Indian superstitions explained: Why we can never, ever, ever cut our hair and other absurdities
I am the type of person that, once I hear a superstition, I never forget it. In my construction zone of a city, I’m constantly stepping around ladders on the sidewalk – even if it means hurling myself in front of a determined Seattle bicyclist – and if a black cat crosses my path, you bet I’m waiting for someone else to pass first.
So basically, I can never, ever cut my hair.
The superstitious Hindu’s guide to when one can get a haircut reads like a Dr. Seuss book. You cannot cut your hair on a Tuesday, you would not, could not on your birthday. Did our ancestors invent these rules, or was it the makers of dry shampoo?
Of course, as with most things, there are usually logical explanations of how these superstitions came to be. Some common Indian superstitions debunked:
Day vs. night
Don’t cut your nails at night
Don’t sweep the floor at night
The superstitions involving daylight make the most logical sense – before reliable electricity, which plagues some in India still today, it would have been pretty easy to chop off a chunk of your finger or sweep away something important in the darkness. Thankfully, thanks to Thomas Edison, we don’t have to worry about that as much anymore.
Leaving the house
Don’t have a glass of water right before – if you do, put sugar in your mouth
Don’t leave right at 12 o’clock
Don’t call after someone leaving the house
These are a little bit more difficult to decipher. Journeys were longer and less convenient than they are now and drinking water would definitely have put a damper on long journeys if you had to constantly pee. The sugar would be a good way to get a quick energy boost for the travels, as well. Not leaving right noon or midnight is said to be bad luck, as evil spirits are said to be waiting for you at these hours. Your hair
Don’t cut your hair on a Tuesday or Saturday
Don’t cut your hair on the day of the week you were born
Don’t wash your hair on a Wednesday
Don’t cut your hair while pregnant
Don’t leave fallen hair around the house – it will cause a fight in your family
Back when many Indians worked as farmers, their rest day wasn’t often Saturday or Sunday – it was Monday. This was the day they’d run errands, such as heading in for a haircut. Tuesdays were pretty slow around the barbershop, so many would close for the day – a tradition that remains in many barbershops and other Indian stores even outside of the country.
The other restrictions may be chalked up to simply conserving water during a time when it didn’t necessarily flow freely from the tap – the less you wash your hair, the less valuable water you are wasting.
And at least at my house, the last one seems pretty obvious, too – because I’ve shed a lot of post-partum hair, and, trust me, it always causes a fight.
Things that cause fights:
Handing them salt... because no one likes a salty person
Playing with your keys... because it's a signal for, "Bye, Felicia!"
Leaving your shoes overturned... because no one wants to see that kind of filth.
Other superstitions and our logical assumptions:
Don't let your feet touch paper or anything with writing on it - this is understandable considering how highly regarded education is for Indians. Since our feet are considered dirty and knowledge, pure, having the two touch is considered a bad omen.
Don't celebrate birthdays before the actual day - this is likely just variation of the idiom "don't count your chickens before they hatch." Given the high mortality rate for children back in the day, people were likely generally advised not to jump the gun.
Dirty house means no Laxmni (money) in your house - it makes sense if you think about it; if your place is a mess, you may not be able to find important documents easily. Worse, if it's properly disinfected regularly, it could become a breeding ground for pests. All of these scenarios could lead to missed financial opportunities or unexpected expenses.
Don't do things in three's - I'm assuming because three is an odd number and not divisible.
You must shower after going to a viewing or a funeral - Since cremations in India typically occur outdoors and often involve taking a dip in a body of water, a shower would naturally cleanse you of these pollutants.
Have a pregnant woman cut your hair so it will grow better - given the changes in women's hormones during pregnancy, they often experience thicker/fuller hair, glowing skin and stronger nails. Perhaps it was assumed that a pregnant woman's hormone induced hair would somehow magically rub off on her salon customer.
Don't go to the temple when you are menstruating - there are many articles surrounding this controversial topic so I couldn't possibly do justice by summarizing it into a simple bullet point. Here are a couple of good reads to kill your curiosity:
A few more superstitions for which we don't have a logical explanation:
Don't walk over someone's legs or else they won't grow
Don't buy metal on Saturday
Don't go to a funeral when pregnant
That's all folks! There are so many more that weren't covered here, but would love for you to share. Drop us a line below!
Avani Nadkarni is a former journalist who currently works in tech PR and is forever navigating the tricky balance of trying to raise her child in the U.S. while teaching him about his Indian and Sri Lankan roots.