Taboo a Polynesian word that literally means inviolable or forbidden. Taboo makes certain things or certain persons as exception in consideration of purity or impurity. Words considered filthy in meaning are called 'taboo words'. Taboo is interpreted as (a) the pure or impure stages of things or persons; (b) the forbidding order arising out of such states of purity or impurity; and (c) consequences of violation of such forbidding words. Taboo aims at (a) protecting the social and spiritual leaders or, important persons or properties from danger or loss; (b) protecting weaker sections of population namely, women, children and elderly, and the common people from the evils of magic; (c) keeping oneself safe from ominous consequence of touching a dead body; (d) ensuring safety in birth, marriage and sex activities; (e) protection against anger of angels and evil spirits; and (f) protection of fetus in mother's womb. In addition, taboo has its role in protecting personal property, crops, tools etc from thieves.
Taboo has influenced man and society from very ancient times. Even today, old faiths and rituals shaped taboo in the life style of general and tribal people. The tribal people conceive of various spiritual powers within the limited boundaries of time and space, good and evil, pure and impure. They remain devoted to their rituals and follow principles by which something is not right to do or something is forbidden without going into any reasoning and taking these do's and don'ts as self evident. They also believe that whoever violates these do's and don'ts must be severely punished. Anything that is pure uncommon and at the same time, seriously unholy and peculiar, is included in taboo. Many, however, believe that any religious practice that creates fear in human mind is a taboo.
Many among the aborigines believe that taboos are imposed upon from the outer world. Most likely, the old generation passed on taboos to their descendants. The process continued for generations and no one can violate them due to social pressure. Faith in unseen and divine authority, prayer during eclipse, throwing cooked food (except milk) after eclipse, pilgrimage for purification form sin etc are some such taboo that sustained for centuries.
Taboos are not merely psychological beliefs. They generate repentance for evil deeds, killings etc and the fear of punishment. Taboo is the dictation of conscience. The Greek legend says Oedipus did wrong and although he did not do it at his will and was rather forced to commit the evil, he could not free his mind from guilty conscience.
Fear of the acts of evil spirit after death is widely present in tribal people. Dreadful fears exist among the Maoris, Australian Negroes, and the Eskimos. Faith in life after death among the believers of different religions in the conception of heaven and hell, wishing salvation of soul of dead persons and placing articles of daily use with coffin etc are just the same.
In reminiscing his early life, rabindranath tagore narrated how his caretaker Shyam once kept him confined for safety in a corner of the house by drawing a circle around him and cautioning him not to go out of its boundaries. In ramayana, we find how Lakshman did the same thing for the protection of Sita who, however, did not abide by and was thus kidnapped by Ravana appearing in disguise of a beggar.
Taboos are still often found to dominate the ways of both tribal and non-tribal people of Bangladesh. The Tribal people living in the hilly areas strongly observe their religious beliefs and rituals. Even many educated people also practice rituals believing that these would keep them safe from dangers. Many people educated and uneducated consult Panjika looking for auspicious time for marriage, business, journey and so on.
Formerly, the primitive people who moved from place to place in search of food used to face different problems believed to be generated by evil powers and to get away from them, they sought the help of some good spirits. [Balal Muhammad]