Saturday, March 21, 2015

Eclipses: Observances and Superstitions

The Lingam at Arunachaleswarar Temple moolasthanam is “suyambu” which means it is self-created (not manmade) thus this Temple does not close during either lunar or solar eclipses. However after the end of an eclipse special rituals are observed at the Temple. 

Another famous Shiva Temple that doesn’t close during an Eclipse is the Kalahasti Temple near Tirupati. The reason being is that Lord Shiva at that place wears the Navagrahas as a belt at His waist and thus no grahan (eclipse) can do any harm. 

However as a general rule Hindu Temples close during Eclipses because it is believed that at that time strong negative charges bombard earth. As Temples are built to attract astral energy and positively charge devotees, the positive effects will be reversed during a solar eclipse. Another belief is that Murtis in Temples, have an external energy around them as a consequence of pujas, mantras and rituals and that the pull of the sun and moon can weaken that energy during an eclipse. 


Legend of Rahu and Ketu 

In the 35th chapter of the Bhagavata Purana there is a legend explaining why Rahu and Ketu are responsible for all solar and lunar eclipses. In this legend the gods and demons were engaged in an endless war. Lord Vishnu persuaded them to abide to an amnesty so that the ocean could be churned thereby benefitting both sides. The gods under the leadership of Indra grabbed the tail of the king of snakes, Vasuki, who was used as a rope for churning the ocean, while the demons under the leadership of Vali held the mouth of Vasuki. The great mountain Mandara acted as the churner. 


As a result of this churning, the first to come out was the terrible poison, halahala. It was voluntarily sucked in by Lord Siva, but he held it in his throat, the reason why Siva is also known as Nilakantha (the blue-throated one). Then out came Surabhi, Kaustubha, Parijata, Laksmi, the Moon, Varuni (the goddess of wine) and finally Dhanvanatari; the originator of medicine, with a pot of amritam, the nectar—which the demons ran away with. 

Churning the Ocean and Mohini

Lord Visnu acting in the interest of the gods transformed himself into Mohini, a beautiful woman. Dazzled by her beauty, the demons offered the pot to Her and asked Her to distribute the nectar amongst them all. However She gave the nectar to the gods. One of the demons, Rahu, saw through the trick and sat in the line in disguise. But before he could swallow the divine nectar, the Sun and the Moon detected his masquerade and reported it to Lord Visnu, who then chopped off Rahu's head with his Sudarsan Chakra. 

Because Rahu had already drunk the nectar, he remained alive in spite of his being reduced to a trunkless body. Since then Rahu has not forgiven the Sun and the Moon. And this is the reason why, every once in a while Rahu gobbles up the Sun or the Moon—which we refer to as Solar and Lunar eclipses. However being trunkless Rahu cannot hold either the Sun or the Moon for long, and they come out safely after a while. With time the headless trunk of the demon came to be known as Ketu, and the earlier version of Ketu turned into what is known as Dhumketu. 

Astronomically speaking, when the sun, the moon and the earth are all in line, with the moon or the earth at the centre, a solar or lunar eclipse takes place respectively. 

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In the case of both solar and lunar eclipse, if an eclipse affects the region that you are living in, one is directed to follow certain rituals prescribed by the scriptures. 

Eclipse Special Observances 

At the time of an eclipse, people are enjoined to bathe in sacred rivers, do charitable acts and donate cows, money and gold. The day after an eclipse one should feed the poor, Brahmins and Sadhus. After an eclipse householders are expected to clean their home and kitchen vessels, etc. One should not take food during the eclipse. When the eclipse begins the food should by then have been digested. A bath has to be taken before starting to cook after an eclipse. One should take food only after seeing the sun or the moon free from the eclipse. When the clear sun or the moon is not seen before sunset or sunrise, in the case of the solar and lunar eclipse, food can be taken only after the sun or the moon is seen the next day. 

Pregnant women should not see the sun or the moon during the time of the eclipse. Superstition has it that in the case of seeing the sun or moon during an eclipse, that a child born thereafter may be born with a defect. It is regarded as taboo for men and women to have physical congress at this time. It is also believed that one should take great care to avoid bleeding, scorpion stings, etc., as they have disastrous results at the time of eclipse. Even an earthworm has a poisonous effect when it bites during an eclipse. 

One should take a bath after an eclipse because it is believed that the earth is plunged into darkness during a lunar or solar eclipse. Darkness symbolizes impurity and therefore one has to sit in one place and chant the name of God. Once the eclipse is over, light returns back to earth; and to rejoice, one has to cleanse the impurity that darkness brought, worship God and offer donations to express one’s happiness. 

Those who do Japa at the time of an eclipse derive great benefits as it contributes towards relieving the suffering of humanity and also benefits the planets. As the blessings of the Gods is readily available at this time, the result of mantra is believed to be especially auspicious when chanted during the period of an eclipse. The spiritual significance of the eclipse states that as an eclipse is ended by a bright Sun or Moon, so too, ignorance will also be eclipsed by the attainment of self-knowledge and manifestation of the effulgence of Self.

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The next Eclipse at Tiruvannamalai -- Partial Lunar April 4, 2015

Next Eclipse viewable here will be a partial Lunar Eclipse

Care when watching 

Permanent eye damage can result from staring or even looking at the disk of the Sun directly, or through a camera viewfinder, or with binoculars or a telescope even when only a thin crescent of the Sun remains. The 1 percent of the Sun's surface still visible is about 10,000 times brighter than the full moon. Staring at the Sun under such circumstances have the same effect on the retina of your eyes than a magnifying glass to focus sunlight onto paper, and eventually burning a hole in it! The retina is delicate and irreplaceable. There is little or nothing a retinal surgeon will be able to do to help you. Never look at the Sun outside of the total phase of an eclipse unless you have adequate protection. Remember, your eyes can be damaged without you feeling any pain. 

To find out about Eclipses in you region go to this link here.

1 comment:

  1. Really fascinating information. Can see how some of the observances may have come about -- as they are sort of logical considering the earth is being bombarded by so much negative cosmic energy e.g. not eating before an eclipse and not having undigested food during an eclipse etc.