Omens and Superstitions of Southern India


This book deals mainly with some aspects of what may be termed the psychical life of the inhabitants of the Madras Presidency, and the Native States of Travancore and Cochin. In my “Ethnographic Notes in Southern India” (1906), I stated that the confused chapter devoted to omens, animal superstitions, evil eye, charms, sorcery, etc., was a mere outline sketch of a group of subjects, which, if worked up, would furnish material for a volume. This chapter has now been remodelled, and supplemented by notes collected since its publication, and information which lies buried in the seven bulky volumes of my encyclopædic “Castes and Tribes of Southern India” (1909). The area dealt with (roughly, 182,000 square miles, with a population of 47,800,000) is so vast that I have had perforce to supplement the personal knowledge acquired in the course of wandering expeditions in various parts of Southern India, and in other ways, by recourse to the considerable mass of information, which is hidden away in official reports, gazetteers, journals of societies, books, etc.

To the many friends and correspondents, European [8]and Indian, who have helped me in the accumulation of facts, and those whose writings I have made liberal use of, I would once more express collectively, and with all sincerity, my great sense of indebtedness. My thanks are due to Mr L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer for supplying me with the illustrations of Malabar yantrams. [9]



  •        Page
  • I. Omens      13
  • II. Animal Superstitions      73
  • III. The Evil Eye      109
  • IV. Snake Worship      121
  • V. Vows, Votive and other Offerings      137
  • VI. Charms      180
  • VII. Human Sacrifice      199
  • VIII. Magic and Human Life      224
  • IX. Magic and Magicians      237
  • X. Divination and Fortune-Telling      273
  • XI. Some Agricultural Ceremonies      289
  • XII. Rain-Making Ceremonies      305
  • Index      312



List of Illustrations

  • Malayan Exorcist with Fowl in Mouth (see p. 246)      Frontispiece
  •        Page
  • Sacred Vultures, Tirukazhukunram      86
  • Evil Eye Figures, Malabar      112
  • Evil Eye Figures Set Up in Fields      114
  • Impressions of Hand on Wall of House      119
  • Praying for Offspring before Lingam, Snake-Stones, and Figure of Ganēsa      124
  • Pulluvan with Pot-Drum      129
  • Vettuvans Wearing Leafy Garments      152
  • Silver Votive Offerings      160
  • Clay and Metal Offerings, South Canara      162
  • Subramaniya Yantram      185
  • Hanumān Yantram      186
  • Meriah Sacrifice Post      202
  • Jumadi Bhutha, South Canara      237
  • Figure Washed Ashore at Calicut      249
  • Korava Woman Telling Fortune      283



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