(Featured Image: by Luc Viatour under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tamaso ma Jyotirgamaya

“From Darkness, lead me to Light” says a famous line from the Upanishads – a knowledge bank from ancient India. It’s such an irony that Indians are probably among the most superstitious peoples of the world, lost in the darkness with eyes wide open, not wanting to perceive what they see.

As I searched for “Total Solar Eclipse” on the internet to know more about the mega-event that’s happening in our celestial world, visible to the North American people, I found one of the topmost search results based on my location (traced to India) to be an article titled “Will Surya Grahan Sutak will be applicable to India?

To the uninitiated, Surya Grahan is solar eclipse in Hindi and Sutak is a mode of protecting oneself (and / or others) from inauspicious events or protecting a person or household through isolation from a polluted environment. Death, childbirth are among such events. Yes, I know you’re wondering why Indians would treat childbirth that way.

Childbirth does bring in happiness to our households, however, the mother and the child are to vulnerable to infections and hence their family is expected to observe isolation. While that stands to be the actual motive, the tradition itself has evolved into something else. It’s common to see related families not visiting others’ houses, not celebrating festivals, not taking part in ceremonies like marriage because a third or fourth circle relative (dad’s cousin’s son has a child, for example) often referred to as Sagotra or Sapinda relative having delivered a child.

Death is another such event where you have to isolate yourself in order to not contaminate the households of those who are not directly or indirectly related to the person who died.

A solar eclipse is also treated on similar lines, although the contamination or isolation period lasts only a few hours. Indians, mainly the Hindus, believe that a solar eclipse or a proper lunar eclipse can actually cause inauspicious events on earth. While the original motive could have been to prevent people from being exposed to long hours to the solar event, those were ancient times. It’s part of our tradition now to do one or more of the following things when a solar / lunar eclipse occurs:

  • Take bath before the eclipse takes place and once after the eclipse ends.
  • Perform pooja (worship, chant mantras, perform aarti) to please our Gods.
  • Place a Holy Basil leaf each in all the perishable food items to protect them from contamination.
  • Not cook during the eclipse’ influence period (anywhere between 2-10 hours before the eclipse occurs)
  • Ensure all the cooked food is consumed at least 6 hours in advance and your stomach’s empty when the eclipse occurs.

As an Indian, I may not be doing justice according to many because I’m selling the wrong India to the world. Yet, I felt like writing this for my fellow Indians who have to understand when and where to draw the line between faith and absurdity.

I’ll not question the concept of God or debate faith here. However, I’d surely question the practice of these traditions in 2017. Religion, culture and traditions are three different things is what I believe. Unfortunately, in India, these three things get intertwined to an extent that one can easily mistake one for the other. Our traditions have reached such levels of absurdity now that a large number of these traditions have turned people extremely superstitious.

India is that country where space scientists offer prayers at temples before they launch a mission to Mars. If you’re not a staunch atheist in India, you’d surely budge to the demands of your parents to consult an astrologer to know the best “Muhurat” (auspicious time based on the stars) to buy your car or may be enter your new house. Most of these don’t hold a significant purpose and yet are part of our daily lives.

While I understand many such absurdities, I cannot understand or accept a solar eclipse Sutak or isolation of a girl during her periods (Yes, that happens too). It’s not that I’ve not practised these. I did believe in the ill-effects of solar eclipse and used to argue with my brothers. I was 14 or 16 then. The fact that I come from quite an orthodox Brahmin family only added to such beliefs.

I’m an engineer now, a person who writes code in programming languages. No article woke me up from the deep slumber nor did any scientist enlighten me. The access to the vast amount of knowledge present in the world through newspapers, magazines, encyclopaedias and, later, the internet have collectively contributed to an awakening in me.

I’m not among those who’d object to the concept of God. There’s God and God means different to different people. I believe in “Goodliness is Godliness” thought. So, I won’t debate on the existence of God or Gods. I won’t even question the authenticity of Ramayana or Mahabharata because parts of them are too good to be true and other parts of them seem quite true. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and many such ancient writings / scriptures have a humongous amount of knowledge stored in them which we need to analyse, learn from, analyse and apply based on current day scenario. We can’t discard them.

At the same time, we can’t keep spreading falsity to the lesser learned people. It’s a sad thing that Brahmins – the class of people who dominated knowledge once, are among the most superstitious people in modern India. That they continue to practice and profess unscientific traditions under the garb of protecting Indian (and thereby Vedic) culture is something that’s hypocritical of them given that they generally are among the most educated groups with a large number of scientists and engineers hailing from the specific caste.

The educated, rational minds of today owe it to the world to educate others, not by confrontation, but by adopting smarter ways of spreading knowledge. The educated cannot continue to claim that monkeys built a bridge between or Sri Lanka, or that a Rahu will come to eat the Sun for sometime but will fail at it.

This solar eclipse, let’s educate at least one person around us by indulging in a healthy debate. Let’s lead the world from darkness to light.

Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityorma Amrutamgamaya

Lead us from the False and the Unreal to Truth and Real,
Lead us from Darkness of Ignorance to the Light that Knowledge is,
Lead us from the Death of this mortal self, to Immortality through my thoughts and ways