Wednesday, July 22, 2009



By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM

AMAZING, FANTASTIC, BREATHTAKING, UNBELIEVABLE – these are some of the many expressions of men, women and children of many ethnic and religious backgrounds who saw the total solar eclipse this morning. On 22 July 2009, the day dawned with a promise to let us see one of the biggest celestial spectacles of our galaxy that won’t be repeated in the next 123 years. Understandably there was a lot of excitement in the air. The Media, both electronic and print, had kept the people informed and had also apprised them of do’s and don’ts minus the superstitious beliefs. Some channels that were out to grab TRPs as grab you can, did dish out superstitious stories. The intelligentsia did not appreciate it, though. All said and done, by the time the total solar eclipse was over in India, people have had their fill of this event of the century, not to be repeated in our lifetime. Everybody enjoyed every moment of it.


Generally speaking, we reserve the epithet “Eye in the sky” for the satellites that can read your car’s number plate while you are driving in the Connaught Place in New Delhi. This morning these eyes were in the sky to catch the best glimpses of the solar eclipse in more than a dozen places in India, not mentioning China, Japan and beyond in the Pacific Ocean where the solar eclipse was TOTAL. What walks away with the cake is the successful project of Cox and King to launch a special flight of star watchers who were keen to see the biggest of the celestial body in our part of the galaxy . It was not everyone’s cup of tea. One had to loosen the purse string and shell out Rs80,000/- per seat. Those who were really keen to see the solar eclipse from a height of 41,000 feet above sea level boarded the ECLIPSE FLIGHT and had real good time of a life time. What was the difference between the ground level watch and the high level watch in the sky, one may ask. Tremendous and indeed a breath taking experience, so said those who experienced it. The high price that the individuals had paid gave the expected returns. So, no complaints. The large number of cameras inside the aeroplane and the ecstasy writ large on viewers faces inside the aircraft made one believe that they were having as good a celestial experience as a pious soul has on attaining the Moksha. Of course, the Captain of the flight had the best view from the cockpit and it more than compensated for the pain of leaving the cosy bed at an unearthly hour to pilot the plane at an angle and at an appropriate height so that the special flight passengers have the best view of the last total eclipse of a century plus. The cameras worked well despite the air turbulence that could be termed as minimal. The TV channels transmitted live pictures and commentaries that the viewers back home enjoyed in the cool climes of their air-conditioned bedrooms. The superstitious pregnant housewives did not have to stir out of the house for fear of a miscarriage. The enlightened TV channels, however, kept on underscoring the educational point that a total or even a partial solar or lunar eclipse and a miscarriage have nothing in common. And yet expectant mothers and educated fathers-to be did not want to take a chance.

The Naked Eye gave the best view, better than what a camera lens could, that was everyone’s opinion. Precautions had to be observed lest an eye was damaged for good. Superstitious beliefs pursued men and women all over the world, especially in Asia where the total solar eclipse was visible this time. In China the common man believes that the Sun is eaten away by the Dragon and that causes the eclipse. In India the dragon is substituted by Rahu and Ketu who cause this turmoil at fixed intervals. Imagine, Bharat gave learned scholars like Arya Bhatta to the world and he could calculate the movement of celestial bodies accurately and common man in Arya Bhatta’s motherland believes in Rahu and ketu causing the eclipse. It was at a place called “TARAGNA” in modern Bihar where Arya Bhatta calculated movement of stars and, therefore, a large number of scientists had gathered there to study all about eclipse and turbulence on Sun’s surface, if any. They were disappointed as the cloud cover hanging heavy over the place spoiled the show.


Haridwar, Prayagraj, Varanasi – these ancient towns along the river Ganges attracted maximum number of pilgrims who flocked there to take a dip in mother Ganga and wash away all sins. Unfortunately, there was a stampede at the Dashaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi where some lives were lost. The eye witness accounts blamed poor administration and poor crowd management. In an ancient country where large crowds of devotees has been congregating on the banks of sacred rivers since time immemorial, crowd management should be a part of the standard operating procedure. Perhaps, it is lack of attention to details on the part of senior crowd managers and top echelon administrators that cause loss of life. It is preventable. The non-Ganges- bank place that attracted almost a million and a half devotees is Kurukshetra in Haryana. Everyone was keen to take a dip in the Brahma Sarovar to help the Sun god defeat the demon, Rahu. The devotees came out with flying colours as the Sun was shining bright in a little over three minutes. The birds that had gone to sleep again during the total eclipse returned to life and chirped again as the period of eclipse was over.

The Indian Air Force flew its own Jaguar fighter planes from Gwalior to Arunachal Pradesh to record on camera the solar eclipse as visible there. IAF has been doing these studies for quite some time and the results help them in gaining authentic knowledge about the celestial bodies, our firmament and the unknown stars of the galaxy. Commendable, indeed. Our Air Force has kept the Arya Bhatta tradition of gaining scientific knowledge alive. True Knowledge is worth acquiring for national use. Never mind, if it turns out to be against the age-old beliefs that are not scientific. The total solar eclipse in Asia has once again aroused the instinct for quest of knowledge in young and old alike in Bharat and elsewhere. A good step forward for the benefit of Mankind!

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