Monday, January 26, 2009
Lore surrounding Solar Eclipse
Today there was solar eclipse. It was partially visible in India although not in Bangalore I guess. My Mom told us to not venture out today and not to eat during this period. While I don't believe in this superstition, that got me thinking. I am sure Indians are not the only ones with superstitions around celestial events. All ancient civilizations must have them as well. A bit of quality time with Google and we have lots of interesting stuff.
Early humans thought of eclipses as evil omens, possible signs of catastrophic events. Earliest recorded eclipse was in China, in 2134 BC. Two court astrologers to the emperor were beheaded because they couldn't predict it.
Thales of Miletus, first known philosopher, scientiest and mathematician, was apparently the first one to predict the solar eclipse (Lunar eclipses are much easier to predict) although there are debates about that and some believe that even he had predicted the first one correctly, he probably wouldn't have been able to predict the latter ones.
Coming back to the lore surrounding eclipses. Hindus in ancient India believed that Solar and Lunar eclipses happen because Rahu (one of the daemons) gobbles up Sun and Moon and they need to free themselves up. People of ancient China believed that a giant dragon was devouring the sun. Some of the egyptians sects believed that a big serpent is eating the sun god.
So, what do people do during eclipses. In India, many Hindus still believe in shutting themselves in the house, not eat anything during the eclipse, take bath in holy river (and if you are not close to one, shower at home would do) and pray. Muslims traditions hold that Prophet Mohammed prayed during the entire duration of eclipse so prayers are held during eclipse.
Even though the reasoning behind the lore isn't correct, the practice of keeping people in places where they can't see sun is beneficial anyway because looking at sun directly is a bad idea anyway however while the concept was relevant then because people used to work in fields those days, it isn't valid anymore. Wait a second ... with a large chunk of a billion Indians associated with agriculture, its probably still relevant in Indian villages.
Posted by Harish at 1:28 PM