Weird Things That Only Happen In India

Here are some curious traditions and fun facts about India!

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Arguably among the most rich and varied cultures in the world, India is brimming with colorful customs and traditions. And while many of these Indian customs are undoubtedly beautiful, there are a few that seem pretty unusual to outsiders. From frog weddings to very unconventional medicine, let’s delve into some of the unbelievable things, both common and rare alike, that happen in India!

Stray Cows

Barring Antarctica, every continent in the world is home to at least one breed of cattle, making cows one of the most widespread animals on Earth. And with 305 million of them moseying around India, there are almost the same amount of cows in India as there are people in the US!

And, on the streets of Indian cities, it’s not hard to come by a stray heifer or two. And that’s a severe understatement, as in fact, there are an estimated 5 million stray cows in India! That is down to religion as according to Hinduism, cows are sacred. And with 80% of India’s population being Hindu, cattle slaughter is prohibited in many states.

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While slaughtering is mostly prohibited, milk and dairy aren’t. However, when a farmer can no longer yield milk from a cow, more often than not he has no option but to release it into the wild, as keeping it would be too expensive. This, coupled with inconsistent legal management of cattle breeding, is why there are so many strays on the loose.

There are, of course, cow shelters, but with only 1,800 across India, there’s simply no room at the inn for the 5 million strays. As a result, they’re left to roam the land and often end up strolling among citizens. And, on rare occasions, you might just see one hopping aboard a bus downtown.

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Indian Police Given Mustache Pay

It’s pretty standard for most workplaces to have a uniform or dress code. And the same rings true in India, except, for policemen. There’s one bizarre rule when it comes to their uniform. In the state of Madhya Pradesh specifically, police officers are preferred to have mustaches. According to one district police chief, mustaches assert masculinity and demand respect.

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Some departments even pay a handsome bonus of 30 rupees a month for those with a furry upper lip, which is only around 66 US cents. But India’s cost of living is also lower, so it goes a little further. The chief explained how he was convinced to try this initiative when he witnessed how people seemed more ‘respectful’ and ‘pleasant’ toward officers with facial hair.

But is there a method to this madness? Apparently, yes. Multiple studies have found that participants perceive men with more facial hair as being more masculine, dominant, strong, and even aggressive, which can, at times, be advantageous qualities in a policeman.

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Frog Weddings To Please Rain God

Marriage, generally speaking, tends to be reserved for us humans. However, in parts of India, they seem to extend the holy matrimony out to the animal kingdom too. And there are some pretty interesting reasons as to why.

Predominantly in the village of Bhopal, locals believe that if frogs are wedded in a traditional Hindu ceremony, then it will appease Indra, the Hindu deity of rain. It’s thought that within days of being brought together in holy matrimony, the ritual will put an end to the dry period and the heavens will burst open, nourishing the lands with floods of water.

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Yet, sometimes the amphibian passion flame can burn just a little too bright, as one frog husband and wife in 2019 were forced to divorce after their marriage was suspected of causing severe flooding. Locals asserted that separating the frogs was the only practical solution to stop the rain. And thus, this little Romeo and his Juliette were torn apart.

Indian Girl Marries A Stray Dog

But it’s not just the frogs who are getting hitched. In fact, in certain remote areas of Eastern India, some villagers believe that a person born under the influence of Mars, or Mangala in Hindu astrology, is said to have ‘Mangala Dosha’.

Essentially, this is a curse that is said to have catastrophic effects on the person’s future marriage. So, to rid themselves of the curse, there is only one option: to marry a dog.

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It may sound bizarre, but the villagers believe that if the Mangala Dosha sufferer marries a stray dog, the curse will be imposed onto the dog instead of any future human spouse, freeing up the sufferer for a real marriage down the line. The marriage is, of course, not legally binding, but the ceremony alone is thought to be enough to ward off the bad juju.

Indian Toilets

Forgive me for lowering the tone, but if you think about it, us Westerners wiping our behinds with dry toilet paper isn’t hygienically as ideal as we usually assume. Essentially, we’re smudging at least some of the human waste into our skin to dry until we shower it off later.

