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The Great Indian Eclipse: darkness forever?

The Great Indian Eclipse: darkness forever?

Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya: from darkness lead me unto light (Brhdaranyaka Upanisada 1:3:28)

Eclipses are a play of shadows - cast by the Moon on the Earth or its passage through the shadow of the Earth as it goes around. Dismissing the Puranic Rahu the demon that caused eclipses, Aryabhatta (476-550 CE), the great mathematician astronomer, made a paradigm shift in 499 CE with the concept of shadows cast by the Moon and the Earth and gave an algorithm to compute the timing, duration and magnitude of an eclipse (Aryabhatiya 4.37-48). The work took its time to be accepted but remains one of the most significant contributions to science for its times. In the present times, we are unlearning what Aryabhatta established, or, what we read in our school science texts.

Today, our quest for information about the celestial events is met with by the internet and the news media. That itself originates from news agencies abroad. Our media latches on to the reports straight, not realizing that the circumstances therein are local and may require to be made specific to India. As a result, sometimes, the reporting ends up being inaccurate. Eclipses in India are special occasions. A forthcoming eclipse gives rise to a flurry of activity in scientific and academic circles and curiosity among the public. It is also an occasion when our superstitious slip shows and how well. The visual media has a reach far and wide. Whenever there is an eclipse, in some channels, there begins a show with diverse intentions, packaged in a style that is ensnaring to the hilt. Under cover of disclaimers, it lines up a battery of astrologers and spiritual heavyweights where the anchors exhort them to mention the implications of the eclipse and suggest the remedial measures according to the zodiacal signs and the nakshatras. To balance out, the scientific side is given its chance but the overall presentation hovers around the malefic cosmic influences and passed off under the shade of tradition and culture.

In the recent trifecta eclipse of the Moon on 31 January 2018, temples shut doors, a sizeable population stayed indoors or headed to rivers and ponds for ceremonial ablution and oblation and offer charity. This was as true of our science city as any other. The media played its due role. It covered the science part of the eclipse with stunning visuals but it also went inaccurate in places. Ironically, in its quest for a meaning of eclipses in tradition and the ancient texts, a section of the visual media ended up playing Rahu – eclipser of reason and intellect, and with such finesse. What should have become a festival of knowledge ended up being that of nescience.

The next eclipse visible over India falls on 27 July 2018. It will be a total lunar eclipse and the show as above would repeat itself - in perpetuation of darkness, forever. Or else, let them give reason its chance and lead us unto light!

Credits: Manu Kapoor


Dr Ramesh Chander Kapoor ( 4 )

Dr Ramesh Kapoor is a renowned Astronomer, who till recently was associated with Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru.

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