On August 21st, news media across the US took a four-hour sabbatical from Trumpeting. Nothing about North Korea, Afghanistan, Russia or the latest daymare; Charlottesville; but like a hurricane making landfall, there was breaking news across the country from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska, cutting swathes across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, winding its way to Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
As is their want, there were media panels analyzing trends and interviewing people for their views. Ironically, Trump’s latest foibles were not the subject matter, making it a truly historical day for the US. In fact, ever so briefly Trump disappeared from telly. Oh and yes, there was a total solar eclipse. What a relief, those few hours of being Trumpclipsed. Of course, the internet went viral with morphed images of Trump and Obama, of shadow and hair, of sun and moon and other hysterical iterations.
Such a moment of totality had not been experienced in the US in 99 years. The next total solar eclipse in the US is going to take place relatively quicker in April 2024.
With an increasingly shrinking world, the eclipse made headlines for news media across the world. Some of my friends in India were live streaming the entire period of totality. And social media like Facebook and WhatsApp buzzed with images; fake, authentic and creative.
India went through a total eclipse in 2009 but it was overshadowed by the monsoon. A clear sighting was last seen in October 1995. It was a historical time since it coincided with Diwali and took place at a time it could actually be witnessed. Before that, India went through totality in February 1980. However, by 1995, technology had considerably improved to make sighting more exciting. In years to come there are going to be many more such eclipses. India will next be able to observe a total eclipse in 2034. One can only imagine the sophistication of equipment by that time.
Part of the commentary on television talked about how people in ancient times felt about eclipses. Superstitions have always accompanied nature’s spectacles since the working of the planetary system was still a wonder in that age. Even today, despite all the progress made by mankind, there is no comparison to nature’s visuals unfolding on such a grand screen. This is one of the reasons people obsess about eclipse viewing; humans can never hope to trump nature.
In India, eclipses are known as grahan. Hindu scriptures make references to this phenomenon. It is considered to be an inauspicious period. Mythology tells the story of Rahu and Ketu. Apparently during the churning of the ocean, an Asura named Rahuketu drank a part of the amrit or nectar. The sun and moon alerted Vishnu in his Mohini avatar, who severed the demon’s head with the sudarshan chakra. The demon did not die because it had drunk part of the amrit but the severed head came to be known as Rahu and the torso as Ketu. It is believed eclipses are caused because Rahu and Ketu swallow the sun and moon in vengeance.
Apart from superstitions, eclipses are also said to be a time when negative energy radiates from planetary bodies. Natural functioning gets confused during an eclipse because it emulates a full lunar cycle in a few hours. Animals, birds, insects behave out of character. During the recent eclipse, people could hear crickets, feel the temperature drop and saw stars in the sky. The digestive tract can also go into disarray. This is why Hindu scriptures encourage people to resist eating, failing which, they should follow a light diet or try and eat only raw food. Some Indian festivals during this period are specifically observed to ensure people fast during eclipses.
An interesting aside is most Hindu temples stay closed during an eclipse. When temple statues are consecrated; they are imbued with positive energy fields. It is said, the negative waves during an eclipse, can play havoc with the positive vibes and thus statues are covered with organic matter and temples remain closed for the duration of the eclipse. A common covering for temple statues are Tulsi leaves. Tulsi is associated with Vishnu who had thwarted the demon. Tulsi is also said to have the capacity to absorb radiation.
Hindu myths are a way to get common people to follow good practices. Hinduism has always been a precise science and its approach to eclipses is further proof of how well scriptures understood the complexities of the solar system.
In the meantime, here in the US, life’s back to normal again. He who should not be named is busy casting aspersions on anyone and everyone critical of him. And instead of governing the country, he has been hosting election type rallies riling up his base and keeping up the media bashing. At least he accepted the eclipse was real and not just #fakenews.
All’s not well with the world.