Eclipse: An Ancient Indian Perspective

An eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the moon or the moon comes under the shadow of the earth.

Lunar Eclipse

A Lunar Eclipse occurs when the moon comes under the shadow of the Earth.

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A Lunar Eclipse – Earth’s shadow falling on the moon

Solar Eclipse

A Solar Eclipse occurs when the sun is obscured by the Moon.

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A Solar Eclipse – Moon hiding the Sun

Around 5 to 6 eclipses happen every year.

Recordings of eclipses are available in texts, temple inscriptions, copper plates and legends of the land.

In the Veda

The Veda are considered to be the oldest literature of mankind available today. One among the 4 Veda is the Rig Veda. In this text, in verses 5.40.5 to 9.

A Solar Eclipse- Svarbhanu

It states that, “Svarbhanu, i.e Solar Eclipse etymologically meaning a powerful phenomenon which takes away the splendour of the heavens, occurs, leaving the world bewildered.”

Rishi Atri, the first observer of Eclipse

Atri, the seer or Dhrishta, who observed this eclipse and understood the phenomenon of eclipse, is explaining it to the world through these Vedic verses.”

This makes Rishi Atri, probably the earliest astronomer to have expounded on eclipses for posterity.

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Vedic Rishi Atri, observing an Eclipse

In Ramayana

Notable amongst the celestial events mentioned in the Ramayana is the description of the solar eclipse that occurred on the day of the fight between Rama, the hero of the epic and the two demons Khar and Dushan.

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Solar eclipse on the day of the Khar – Dushan Episode in Ramayana

Searching for this eclipse using the Planetarium Software and the planetary configuration listed in the text, experts have dated this event to 7th October, 5077 BCE or over 7100 years ago, making this eclipse, perhaps one of the earliest recorded eclipses.

This date is substantiated by the internal consistency seen in the dates of other events arrived at by the Planetarium software using the description of the sky configuration from the Ramayana text, their sequence and elapse time between these dates tallying with the sequence and gap between the events as mentioned in the text as well.

Through the times, we see a continuity in the understanding and recording of eclipses.

Why were our ancients interested in eclipses? Why did they learn to predict eclipses?

Dos and Donts surrounding eclipse

We see, there are many elaborate dos and donts surrounding eclipses which have been a tradition of this civilization. Some interesting ones that have continued to this day are

  • eating food atleast 4 to 6 hours before an eclipse and not carrying forward food cooked prior to an eclipse
  • the use of Dharba grass to protect food items and other perishables
  • protection of pregnant women from the rays of sun during solar eclipses
  • not seeing solar eclipse with the naked eye

Advice for Pregnant Women

Scientists have shown today how during a Solar Eclipse, the amount of Ultra Violet rays and other cosmic rays reaching the earth are higher. These rays are harmful to the foetus. Hence pregnant women were advised to cover themselves and stay indoors during an eclipse to protect the foetus from these rays. Even today pregnant women are advised to stay away from radiation exposure of all kinds for example X Rays.

Contamination of Food

The increased exposure to such rays also contaminates food. Carrying forward of food cooked before an eclipse is therefore not advisable. Further more, there is the need to ensure that all food in one’s stomach is digested before the start of an eclipse.

Using Dharba grass

The antidote for preventing the food from contamination by radiation has been the practice of covering food with Dharba grass. This points to our ancients having used the Dharba grass as a shield to absorb the unwanted radiations in the atmosphere, especially those arising during eclipses.

Dharba grass absorbs X Rays

Nascent, independent research on Dharba grass has revealed its ability to absorb X Rays. These early finds make Dharba grass a very promising field of study.

We see a good grasp of astronomy, physics, biology and mathematics all rolled into the practice of predicting eclipses and the traditions followed during an eclipse. This holds good for a host of other astronomical observations and traditions followed too.

Donations During Eclipses

De Dhaan Chute Grahan – is a slogan one got to hear on the streets about 4 to 5 decades, during the time of eclipses.

It means Give Alms To Release The Eclipsed.