So, it’s understandable why Indians, and many other cultures in the Asian continent, have taken a different approach. According to Wikipedia, 95% of the Indian population use some form of water cleansing method after going number 2.

Admittedly, this can sometimes be as simple as a water bucket and rag, but many Indians have something a little more sophisticated: a handheld bidet conveniently located beside toilets.

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With this, they can easily shower away any debris. This certainly has the potential to be a much cleaner method. And this isn’t the only thing that makes Indian throne rooms different from those in the West.

In India, toilets are often effectively just holes in the ground to squat over. And while on the surface, this might seem overly simplistic at the cost of comfort, there are alleged health benefits to the squatting position.

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Due to the positioning, various Indian medical journals claim the waste can leave the body more efficiently, as the squat relaxes your puborectalis muscle more and straightens out your colon. This allegedly helps clear you fully out and can prevent ailments ranging from constipation to colon cancer.

Fish Prasadam: Swallowing Live Fish To Cure Asthma

Thankfully, these days science has led us to medications for most ailments. Heartburn? Take an antacid. Headache? Get a divorce. Asthma? While accredited scientists generally suggest treating it with tablets and inhalers, some Indian traditionalists have other interesting ideas.

In the city of Hyderabad, the Goud family has been creating and performing curative rituals for 5 generations, one of these being ‘Fish Prasadam’. Everything starts pretty normal, as the Goud family creates a signature herbal paste; a closely-guarded secret family recipe.

However, things take a turn when they stuff the paste into the mouth of a live Murrel fish and then, encourage the live fish down an asthma sufferers throat. Strange as it might sound, the Goud’s claim that when the wriggling fish squirms through the body, it clears phlegm congestion and alleviates asthma. It also allegedly induces certain enzymes in the stomach that can be curative.

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But is there any evidence to support this? Respiratory expert, Dr. Vyakarnam Nageshwar, suggests this is nonsense, given that asthma is in no way related to the esophagus, the stomach lining, nor the release of enzymes. But how about the thousands of people that have the treatment? One person said that he’s been taking the medicine annually for the past 8 years, and while it hasn’t cured him, it does relieve his symptoms for up to a year at a time.

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Overloaded Vehicles

According to Indian news sources like OneIndia, it’s pretty much a cultural norm for Indian family and friends to cramp and crush into vehicles wherever there be space, often resulting in folks haphazardly teetering atop vehicles.

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So much so, that a recent national law had to specifically forbid it. The act, which was introduced in 2019, prohibits motorcyclists from having 2 or more passengers, or face a penalty of around 2,000 rupees. Which is actually only equivalent to around $25, though with a lower cost of living and the average wage in India, this is a fairly notable fine.

Still, it seems to have done the trick, as stats show a dramatic decrease in road accidents between 2019 and 2020, falling from 151,000 to 131,000, the lowest it’s been since 2009! Unsurprisingly, not balancing precariously on moving vehicles leads to a decrease in accidents!

Coconuts Everywhere

With over 11 million tons of coconut yielded each year, India is one of the leading coconut producers in the world. And with these credentials, it’s no surprise that the coconut plays an integral part of the Indian economy. Not only is it prevalent in cuisine, but it’s also believed by some to have spiritual properties, being a divine fruit of the Gods and a big part of many Hindu traditions and customs.

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With all this importance surrounding the coconut, it’s become a lucrative industry. Every day coconut harvesters will climb up trees to get their haul and then take it to market. What’s more, the leftover husks are sold to be used for their fiber, which can be used to make mats, brushes, and mattresses.

Although, in the spirit of Indians often times overloading their vehicles, just take a look at this coconut husk collector who seemed to get a little carried away.

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To Western eyes, this might seem like insanity. But, considering the things we’ve already learned happening on the Indian roads, as well as the fact that coconut husks require very large quantities to be profitable, this is probably just another everyday occurrence!

