Fear of the evil eye

Myth Theory 13 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree, February 06, 2011

In Varanasi, there is the temple of Kal-Bhairav, the fierce form of Shiva. In this temple, surrounding the shrine are priests who are famous for jhaadna or jharra, or dusting, using black chamars made of horse tail or peacock feathers. This is done to ward away negative forces and malevolent spirits commonly known as the evil eye.

Since ancient times people have feared the evil eye. When children fall sick for no apparent reason, when things suddenly start to go wrong, when numerous obstacles appear after initial success, people say, the evil eye has struck. In local languages it is known as nazar or drishti. This idea is found in almost every corner of the world. Ancient Irish legends speak of the evil eye of Balor, the one-eyed giant which inspired the concept of the Eye of Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. There may be slight variations. Instead of the evil eye, people may use terms like ‘curse’ or ‘hex’. But fundamentally, it is havoc stemming from a neighbour’s envy.

The best way to understand the concept of evil eye, is to accept the idea of auras. Every human being has an aura around them. This is known as the subtle body. It is a kind of energy shield emerging from our physical and mental health status. A beautiful or healthy object has positive aura, which is why looking upon them makes us happy; they energize us. An ugly or unhealthy object has negative aura, which is why looking upon them makes us unhappy; they sap us of energy. It is possible to draw energy from positive aura objects and lose energy to negative aura objects. Exposure to positive aura objects makes us feel empowered and excited. Exposure to negative aura objects makes us feel drained and tired and sick. Evil eye can then be the force that causes us to lose our aura, feel drained and disempowered.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the “Eye of Horus” protected oneself from the evil eye. Ancient Romans used phallic images to keep away bad luck. In modern day Turkey, the blue ‘Nazar’ amulet is sold in every market. Now they have become popular in India too. In many Arab countries one finds the hand of Fatima or Khamsa or Hamsa, which is a palm-shaped amulet to ward away the evil eye. Many Muslims believe that saying ‘Mashallah,’ or ‘God wills it’ creates a protective shield from evil eye. The apparently modern idea of ‘keeping fingers crossed’ has its origin in using the crucifix to keep away evil and ensure success.

People believed, and still believe, that some people possess the evil eye. Their glance or gaze results in loss of energy. They spread negativity wherever they go. They feed on other people’s energy. The concept of witch and vampire has its origins in this idea. Then there are people who grant energy copiously; these are the saints and the gods and the holy men, even performers and film stars, who attract vast crowds.

Anyone can possess the evil eye transiently. This follows envy, or even adoration, of something pretty or beautiful, like a child, who is most susceptible to nazar. Inadvertently, even a mother’s gaze, can drain the child of positive aura resulting in sickness. To protect the child from this, people use various kinds of talismans. The most common one is the nazar ka tika, or black dot put prominently on the child’s face. Other practices include bathing with rock salt or tying a black thread to the right arm or ankle. The ultimate practice is to visit shrines because divine grace is the very opposite of the evil eye. Belief in evil eye is so deep that it is said in Nathdvara temple of Srinathji even the Lord can be affected by the nazar of adoring devotees which is why his image at the haveli is shown fleetingly by opening and shutting of the curtain during jhanki and by dusting the sacred image with peacock feathers.

  • Nataraj

    Dear Devdutt,


    Nice article and I do accept the concept of aura, I had done some Googling on this topic recently………but one thing I could NOT get was when some wear amulet/ black thread/ or doa Pooja or “mantra” or get holy water sprayed at a mosque….does the aura of the individual come back to normal..all websites were quiet about it…does the speed of getting back aura is dependant on any factors!!!!.any thoughts on that…



    • Vijaya

      This is just my theory.

      Each person has an aura field. Whether this is hindered or not by evil eye – we cant say for sure. However, when the positiveness is depleted for any reason, perhaps it affects the person. Or the other way, if something goes wrong, they lose the positive aura.

      Doing acts to ward off evil eye is perhaps psychologically protecting the person. They feel stronger that they have this protection and perhaps this restores some positivity and aura.

