Below is a list of 21 Hindu rules that I have witnessed or had to follow in rural India and in my Indian family house. Most of them no longer affect me today, or I have found ways to bypass them most of the time, but they troubled me for a very long time…
Hindu rules: Purity-related rules
(1) You must be showered in order to perform any religious practice, pray, or go to the temple. If you haven’t had a shower you must be careful not to touch anyone who is praying, and you won’t be served prasad (food offering from the temple or the ritual).
(2) At certain festivals you must not only be showered to attend puja (religious ceremonies) but you must also take care that someone who already has had a shower has taken your clean clothes to the bathroom for you before you shower. Otherwise if you have touched your clothes before shower, you have “stained” them with your impure body and thus your clothes are impure.
(3) At certain festivals (e.g. Makar Sankranti) you must be showered otherwise you will not get food that day.
(4) You can’t touch/help yourself with chapati (flat bread) and cooked food in the kitchen (because it is sacred) if you haven’t had a shower or if you are from a different cast.
(5) You should be showered, and you mustn’t have had a bowel movement after shower to cook chapati. If you’ve had a poo after shower you are not pure enough to be allowed to cook.
(6) You must be barefoot to go for a bowel movement because you have to rinse your feet after it – otherwise you’re considered an untouchable and you can’t go back inside the house.
(7) You must shower, wash your hair and wash all the clothes you were wearing after cleaning the toilet. If on your way to the shower you walk on a rug you must clean that rug too, and if you touch anyone they must have a shower. And you must have taken your clean clothes to the bathroom before cleaning the toilet, obviously.
(8) You shouldn’t help yourself with a glass of water after you have eaten, even if you’ve cleaned your hands because your mouth is dirty.
Hindu rules: Rules applying to women
(9) Women who have their periods are not allowed to go to temples. (This is also a purity-related Hindu rule, I guess!)
(11) A married woman can eat in her husband’s plate and eat her husband’s leftovers, but he won’t eat in her plate or eat her leftovers.
(12) A married woman addresses her husband formally (using ‘aap‘ in Hindi, similar to ‘vous’ in French), while he addresses her informally (using ‘tum‘ in Hindi, similar to ‘tu’ in French.)
(13) A married woman covers her head with her palu (end part of her saree) in her husband’s family. She covers her head completely in front of her husband’s elders.
(14) A woman shares her husband’s bed in her new (husband’s) family after marriage, but whenever they visit her family (with whom she used to live before marriage) she sleeps with the women and he sleeps with the men.
(15) A married woman doesn’t travel (by bus, train etc.) alone. If she wants to visit her parents’ family either her husband takes her there or male members of her family (father, brothers, cousins, etc.) come to pick her up.
Hindu rules: Superstitious rules
(16) If you have henna on your body you are considered as an untouchable, so if you have applied henna on your hair or tattooed your arms with henna and you’re waiting to wash it away you aren’t allowed to eat. (I guess this one could be considered as part of the purity-related Hindu rules as well.)
(17) You can’t cut your hair, shave or cut your nails on Tuesday and Saturday – supposedly because those are Hanuman‘s days.
(18) If by inadvertence you touch something (e.g a book, an instrument, anything) or someone with your feet, you must apologise to it/him/her by touching it/him/her and then taking your hand to your heart – the same respect gesture you do to your elders, your teachers, etc.
(19) If someone or something is on the floor and in your way, you must not walk over but around them/it, as it is considered bad luck or a lack of respect.
(20) One does not sweep the floor after dawn.
(21) When you are driving, if a cat crosses the road in front of your vehicle you must stop it and wait until another vehicle comes in the other direction to take the road again.
To get an idea of how this sorts of rules have made me feel, you can read my post about Durga Puja & how it must feel to be an untouchable.