Understanding Drishti and the Evil Eye


The concept of the "evil eye," known as "Drishti" in many cultures, is a widespread belief that certain individuals possess the power to cause harm, misfortune, or injury through a malevolent gaze. This belief spans across various cultures and religions, from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions to South Asia and beyond. Despite its prevalence, the concept of the evil eye is often misunderstood and shrouded in mystery. This essay aims to explore the origins, cultural significance, protective measures, and contemporary relevance of Drishti and the evil eye.

Origins and Historical Context:

Ancient Beginnings:

The belief in the evil eye can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The earliest references date back to Mesopotamia, where cuneiform texts mention the destructive power of a malicious gaze. The concept also appears in ancient Greek and Roman literature. In ancient Greece, the evil eye, or "baskania," was believed to be a potent force that could cause harm to those who were envied for their beauty, success, or wealth. Similarly, in Roman culture, the "oculus malus" was thought to bring bad luck and misfortune.

Spread Across Cultures:

As civilizations interacted through trade, conquest, and cultural exchange, the belief in the evil eye spread across different regions. In the Middle East, the concept of the "ayn al-hasad" (eye of envy) became deeply rooted in Islamic culture. Jewish traditions also acknowledge the evil eye, known as "ayin hara." In South Asia, particularly in India, the concept of "Drishti" or "Nazar" is prevalent, where it is believed that an envious glance can bring about illness, loss, or other misfortunes.

Cultural Significance and Interpretations:

Symbolism and Beliefs:

The evil eye is often associated with envy and jealousy. It is believed that when someone looks at another person or their possessions with envy, it can result in negative consequences. This belief is rooted in the idea that envy carries a powerful, destructive energy that can manifest as physical or emotional harm.

In many cultures, children and infants are considered particularly vulnerable to the evil eye. This is because they are seen as pure and innocent, making them susceptible to the harmful intentions of others. Pregnant women, animals, crops, and prized possessions are also thought to be at risk.

Protective Symbols and Amulets:

To counteract the effects of the evil eye, various protective symbols and amulets have been developed across cultures. One of the most recognizable symbols is the blue eye amulet, known as "Nazar" in Turkish culture. This amulet is believed to deflect the harmful gaze and protect the wearer from misfortune.

In Hindu culture, black kohl is often applied to children's eyes or a small dot is placed on the forehead to ward off Drishti. Other protective measures include tying black threads around the wrist, hanging lemon and chili charms, or using mirrors to reflect back the evil gaze.

Rituals and Practices:

Rituals to remove the effects of the evil eye are common in many cultures. In India, a practice called "Drishti Suthi" involves performing a cleansing ritual using salt, red chilies, or mustard seeds. The items are waved around the affected person and then burned to symbolically remove the negative energy.

In Mediterranean cultures, a similar ritual called "Ksemati" or "Xematiasma" is performed, where olive oil is used to detect the presence of the evil eye. Drops of oil are placed in a bowl of water, and if the oil forms specific shapes or patterns, it is believed that the person has been affected by the evil eye. Prayers and incantations are then recited to lift the curse.

Some of the most common Indian methods to remove Drishti:

 1. Use of Salt and Chilies

Salt and Red Chilies Ritual
One of the most common methods involves using salt and red chilies. The procedure typically includes the following steps:
- Take a handful of rock salt and a few dried red chilies.
- Hold them in your right hand and rotate them around the affected person's head in a clockwise direction, usually three or seven times.
- The items are then burned in a fire. The belief is that the burning will remove the negative energy associated with Drishti.

 2. Lemon and Chili Charm

Nazar Battu
A popular protective charm in India involves threading a lemon and seven green chilies together.
- This charm is often hung at the entrance of homes, shops, or vehicles to ward off the evil eye.
- It is believed that the sourness of the lemon and the spiciness of the chilies repel negative energies.

