String of Lemon, Charcoal and Chillies: What’s the big deal?

Anand Prince
II MA, Journalism and Mass Communication

For a shopper, the string of lemon, charcoal and chillies, hanging in front of the shops may not make any sense. But, for a shopkeeper who runs the business, that string and what it does is a big deal. I was curious about this practice and so during one of my reporting assignments I stepped out of KJC to find out. I spoke to a shopkeeper J.K Myladi, the owner of a shop in Kothanur. He informed me that there is both science and myth in it. He explained that the scientific part lies in the medicinal values of the combination, while the mythical aspect is connected to the Hinduism’s concept of Alakshmi.

When lemon gets hooked in cotton threads or iron wire, the citric acid inside the fruit gets absorbed in the air. It acts as a repellent which keeps spiders and other insects away from the shop premises. More than science, shopkeepers believe in the myth associated with it. According to Hinduism, there are two siblings Goddesses-Lakshmi and Alakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, health, fortune and prosperity, while Alakshmi is the goddess of misfortune. Hindu religious texts describe that wherever Lakshmi visits, Alakshmi accompanies. Shopkeepers believe fortune brought by Lakshmi will make their business good, and at the same time, the Alakshmi who accompanies will bring bad luck.

There are usually seven chillies, one lemon and a piece of charcoal in a string. Another shopkeeper Krishna Vyas, a senior grocery wholesaler in the area says that Goddess of misfortune, Alakshmi likes bitter, spice and hot things. The lemon in the string offer sour and bitter taste, chillies are spicy and charcoal signifies something that is hot. People believe as Alakshmi comes, she has to be served with her much loved food at the door in the form of string offerings. So that she enjoys it and goes away without entering the shop. There are shopkeepers who replace the lemons and chillies in routine basis to keep it fresh.

Majority of merchandisers in the locality also believe that this string will dash away malevolent spirits caused due to evil eye. On the other hand, there is a small group of people who do not believe in the concept. Some traders, without even knowing why it is hung, follow the custom practiced by their ancestors.

There is a notion that beliefs, or so called myths are only meant for rural areas and people who are illiterate. But, a semi-urban place like Kothanur is not too far away from following it. As the shopkeepers opine, in business, whether it is large scale or small scale, sometimes intuitions work better than logic.

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