Kesh Lochan Hair Plucking

With religion often come certain rules and restrictions and the ancient Indian religion of Jainism has one of the most unique rituals. Followers of the Jain Dharma strongly believe in reincarnation, meaning their souls are trapped in infinite cycles of being reborn into different living vessels.

And the only way to free your soul from this is to achieve enlightenment, typically after being trained as a monk or nun. However, despite what Whoopi Goldberg’s ‘Sister Act’ might tell you, the road to becoming a nun isn’t always so easy!

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Step number one for a Jain nun is preparation. To prepare, she will be sent off to live with other nuns, completely isolated from her family, sometimes even for years at a time. After this, the initiation tests commence. The nun-in-training will be reunited with her family and tempted by the comforts of home.

It’s important that she is able to detach from family, as once she is a nun, she’ll no longer be a part of her biological family, in a spiritual sense. Next, she must symbolically marry her religion. A lavish ceremony is thrown in her honor. Showered with gifts and adoration, this is also the last opportunity for her family to treat her as their own.

However, it’s the next part of initiation that is the real test and perhaps the most obscure. Let phase ‘Kesh Lochan’ commence. In order to prove their devotion and indifference to vanity and worldly pains, the Jain must get rid of their hair, but not with shavers; they must have it plucked out, one by one. Only then, will the Jain be initiated into the nunnery, or monastery for the guys.

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Maramadi: Bull Surfing In Kerala

Strangely, while cattle are largely seen as a sacred animal in India, so much so that eating beef is frowned upon in many states, some Indians seem to have no problem with putting cattle to the test in sports. This takes place in a bull surfing festival known as Maramadi.

Until recently, every August in certain villages in the state of Kerala, locals gathered to watch the spectacle. To prepare for this sport, a field or arena, is prepared by being freshly plowed and covered in about half a foot of water, as to create a sloppy, muddy surface.

A pair of bulls are then hitched together in a harness that has a wooden beam attached. The racer then hops aboard, grabbing the bulls by their tails and having them dash around the sludgy ring, trying not to fall off the contraption.

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And while this has been a tradition in Kerala for many generations, the festival of late has come under fire from animal welfare activists. So much so that the sport was nationally banned in May 2014.

Sportsmen claim this is unfair and have pleaded with the government to lift the ban, as they have an ‘emotional bond’ with the bulls. However, the Indian government has some doubts about just how mutual that sporting enthusiasm is!

Joota Chupai, The Shoe Stealing Game

We all know that the average Indian wedding looks quite a bit different to what most Westerners are accustomed to. But beyond the spectacular dress code, dancing, and décor, there are certain rituals and traditions that go on during an Indian wedding that might seem especially novel to Western folk. Take, for example, Joota Chupai.

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Joota Chupai is a Southeast Asian wedding custom typically performed at Hindu and Muslim wedding ceremonies. And while marriage is often serious and sacred, this is intended to be nothing but a bit of fun.

What happens is the groom will wear a pair of special embroidered shoes, otherwise known as ‘Joota’. It’s customary that when the groom approaches the mandap or the altar, he must remove his shoes. But here comes trouble, as the women on the bride’s side of the family will sneak over and mischievously hide the groom’s shoes.

The groom and his family then search for the shoes, but, in most cases, their effort will prove in vain. So, in order to retrieve the shoes, the groom must pay a ransom for his shoes, thus ending the light-hearted ritual.

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But is there a point to this? Besides the fun, it’s also intended to show acceptance between the two joining families, signifying a lifetime of fun and happiness together, sealed with a little monetary deal!

Never Point Your Finger

Indians have some very specific rules regarding their hands and gestures. First of all, in India, you should never point. Pointing is reserved for animals and people of a lower class. When among those who are deemed as of higher class under the Indian caste system, to show respect, you’re expected to gesture with either your chin or a flat palm facing skyward.

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Eating And The Right-Hand Rule

Also, wherever possible, Indians are expected to touch items and food with their right hands. Due to India’s typical toilet habits, which we’ve already discussed, the left hand typically has unhygienic connotations.

Something that wasn't mentioned earlier is that sometimes the wiping process is carried out entirely using water and a bare left hand. So you can see why this might seem slightly icky to use with food, even after being thoroughly washed.

