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Sri Lanka - Superstition

Sri Lanka is a superstitious society. There is widespread belief in good or bad omens. Superstitions have the potential to affect everything from government, politics, business, public life, family life, travel, and social conduct. In Sri Lanka, thousands of varied superstitions exist in relation to human and animal behaviour and natural phenomena which have traditionally come down as a part and parcel of culture and folklore.

The astrologer plays a critical role in Sri Lankan society as he is believed to be able to predict ones destiny based on the placement of the stars. Auspicious moments are valued because people believe that anything done at a specified time will bear positive fruits.

The famously superstitious President Mahinda Rajapaksa took few decisions without first consulting his colourful and most trusted astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena. Elections and superstitions always go hand in hand. Many ministers do not eat, travel or hold meetings unless their celestial minders tell the moment is favourable for them. They perform havan or even dust down cosmic calendars honing the position of the stars, trying desperately to win elections. For instance, some newly elected leaders take the oath of office on auspicious days and at the time chosen by their astrologers. Ministers select their rooms in the Secretariat after conducting due diligence of the rooms as per the instructions by their astrologers.

According to Sri Lankan culture a man and woman meet as partners in life because they were destined to be so by the power of their karma, actions in their previous lives. In addition to reading the horoscopes in general, there is also a custom to compare certain features known as porondam of prospective marriage partners. If the respective families move forward with marriage it means their horoscopes have matched. This is a good sign. If a marriage takes place then again, the astrologer has a crucial role to play to fix the different auspicious times for the entire marriage ritual. This will include the time to exchange the wedding rings, the time to enter or leave the wedding house, the time to enter or leave the ceremonial pedestal.

Media carry numerous stories of exorcisms gone wrong or abuses carried out by fraudsters who appear as god-men. Some say since the law and order of the country is in disarray and when the rule of law and good governance are treated as a farce, the people may have opted to look for higher forces for justice and protection. Sri Lanka may be the only country where an astrologer is on the board of directors of a major state-owned bank.

The lori is supposed to call devils to a house by its cry and is looked upon with great dread, for a man who touches it will become lean and skinny like it; and to find a lori staring at you or waking up in the morning is said to be a very great ill omen. The unaccountable smell of burnt flesh or the howling of dogs at night is said to be due to presence of evil spirits not far away. If this is repeated for several nights in succession, together with cat concerts and the hooting of owls, a very great calamity is certain to overtake the whole neighbourhood generally.

Omens still predict both good and evil in Sinhalese society. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are classed as unlucky, but for journeys Thursdays are the best unless they happen to be astrologically unfavourable. The best omen for a person setting out on a journey is for him to meet anyone carrying a pot of water, milk or white flowers first. But it is unlucky to meet those with shaven heads or with their hair (konde ) loose, as a sign of mourning, or those with great physical defects or a woman carrying a pot or chattie. It is also considered unlucky for a person to stumble against something or to be interrogated as to his destination at the outset of the journey.

Bathing on Sundays is said to spoil the bathers appearance; bathing on Monday improves it; Tuesday - brings on disease, and Wednesday riches; Thursday - creates quarrels and if one bathes on Fridays his children will die; Saturday is deemed to be the most suitable day for bathing and is said to bring happiness. To face east or west while taking meals is supposed to bring good luck; money transactions held on full moon days bring ill luck.

Cobras, especially the light-coloured ones, are supposed to be incarnations of dead men, and now guarding hidden treasures, Bo-trees and Buddhist temples. If a cobra makes the home of a Sinhalese its dwelling, it is supposed to be a dead relative who is desirous of protecting the present inmates, re-born in this state. Consequently they are never killed but placated as much as possible by plates of milk placed at the mouths of their holes.

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Page last modified: 12-01-2015 15:41:43 ZULU