It was a common practice in India to give donations during eclipses and other cosmological events such as:

Ayana, Solstices – Dakshinayana, Summer Solstice and Uttarayana, Winter Solstice

  1. Vishnuvrata Equinoxes – Mesha Vishu, Vernal Equinox and Tula Vishu, Autumnal Equinox
  2. Grahana, Eclipses – Surya Grahana, Solar eclipse and Chandra Grahana, Lunar eclipse
  3. Amavasya, New Moon
  4. Yugadi, New Year

Many explain that such Dhana were given in the superstitious belief that the donor will gain relief from the evil forces that were capable of even devouring the Sun and the Moon.

On the contrary, we find from traditional literature that the people were well aware of the scientific nature of these cosmological events. They could predict their occurrences due to their understanding of the motions of the earth, moon and various planets as well as their proficiency in Mathematics, which is needed to model these motions and calculate dates for their occurrences in advance.

Dhana for noble causes was given on these significant days as these days were considered as markers of time and hence would be easily remembered over time.

Every king, landlord, zamindar, royalty made it a point to give Dhana every year from their accumulated wealth. Various kings like Krishnadevaraya, Harshavardhana and others, repeatedly gave Dhana every year and during such events as eclipses.

Many temple inscriptions speak about such Dhana, endowments made to the temple and thereby to the people at large, on the occasion of eclipses.

Eclipses continue to happen and many just ignore them. Inscriptions continue to remain as evidences of the ones gone by but are hardly known to many.

The request for alms on eclipses are no longer heard on the streets. Neither are there donors, nor are there receivers on this day.

But misconceptions about the Indian perception of eclipses continue to loom large in everyone’s minds.

More on Eclipses in our book, Triple Eclipse.

Image result for triple eclipse bharath gyan

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Guru Ravidas Jayanthi

Guru Ravidas was a spiritual leader in the 14th Century. His teachings of equality and brotherhood in society have been a great inspiration to the people of this land today.

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Guru Ravidas

Birth and Marriage

Guru Ravidas was born in a village Govardhanpur, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in a poor family. His father Santokh Das was a leather merchant.

Guru Ravidas was married to Lona and a son named Vijayadas was born.

Composing Devotional Songs

All through his family life, Guru Ravidas was never distracted from his devotional affinity. A leading composer of devotional songs, Guru Ravidas made a lasting impact on the minds of the people and helped in inculcating Bhakti, devotion to the Divine.

In Bhakti Movement

Guru Ravidas was regarded as a great Guru in the Bhakti Movement. He was a Guru to many, including Meera Bai, the famous devotee of Lord Krishna.

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Meera Bai

Among other eminent people of those days who were the disciples of Guru Ravidas, was the Queen of Chittorgarh, a city in present day Rajasthan.

He is today called by title Bhagat, a terminology often used for a great devotee.

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Bhagat Ravidas

In Sikhism

The songs and writings of Guru Ravidas are included in the Guru Grantha Sahib, the Holy Book of Sikhs.

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Guru Ravidas and Guru Grantha Sahib

Ravidassia

The followers of Guru Ravidas forming a separate religious sect are called Ravidassia.

Fought Untouchability

Guru Ravidas also fought against untouchability, an ill plaguing the society of his days.

Multifacet Life, An Inspiration

A social reformer, a poet, a humanist, a Spiritual leader, Guru Ravidas will continue to inspire people on the spiritual path for many generations to come.

Thai Pusam

Thai Pusam is a festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu on Full Moon in the Tamil month of Thai which starts from Pongal, Sankranti. Pusam, Pushyam is one of the 27 Nakshatra, star in the zodiac belt. The festival is called Thai Pusam as it is celebrated in Thai month when the Full Moon occurs near the Pushyam star.

The Legends

The legends speak of this day as when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel, ‘Spear’ for vanquishing the demon Tharakasuram. The festival is thus dedicated to Murugan, one of the most venerated divinities.

Thai Pusam is also the day when Sri Nataraja came to Chidambaram to enact his dance. More on Nataraja in our book and film “Understanding Shiva”.

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Thai Pusam 2

Celebrated in other countries

Thai Pusam is also celebrated in countries like Singapore, Sri Lanka and especially Malaysia where it is a national festival and is celebrated in a grand manner. Here, it is a practice to break 1 lakh coconuts on the road.

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Thai Pusam 4

There are also temples of Murugan in these countries.

