Superstitious of the Blood Moon? You need to read this now

The lunar eclipse, which is also referred to as Chandra Grahan, holds religious significance for many Indians who follow rituals as per the Hindu calendar but is it really necessary?

Religion or superstition?

So, what is the ”logic” behind certain practices associated with the lunar eclipse among Hindus? The Hindus believe that the cycles of the moon have an impact on the human body.

The cycles of the moon have an impact on the human system, physically, psychologically and energy wise. During lunar eclipses, what would happen in 28 days over a full lunar cycle happens subtly over a course of two to three hours…in terms of energy, the earth’s energy mistakes this eclipse as a full cycle of the moon. Certain things happen in the planet where anything that has moved away from its natural condition will deteriorate very fast. That is why there is a change in the way cooked food is before and after the eclipse. What was nourishing food turns into poison, it is better to keep the stomach empty at this time.

That is why temples also remain closed during the lunar eclipse and reopen only after conducting purification-related rituals.

The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha recommends the following Do’s and Dont’s during a lunar eclipse:

1. Do not eat 9 hours before the lunar eclipse begins. One can drink water.

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2. No meals should be offered to God during the pre-eclipse period.

3. Observe fast during the lunar eclipse – do not even take water.

4. During the lunar eclipse, prayer is the best activity to undertake.

5. Take a bath in cold water with one’s clothes on immediately after the lunar eclipse.

6. After bath, it is recommended that you offer a donation with love and compassion.

After the eclipse, it is recommended by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha to not touch anything, any person or any personal item without having a bath with clothes on first.

The story from the Mahabharata

There’s nothing quite so elaborate and colorful and entertaining as the eclipse myth from the Hindu text known as the Mahabharata.

The very simplified version of the story goes like this:

A group of gods wish to create an elixir of immortality, so they enlist a few demons to help them churn the cosmic ocean (using a mountain for a churning stick). The ambrosia eventually emerges like curds in milk. This process also leads to the creation of the moon and the sun, among other enchanted things. The gods promise to share the elixir with the demons, but when the task is done, the god Vishnu disguises himself as a woman, enchants the demons and steals their portion of the elixir.

The demon Rahu then sneaks into the camp of the gods and manages to steal a swig of the elixir, but the sun and the moon spot him and blow the whistle on him. Vishnu cuts off Rahu’s head, but because the demon is immortal, this doesn’t kill him. He’s angry at the sun and the moon for ratting him out, so he chases the two objects through the sky. Every once in a while, he catches up with one of his betrayers and swallows it, but because he’s just a severed head, the sun or the moon slips back out through his disconnected neck. Nonetheless, the demon continues his pursuit indefinitely.  

The complete story is beautiful and entertaining — not to mention one of the less ominous eclipse myths — and it did not disappear as people who practiced Hinduism learned about the science of the planetary bodies. As Eastern astronomers deciphered the orbital geometry of these three bodies, the story was adapted, not abolished.

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In particular, the demon Rahu became associated with what are known as eclipse nodes.

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth lies directly between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on the lunar surface. During a solar eclipse, the moon is between the Earth and the sun, casting its shadow on the Earth’s surface. The moon’s orbit is tilted with respect to Earth’s orbit, so the three bodies don’t line up every time the moon loops around the planet. The points where the moon’s path crosses the path of the sun are called nodes, and both the sun and the moon must be located at those nodes for an eclipse to occur (this can include partial or total eclipses, as well as annular solar eclipses). The sun and the moon both come close to these two nodes about every six months, when Earth experiences an “eclipse season.”

As Western astronomy from Greece and the Mediterranean made its way east to regions like modern-day India, Hindu astronomy adopted geometric and mathematical models of the motions of heavenly bodies. The demon Rahu was associated with the two nodes, and eventually one node became associated with Rahu while the other became associated with the demon Katu, which is actually Rahu’s tail. The nodes are invisible, and so are the demons; the nodes change position in the sky, as the demons are pictured to do. By tracking the movement of the nodes, astronomers could eventually predict when and where eclipses would occur.

The story of Rahu’s vengeful pursuit of the sun and the moon is also depicted on a wall of the main temple on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. In 1983, when a total solar eclipse passed over Indonesia, representations of this traditional story were used extensively in advertising. Two competing beer manufacturers on the neighboring island of Java (which is predominantly Muslim) both used images of the demon Rahu on their eclipse-themed brews.  

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It shows you that [the story] is part of the living tradition in Bali, if you were to ask the devout Balinese people, ‘Do you believe these Hindu stories?’  The answer is yes. And probably if you asked many of them ‘Do you understand how the solar system works?’ they’d say yes. And that is a confirmation of the extraordinary human ability to talk out of both sides of the mouth at the same time.”

The people of Bali aren’t the only ones carrying these historic interpretations of eclipses into the present day. In many languages, the words used to describe eclipses are the same words that mean “to eat” or “to bite.”

In the English language, “eclipse” is derived from the Greek term “ekleipsis,” which means “an omission” or “an abandonment.”

India’s scientists dispel age-old superstitions followed by Indians 

The Astronomical Society of India (ASI), a professional association for astronomers, has launching a campaign to counter one of the most enduring superstitions surrounding eclipses — that one shouldn’t eat or drink during the celestial event.

ASI has invited those defying the belief during the 6 hour, 17 minute, 18 second long eclipse starting at 10:44 pm on July 27 — the longest lunar eclipse this century — to post photographs on social media with the hashtag: #EclipseEating.

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“We are trying to dispel notions that eating during eclipses is harmful,” Aniket Sule, who heads the public outreach and education committee of ASI, said. “During eclipse, babas and gurus are quoted in the news saying “don’t eat”; we have to counter the narrative.”

They face an uphill task; centuries-old beliefs continue to persist and are sometimes propagated by astrologers, spiritual leaders and self-styled gurus.?The belief is centred on how food turns to poison during eclipses.

Sule said the roots of the superstition lay in the pre-electricity era when events like the solar or lunar eclipse meant darkness would descend on households. During these periods ,insects or other contaminants could spoil the food, so it was safer to discard whatever was left in the open.

Another superstition is that the passage of the moon from a full moon to no moon and then back to a full moon within hours interferes with the earth’s natural rhythms.

Astronomers disagree with the view. “It ‘s just a play of shadows, the sun, moon and earth don’t change their basic nature. There is no change in the rays of suns; it is the same thing if a person stood in the shadow of a building,” Sule said.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the earth comes between the sun and the moon. An umbral shadow is an area where the earth has blocked off all direct sunlight from reaching the moon. When it enters the totality phase, the moon is completely inside the earth’s shadow and acquires a reddish hue, prompting many to call it a ‘blood moon’. The total eclipse of the moon, when it is completely under the earth’s shadow, will last 1 hour and 43 minutes.

Pregnant women are warned against going out and eating and drinking for fear of adverse effects on the foetus. “It does not have a basis in medical science,” Anuradha Kapur, director and head of the gynaecology unit at the Max Hospital in Saket, New Delhi, said, “but all our patients are saying that they won’t step out during the eclipse.”

Kapur said doctors do not object to patients staying indoors, but she advises women to eat and drink normally to avoid weakness that could actually harm their unborn child.

The precaution to people not to view a solar eclipse with naked eyes doesn’t hold good for a lunar eclipse.

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About Naufal Khan

Naufal Khan was the Publisher at ADISHAKTI MEDIA and the editor-in-chief of the South African Indian news service Indian Spice. Khan was former Sunday Times journalist and also an occult fiction and non-fiction writer with several published titles.