Countless beliefs, which might be categorised as superstitions by “enlightened outsiders”, affect the behaviour of many, including the educated, and influence consequently to a great extent the social life of the people of Jaffna.
– Kannuru or evil or envious glance, and navuru or envious words of praise. Fundamental to this belief is the notion that an envious person can cause harm to a happy, successful and talented person. One of the reason, so it is claimed, why high fences are put up during the construction of houses is to “provide some protection against the tongue and eye misfortunes, navuru and kannuru respectively
– The calling out of small crows announces the visit of a relative or friends. The chirping of house lizards confirms whatever a person is saying at the time and may mean good fortune.
– When someone sets out on a journey or gets up from bed, bad sights of rattle snakes, widows, beggars, wild animals, black-colored cats etc, mean illness, disorder and misfortune.
– Snakes, frogs, wild birds and large crows possess the power to “disharmonies a woman’s system” and thus cause infertility. Women and children should be protected from these creatures.
– A couple’s barrenness may be due to the fact that they are under the curses of gods, Brahmins, animals or stars. Many rituals may be performed in order to get rid of the curses. Childless couples who believe that they are under the curse of snakes may pay annual homage to the guardian goddess of cobras at Nainativu, the island of cobras.
– If a cobra is found in a home, it should not be hurt but, if possible, taken to the temple with offerings. Children born in that house are then named Nagalingham, Nagabushani, Nageswari etc., all bearing the term naga, the Tamil term for cobra.
– Many people believe that cobras carry a precious stone in its hood. They are said to place them in a safe spot while they go in search of food without wandering far of from the spot where they leave their stones. The stones, it is said, may be taken if they are covered with cowdung. Cobras die without the stone. It is believed that at Nainativu, where there are many cobras and where the temple is dedicated to the goddess of the cobras, many gems have been seen shining on dark nights.
– Beside the cobras, cows, cats, peacocks and cocks are sacred. By voluntarily killing a cat, one commits a heinous crime because the “life of a cat is equated with the lives of nine Brahmins”. Cocks and peacocks are sacred to Murugan and hence are to be respected.
– Pigeons are to be tended only in temple premises and not in houses, because the wealth of a family which domesticates them may vanish when they fly away from the house.
– Nocturnal birds such, as owls are harbingers of disaster. “When the bird having death shrieks for its key note, sakkuruvi (hooting owl), flies across the roof of a house, the inmates are in a panic. Elders advise them to expose the roof by removing few tiles, to kill a fowl in expiation, or (if vegetarians) to cut up an ash-pumpkin smeared with turmeric”.
– There are munis (spirits) and demons dwelling in groves, trees, ruins or road junctions. When a sudden death occurs at a certain spot which is near a suspected place of demonic power, a sacrifice (pall) is believed to have taken place.
– Mantiravati, namely a sorcerer, can call upon an evil spirit to possess and do harm to certain persons. This is called suniyam, literally meaning emptiness or nothing.
– Moon is sacred. It is a symbol of warm love. Hence nubile girls “worship” it, till a partner is found. After the marriage, however, it should not be held in high esteem because of its qualities of waning and waxing, “casting gloom and light in quick alternation”. Another instance: a grandmother catches the swift view of the moon three nights after the full moon and calls out her children and grandchildren, usually sons and grandsons. Without losing her glimpse of the moon, she kisses each one of them. Then she gets hold of the first child that comes to her “grip” and turns her look from the moon to the face of the child. That child is considered the luckiest of all.
Volumes may be written on the innumerable beliefs of the people of Jaffna. Many Jaffnese, however, are firmly convinced that their forefathers had discovered the rules (muraikal) of ritual which make it possible for them both to protect themselves against evil super-natural powers that may attack and ruin them, and to get help from other good powers that would help them.
Most people in Jaffna who “are more or less constantly aware of the celestial bodies and use them as guides and markers” consciously or unconsciously believe in astrology.”
Two systems of time are observed in Jaffna: civil time and religious time. The first one is based on Europeans calendar and is used to regulate mundane activities in day to day life. The second system, which is a mixture of solar and luner calendars, is based on the Hindu and Tamil astronomical and astrological systems and coordinates religious activities.
Almanacs called pancankams, containing information on solar days, lunar days, asterisms, yogas and karanas or certain astrological divisions of the days of month, indicate auspicious and inauspicious days and times, and thus regulate the activities of daily life.
Basic to the religious time is the grouping of days following the full moon (paruvam) and new moon (amavasai). Each day in this group has a name such as astami (eighth), navami (ninth) and tasami (tenth) and these designate auspicious or inauspicious days for particular purposes. These fourteen days are divided into bad (sunya) neutral (atiti) or good (tuvayam) The conjunction of the sun and the moon in the planetary (naksastra) segments is called yoga, which is divided into sittayoga or auspicious and maranayoga or inauspicious. It is by combining these various factors that times for particular activities are recommended or discouraged. For example, marana yoga (m) is not good for any undertaking and a marriage-taking place at this time is doomed to fail. During astami and navami, no new or important undertaking should be initiated.
There are only two solar-based festivals: New Year and Thai Ponkal, On New Year, the vernal equinox, the sun enters into the Aries sign of the Zodiac. On the day of Ponkal, which is the first day of the month of Thai (January -February), winter solstice is celebrated which in fact occurs on 22nd December.
Certain days of the week are considered special for certain people. Friday and Tuesday are days of fasting for some; only vegetarian food is eaten and a visit to the temple is made. Young women who have difficulties in finding a husband because of “mars affliction” fast on Tuesdays and visit specific temples. Saturday is normally the day of oil bath; sesame oil is applied to head and body; vegetarians eat food-containing protein while others consume meat.
It is also the belief of many that if a girl attains puberty on Monday, she will be an example of chastity; if it occurs on Tuesday, she might become a widow in her early years of marriage; if it occurs on Wednesday, when she will be very rich; Thursday brings disaster because she will not be virtuous; other days are also considered not lucky because she might become poor. The time of the day is also important: the best time is the morning. If she happens to wear a white cloth, she will be lucky. If she notices the marks on her by herself, she will not be lucky.