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Myths & Legends Related to Eclipses

By N.C. Rana; Published by Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi

Since time immemorial, eclipses have been interpreted in various ways by different communities all over the world, reflecting many a time the working philosophy of the religious denominations they belong to. The lunar and solar eclipses have, by and large, been held to bring in their wake calamities like epidemics, wars etc. It has been a common practice to observe the do’s and don’ts with religious overtones so as to avoid such cataclysmic fallouts of eclipses as well as hasten their end.

In ancient Egypt, the clan of the ruling kings, the pharaohs, thought themselves to be direct descendants of the sun and therefore the earthly representative of their sun god. During a solar eclipse, the king walked around their main temple of Osiris till the eclipse was over. The idea being: the sun should keep on moving continuously in the sky without any obstruction. When the sun becomes engaged in a process of eclipse, his human representative, namely the pharaoh must do whatever best he can on his behalf to ensure the regular motion in the sky.

In ancient Rome it was a common practice to scream and shout to drive away demons who cast their shadow on the lunar disc. For a long time the Chinese believed that an eclipse was caused when a dog or some such 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.

Myths & Legends Related to Eclipses, Features for kids: 11_1.gif During solar eclipses, the Shintos in Japan used to have a talisman -- a precious stone studded necklace -- put on the branches of the scared Clauria tree. The brilliance of these stones was thought to compensate for the amount of sunlight lost during the eclipses. At some places bonfires were lit as a substitute for the talisman.

Myths & Legends Related to Eclipses, Features for kids: 11_2.gif The Eskimos conceived that eclipses brought the earth under bad influences, believing further that their failure to place their utensils upside down before the deities would lead to widespread diseases. Even today Eskimo women follow this ritual for the duration of the eclipse. Underlying this belief is the idea that during an eclipse the sun and the moon are diseased for a short period therefore the rays from these diseased bodies falling on utensils could transmit the same disease to the Eskimos.

The people living along the western coast of Africa believed that the lunar eclipse occurs because of sun’s shadow, which is always following the moon. So during eclipses, people gather on the street and shout: "Leave him, go away’ and so on.

According to the Ojibawas sect of the Red Indians the solar eclipse signifies the extinguishing of the moon or the sun for a while. Consequently they hurl burning arrows in the direction of the sun so as to rekindle its original brightness.

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Myths & Legends Related to Eclipses [Features for kids]
By N.C. Rana; Published by Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi


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