The underlying scientific basis of Indian traditions and practices

Article of the Month - Apr 2022

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The division of distinction that separates art and culture from science is artificial. In ancient times, all the innovative thoughts and postulates of great sages fell under the overall umbrella of philosophy. There was no division between scientific and religious thinking in those days, all innovators being regarded as philosophers or rishis. They did not necessarily speak of religion alone. They had a deep insight or Antar DrishtiTheir invaluable contributions to Astronomy are an inseparable part of the holy Rig VedaSimilarly, the Samhitas and the Atharva Vedarespectively, are the repositories of important treatises on medicine and mathematics. Culture is thus inseparable from science, and vice versa. 'Nahijananenasadrsam', or there is nothing that bears comparison to knowledge, epitomizes the homage of Indian culture to learning and inspired our ancients' quest for knowledge. Science was an integral part and an important preoccupation in ancient Indian culture. The past inspires the future in India, and the ancient Sanskrit texts reflect shades of twentieth-century thinking. Scientific ideas were developed in India over 5,000 years ago and have stood the test of time.

The Syrian astronomer-monk Sevrus Sevokht wrote in AD 660 of subtle Indian discoveries in Astronomy that were 'even more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians'. He mentioned in particular their rational system of mathematics and methods of calculation with 9 symbolic numbers which no words can sufficiently strongly praise. According to Sevokht, ' If these things were known by the people who think that they alone have mastered the sciences because they speak Greek, they would perhaps be convinced, though a little late in the day, that other folk, not only Greeks but also men of a different tongue from distant India know something as well as they.

The Samkha Patanjala provides us with a view of the universe that evolved from prakriti or the 'Ultimate Ground' in cosmic format. Sattva-the essence or the intelligence, rajas- the energy, and tamas - the inertia of matter, the three infinitesimal gunas, constitute the Universe. Prakriti started in a balanced cool state with a uniform guna combination. Purusha, the absolute, the soul, or the atman created ripples of disturbance bringing evolution into being. This came as a transcendental magnetic influence on a calm tranquil prakriti. All organic and inorganic matter owe their creation to this chaos, and thus all variations and diverse phenomena of objects were born. A perpetual trend of this chaotic state back to its stability is also evident in the uniform distribution of the gunas.In the words of Frank Oppenheimer, the doyen of science center activities and founder of the prestigious Exploratorium in San Francisco, 'People continue to talk of art and music as a culture but neglect the fact that our view of ourselves - our role in the world and what the world is like-is equally and vitally a culture'.

There will be no exaggeration if we say that  Indian culture is the storehouse of all human qualities because  Indian culture believes in the mantra 'SarveBhavantuSukhinah’ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)  meaning may all become happy and from this arises a  great welfare mantra of 'Vasudev Kutumbakam' (Maha Upanishad 6.71-75) meaning the whole world is one single family. India is a  land of culture,  tradition, and customs. Indian traditions and culture are known universally. Culture describes all the mental processes that are (or can be) subject to social transmission,  as well as other elements of human behavior that help  to establish and form our mental processes. Our heritage is so rich that the whole world is attracted by our  customs.  We have  been  following  our  customs  and  tradition  since ages and science is embedded in these traditions and customs. Countless rituals and traditions have been performed in Indian homes for centuries. At first, they were considered superstitions but with the advent of science, the realization of the underlying scientific basis behind these traditions became clear and is being carried forward.

A country of settled human civilisation dating back to 7000 years is a country of spirituality. Being birthplaces of religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, India is a country which has adopted every religion and has inculcated in its culture the best practices of these religions. Indian traditions are unique because they have been adopted from the diverse cultural practices of different religions/communities and here we find a strong spiritual belief for these traditions. At the same time, we can ignore the scientific reasons behind these traditions and the reasons which still have kept them thriving in this modern world. Let us take you to some of these Indian traditions and find the scientific logic behind it.


1. Significance of ringing a bell and blowing a conch

We ring the bell when we go to the temple and worship at home in the Hindu faith. It is believed that by ringing the bell, the idols installed in the temple awaken consciousness. The charming and resonant sound of the bell has the potential to lead the mind towards spirituality. The mind attaches to the rhythm of the bell and feels peace. Not only is there a religious reason behind  the installation  of a  bell  outside the  temple,  but scientific  reasons also  support  the theory. Scientists say that  when  the bell  is  rung,  there is  a  vibration  in the  atmosphere.  The advantage of this vibration is that all the bacteria, viruses, and micro-organisms that come into its area are destroyed, and purifies the environment, and removing negative powers. Shank comes from   the   Sanskrit word "Shum" which means   something   good and "Kham" meaning water, hence Shankar (conch) means, holding the sacred water.

It is an integral part of Hindu customs and traditions. Other than in temples many Indian households use this as a part of their worship.  It has its origin in the sea. When we place the conch near our ears we  can hear the melodious sound of the ocean. Blowing it  enhances  positive vibrations  in  the environment,  and the  vibrations  coming  out destroys the  germs  in the  atmosphere.  It is  also  found that  by  regularly blowing  the  conch speech can be corrected for children who stammer. It also helps in clearing heart blockage and improves the respiratory system. When water stored in conch is used it helps to cure many skin diseases and allergies, indigestion etc; and also to treat menopause.

2. Customs and Manners

Customs  and  manners  are  the  expressions  of  ethics  and  social  conduct  in  a  society. Indian culture is dominating the whole world today because of its rich culture. When the whole world is reeling under the Pandemic threat western countries are adopting the Indian traditions which include many forms of greetings, and etiquette like washing the hands and feet’s before entering the house, drink water without sipping (no lip contact). Each of them was tagged with cultural beliefs, having scientific reasoning behind it.

2.1. Namaskara

In  Indian  tradition  when  people  meet,  they  greet  each  other  with  their  palms  joined together in front of the chest. This gesture symbolizes respect to all living beings and also the feeling of oneness. This form is called ‘Namaskara' which  is  offered  to  parents,  elders  and older siblings. The word 'Namaha’ derives its roots from the word ‘nam’ which means ‘to bend down’. When we bend down in front of others we overcome our ego.  The science behind this gesture is that while we join both our palms it ensures we don’t have physical contact with the other person,  helping  us  to  avoid  transmission  of  germs  or  virus  through  contact  or  touch. Secondly, when the tip of all the fingers are together they represent the five elements wherein the thumb represents fire, index finger air, middle finger space, ring finger the earth and little finger water. Hence pressing the fingers denotes that the pressure points of our eyes, ears and mind are activated.

2.2. Saastaanga Namaskara

In this form, the person lies down flat on his stomach, with the eight parts of the body touching the ground. Meaning, a salutation is said to be eight-limbed when it is performed with one's chest, head, mind, body, speech, feet, knees and hands. When one does this it increases the blood circulation and also provides useful exercise and promotes vigour and enthusiasm.

2.3. Charan Sparsh (Touching the feet)

The word charan denotes the feet and Sparsh touch. Together they mean ‘to touch one’s feet’. The Atharva –Veda gives great importance to this type of greeting. Here a person exhibits the respect one holds for the elderly person. The scientific basis to Charansparsh is that the human body releases vibrations and also receives them from the person who comes close. This helps in the flow of energy in the body.

3. Etiquette

The global epidemic reminds us of our old culture and tradition that has been left behind the western culture. We feel proud to westernize.  Indian values follow few rituals from time immemorial having its own significance. The habit of washing the hands and feet before eating a meal, before entering the house, was considered as a cultural belief, has more science behind it. The human body is the powerhouse of energy, called 'chakras'. When we are asleep this part stops  generating  energy  hence  we  are  inactive  for  some  time  when  we  wake  up.  That  is  the reason why we wash our face and take a bath so that we energies these chakras. When we travel from one place to another we roam about in many places many germs attack us through our hands and feet. According to Ayurveda, it is believed that diseases related to eyes occur when we  have  unhygienic  feet.  So  Indians  follow  a  tradition  of  leaving  their  footwear  outside  the house and wash their hands and feet before entering the house so that the negative energy is warded off. When we wash our hands and legs with cool water it relaxes and relives our body from  stress.  The  reason  why  most  Indians  don't  sip  water  from  a  glass,  or  bottle  sipped  by another person is to ensure that he does not transfer germs leading a way to contact diseases.

4. Samskaras

Indian  culture  holds  special  importance  for  the  rituals  termed  as  Samskaras. It is  an integral  part  of  the  Vedic  tradition.  Each  samskara  has  a  definite  significance  and  serves  a definite purpose. It helps the individual to proceed through each stage of life. There are forty samskaras mentioned in the scriptures (being Smart Samskaras, Panch Maha yajnas, Paka yajnas, Srauta Karmas and Soma Yajnas) which are performed  as occasion arises. Of all these Samskaras the Shodash Samskaras (The Sixteen Samskaras)have a prominent place and are  prevalent  in  Indian  Society.  These  shodash  samskaras  do  not  involve  mere  preaching  or powerful mantras of religious instincts, but these rituals involve processes affecting the subtle level  of  human  consciousness.  It  also  has  an  impact  on  human  psychology,  the  endocrine system and the genetic machinery. Along with the constant refinement of man and his growth, the concrete objective has been to purify the environment around the man and keep him healthy. In  Indian  culture,  there  are  many  rituals  in  the  life  of  a  person  from  birth  to  death.

A  major identity of Indian culture and civilization is the customs, which begin with the rites when the fetus develops within the mother and performed for the well-being of both (Fetus& Mother). There are sixteen types of these sanskaras. described in ‘Vyasamriti’. Garbhadhanais a samskarathat sanctifies conception, the act by which the embryo is well  borne.  Medical  research  has  confirmed  that  during  the  time  of  physical  intimacy  the mental state of the couple has a reflection on the child. Pumsavana is performed in the third month  of  pregnancy  for  the  birth  of  a  male  child.  At  this  time  the  fetus  starts  growing physically. The mother’s emotion and feelings affect the fetus. This ceremony is conducted to prepare  the  mother  of  her  responsibility  with  emotional  strength  towards  the  unborn  baby.

Simantonnayanais a samskara performed in the sixth or eighth month of pregnancy which is meant for the well -being of the mother and the child she is carrying. The derivation of the word Simantonnayana is ‘simamantamunniyateyenakarmana tat’, which is the act of parting the hair. The husband parts the wife’s hair, so as to invoke goddess Lakshmi for the protection of the mother and the unborn child. This prenatal samskara provides a conducive and a positive emotional environment. Jaatakarma is a samskara performed at the birth for the purification of the newborn child. This is done for the strength, longevity and intelligence of the child. In this ceremony cotton soaked in ghee is placed on the baby’s head. The scientific reason behind this  ritual  is that it prevents heat loss from the baby’s head preventing hypothermia. During this  ceremony,  the  baby  is  given  honey  and  ghee  which  is  both  nutrition and  immunization. Another reason is that honey serves as a mild allergen which help’s to start the synthesis of antibodies, helping the baby from any infection. This also helps in initiating the gastrointestinal movement of the baby and activate the gut. The chanting of mantra’s during this ceremony helps the parents by giving them psychological support mainlythe mother. Namakarana is the  ceremony  celebrated  on  the  11th day  of  childbirth.  It means  the naming ceremony an integral part of one’s identity. The importance of naming ceremony is beautifully  expressed  in  the  following  verse  by Brihaspati Viramitrodaya-samskara-prakasa –“namnaivakirtimlabhate manusyahtatah prasastam khaluna makarma” meaning through  name  alone  a  person  gets  fame  hence  the  naming  ceremony  is  praiseworthy. 

The samskara is performed after 11 days because the early neonatal period is passed and the child has  a  lower  risk  of  infection.  Bathing  of  mother  and  baby  with  medicated  water  helps  in maintaining  hygiene  and  keeping  infections  at  bay. Niskramanais  the  ceremony  performed during the third or fourth month after the childbirth. It means 'stepping out of the house'. By this time the newborn child gets accustomed to the sun, air and the noise of the environment. The  baby  develops  enough  immunity  and  tolerance  to  the  external  environment.  The  baby's head  becomes  steady,  there  are  hand  and  eye  coordination.  The persistence  of  primitive reflexes, if any can be known. Annaprasana is the ceremony held in the 6th month where the child is fed with solid food for the first time. Traditionally a mixture of rice, ghee, curd and honey  is  given.  During  this  ceremony,  mantras  are  chanted  by  the  priest  for  the  health  and strength of the child. This also signifies that the child learns to eat the right kind of food. During this time the child starts teething and the digestive system of the child is ready to accept solid food.  Cereals  are  the  basic  food  which  helps  the  child  to  obtain  nutrition  thereby  providing nourishment and facilitate growth. Intake of fruits provides the baby with all the vital vitamins and minerals.