 3. Application of Black Kohl (Kajal)

Applying Black Dots
Black kohl, or kajal, is often applied to children to protect them from Drishti.
- A small dot is placed on the forehead or behind the ear.
- This practice is based on the belief that the black dot absorbs negative energies and prevents them from affecting the child.

 4. Use of Mustard Seeds

Mustard Seeds and Red Chilies Ritual
Another common practice involves mustard seeds and red chilies.
- Take a few mustard seeds and dried red chilies.
- Rotate them around the person's head three or seven times.
- Burn the items afterward, which is believed to destroy the negative energy.

 5. Camphor and Ghee Lamps

Lighting Camphor
Lighting camphor in a lamp or burning camphor tablets is a popular method to cleanse a space of negative energies.
- Camphor is placed in a diya (oil lamp) with ghee (clarified butter) and lit.
- The lamp is then moved around the affected person or space in a circular motion, often accompanied by prayers or mantras.

 6. Tying Black Threads

Black Thread on Ankles or Wrists
Tying black threads around the wrists or ankles is a common protective measure.
- The black thread is believed to absorb negative energies and shield the wearer from harm.
- In some regions, a black thread is tied around a child's waist for protection.

 7. Burning Coconut

Coconut Ritual
A coconut is sometimes used in rituals to remove Drishti.
- The coconut is rotated around the person's head several times.
- It is then smashed or burned, symbolizing the destruction of the negative energy.

 8. Rolling Eggs or Limes

Egg or Lime Ritual
This method involves using an egg or a lime to absorb negative energy.
- The egg or lime is rolled over the person's body from head to toe.
- Afterward, it is discarded far from the home, sometimes in running water or a secluded place.

 9. Incense Sticks and Fragrant Smoke

Dhoop or Agarbatti
Burning incense sticks or dhoop (a type of incense) and wafting the fragrant smoke around the person or space is believed to purify and remove negative energies.
- The smoke is moved in a circular motion around the affected person or area.

 10. Reciting Mantras and Prayers

Chanting Specific Mantras
Reciting specific mantras and prayers is a spiritual method to ward off Drishti.
- Mantras like the "Gayatri Mantra" or "Mahamrityunjaya Mantra" are often chanted.
- Prayers are usually accompanied by the burning of incense or camphor for added protection.

Contemporary Relevance

Modern Interpretations and Adaptations:

In contemporary society, the belief in the evil eye continues to hold significance, though it has adapted to modern contexts. In many cultures, the evil eye is seen as a metaphor for the negative effects of jealousy and envy. The protective symbols and amulets have become popular fashion accessories, often worn for their aesthetic appeal as well as their supposed protective properties.

Social media has also brought a new dimension to the belief in the evil eye. The visibility of personal achievements, possessions, and lifestyles on platforms like Instagram and Facebook can trigger envy and jealousy, leading some to believe that they are more susceptible to the negative effects of the evil eye. As a result, the use of protective symbols and hashtags like "blessed" or "nofilter" has become a way to ward off potential envy from others.

Psychological and Sociological Perspectives:

From a psychological perspective, the belief in the evil eye can be seen as a way to explain and cope with misfortunes that lack a clear cause. It provides a sense of control over one's environment by attributing negative events to external forces. This belief can also serve as a social mechanism to regulate envy and promote positive behavior within communities.

Sociologically, the belief in the evil eye reflects the importance of social harmony and the impact of interpersonal relationships on individual well-being. It highlights the potential dangers of envy and the need for protective measures to maintain balance and protect vulnerable members of society.


The concept of Drishti and the evil eye is a fascinating example of how ancient beliefs continue to shape contemporary culture and behavior. Rooted in the fear of envy and the desire for protection, this belief has evolved over time, adapting to different cultural contexts and modern realities. Whether viewed as a supernatural force or a metaphor for the destructive power of envy, the evil eye remains a powerful symbol of the human experience, reflecting our need for security, harmony, and understanding in an ever-changing world.