Saturday, January 16, 2010

Solar Eclipse – Myths and Stories

Whenever something unusual happens in the nature, people always take it as a bad omen and undertake rituals and actions that generally do not have any relation to the happening. Like many other natural occurrences, eclipses are also taken as bad omen and calamities like epidemics, earthquakes, excessive rains, droughts or even wars are attributed to such occurrences and religious people advise their subjects to take precautionary measures to be saved of their ill effects. Although eclipses are a very normal natural phenomenon as the three moving objects of our solar system, i.e., the sun, moon and the earth have to come against each other in some point in time as their motion circle differs from each other, which causes the eclipse to happen.

I saw my life's complete solar eclipse while I was in Karachi years back (probably 1999) and slowly and gradually the moon shadowed the sun and by around four in the afternoon, it completely covered the sun and for a few moments it became dark all over. It was a spectacular and awesome sight. And then the sun came out slowly and it was full sun once again. 

The earliest occurrence of solar eclipse in the recorded history fates back to 2800 BC by the Chinese and they thought that solar eclipse happened because a serpent like creature attempted to swallow the sun. Chinese also believed that an eclipse was caused when a dog or any wild animal bit the sun or the moon. In order to drive away those animals they used to ring bells loudly. And since the solar eclipse was thought to be a bad omen, they used to fast during the eclipse hours to prevent its recurrence. The animal devouring the sun or moon differs in different countries. It is a dragon for Indian, Indonesian and Chinese, a giant frog for Vietnamese, a jaguar in Argentina, or a vampire in Siberia.

And since then the myths and stories continue despite the fact that there is no correlation between this simple scientific movement and any calamity that might have hit soon after the eclipse, if ever, thereafter.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on occurrence of the solar eclipse in his times once said, "The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death of someone from the people but they are two signs amongst the signs of Allah. When you see them stand up and pray." It may be mentioned here that the eclipse occurred on the day when the Prophet’s son Ibrahim died and people around thought the eclipse had had the bad omen on the Prophet. So the Prophet said that the occurrence of eclipse had nothing to do with the death of someone, rather that was a sign from Allah and nothing else.

The Romans would scream and shout on the eclipse day in a bid to drive away demons who cast their shadow on the lunar disc. The Shintos in Japan would make a talisman (a necklace studded with precious stones) and hang it on the branches of a scared tree (Clauria) and thought the brilliance of the stones would compensate for the sunlight lost during the eclipse.
The Eskimos consider the eclipsed object (sun or moon) to be diseased and would put their utensils facing down so that rays from the eclipsed sun or moon should not enter the utensil as it would make them diseased too. 

The Red Indians considered the solar eclipse was an indication that the sun was running out of its light and would hurl burning arrows in the direction of the sun so as to rekindle its brightness.
And in India, the pundits considered that the solar eclipse would cast a bad spell over the pregnant women and if a pregnant woman is out in the sunlight, the baby would be born deformed. Likewise pregnant women are advised to sleep on floor, should not eat, and should not touch any sharp object like a knife or blade and razor etc.

Even the Indians believe that the solar eclipse would cast a bad spell on the hens and would tie their legs with red threads and tie lemons around their necks.

And so on… The legends and myths continue which have never been proven scientifically or otherwise. But who can stop myths?

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Photo Courtesy: Jalalspages


Shirazi said...

If we believe what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said on occurrence of the solar eclipse (The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death of someone from the people but they are two signs amongst the signs of Allah) then there is no scope of any unfounded myth. Very well written and very timely post.

Jalal HB said...

Thanks you SAJS