Chudakarana is the samskara performed when the child is a year old or when the  child  is  three  years  old.  It is performed  by  chanting  of  mantras  following  the  family tradition. All the hair is shaved off during this ceremony. Hair acts as a protective layer. Cutting of hair gives lightness and prosperity. This samskara gives a chance for the examination of the skull  and  growth  of  hair.  Detectionof  abnormalities  like  craniocynostosis,  wide  sutures, microcephaly, macrocephaly, elevated or depressed fontanels etc. It also helps reveal cranial defects or craniotabes. Karnabedhan, meaning the act where the earlobe is pierced. It has major importance in the sixteen samskaras. It is performed between the first and the third year after the birth of the child.  The earlobes are pierced until the sun’s rays can be seen through them. In Indian culture, the practice of wearing jewelry by both female and male was prevalent, but over time it has become a symbol of adornment only.

Karnabedhan is generally done along with chudakaran. The science behind karnabedhan is equated with acupuncture and acupressure treatment. There are many acupuncture and acupressure points in the outer part of our ear which is important for the treatment of asthma. Wearing gold earrings by women helps in regulating menstrual periods and  relief  in  problems  like  hysteria. Vidyarambha, Upanayana,  Vedarambha,  Kesanta  or Godana, Samavartana are other samskaras which have importance in human life. All the rites related to marriage are important in Vivaha Samskara. It is an important samskara  where  a  person  enters  the  second  stage  of  life.  The  marriage  ceremony  has  many elaborate practices ranging from applying Mehandi, vermilion to wearing a toe ring. All these are not only symbols of the girl's entry into marital life but also have scientific reasoning behind it.

5. Importance of applying Henna/ Mehandi

At the time of marriage, the bride applies Mehandior Henna on her hands and feet not just for decoration but the science behind all these practices is hidden. At the time of marriage, henna is applied to the bride's hands and feet. This practice has been going on in our country for years.  It is not just a  means of dressing, which gives a beautiful colour to the hands  and feet, but it also has many medicinal properties.  During the marriage, the bride is very much stressed  and  undergoes  exhaustion.  Because  of  its  cooling  effects,  it  helps  in  keeping  and relaxing the nerve endings.   It also helps prevent headaches and stress and protects the hands and nails from viral and fungal infections and growth of the nails.

6. Importance of Tilak/Kumkum /Sindhur on the forehead

As part of Indian tradition, both men and woman put a Tilak or Bindiyaon his or her forehead.  It’s applied on the centre of the forehead, a spot in brow  centre between  the  two eyebrows which is the control point of the whole body  a major nerve point in the human body. Traditionally sandalwood, red kumkum /Tilak, clay or ash from Yagya are used. Kumkum is prepared  by  blending  turmeric,  lime  and  the  metal  mercury where  Mercury  is  known  for removing stress and strain, lime gives cooling effect and turmeric an antibiotic. This particular spot  between  the  eyebrows  are  believed  to  retain  energy  in  the  human  body  and  control  the various levels of absorption of heat by making it cool, it also helps to overcome headache and balance hormones. On the application of the tilak, the Aghnya-chakra is automatically pressed to  facilitate  the  face  muscles  blood  supply.  A  mixture  of  kumkum  and  turmeric  are  good germicidal  and  keeps the  skin  healthy  while  helping  the  sinews  and  ligaments  to  function naturally.

