Source of Article:
Tuesday August 10 5:44 AM ET
Indian Villagers Face Solar Eclipse By RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM Associated Press Writer
BHIRANDIARA, India (AP) - A village priest sang Hindu hymns today to ward off evil from the millennium's last total solar eclipse, even as scientists flocked to western India where the black shadow of the Moon will sweep the barren landscape.
Despite astronomers' enthusiasm about Wednesday's eclipse, the scientific facts of the event were not puncturing village superstitions.
"Pregnant women must not leave their homes or the newborn will be blind,"' priest Arjan Maharaj told women who pulled brightly colored shawls over their head as a shield from the Sun. "Anyone holding a knife or ax during the eclipse will cut himself."
Scientists and schoolchildren who have learned about the eclipse tried to advise villagers on the science of the eclipse and of safe methods to watch it. But after nodding patiently, most villagers said they would stay in their mud and thatched huts.
India is the last country in the path of the eclipse, and the village of Bhirandiara, 620 miles northwest of Bombay, has been billed as one of the best sites in the country to watch the Moon block all but the Sun's corona.
To most Indian villagers and a good number of city dwellers, the eclipse symbolizes the demon dragon Rahu gobbling up the Sun. According to mythology, Rahu deceived the gods and had his head sliced off. The demon's head is thought to resurface once every few years to devour the Sun god.
Believers say danger from the eclipse passes only when the Sun emerges from Rahu's head. Until this time, nobody eats or drinks, and cooked food is thrown away for fear of contamination from poisonous rays.
While the villagers readied themselves for the event, scientists and amateurs were making preparations of a different kind.
Dozens of astronomers set up their equipment, and more than 9,000 enthusiasts were expected to converge on 22 villages in the western state of Gujarat. Hotels are fully booked and rail reservations are choked.
This will be the third total solar eclipse India has seen in 19 years. But for many of the visitors, it will be their first.
"I've been told this will be a trip of a lifetime," said British medical student Emily Ferenczi. "Since the forecast in England was cloudy, I hope my decision to come here pays."
David Trentham, a biophysicist from London, also left Europe to view the eclipse.
"It's very different here. It's also interesting seeing the superstitions of people," he said.
The buzz was being felt in big Indian cities as well.
In Bombay, the walls of schools, libraries and government offices were plastered with posters about the eclipse, information booklets were being circulated widely, and newspapers were advising people to buy eclipse goggles.
©Copyright 1998 Elizabeth Beckett,
Holly Bernitt, and Vishwa Chandra.