Left and Right

Maria has spotlighted this topic this Friday.

March Past

There is a story related in Tamil Nadu about how the British taught ‘native’ recruits to their army to march. Somehow in all this glorification of the British might, the fact that Tamil Nadu had great warrior kings and their famous armies who conquered large tracts of the sub-continent and beyond the seas to Far eastern lands, has been conveniently forgotten. To get back to marching, recruits could just not understand the concept of ‘left’ and ‘right’ that was the guiding commands to make the soldiers go forward in step with each other. So the left leg ‘kaal’ was tied up with palm (olai) fronds and the right with ‘sheela’ or cloth. The sergeants shouted ‘ola kaal’ and the soldiers put forward their left leg. To the command of ‘sheela kaal’ they put their right foot out….and that is how they learnt left, right, left right and to march in one step!!


There are people who still find it confusing to say the right from the left…here is a simple way to pinpoint the ‘left’!


The thumb and forefinger form a natural L, doesn’t it?

Right foot forward

To many of us this is just one of those tall tales as every Indian knows that the left hand, even the left side of the body was always considered a slightly degraded part of the body. This was due to the fact that the left hand was used to wash your private parts. Anything auspicious was performed with the right hand…puja, cooking, eating….everything is associated with the Divine. The sacred thread is even today put on facing the left side for rites of passage.

A new daughter-in-law entered her married home putting her right foot first over the threshold.

Bride entering the house of the groom

Bride entering the house of the groom

The couple walked into a new home after performing the Gruhapravesham…entering the family home…by stepping in with their right foot. Usually a cow enters a new abode first…representing Goddess Lakshmi, the harbinger of well beingm, wealth and prosperity. Even the cow was made to place its right foot in first.

Hands on

Many theories abound that as most people are right handed, so the predilection for the right to predominate. However, modern life seems to be throwing up more and more left handers. Decades ago, a child who tried to write with the left hand was punished and forced to develop write handed penmanship that left deep scars in their psyche. Today mostly, a child is allowed to naturally use their left hand. My brother Arvind was forced to develop right handed skills. My two granddaughters are naturally left handed…yet their eating is still done with their right hand. My husband and daughter are ambidexterous. They use the right to write and eat, their left when they pick up a tool like a screwdriver.

Oddly enough, my left side has been weakened from childhood, not naturally but because of a mild attack of polio. With exercises and constant use, the left hand has picked up its strength….but it is still weak.

Astrology and Palmistry

In Indian astrology, a woman’s left hand is taken into account for predictions while for a man, it is the right hand!


I quote from Wikipedia…

“Though there are debates on which hand is better to read from, both have their own significance. It is customary to assume that the left hand shows potential in an individual, and the right shows realized personality.

Some sayings about the significance include

“The future is shown in the right, the past in the left”;
“The left hand is the one we are born with, and the right is what we have made of it”;
“The right hand is read for men, while the left is read for women”;
“The left is what the gods give you, the right is what you do with it”;
“The right hand is read for right-handed people, while the left is read for left-handed people”.

The choice of hand to read is ultimately up to the instinct and experience of the practitioner.

Left: The left hand is usually controlled by the right brain (often believed to direct control pattern recognition, relationship understanding), reflects the inner person, the natural self, the anima, and the lateral thinking.

Right: The right hand is usually controlled by the left brain (often believed to direct logic, reason, and language), reflects the outer person, objective self, influence of social environment, education, and experience. It represents linear thinking.

We also have these constant jokes about countries that drive on the right side of the road like France and USA and those nations that follow the British custom of Keep to the Left!! You can also be confused with the following signboards!!


Left or Right is also associated with politics with many being fence sitters, right in the centre!!

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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9 Responses to Left and Right

  1. shackman says:

    Interesting cultural differences – I don’t recall any lefties being forced to work themselves into righties here but I suppose it did happen. My 5-year old grandson struggles with distinguishing his left from his right.


    • padmum says:

      Many parents did this to kids in my generation….many are still apologetic about their kids being left-handed. Eating with the left hand is culturally a terrible thing to do in India or in Indian homes!!


    • padmum says:

      The question of left and right is a major preoccupation in Indian customs, traditions and folk lore!!


  2. lin heinz says:

    my brother was one of the lefties forced to be right-handed because there were no left handed desks or scissors in the schools in those days. To this day he still has trouble writing and cutting with scissors. Beautiful article, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Grannymar says:

    I know many people who were forced to write with their righht hand insted of the left. One of my sister-in-laws is a flower arranger and to see her use a scissors/clippers is painful. Growing up, there were no left handed scissors and when she was presented with a left handed one a year ago she found it impossible to use.


    • padmum says:

      Till about a decade or so ago I did not know that there was something called Left Handed scissors and tools. Mind you I always wonder why the Americans change tableware the other way around!


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