There is a tradition in India to apply vermilion a (mixture of turmeric, lime and mercury) by the bridegroom on the bride’s hair partition which is termed as ‘Sindhur’ during the wedding. A woman's vermilion a sign of fortune and a sign of her married life, indicative of the woman's entry into the housewife's life from her life as a daughter. The vermilion is applied between the hairs on the forehead. Its importance has been mentioned in the Vedas, which is related to our health. In fact, the vermilion is applied straight up to the pituitary gland because this part is more delicate in women than men. The vermilion applied serves as a medicine. Due to excess of mercury, the face does not wrinkle. Also, the electrical stimulation located in the woman's body is controlled. It cools the body and makes the body feel relaxed. This also creates a sexual desire in them. It also prevents the spread of lice. In the soft spot,the mercury reaches the surface of the Sushmana pulse through the pores. When the germs that damage the genitals, pollute the blood and body then the mercury helps in destroying it. The red colour also wards off evil.


7. Importance of Jewels/ Ornaments

Indian women wear ornaments not solely to adorn themselves (Sinha, 2014), but are a symbol of wedding for married women. In the Vedic tradition, a woman is seen adorning every kind of ornament.

7.1. Natni (the nose ring)

According to Indian traditions and culture, 'natni' is considered as a sign of marriage, and is an integral part of traditional bridal jewelry. It is usually worn on the left side of the nose  in  India.  According  to  Ayurveda,  piercing  of  the  nose  is  associated  with  female reproductive organs. It is believed that  a woman  who is pierced on the left side experiences less pain during childbirth and less pain during menstruation. It also regulates the breath and also protects nasal problems and relief from cough and cold.

7.2. Mangalasutra'

Mangalasutra'is  the  identity  of  a  married  woman,  which  is  worn  as  a  symbol  of keeping  the  woman  happy  for  life,  but  the  science  behind  it  is  that  the  mangalsutra  is  worn above the heart with the hollow side facing the body so that the positive energies are attracted towards  the  void  of  the  cups  and  this  helps  to  regulate  the  blood  circulation  in  the  woman's body. The gold wire of the Mangalsutra destroys the distressing vibrations present within the Universe through its energy. The black colour of the beads is claimed to soak up all negative vibrations.

7.3. Bangle

'Bangle'is a circular form of ornament that is worn in hands by the woman. The bangle is one of the most important ornaments that an Indian woman wears. It is a symbol of luck and prosperity for married women who undergo many mental and physical changes in her life. Most of the disease  are  diagnosed  by  the  pulse  beat  of  the  wrist.  When women wear  bangles,  the friction of bangles increases the blood circulation level. Besides, the energy that passes through the outer skin is sent back to the body through a circularbangle. As there is a nerve in our wrist that tells us the heartbeat rate, these bangles increase the blood circulation within the body and it  doesn't  let  the  charges  of  the  body  to  go  out. The  sound generated by the glass bangles keeps negative energies at bay.

7.4. Anklet

The anklet is a piece of favouritejewellery worn by Indian women which are made of silver.Worn  for  the  adornment  of  the  feet  is  not  just  the  form  of  sixteen  adornments.  This ornament while walking produces sound, has many qualities.  It Prevents swelling of the soles of  the  feet,  protects  against  swelling  and  curing  inflammation  of  the  heel  regulating  blood circulation. It also helps in regulating the menstrual problems, infertility, hormonal imbalance and abnormal conditions of obstetrics, helps maintain sexual desire. Silver being a conductor of energy, work as a mediator between the earth and the human body and makes a woman more energetic while sending the negative energy to earth through the foot.

7.5. 'Bichiya' (Toering)

In the Ramayana itself, there is mention of Sita throwing her jewelry in the forest at the time of Sita Haran which also has a 'bichiya' (toe ring).It has social significance. It is worn in the second toe of both the foot. The Vedas and Ayurveda texts give details of what health properties it has by wearing it. There is mention about the treatment of gynaecological problems while wearing the toe ring which helps in toe massage. The second toe of the leg connects to the woman's uterus and it keeps the uterus strong and connects with the heart and thus keeps the blood flow regular and regulates the menstrual cycle. Acupressure is the best medium. The metal silver which is a good conductor helps absorb the polar energy from the earth and leaving the negative energy out of the body.


