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The Origin Of Traditions

Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything, anything, be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in.
-Sam Harris
Tradition as a subject has always had equal parts fascination and horror for me. Fascination because it is interesting to trace their origins, the changes they’ve undergone and most importantly, how ludicrous they appear when taken in today’s context. Horror because it is now incumbent upon me to follow and uphold the ‘Great Indian Traditions!’ *cue sarcastic drumroll* 

I once read this little gem of a story I don’t know where, but which will shed light on the origin of traditions -
Once upon a time, in a small ashram, there lived a guru & his students. Their days were spent in learning philosophy, ritual etc. The only fly in the guru’s ointment was the ashram cat. The cat had the habit of disrupting the daily puja at the ashram (to be fair, the noise levels were enough to annoy any self respecting feline). Frustrated, the guru ordered that the cat be tied up to a tree just before the puja started. Thus the puja was conducted in peace. 

Batches of students came and went and the practice continued. The guru died, and later on so did the cat. Now the students were perplexed. Without a cat tied up to a tree, how was the puja to go on? So they brought another cat, tied it to a tree and the show went on. Years and decades passed, pretty soon students and gurus were writing treatises on the deep philosophical implications of the tradition which dated back hundreds of years! 

Scholars debated on why only a cat and not any other animal was used, the timing of the puja and hell, even if the colour of the cat had any effect on the meaning of the tradition.

And thus a tradition is born!

Now not all traditions started out this way, neither are all of them this stupid. But just think for a moment on all the little stuff that you do everyday, that your mother said has to be done just so otherwise the gods will not be pleased. Tell me how much of a difference is there between the so called ‘traditions and customs’ and say my habit of brushing my teeth before I eat?

I once asked my mother why we do not cook onions/garlic for festivals? First I thought maybe coz festivals = sweets in India but that didn’t stop us from eating chillies by the dozen. It had to be something else. Then my mom told me it’s coz we eat tasty food every day and this was our forefathers’ way of ensuring we ate healthy on at least a couple of days. Now that made sense. I never heard of spinach or broccoli being banned from any Indian festival!

But it still did not explain why? In this day and age, why people still do not understand the value of healthy food & have to be coerced into it in the name of religion. On the other hand, if the original intent was for me to eat healthy, why cannot I eschew the religion backstory and just eat? By the time I get to this point in my argument, my dad usually intervenes and says (sotto voice) "just do what mom says before she blows!"

The list of such traditions that I do not understand is long and extremely hilarious at places. Examples include
Ostensible Reason
Do not trim nails after 6 might hurt myself after dark don’t we have artificial lights?
Shower after a haircut barber isn’t from our caste, curiously applies only to the men neither is the doctor or the tailor but you don’t shower after you meet them
No wearing slippers in house might bring outside dirt into the house try doing that in Delhi’s winters!
Do not sneeze during puja I don’t know if I stop a sneeze, I might blow a blood vessel. Fact.

The list goes on…I just don’t have the patience to write them all down. So do you think tradition is just a habit which people will not allow to die? Sound off in the comments. As for me, I think Sam Harris is right. It’s a ridiculous world we live in!

P.S: God seems to disapprove of all the good stuff. Why create them in the first place?


  1. you are a great blogger! have been following ur blogs for along time! keep it going! urs ever ardent fan

  2. wow u have ur own anonymous fans, thats great.........
    Here are more examples to add.. (nice post by the way)
    1. many Hindus i know don't eat Garlic and Onions because apparently these things are "tamsik" in nature.
    2. Doing Puja only after you take bath- GOD is sensitive to bad odor u know :-).
    3. Even my own wife used to do fast on Wednesday because it is some god's day - dont ask me which one. I had to actually fight with her on this one to make her stop.
    4. Hell i was forced to take my bike to Ganesh temple rt after i bought it.
    5. Don't get ur hair cut on Tuesdays- unknown reasons.
    6. Don't cut nails on Thursdays - Unknown Reasons again.

    I can go on and on ........ but whats the point after all "It’s a ridiculous world we live in!".

  3. Thanks Rahul :) Wonder how many battles I'll have to fight so I don't have to fast or do any other equally ridiculous but totally traditional stuff! Not looking forward to that, I'll tell ya...This could actually make a great excuse you know. If someone asks you why you're doing something, just tell them its tradition! Kinda like blaming your completely horrible outfit on fashion ;)


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