Good and Bad Omens : Where are thay?
“Why is the number ten afraid of seven?” This is a smart question occasionally thrown to their friends by some school kids in America. Equally smart is the answer, “Because 7 8 9”. Are you puzzled by both the question and the answer? You will understand and appreciate both if only you read the numbers in the answer like, “seven ate nine” instead of “seven eight nine.” “Number ten is afraid of number seven, because number seven ate number nine,” is the humorous explanation of those kids! We have got to admire their sense of humor in making these numbers lively filled with human feelings.
Even if the statement that ‘number ten is scared of number seven’ is an imaginary word play for the children, it is a real fact that most Americans are really scared of the number thirteen. Number “13” for them is bad omen! Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Space Program and the third one to be targeted for lunar landing. It was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 Central Standard Time. The landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, damaging the service module upon which the command module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, the crew was returned safely to Earth on April 17. The reason for the accident was due to some technical failure according to the scientists. But the prevailing belief among most Americans for its failure was the domination of number 13 in everything related to that launch. It was the thirteenth mission,and the launch time was 13:13!
The belief that the number 13 is a bad omen is so deep rooted among the foreigners that most tourists do not prefer to stay in hotel rooms that are numbered 13. Following this trend, even the owners of these hotels skip number thirteen altogether substituting number 12A for those rooms. Some owners also use the letter ‘M’, which is 13th in the English alphabet, in place of 13. Likewise, 13th floor will be absent in skyscraper buildings. One might wonder how it is possible to build the upper floors without the thirteenth floor. But the architects there, respecting the popular belief, just skip number 13 altogether and substitute 14 for 13 on that floor. You will not find number 13 on their elevators as well.
The conviction that number 13 cannot be anything but bad is so intense among westerners that no dining table will ever have 13 people sitting together around it. The historically famed Savoy Hotel, just a few feet away from the Trafalgar Square in London, was hosting a felicitation party in 1898 in which 13 eminent individuals were participating. Unfortunately, a stranger used that occasion to shoot down one of those guests. Inevitably, from that day onwards, if ever a situation arose where in 13 people needed to be seated for dinner, the hotel has instituted a special arrangement. A 14th chair is placed with the thirteen guests. Who do you think would be seated there? Kasper, the black cat gets to sit there. Kasper, by the way, is not a real cat. It is a beautiful wooden carving resembling a cat! Instead of tying a bell around it’s neck, a dinner napkin is tied and dinner is served. It is learnt that nothing bad has happened ever since!
Some people are convinced that the bad omen status for number 13 gained strength ever since the famed, “The Last Supper” incidence that has been cited in the Bible. Jesus Christ had 12 disciples. One night 13 of them including Jesus dine together. Judas, a disciple among them commits a treachery against his Master. Even being aware of this fact, Jesus does not attempt to skip away from this. As a result of this treachery, Jesus gets to mount on the Cross and lose his life. This is the reason that is cited for the bad omen reputation accorded to number 13.
In our country, numbers 7 and 11 enjoy the status of bad omens. I have witnessed myself a doctor who took this seriously, went crazy traveling round the globe and giving up his life. A firm belief exists among our people that a daughter should not be sent away on a tuesday and a daughter in law on a Friday from their homes. Some remote incidents that may have happened sometime in the past have succeeded in according a bad omen status to these numbers and days. 420 is just a number like any other number. It is not so in English and Hindi languages. A villain, a cheater, or a very bad person is called a, “420 man” by our village folk. The reason for this is the list of illegal activities recorded on column 420 of the Indian Penal Code. Somehow, the Kannada translation of 420 fails to resonate the true big cheat tune accorded by the ‘char sou bees’ of the Hindi language.
The talk of bad and good omens gain prominence during the election times. Prior to elections, discussions as to which pooja, homa or a havana (services to God) would yield favorable outcomes become rampant. Astrologers enjoy intense field days during this period. The candidates run behind these astros holding their zodiac charts for a reading of their fates. They get suggestions as to the auspiciousness of the days on which they can submit their nominations, days on which they can start canvassing and the place from where to start. Being aware of the fact that it is the voters that would decide their fates, they still keep faith in their astrologers as if they decide their fates.
In our State of Karnataka, no chief minister would dare to step into Chamarajanagar township. There is a firm belief that they would lose their position if they did so. In order to nullify this bad omen that resonates in this place and to appease the Gods, eminent priests have been brought from the neighboring State of Kerala to do worships in the local Chamarajeswara Temple. We need to watch and wait if the new chief minister would dare to step into this town after this!
My good hearted readers, The reason I write all this today is that it is the 13th. I wonder if you would attend to your jobs or choose to stay home sending in a leave letter after reading this article. My stand is that the good or the bad omen is not inherent in any number, day, or material. It exists in the mind that feels for it. All days turn out good for a strong willed person with firm, holy, pure thoughts and action. For the one who believes in divinity and trods on his life path, the hardships just happen to feel like the other side of happiness. For him, even the hot sun will feel like the cool moon:
Say not that, this, or some other day
The day is today for the servant of Shiva;
The day is today for the servant of Hara
The day is today for the one who adores our Lord Kudala Sangama Deva. (Basavanna)
Thou are the power of the Universe, O Lord
Thou are the Omni Protector, pervader of the Universe
Thou are the Planets combined
Thou are the Day and Night, thou are the new manifest
Thou are the eliminator of diseases and provider of happiness. (Purandara Dasa)
Dr Annapur Shivakumar
Chicago, IL, USA