New Delhi: In India, we have 3,000 years of lived tradition. Forget that for a moment, and you will see a total eclipse of the sun for what it is – a rare alignment of celestial bodies that lets humans get a little peep into the beauty that awaits us in the universe. But the overwhelming emotion the event evokes in a majority of Indians is fear.
It’s fear that drives us to fast during an eclipse lest the mal-influence of the sunless period is ingested with the food. Many among us proffer ‘scientific’ reasons for the practice just as they do for astrology, vaastu and sundry other pseudo-sciences.
It’s fear again that prompts thousands of expectant Indian mothers, and fathers, to make use of medical science techniques to ensure they don’t give birth on the ‘inauspicious’ day of the eclipse. Perhaps the irony of using science in the service of superstition is lost on them and also the doctors who do their bidding.
In the olden days, eclipses were seen as Rahu (or was it Ketu?) eating up Suryadev. Pujas had to be performed to rid the sun of the evil influence. That’s how it was then because they didn’t know any better (though that’s not strictly true as astronomers like Paramesvara, 1370-1460 AD, made meticulous observations of eclipses for long decades). And that’s how it is now, even though we do know better. Lakhs will take the ritual bath to ‘purify’ themselves during Wednesday’s eclipse. We have a 3,000-year history of lived tradition, remember?
Three thousand years of lived tradition. A spiritual heritage that’s the envy of the world. One would have thought such wisdom would enable us to assimilate and imbibe modern knowledge in a more holistic manner. Use science to enrich our vibrant culture. Instead, we spread fear. If Shani doesn’t get you, Rahu must. If your greha-dosh don’t kill your chances, surely the bad angle of your study room would.
We haven’t learnt to move on. That’s not saying we ought to bury tradition. Just that we shouldn’t let tradition to blind us and play with our fears.
Till that time, a heavenly spectacle like a total eclipse wouldn’t fire our imagination or hold us in its thrall. It will just invoke fear— like it did 3,000 years ago.