Superstitions and one way implication

India seems to have had a rich history when it comes to mathematics. Our ancestors are supposed to have done great things such as inventing the numeral system that we used today. However, I’m not sure how good we have been at logic. I’m not talking about anything advanced here. I’m thinking of basic stuff such as one way implications.

What is common to the following superstitions/customs?

  • You should never shave your head unless you are offering the hair to God
  • You should never light a fire in front of your house
  • You should never throw around vessels on the floor

The list goes on but I can’t remember anything else right now. However, I can assure you that there are several more of these. This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it is most likely an exhausting list.

What connects all these is the fact that they are associated with death. You are supposed to shave your head when a parent dies. Similarly a fire is lit in front of the house when someone dies. And throwing around vessels is part of the death ceremonies.

What has happened is that all these one way implications have been misunderstood down the generations and have turned into two way implications. The rule states “if someone in the house dies, you light a fire in front of it”. And down a few dozen logically illiterate generations, it has been understood as “you light a fire in front of a house if and only if someone who lives there dies”. Note that suddenly, a one way implication has become a two way implication! Similarly with shaving your head and throwing around vessels. And with the rest of the exhausting list that I can’t remember at this point of time.

So the next time someone rebukes you regarding one of these stupid customs that are supposed to be “associated with death”, while they are only associated in one direction, tell them that they are saying this because they and their ancestors couldn’t understand simple logic.

Life expectancy and age of thread ceremony

Over ten years back, my mother had asked my father when they were going to conduct my thread ceremony. My father had replied, “You think either of us will die soon?” My thread ceremony eventually took place in May 2001, some five years after this conversation.

You frequently come across mostly elderly relatives lamenting the fact that youngsters nowadays don’t have much interest in religion, and parents are also not doing their bit. They crib that earlier, most boys would have their threads by the time they had reached double digits, and this would ensure a more religious upbringing. However, nowadays, with thread ceremony being delayed up to the twenties, and even up to the day before the wedding (for people belonging to castes that wear the thread, the thread is a prerequisite for marriage), the elders feel that this is preventing kids from being more religious.

I’m not sure if the increase in average age has to do anything with how religious the parents are. It’s simply a consequence of higher life expectancy. If you are a boy belonging to a caste that normally wears the thread, you need to have had your thread ceremonies in order to conduct your parents’ death ceremonies. If you don’t have the thread yet at the time when one of your parents dies, some other relative has to do this thing, and you are supposed to get bad karma from this.

Hence, even fifty years ago, when average life expectancy was quite low and it was reasonably common for people to tell jai when their kids were still young, people would want to make sure that there was a good chance that their sons had a thread by the time the parents told jai. And hence, the thread ceremony would happen fairly quickly after the kid had attained the minimum age of 8.

Nowadays, with people living longer on the average, and the probability of someone dying leaving behind a young kid being fairly low, there isn’t much incentive to have the thread ceremony really early. People prefer to wait until their sons are old enough to understand the significance of the thread, the ceremony, etc.

In the name of equality

In temple towns such as Horanadu and Sringeri, the temple has a virtual monopoly over accommodation for tourists. There have been a few private lodges springing up in both places of late, but indifferent quality means these are places of last resort for tourists. The temple accommodation, however, is well maintained and clean, and most importantly comes cheap. The undifferentiated twin bed room goes for about Rs. 100 per night in both places.

Continue reading “In the name of equality”

Death Markets

I wrote this in a mail to the Satin group. This was in response to a mail by Amit Varma talking about priests in Haridwar who conduct the pre-ashes-dunking ceremony, and their fees, and the bargaining, and what could be a decent solution for the problem. I thought it might make sense as a standalone post, so I’m reproducing it here.

Continue reading “Death Markets”


I don’t understand why most temples ban photography inside the premises. I mean there are so many strong things that are there inside temples that are “capture-able” that it’s almost criminal that photography is banned. My mom says the ban is so that unscrupulous elements don’t take pictures and then distort them. If this is the reason, then I think it’s better to allow these unscrupulous elements to collect bad karma by distorting images. Anyways.

One signboard inside the Horanadu temple said (ok i’m translating here) – “parents are requested to ensure that their children don’t pee inside the temple”. Unfortunately, by the time I saw this notice, I’d already seen one other that said photography is banned inside the temple. However, I don’t think the temple had done a good job of putting up this signboard in all appropriate places. Before I’d seen one such signboard, I’d already shot a small video of the mangalarathi. It isn’t too clear but then I shot it in a “no video” area so …
Anyway the point of the photography ban has to do more with the Kalaseshwara temple in Kalasa (some 10 km from Horanadu). There, I noticed an unusual thing – a face had been painted on the lingam. I mean, I thought the purpose of the lingam was because Lord Shiva has to be worshipped in the phallic form. Now, when someone goes and draws a head on it, I don’t really know what to say.

The thing is this isn’t an isolated occurrence. I saw in Sringeri, too, in a couple of places, where a face had been painted on the lingam. I seriously don’t know what the painter was thinking. Or was it a conscious effort by the uber-moral Sringeri mutt to de-sex the lingam?

Looking for porn in Sringeri

Now that this half-blasphemous title is out of the way, let me get straight to the point. Actually I think a bit of beating around the bush is warranted. When I read Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist, I wasn’t sure if i would be quoting part of this book on my blog. However, considering that I almost directly applied one of the ideas mentioned in the book, I think it deserves a mention.

Continue reading “Looking for porn in Sringeri”


I’m off on a pilgrimage tonight. My mom, for a long time wanted to visit Horanadu and Sringeri and for some reason she’s had to keep postponing it. Finally, taking advantage of my joblessness we are going tonight, along with two of my mom’s cousins.

We’ll be back on Saturday morning so till then my blog will be on? break (ok I haven’t been too regular of late so the break might not mean much). It’ll also mean that I’ll be off email and GTalk and BRacket and all that.

Nevertheless, I hope to be twittering continuously. I got my twitter to work (the helpdesk got back to me saying that the india short code is facing some problems nowadays so I should use the international thing). This is my twitter page:
And this is the RSS feed: