Why the evil eye emoji is ubiquitous on social media
Amrita Dhar was inspired by her friend to use the evil eye emoji on social media posts, comments and captions. The 23-year-old human resources manager said her friend has had problems with vaccinations, visa procedures and finding a job abroad. Discouraged, her friend began using the evil eye emoji on all of her social media posts that she didn’t want to jinx. Slowly, she claimed, things were starting to fall into place. Dhar was convinced the cobalt blue eye emoji held a power that protected her friend from “nazar,” or the “evil eye.” She too started using it on her social media profiles. “If it helps her, maybe it will help me,” she told VICE of her belief.
If you’re from a South Asian household, you’ve probably heard your parents or relatives say “nazar lag gayi” (you got the evil eye). But “Nazar” is hardly a South Asian concept. The evil eye is believed to date back 3,000 years ancient Roman and Greek cultures, and is found relevant in Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The belief is that anyone who has more than their “fair share” of wealth, success, health and happiness, or anything else that could be considered valuable, may draw envy or the evil eye – be it intentional or not . This envy can turn into a curse, causing a person to lose that very trait or perceived advantage.
“Nazar” is also used to refer to the now-ubiquitous eye-shaped amulet, thought to have originated in Turkey at least 3,000 years ago. The belief in the amulet, which is said to have the power to ward off the “evil eye”, transcends cultures and generations. Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex is credited with popularizing the talisman after wearing it Accessories with the amulet in 2019 and 2020. Soon after, the symbol was reimagined on everything from clothing and home decor manicure and tattoos.
Recently, the Nazar Amulet emoji has also taken over the digital world, where it can often be seen in messages, captions, WhatsApp, Stories and Reels thanks to its widespread use by zoomers and millennials. However, it only makes sense that this superstitious belief would spill over into the digital realm considering that these platforms are mostly for the general public.
Launched on all SMS platforms in 2018 by the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organization whose mission includes the development of software internationalization standards and data, there are slight differences in emoji design depending on the social media platform it’s accessed on. The WhatsApp and Facebook designs feature a small hole at the top, as if the amulet were being threaded on a string or chain, while the Instagram design consists of dark blue, white, and light blue concentric circles with a black dot in the center. And it has found many takers on all platforms.
Graduate student Konpal Kaur refrains from sharing her academic achievements, the achievements of her friends, or anything concerning her partner on any social media platform. “Every time I’ve posted about it [something] which I appreciate, I could feel the bad juju of the digital world carry over to the real world,” she explained.
However, Kaur admitted that their belief in Nazar is not entirely rational. “[It’s] Share blind faith, but anything that gives you hope in this world you take with both hands.” While she sends evil-eyed emojis in messages to her friends when the news is positive, she makes sure to include them discreetly on her Instagram stories and hiding them behind images to “not draw unnecessary attention”. Kaur takes it a step further by wearing her evil eye amulet when posting on social media.
When Aditi Goel, an illustrator, arrived at her new job, she made sure the option to notify people was turned off on her LinkedIn profile. “I try to have a private life, but there are also certain things I want to share,” she said, adding that when she shares, she makes sure to include the talismanic evil eye emoji at the end. “Someone tagged me on Instagram with a positive video from my workplace. My friends responded positively and I gave everyone the evil eye. I was so afraid of it [their messages] could attract bad energy!”
While Goel firmly believes in the power of Nazar, Dhar admits it could be her “delusion”. “Maybe it’s my weak conscience or my fragile mind that blames other people and says it didn’t happen because they didn’t want it to, but in the end I feel like it would have been better if I kept it.” would have for myself,” Dhar said.
When she recently shared pictures of a friend and her on Instagram Stories, she “protected” it with the evil eye emoji because the caption described her dream trip to Paris. “I typically use the emoji when I’m sharing certain aspects of something that’s out of my control – like health or travel. It’s a comforting balm for me, for my sanity’s sake,” she added.
Delhi-based fashion designer Saurabh Kumar says that while he doesn’t know if the evil eye amulet emoji works, he believes in its holistic power and tries to “manifest it to make it work”.
“I release this energy to cancel out any negative energy around me,” he said. Kumar uses the emoji to protect everything from his house to his pet and family to his partner from “Nazar” because he noticed things were successively “hexed” after he started sharing aspects of his life on the social to share media. “I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but I think it’s the lifestyle I’m living right now that I essentially want to protect.”
Abstinence from social media does not apply to influencers, even if they believe in Nazar, as their profession often requires them to post online frequently. If Aishwarya Sharma – known as @figuramoda to her Instagram followers and who describes herself as a “fashion activist” – started generating a lot of interest in her content, she became even more aware of Nazar and started using the evil eye emoji frequently in her Instagram stories, videos, comments and to use captions. “I’m obsessed with this symbol. I’m usually very private about my life. So when I share something about my family or friends on my Instagram, I make sure to put the evil eye emoji. I want to share that it is sacred. It is a manifestation of setting the symbol that this is certain.”
Sushant Divgikar, a queer activist and one of India’s most popular drag artists, was often said “tumko nazar lag gayi” (you got the evil eye) when something negative happened to him. But they refused to believe it until they became a social media figure and influencer. “When there is hate on social media, it impacts in ways that cannot be explained,” they said.
Divgikar said that besides the fact that “the evil eye symbol is quite beautiful to look at,” they also use it to protect anything positive and cheerful. They referenced one of their recent posts – a video starring Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha – in which they used the emoji in the caption “to keep the good vibes”.
But can the Nazar be broadcast virtually? This is probably as superfluous a question as asking whether the Nazar can be sent at all. After all, superstition often amounts to mere belief without any evidence. However, the famous astrologer Sundeep Kochar does not believe that Nazar and the power of the evil eye extend to digital space. “It’s the person’s insecurity, the fear of losing something they’ve achieved, that drives them to protect it with the symbol,” he said. “It’s kind of become an aesthetic because of its worldwide popularity.”
Be it a staunch belief system, sheer uncertainty about digital media’s often overwhelming reach, or simply its aesthetic, there’s no denying that the use of the evil eye transcends Reel and real life. As Goel said, “I don’t know if it actually works or not, but I feel protected laying out the emoji.”