8. The significance behind Indian Food etiquette

Food is one of the basic needs of every living organism. Besides being a physiological necessity  it  also  has  an importance  on  an  emotional  level.  Food  is  an  integral  part  of  Indian culture. The specialty of Indian food and drink is different from any other country. Different types of dishes are prepared in every state and the method of serving them is also different. But each food etiquette uses the same flavour, which makes Indian food unique.  Our forefathers emphasized on the point we start with spicy food and end with a sweet. The significance behind this is that starting with spicy food activates our digestive juices and ensures that the digestion process goes on smoothly and in the end sweet is to be taken because sweets reduce digestive power. All the spices used in Indian food play a key role in good health. Not only do they add aroma to the food but they act as antibiotics and antiseptics. Regular use of Turmeric helps to control cholesterol, blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart diseases. Pepper is a detoxing agent which helps the body to have a good immune system. Cardamom, cloves act as mouth freshener's and help in digestion of the food. Curry leaves help maintain sugar levels and proper functioning of the liver. Use of ghee in our food helps in balancing the excess acid found in the stomach and is a rich source of vitamin A and E and a good antioxidant. This is the reason why the whole world praised Indian food and understood the healthy benefits of having it during the corona pandemic.

From olden days, till present day food is served in banana leaves sitting on the floor. It is  not  just  a  symbol  of  our  culture.  It also  has  a  benefits  for  health,  which  have  natural antioxidants to protect us from many diseases. They have the property of killing germs. There is a type of waxy coating which melts when served hot food and gives a different taste to the food. There are many benefits of eating food while sitting on the ground in sukhasana. When we  sit  in  this  asana  on  the  ground,  it  promotes  our digestive  power  along  with  the  peace  of mind and at the same time relieves the problem of the spinal cord.

In Indian culture, 'Paan' (betel leaves) which is also called as Tambool or Paarna in the Sanskrit language has a very significant role to play. It is used for all traditional rituals in all auspicious occasions.  It  is  believed  that  the  betel  leaf  is  inhabited  by  various  deities.  It  has been  an  inseparable  part  of  Indian  cuisine.  The  practice  of  eating  betel  leaves  after  food  is prevalent  in  India.  One  reason  for  this  is  that  it  has  a  mixture  of  six  juices  hence  after  food when  you  have  paan  and  swallowing  its  juice,  the  food  is  digested  quickly.  It  has  many medicinal  properties,  so  it  is  used  in  large  quantities  by  ayurvedic  physicians.  It  has  great cooling effects hence helps in cooling the mouth. Also, betel leaf is used for curbing cough, increasing sexual power, reducing diabetes, stop the weakness of the veins, constipation etc.

Every  ritual,  custom,  traditions  known  as  Samskaraare    not  just  beliefs  but  it  is performed with an objective of imparting positive potentials in a person. These religious beliefs are  analyzed  scientifically  which  will  help  in  bringing  tradition  and  science  closer.  The  real purpose of the  customs followed in our day to day lives, carry the possible scientific reason which we got convinced with.  Our ancient customs or traditions have magnificence of living. It is our duty to pass on this heritage of traditions to our future generations for a peaceful life. Today, there is a need to approve it again and there is a call to assimilate it. While culture and science separately give rise to a kind of fundamentalism in society, together they create a kind of positivity, where culture strengthens our roots while science gives us the sky to fly. Religious beliefs when analyzed scientifically help in bringing tradition and science closer.

We are living in an era of the scientific revolution – Science is involved in raising money, power  and  material  comfort  for  man.  Tensions and disputes  are  feared  in  rapidly  changing societies, so there should be harmony between scientific progress and culture i.e.; the beauty and morality. With this, our life can be filled with real joy. Indian culture has an amazing ability to  teach  the  ideal  to  all  human  beings  of  the  world.  To overcome  today's  nuclear  storm,  we have to adopt the cultural strength of our past, which has been preferred for ages. In conclusion, we can say "Sa Prathmasanskriti: Vishwavara" –Yajurveda (7/14) which means that this is the first culture that should be imbibed by every civilization.

References

P.V. Hemalatha, Scientific Reasons behind Women Traditions in India - A Brief Review,International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education (IJHSSE) Volume 4, Issue 4, April 2017.

Sinha,S.  (2014).   Ornaments   in   Medieval Bengali   Literature:   An   Image   of   Contemporary Society. International    Journal    of    Innovative    Research    and Development, 3(4)

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