her. She always prioritised us, and many a times, sacrificed her needs and wants so that we could have what we wanted or needed. She always made it a point to be there for us, so that we never had to feel the loss of our father. We miss him all the time, and desperately wish he was around to share in all of our happiness, but she made sure that we were never lacking in any other way because of his absence. She consciously made an effort to never involve herself in happy occasions because she never wanted others to be troubled or worry themselves that her presence would bring them bad luck. I have never known her to bear grudges against anyone for excluding her, and despite the grief that it has caused her, she has never once turned down any invitations to any other functions.
I find it intolerable that someone like her could possibly be thought of as bringing misfortune upon someone else, when she has nothing but good intentions. I refer to my mother as an example because I have been in a position to see for myself what she has had to go through since my father has passed on, but I speak for everyone in a similar situation when I say this is a practice that needs to stop.
No one, and I mean no one has the power to inflict bad fortune on anyone with their mere presence. I refuse to believe that a happily married woman, with nothing but malicious intentions, who turns up for celebrations just to get fodder for gossip, can be considered to be more lucky than someone who is not guilty of anything more than losing her husband, that too, through no fault of her own.
Such primitive, obsolete practices have no place in modern society and need to be abolished. There is no point in boasting progress in science and technology, when humanity is impeded by the refusal to break free of such meaningless practices.