Apotropaism in a Punjabi Indian Restaurant
in Philadelphia

Garlic is used around the world as an apotropaion. One day I noticed that a restaurant that I frequented (it closed and moved) hung a string of garlic in the doorway with the doorbells and chimes on a red ribbon. There are five cloves; five being an apotropaic number.

The restaurant was family owned and operated. The family is Sikh though they are obviously not strict. For instance, few of the men cover their hair, but they had Guru Nanak portrayed behind the counter and I have seen them wearing Sikh pendants and such.

On the night that I took my camera in to snap a photo of it, our waiter was one of the newer people there, and one of the friendlier and more talkative. I believe he had only been with them for two years or so. Curious to see what reaction I would get, I asked him what the garlic was for.

"It is a good luck omen" he said.

I smiled and said back at him grinning as if I might know better.

"It isn't to ward away evil spirits?"

"You could say that as well" he replied, smiling.

Before getting to the restaurant, I had just been discussing the use of red rags and ribbons to ward off the evil eye with one of my housemates.

After questioning our waiter, I looked up at the window and noticed red bows affixed to a plant on the other side of the front window from the door. There was another bow in the middle of the front over a menu and yet another on the red ribbon supporting the doorbells. This means they had the front pretty well covered. I had noticed the prevalence of red bows, cloth and ribbon decorations in Indian restaurants before, but didn't make the apotropaic connection. Looking at the bows on the plant, it immediately occurred to me.

When our waiter returned, I asked him if the ribbons performed the same function. He replied that he thought they were just for decoration. I am rather convinced that an older member of the family put them up to ward off the evil eye, as would be a rather common practice.


The Indian Collection


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