The Eclipse: India - World shares a strange ceremony of science, superstition and awe

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The Independent Online
MONSOON RAIN clouds blanketing most of India put paid to the hopes of many longing to see the eclipse as it moved across the country from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. But visible or not, many Indians laid preparations for the event that some believed would herald some form of disaster.

The most curious made their way to Bhuj in the western state of Gujarat in the "totality belt", where the chances of a clear sky were greatest. Most of the rest of India settled for saying special prayers during the eclipse at 6.12pm local time.

Thousands of sadhu holy men and devout Hindus made special pilgrimages to cities such as Kurukshetra, Haryana, and Varanasi on the Ganges to take a spiritual bath. Tantrics, who claim mystic powers, consider the eclipse particularly important. Each mantra chanted during the eclipse is deemed to be multiplied to the power of a billion.

However, in the villages of India many superstitious people feared it would bring bad luck. Pregnant women especially remained inside for an hour before and after, believing the rays emanating would harm their unborn children. Some painted their stomachs as protection against the rays.

Astrologers were out in force beforehand, maintaining that the eclipse would bring floods and famine, followed by war. One who looked in her almanac was Veenu Sandal, who predicted war between India and Pakistan. "When war breaks out, it's not going to end until about February. India is going to win back part of Pakistan and that will bring a lot of peace."