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Thai Pusam 6

6 primary temples

There are 6 primary temples of Murugan in Tamil Nadu.

  1. Tirupparamkunram
  2. Tiruchendur
  3. Swamimalai
  4. Palani
  5. Thiruthani
  6. Pazhamudircholai

Murgan – Meaning, Other Names

The word Murugan means ‘God of War’. The word also means ‘One who is very attractive to look’.

Skanda, Subrahmanya and Karthikeya are among the other names of Murugan.

Skanda Purana, the largest Purana focuses on the exploits of this Divinity.

Karthikeya, Saravana, Shanmukha

Murugan is called Karthikeya as He was nurtured by the Krttika maidens, as soon as he was born.

Karthikeya also had a different birth.

As the legend goes, a spark of flame from Shiva fell in a Saravana, thicket of reeds, where it transformed into six babies. These six babies were nurtured by six maidens called the Krttika maidens.

Thai Pusam 7

When these six babies were united into a single body with six heads by Parvati, the consort of Shiva, the baby was given the name Karthikeya, meaning one nurtured by the Krttika maidens. Since He was born in a Saravana, amidst reeds, Karthikeya is also called by the name Saravana. He is also called Shanmuga meaning one with six faces.

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Krttika constellation – Pleiades constellation

It is interesting to note that the legends also carry descriptions that link these six Krttika maidens to the Krttika constellation – Pleiades constellation and the stars in it.

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Vel – Removal of ignorance

Murugan holds a Vel, a spear in his hand. This Vel is not just a war weapon but is symbolic of removal of our ignorance. It is a weapon that destroys our ignorance.

This Thai Pusam day, let us make resolve to move from ignorance to knowledge.

Mahatma Gandhi Martyrdom Day – Martyrs’ Day

On January 30th, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated before his evening prayer at Birla house in Delhi.

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Gandhi going for evening prayer in Birla House

The road where the Birla house stands has been renamed as Thees January Marg since the assassination took place on January 30th.

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Cement Foorprint of Mahatma Gandhi at Thees January Marg

The government of India observes this day as Martyrs’ day, in remembrance of all those selfless people who sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle.

The person who was standing next to Gandhi then, was his young personal secretary, Sri Kalyanam.

We had the good fortune of meeting Sri Kalyanam, who released our book “You Turn India” in Chennai.

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Sri. Kalyanam, Personal Secretary of Mahatma Gandhi, 2nd from left, releasing our book “You Turn India”

Hey Ram

Did Gandhi say “Hey Ram”, after being shot?

Sri Kalyanam, who was standing nearby, says he did not hear those words being uttered by Gandhi. Abha Gandhi who was pushed by Godse and into whose arms Gandhi fell, had countered Kalyanam. She says he said Hey Ram as he saw the gun. Kalyanam was a little behind and of course could not hear it.

Who heard what then, is in the realm of conjuncture.

The fact is the world has come to accept it, that Gandhi did say “Hey Ram”.

Speaking about prayer, Gandhiji once said,

“Prayer has saved my life, without it I should have been a lunatic long ago. I feel that as food is indispensable for the body so was prayer indispensable for the soul. I find solace in life and in prayer.

With the Grace of God everything can be achieved. When His Grace filled one’s being nothing was impossible for one to achieve.

Prayer is nothing else but an intense longing of the heart. You may express yourself through the lips; you may express yourself in the private closet or in the public; but to be genuine, the expression must come from the deepest recesses of the heart… It is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips.”

At Peace with Oneself

For a person to say Hey Ram when one is shot at, shows the internal calm of a person. It shows the peace a person has come to be with oneself, with life itself.

A task accomplished in one’s life, for one’s purpose of being born.

In Gandhiji’s case, a mission to liberate India from colonial yoke and set a model which the world did emulate.

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Raj Ghat, the memorial, marking the cremation spot of Gandhi

Jaisalmer Desert Festival

Jaisalmer

Desert Festival of Jaisalmer is celebrated every year in January February. Jaisalmer is a World Heritage Site located in Thar Desert, in Rajasthan.

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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

The city is nicknamed ‘The Golden City of India’, for when the sun light is reflected on the sands of the desert city, it appears Golden.

