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Friday, March 1, 2024
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The eclipse and superstitions

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Being born in a very orthodox Brahmin family, my religious conditioning has lots of influences on me. Since childhood, the Sun, the Moon and the demon Rahu was daily check; as I grew older things changed a bit but still these planets scare me at times. India is home to some of the oldest religions in the world and our daily lives are virtually built around their ethnicities. With customs have come some beliefs, some of them really unwise, that we have adhered to, like we were stuck to them with glue, because there is fear of getting punished by God, stars, planet and other elements.

Where there is fear there is vulnerability, while coming to office I received many messages on WhatsApp about do and don’ts in the Lunar Eclipse timings. The information was not limited to this but also there was prediction, which zodiac moon sign has worst time ahead. I first checked my zodiac sign and then moved further to read others but few predictions were so worst, that person could have died of heart attack. I called some of those rumourmonger Pandits, however one of them was very aggressive alleging me of making fun of religion. Though my intention was just to tell him not to scare the people with predictions for the sake of business, but guide them selflessly as they are the self-declared custodians of my religion.

The story of eclipses in Hindu mythology dates back to the Samudra Manthan, as described in both Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana. After the Amrit or elixir of immortality was churned out of the ocean, the Devas used the Apsara Mohini to trick the Asuras out of its share. One of the Asuras, Svarbhanu, disguised himself as a Deva, and sat between the Sun and the Moon for a drink of the elixir.

When Vishnu came closer, the Sun and the Moon revealed that Svarbhanu was a demon. By this time, however, Svarbhanu had already sipped on the drink. Vishnu immediately cut off his head, but since the demon had already swallowed a bit of the nectar, his head became immortal. The head, known as a separate entity called Rahu (the detached body came to be known as Ketu), and then swore vengeance against the Sun and the Moon for depriving him of the elixir. So, from time to time, Rahu catches up with the Sun and the Moon, and swallows them. The incident doesn’t last long because Rahu has no hands to grab onto these two celestial gods.

In fact, science can take a hike as far as we’re concerned. We add a rupee to a gift sum because it’s ‘auspicious’, and believe snakes drink milk. If snakes knew there’s something called Naga Panchami, they’d probably run for their lives or slide. Whatsoever, for the ‘believers’ the Lunar Eclipse came up with so many instructions and fallacy.

As I mentioned above, Rahu kaal is definitely considered to be highly inauspicious. Misconceptions surrounding the eclipses state that harmful agents are at play during these periods, and so, every action should be guided by utmost caution during eclipses. The absence of the Sun’s rays can increase the amount of bacteria and germs in the atmosphere, thereby polluting people. In the same manner absence of Moon rays, there would be darkness in lives. Scientifically, there may not be strong grounds to justify few claims but our religion has many reservations.

So coming back to a morning message that mentioned worshipping or touching gods is strictly prohibited during this period. Even temple doors usually stay closed during eclipses. After the eclipse ends, the idols are supposed to be washed with Ganga water to purify them. Meditation, chanting hymns or mantras and singing devotional songs during an eclipse are supposed to protect one from the evil effects. The rules dictate that no food should be cooked during the eclipse. Leftovers are finished off before the period of the eclipse. Some people in India leave tulsi or Indian basil leaves on cooked food items, and cover them to keep them safe. Sleeping, urination, defecation, sexual intercourse and makeup are also prohibited during the eclipse. Pregnant women are considered to be especially susceptible to the evil forces during eclipses. Not only are they supposed to abstain from activities like cutting vegetables and stitching clothes, but also in some parts of India, they’re not even supposed to sit with their legs crossed.

After the eclipse is over, people are directed to take a bath, and change into fresh and clean clothes. Sprinkling of Ganga water or taking a dip in the Ganga is also supposed to wash away the evil done by the eclipse. While natural phenomenon like science and scientists in details have explained solar and lunar eclipses; even the Indian mathematician Aryabhata gave the perfect scientific explanation for it in the fifth century — religion lies in the domain of faith. You may or may not believe in these superstitions around the total solar eclipse, but they manage to comfort those who believe in mythical celestial events find comfort in them. Thanks to modern science, the reason for an eclipse and its pathway are common knowledge and towns in the eclipse’s path viewed the event. However, this is a far cry from prior superstitions and myths that kept people indoors and cowering in fear as the Sun or moon disappeared or changed colour. There are many reasons that cultures responded to an eclipse with fright rather than with celebration. Time has shown that this panic was groundless, but myths continue be part of the folklore. It might be hard to picture panic ensuing during an eclipse in modern day India, but according to Live Science, ancient peoples sought to explain an eclipse the best way they could. Our cultures believed gods and demons were involved, while others cited dragons.

It is unclear where this tale originates, but it persists. In the cultures, this myth is believed strongly. When people feel the world is out of their control, they look for external sources of control — superstitions are really a reaction to feeling out of control. People like to put a sense of control around chaos or uncertainty. But still, there are many myths one unknowingly follows and for some that following becomes business.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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