      So by this theory, the stronger a person’s belief in the remedy, the faster it can work for them.

      So, it is all in the mind. :-)

      • sanjay

        I fully agree with this. Its all in the mind. We do all kinds of rituals and superstitious things to tell our mind ‘all izz well’.

    • I don’t think the idea behind cure is reclaiming the aura, rather the cures are supposed to prevent further drainage of energy. You can draw analogy from the concept of the mythical creatures vampires. Vampires were considered evil as they consumed another form of life-force – blood. Bible forbids eating of blood [“But you are not to eat meat with blood in it. (Blood is life.) Genesis 9:4 ]

      In case of vampires too, the remedy sought was not reclaiming the blood already lost, but preventing further attacks

  • Chandra Sekar

    Nice and relevant article Mr.Dev Dutt!

    Nazar is one thing, whether you believe in it or not, I have come to understand that one cannot ignore it. I had this boil on my ankle that had swollen up and infected.Every medication from turmeric to antibiotics to ointments were tried but none worked. This is when someone said that this could be coz I would have stepped on or crossed over a discarded talisman (you can find it on every Indian road, especially on Friday’s, in the form of chillies, lemons, pumpkins, coconuts etc..). It was cured after a month or so. But the scar and the question still remain!

    Its believed that crystal salt can absorb the ill effects of dhrishti and the amount of splatter it creates when discarded in fire indicates the amount/severity of the dhrishti!

    Also, the popularity of the images of KaNN (means eye in Tamil) Dhrishti Ganeshji ( that is available in every nook and corner in Tamil Nadu these days is evidence enough.

    Also, in the northern parts of the country, one will frequently notice chappals hanging in front of lorries and auto rickshaws and the words “Burre nazarwale tera muh kaala” at the back.

    You believe in it or not, you can’t ignore it!

  • Ranadeep

    A very insightful and educative piece. Great article.

  • Kishan

    Apart from Nazar the envious people take the help of Tantriks to bring harm to the objects of their envy. And apparently it works.Envy being a negative force should first of all harm the envious but the Tantriks seem to help the envious there also.

  • Devduttji,
    I wonder why you haven’t included psi-vampires or is the life-force that they claim to feed on different from aura ?

    The main difference would actually be the fact that psi-vampirism is outside the concept of morality. So the word “evil eye” may not apply in their cases.

  • Nikhil Gokhale

    So when Gandhari opened her blindfold and saw Duryodhana he got her positive energy…If she had thought ill about duryodhana he would have gone down before fighting…Interesting…

    • Sandeep

      When the same Gandhari’s wrathful sight fell on Yudhishthira’s toe from under her blindfold, his toe became black and sore.

  • vidya

    When we believe in our own karma, how can we believe in the evil eye? I feel belief in evil eye is the ultimate immature reaction-whatever bad happens to me is due to your fault, not due to my fault. When a child learning to walk falls, some parents comfort and distract the child by mock beating the floor. May be the habit continues!

  • Sathya Prakash

    Evil Eye is most dangerous. Only good people and hard working people suffer from evil eyes. All religions belive in evil eye.

  • orchid

    still trying to figure out evil eye, interesting post, people are able to harm others I guess it depends on your belief in your own abilities and to say believing in your own karma, if you believe in reincarnation then you can only control certain aspects of your karma, there may be things from before that need to be dealt with. As for ‘all in the mind’ the mind is an extremely under rated ‘tool’, and under used. We have the ability to do many many things with our minds but todays societies will have you believe that this is all hocus pocus – magic has been westernised and ridiculed yet many people use magic to make a difference in their lives – as I understood it the word magic is derived from a sanskrit word which evades me know but its meaning was to have higher knowledge and ‘better’ knowledge for the purpose of healing and effecting change. It is neither black nor white, it is the intention of the user that determines its positivity or negativity and I guess the evil eye as such is ‘magic’ in its basic and raw form?? I also guess its not that all religions believe in the evil eye but all cultures from long ago have for some reason a belief that a certain look could cause harm, these ‘myths’ are usually rooted in some form of truth.