This brings us to the next point. For the most part, Indian people rarely use cutlery. Instead, most simply use their hands. The belief is that dining should be a sensual activity involving as many senses as possible. Sight, smell, taste, and even touch.

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Rice, for example, is usually mixed with curry, scooped up with the fingers, and pushed in the mouth. This might seem impolite to a Western mindset, but is completely normal to Indians! Food is typically also made to be bite-sized, making things like knives largely unnecessary at the dinner table.

Indian Men Holding Hands

This next one is perhaps the most intriguing custom of the bunch. It’s no secret that India hasn’t always been so forthcoming with homosexual relationships, considering that intimate relationships between same-sex couples were only legalized in 2018.

Yet, this attitude towards same-sex affection isn’t exactly consistent although, physical affection isn’t exactly seen in the same way as it typically is in Western countries like the USA. In India, it’s reportedly normal for two men to stroll around town holding hands, without being considered romantically involved.

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On the other hand, public-displays-of-affection between a couple, hetero or otherwise, is discouraged, and seen as largely inappropriate. PDA, it seems, is strictly reserved for best buddies.

Strange Laws

As we’ve already discussed, some Indian policemen are paid a bonus for their mustache. A similar idea extends to motor vehicle inspectors, who are workers responsible for issuing driver's licenses, and validating vehicle safety and tax checks. These officials, by law, were apparently required to have good teeth as per the 1914 motor vehicles act.

This odd, vintage clause remained in Indian law all the way up until 2017! According to online news outlets, the law stated that motor vehicle inspectors would legally have to brush their teeth twice a day to prevent decay, or subsequently face dismissal.

It’s unclear how this law emerged, though it likely came down to respectability being tied to good hygiene and a tidy appearance.

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Elsewhere in India’s judicial system, there’s another strange law lurking, It’s illegal to fly a kite without a permit. Why? As per the 1934 aircraft act, a kite is apparently considered an aircraft, thus making it technically illegal to fly one unpermitted. And it’s completely valid, who knows what terrors could happen should an unpermitted kite flyer get behind the string?

Overcrowded Trains

With more than 23 million passengers a day, India’s railway network is a popular choice for commuters. However, in India, the work commute can be a matter of life or death. With folk toppling out of insanely overfilled trains every day, people routinely lose their lives en route, with a staggering 27,000 train-related demises back in 2014. But why are the trains so full?

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The train’s popularity comes down to its cheapness. It’s the most affordable transport for the many who don’t simply sneak on for free, as the government heavily controls the fares to keep them low. Due to this, the railway makes little profit and can’t afford to supply the demand with more train services, nor to maintain railway facilities safely.

This means issues such as derailments frequently occur. Which, as you can imagine, is extra dangerous when hundreds of people play bucking bronco on top of the train. Also, mix in the fact that there’s a lack of safe crossings and bridges over the railway, and it’s easy to see how India’s railways are death traps.

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Nazim Ali Fire Haircut

In India’s capital, New Delhi, barber Nazim Ali offers a unique service where he cuts his customers’ hair by setting it alight! After 27 years of experience cutting hair, Nazim decided to experiment by literally playing with fire.

His technique entails him pouring a flammable powder and top-secret liquid onto the customer’s hair. After that, the hair is ablaze and Nazim skillfully runs a comb through the hair and shapes it into a freshly baked trim, extinguishing the flame with the perfect hair length remaining.

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You might be thinking ‘setting people’s hair on fire sure sounds dangerous and painful’. And while you might assume that, Nazim and his customers insist otherwise, so much so that the practice is reportedly spreading throughout the region and beyond.

One of Nazim’s customers even said "It looks dangerous, but it’s not. I didn’t feel the sensation of burning". It somewhat makes sense, given that hair doesn’t typically burn all that effectively without some chemical assistance. So, once the powder burns off, the risk of things getting out of control is pretty low.

If you were amazed at these fun facts about India, you might want to read our article about weird things that only happen in China. Thanks for reading.

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