Today’s eclipse is expected to be visible in India from late afternoon till sunset. The last two major solar eclipses had little to no impact on South Asia so this one is kind of a big deal for us. After three days of munching on Deepawali (Diwali) sweets and savouries, I am going to have to skip Zumba today as the session overlaps with the late hours of the eclipse. Something about dancing to upbeat Latin-inspired songs while our beloved Sun God is in trouble doesn’t feel right. While I may not lose any calories today, I would not be gaining much either as we are to fast during the eclipse hours.
In many parts of India, the eclipse rituals are almost similar. Individuals, especially children, menstruating or pregnant women and old people stay in the house during the ‘Sutak period’. No one looks at the sun through the naked eye (this one is backed by science). No cooking or eating during these hours as the eclipse is believed to affect digestion and hormones. Basil (Tulsi) leaves are placed in containers storing food and water (This helps reduce the bacterial growth that is believed to increase in the absence of sunlight). During the eclipse, families sit together and pray. Once the eclipse has passed, individuals take a shower and the house is purified by sprinkling Gangajal, fresh food is cooked for the next meal.
Here are some interesting eclipse myths and rituals from other cultures.
The first thing that comes to our mind when we hear China and Myth in the same line is Dragons. Here too, dragons play a big role. The ancient Chinese believed that a dragon attacked and devoured the sun causing the eclipse. Chinese eclipse records more than 4000 years old claim that “The Sun has been eaten”. To frighten away the dragon and in turn save the sun, people of the time would make loud noises and bang drums (This reminds me of recent events in my home country as a result of something that originated in China).
Not so surprisingly, the sun would always return a few hours post this ruckus and thus the tradition perpetuated through the years.
This one I like the most. According to the Batammaliba legend, human anger and fighting spread to the Sun and the Moon, who began to fight with each other and caused an eclipse. During an eclipse, Batammaliba people make amends for old feuds and peacefully come together to encourage peace between the celestial bodies. Eclipse or not, this one should be made an annual event in all cultures.
Native and South America
According to Choctaw legend, a mischievous black squirrel gnawing on the Sun is the cause of eclipses. Like the Chinese dragon, the human witnesses of the event tried to drive away the squirrel by making loud noises and yelling.
The primitive tribes of Mexico believed that an eclipse occurred when a jaguar ate up the sun. Among Mexican women, it was believed that children born during an eclipse would turn into mice. The belief persisted in Mexico as late as the 19th century.
This one is dark, very dark.
The ancient Greeks believed that an eclipse meant the gods were about to rain punishment down on a king, so in the days before an eclipse, they would choose prisoners or peasants to stand as the substitute king in the hopes that the eclipse would punish the fake one and the real king would be saved. Once the eclipse was over, the substitute king was executed.
‘Ra’ or the Sun God is arguably the oldest, most powerful God in Egyptian history. Yet, there is almost no mention of the solar eclipse in Egyptian records. Experts believe that the ancient Egyptians who could not understand the natural phenomena believed it to be a bad omen to record such an event related to their God.
As centuries passed and science evolved, many of these beliefs and rituals were left behind. Yet, there are some rituals that are hard to let go especially when tied with the reverential approach we have towards the source of all energies on earth.
I for one, prefer to stay indoors and not eat anything during the eclipse hours. Taking a shower followed by a short prayer after, completes my eclipse rituals. Do you have any rituals of your own? Tell me in the comments below.
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