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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Eclipse over the blue moon.

This new year's eve was a special day for more reasons than one. It was supposed to be a blue moon, a rather rare event wherein there is an "extra" full moon in years that have thirteen full moons. Supposed to be quite beautiful and all. Oh wait, I just realised that's where the expression once in a blue moon comes from! The other thing special about the day (actually night) was that over parts of India, we were to experience a lunar eclipse over that very blue moon.

India is and always will be a place with strong links to astronomy, astrology and the inevitable superstitions that come along with mysticity (didn't even know if that was a word, I had to look it up). So, the eclipse is said to occur when Rahu and Ketu swallow the sun. In Hindu mythology, Rahu is a snake that swallows the sun or the moon causing eclipses. Ketu is generally referred to as a "shadow" planet. Astronomically, Rahu and Ketu denote the points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon as they move on the celestial sphere.

According to legend, during the Samudra manthan, the asura (demon incarnate) Rahu drank some of the divine nectar. Before the nectar could pass his throat, Mohini (the female avatar of Vishnu) cut off his head. The head, however, remained immortal. It is believed that this immortal head occasionally swallows the sun or the moon, causing eclipses. Then, the sun or moon passes through the opening at the neck, ending the eclipse.

Who can argue with that, right? What happens then during an eclipse even in modern homes in India is that people avoid eating during the eclipse, lie straight on the bed, don't move out of the house and some even take a dip in rivers after its over. Pregnant women are to follow this to a T and some husbands are forced to do it too!

Some other popular myths are:
  • Mensturating women are regarded unclean and are isolated. They cannot enter the kitchen till they are ‘clean’ again.
  • Pregnant women are not allowed to travel alone at night or enter an uninhabited home because ghosts might possess them. They should read religious books and watch inspiring movies so that the child grows up to be a good person.
  • Hiccups indicate someone is thinking of you. But an itchy eye refers to someone maligning you, or your envy of someone.
  • Nails should not be cut at night for fear of evil spirits.
  • When there is a birth or death in the family, the members are unclean, and do not go to the temple till the stipulated period is over.
  • Seeing an elephant during a journey is auspicious as Ganesha, the God who removes obstacles will ensure success.
  • A dog howling at night chills the blood – a portent of approaching death.
  • When leaving home, it is auspicious to see a bride, a Brahmin or an religious idol. However, sighting a widow or a barren woman is not lucky!
 How much of it do you believe?

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