Sunday, January 17, 2010

When God Pulled The Curtain

As I walked to lunch, about 1 pm, I noticed that it was much cooler than when I went to teach my class an hour before.  The sun was shining, but it was not bright with very few clouds in the sky.  Strange.  It wasn’t until I was returning to my room that I learned that India was experiencing an annular eclipse, the longest solar eclipse of the millennium.  I turned on a local TV channel and heard the reports of the eclipse from cities in the north and south.  In Haridwar, near the Ganges River, 1 million people gathered to take a “holy dip” after the eclipse, while in Bangalore, school children were out of the classroom looking through any dark negative they could find to gaze at the “ring of fire,” as it wasn’t a total eclipse.

India is a country that is ripe with myth, folklore and superstition.  Astrologers do a brisk business every day, but Friday they surely did well as they interpreted the occasion of this solar phenomenon.  Here are some of the myths from Friday’s episode.

• It’s believed that god (they didn’t say which one and there are 300 million of them) pulled the curtain on the world to collaborate with other deities, leaving the earth in darkness.

• If you have made food that day it was no longer fit to eat and poisoned.  To take out the poison one should put grass in it, or better yet, throw it out.  No one should eat during the time of the eclipse. 

• If a woman is pregnant she should certainly stay inside until after the eclipse as the baby will surely have a birth defect if out in the open at this time.

• The devout should pray to their gods, saying as many mantras as they can think of, during an eclipse.

• Taking a dip in the Ganges after the eclipse is believed to remove sin from the dipee. 

The eclipse took place when, here in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the people were celebrating Pongal, the harvest festival.  Since the eclipse took place during this sacred time some astrologers have determined that this will be an inauspicious year, not the best year for weddings or business.

Of course not all Indians are bound by these myths.  In the IT capital of Bangalore not only did young people not refrain from eating, while gazing at the sun they had tea and snacks and the ice cream vendor did zesty business.