Science and Religion (and the Eclipse)

10 Dec

it’s gonna be a stuffy night tonight. all my doors are closed, windows closed. the last total lunar eclipse until 2014 would probably be a spectacle for me to see (and i would have lurved to be part of the crowd at east coast beach), if not for the fact that for unknown reasons, mom refuses to let us go out of the house during an eclipse, eat or drink anything until the eclipse is over, or watch the eclipse on tv. why?

well, after so many years, i think its time to find out.

one story of the eclipse goes as such:

The Hindu scriptures, the Purãns (written by Ved Vyãs), narrate the story of how the eclipse came into existence:

After the churning of the ocean by the devas (gods) and daityas (demons), amrut – immortalizing the nectar – was produced. It so happened that the demons got the nectar first, but the devas created an apsarã (a beautiful celestial woman) called Mohini. She tricked the demons and took the nectar away from them. Once the devas received the amrut, they asked God to distribute the amrut to all the gods equally. While God was serving everyone amrut, a demon, named Rãhu, through yogic powers transformed himself into a deva and sat in line to receive amrut and thus become immortal. He sat between the Sun-god and the Moon-god. They both recognized the demon in the form of a deva. When God unknowlingly served amrut to Rãhu, both the sun and the moon revealed that it was a demon. So God beheaded Rãhu instantly with his sudarshan chakra. But by the time God beheaded Rãhu he had drunk the amrut. The amrut had reached Rãhu’s throat, making his head immortal. Rãhu’s head thus became a planet. Since the Sun-god and the Moon-god told God about Rãhu, Rãhu was deeply disappointed and nursed a hatred for them. Therefore it is believed that during certain times of the year Rãhu holds the sun and the moon by his mouth (grahan), hence the existence of the solar and lunar eclipses.”

Hence the swallowing of the sun/moon by the enemies of the sun/moon (who are Rahu and Ketu) causes the respective eclipses.

Hindu temples are closed during an eclipse. although it is very much against what i would like to believe in. but (according to what ive read) the cosmic powers of the Gods in the temple are low during an eclipse. Gods are said to be in chanting or something like that, so temples are closed for Gods to pray. (?) i mean, i honestly wish i understood it a little better or at least see some reason why this happens. at the same time, im also aware that my limited knowledge of puranam and scriptures mean that i probably wouldnt fully understand either… but… i cant understand why Gods can be weak… mom says that the radiation/cosmic waves created during an eclipse is harmful so temples are closed. so we should close our rooms/doors too.

in scriptures (and so says my mom), during the eclipse, we should pray. and after the eclipse, bathe and pray and then go back to normal activities. The reason to take a bath (as ive read) is because during an eclipse, the world is overcome with darkness and darkness is associated with impurity and therefore bathing after an impure episode signifies cleansing.

so while i see the solar and lunar eclipse as a beautiful display of the solar system’s coincidental mathematical overlap, it is hard to see where i stand with regards to the religious aspect of an eclipse.

so, with more reading, i find that while Rahu and Ketu are seen as demons in Hindu scriptures, the position of Rahu and Ketu in the universe coincides with the astronomical points in the solar system called the north and south lunar nodes. now these nodes are specific points in the system where the overlap of the sun and moon’s orbital paths occur. hence causing the respective eclipses.

astronomy and astrology are too interlinked in many ancient world cultures.

In european mythology, the north and south lunar nodes are referred to as the dragon’s head and dragon’s tail respectively. (in Hinduism, Rahu is the head of the demon and Ketu is the tail of the demon).

in Chinese mythology, the idea of a dragon eating up the sun is also mentioned. the term “Chih” which means “eat” was used to depict an eclipse. ancient Chinese used to “throw arrows into the sky, beat drums” to scare the dragon away. even till the 19th century, (as ive read) the chinese army used cannon to fire away to get rid of the dragon.

Buddhists believe that the effects of whatever actions you do during an eclipse is multiplied several folds. so, it is adviced to do good things, so that the effects of your deeds are multiplied. i remember mom saying before too that chanting prayers during an eclipse is very good because the impact is multiplied.

Egyptians also have a myth with the the sky God called Horus (whose eyes were the Sun and Moon) and at some point, the right eye (Sun) gets torn off, denoting an eclipse.

but contrary to what most cultures see eclipses as (an evil omen), ppl in Tahiti see eclipses as a romantic phase when the sun and moon make love. so, eclipses are romantic to them.

so you see……….. different cultures bring along with them their ancient stories abt eclipses. and while it is interesting and all, some of these stories are linked to religion. and so where i stand, unsure abt what my ideology should be, im really envious of those who got to witness the perfect total eclipse tonight while im in my stuff room (for the next few hrs till the eclipse ends at around 2am… ) hmmmm………

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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in i-Hindu, i-Marvel


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