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Jaisalmer, the Golden City of India

Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh

Jaisalmer City is named after Rajput king, Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh who established this city in 1146 CE.

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Raja Maharawal Jaisal Singh

The word Jaisal refers to the King and the word Mer, Meru, means ‘Hill’, ‘Pyramidical Hill’. The word Jaisalmer literally means, “Jaisal’s Hill Fort”.

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Jaisalmer fort

A Desert

The dry bed of Sarasvati River flows near Jaisalmer. This whole region became a desert since the drying up of the river 4500 years ago.

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Dry Channel of River Sarasvati near Jaisalmer

The Festival

The Jaisalmer Desert Festival is organized by the Rajasthan Government Tourism Department.

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This festival was started to attract foreigners to the state, who want to experience the culture of the state. This festival is celebrated over three days, when visitors from all over the world attend. The rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan is showcased. The audience is treated to the state music and folk dance.

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Jaisalmer Desert Festival

Camel Race

One of the main features of this festival are the Camel Races.

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Camel Race

Other Contests

Apart from these Camel races, other contests like Turban Tying contest, Best Mustache contest and Mr Desert contest are conducted.

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Mr Longest Mustache

The festival culminates at Sam sand dunes with scintillating performance by folk artists under the Full Moon, reflecting light on sand dunes, making for a wonderful ambiance.

Beating the Retreat

The Republic Day festivities last for four days until the 29th of January, since 30th January marks the day when the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Therefore 30th January is also observed as Martyrs’ Day in India besides being remembered as Gandhi Martyrdom Day.

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Beating the Retreat Ceremony

On 29th January, Beating the Retreat, starts at sun down, from Amar Jawan Jyothi, the memorial for martyrs, who lost their lives during the freedom struggle. It is a march to the tune of mellifluous music, signalling the end of Republic Day festivities, with which the armed forces return back to their respective duties.

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Beating the Retreat Function

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Military Bands Sound Beating the Retreat

Sister Nivedita’s Arrival in India

Today, 28th January, in 1898, a young British lady, a school teacher from Margaret Elizabeth Noble set foot on Indian soil to come and live as an Indian and learn Vedanta as an ardent disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She took on the name Sister Nivedita and shared his vision for India.

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Support to Bose

The Basu Vignan Mandir (Bose Research Institute) in Calcutta founded by Jagdish Chandra Bose the multidiscipline scientist of India found an ardent supporter in her. She helped JC Bose in raising foreign funds for his research, much against British opposition and even edited his works. Bose is the anglicized version for the Bengali / Bangla word Basu. Basu is the Bengali way of saying Vasu meaning earth, wealth and worth. This institute came up with the help of Sister Nivedita’s tireless and valiant efforts. For, despite being born British she had to fight the British in India to help set it up.

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Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose

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Basu Vigyana Mandir

Fulfilling India’s Science Dream

The British were against promoting a scientific temper in India then. Infact to thwart this hostile environment Swami Vivekananda dreamt of setting up Indian’s 1st indigenous science research institute instead. He discussed this dream with Sir. Jamsetji Tata while travelling from Yokohama to Vancouver.  He told Tata that Tata might get machines to start his industries but not scientific minds. Such minds would have to come from India he said. So Swami Vivekananda told Jamsetji Tata to set up his steel industry but set aside some funds from his steel business on founding an Indian institute for research in natural sciences. Thus was planted the seed for IISC Bangalore which came up in 1908.  Sadly neither Swami Vivekananda nor Jamsetji Tata were there to see it take shape.

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IISC Bangalore

Swami Vivekananda had left us in1902 and Sir Jamsetji Tata in 1904. It was Sir Dorabji Tata and Sister Nivedita who came together to see this dream come true amidst severe opposition from the British led by Lord Curzon.

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Design to India’s first flag

It was also Sister Nivedita who in 1904 gave the design for the first flag for India – a red and yellow flag with a vajra in the centre and the words Vande Mataram in Bengali writing.

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Flag designed by Sister Nivedita

A day to celebrate

28th of January, the day Sister Nivedita who has done so much for the development of science in India besides others, set foot on the soil of India with an intention to be an Indian in 1898 is a day to be remembered and celebrated.