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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine