Superstition eclipses astronomers' delight

From Afghanistan to Borneo, millions will awaken today to find the sun blotted out in a total solar eclipse when the moon passes in front of the sun. A few will view the event as a rare astronomical wonder, while a significant number will avert their eyes, believing old superstitions that an eclipse heralds natural calamities and bad luck.

The belt of today's eclipse is less than 100 miles wide, but it will pass in a south-eastern direction over Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, Burma, Thailand, and Borneo, to astronomers' delight and the horror of millions. The science writer, Arthur C Clarke, told the Indian Express: "It is the most awe-inspiring experience imaginable. When it gets dark and the stars come out in the middle of the day, well, everyone becomes a primitive savage again, up against the gods."

While hundreds of scientists and amateur astronomers - including 88 from the UK - are setting up telescopes in deserts and on hilltops along the path of the eclipse, many will spend the morning indoors. Pregnant women will avoid knives for fear that their babies will be born scarred or without limbs; mothers will bind children's legs against snake attacks; and in Thailand and Cambodia, guns will be fired to drive off the hungry dragon devouring the sun.

The Munda tribesmen in Bihar have a different interpretation. When the sun darkens this morning, they will hurriedly pile their belongings and weapons in the courtyard. Long accustomed to suffering at the hands of police, feudal landlords and money-lenders, the tribesmen believe the sun has been imprisoned by demons for not paying off its debts. The Munda believe that only they can set the sun free by offering their few possessions to the demons.

It is considered inauspicious by some that the sun is extinguished during Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, in which mountains of sweets are devoured and fireworks are blasted into the heavens. Hindu pundits are advising that all food must be eaten by the eclipse, so Indian families last night were heroically stuffing down every last syrupy sweet.

In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, 700 miles outside the trajectory of the eclipse, the day is being declared a holiday in the belief that any work undertaken will unravel through bad luck. Throughout India, parents will keep their children home from school, buses will not run and no mail will be delivered.

Astrologers predict troubles ahead for the Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, sectarian strife during the run-up to general elections and more war and political turmoil in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Yet anybody reading the newspapers would probably produce similar gloomy forecasts. It is also a safe bet that somewhere in the region, a flood, a cyclone or an earthquake is bound to happen - because they invariably do.

Even still, Mr Rao is not taking any chances. Although he is attending the United Nations 50th anniversary bash in New York, the Indian press reported that he has ordered Hindu pundits to perform special rites on his behalf to ward off possible ill-effects from the eclipse.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Life and Style
life
News
‘The Graduate’, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was directed by Nichols in his purple period
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager