Malaysian Eclipse and Temple
I have received more than a dozen queries from my readers in Malaysia regarding temples being open or closed during eclipse (Grahan). It seems lunar eclipse will fall on January 31 and Batu Caves Lord Subramanya temple committee in Malaysia plans to open the temple despite warning form religious pundits. A large section of Malaysian Hindus are upset and another section has remained confused.
“Eclipse is a natural phenomenon. Festival is an occasion to celebrate.” – This is the reply I sent to each one. However, some of them sought further clarification as they are still in a dilemma.
“How did the scriptures of Hindu Dharma look at eclipse?” one question.
Rig Veda book V verse 40 mentions about eclipse. Probably this would be the earliest reference to an eclipse in world.
Narada Purana talks about Eclipse. As I said many times, Puranas are exaggerated stories, though you can trace history from them. In Puranic stories for kids, it is said that the eclipses happens because the body-less head of Rahu who tried to eat up the Sun and the Moon due to an enmity to them. We know that Rahu and Ketu are the pseudo-planetary lunar nodes and such things do not exist. It’s just a poetic imagination.
India’s great scientists (we called them sages) like Aryabhata have scientifically explained solar and lunar eclipses. “Chhadayati shashi suryam shashinam mahatI cha bhuch chaya” (The moon covers the sun and the great shadow of the earth covers moon) says Aryabhatiyam, Golapadah (Chapter 4, Shlokha 37). He says that the Moon and planets simply shine by reflected sunlight.
“Udayji, does any of the Vedic literature instruct that that the temple must remain closed during the lunar eclipse?” another question.
“I have not read all literature. But to best of my knowledge the answer is NO.”
There was no temple during Vedic period. I have not come across mentioning of temples during Puranic times too. Temples must have appeared in India and other places (where Hindu culture existed) post-puranic period for the simple reason that, most of the deities among 330 million are Puranic heroes.
According to Hindu Shastras the only activity recommended before and after an eclipse is Tarpanam (offering of water). Parashar Smriti says, during eclipse all waters become pure like Ganges. The Katyayana Smriti also says the same: During solar and lunar eclipses all the waters, that exist on earth and even that in a well, become like that of the Ganges. So eclipse should be good then.
Texts like Dharma sindhu talk in detail about eclipses. It says activities like sacred bathing, charity, reciting mantras etc during eclipse is considered good and it is believed to give manifold results. So, generally there has been no ill-feeling about eclipse in ancient India.
“Uday, then how come eclipse became a dreaded thing?”
Let me tell you a story from history. When Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica the natives were hostile to him and his crew. Columbus had an astronomy almanac by Abraham Zacuto. He knew a lunar eclipse coming up on February 29, 1504. He met with the tribal leader and told him God was angry with native’s treatment of Columbus. He said his God would put clear sign of his anger in the sky by making the full Moon appear “inflamed with wrath.” His trick worked. When the natives saw the eclipse – on schedule, just as Columbus predicted, they became scared and considered him as God’s messenger.
This is the trick the ancient priests and tribal heads used to exploit primitive or uneducated people.
The sun, which is worshipped as a major life force in the universe, disappears during the solar eclipse. So the pagans and a section of believers (not the sages in our Dharma) considered it as bad omen or evil. Naturally then, a number of rituals are conducted to minimize the negative effects of this natural phenomenon.
“You are ignorant Uday, during Grahan, dangerous rays will effect temple’s aura and positive energy,” said a believer friend who claims to be scientific!
“I have not learnt about such positive or negative energy in any science, so probably I am ignorant. If you can explain such energies, I am very much interested to learn. According to my understanding, Aura is also a popular non-existing fancy item that sold in the spiritual trade,” I replied to him. Science didn’t find any dangerous thing to happen in atmosphere during eclipse.
The modern believers who wanted to justify their beliefs added some fake science like “negative energy”. They say the “positive aura” (another fake) in the temple will be destroyed! Is the God too powerless?
Even when we humans do not get affected by the eclipse how come the God who is supposedly more powerful than us and also believed to be the creator of all the planets and the sun could get affected?
“You should understand Mr.Uday that the ultra violet rays will create negative energy around the temple…” another comment.
In the spectrum of solar heat rays, apart from the seven colours, there are x-rays. Radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, and gamma rays. Yes, ultra violet rays are dangerous for us. But ozone layers stop it from coming down. Even during eclipse we have ozone layer. So there won’t be any trouble.
The only thing that scientists warn is that it’s not a good idea to look at a solar eclipse without special eye protection. And all of you know the reason.
“According to temple Shastras, all temples should be closed during eclipse,” yet another comment.
Most of the temples follow Agama Shastra, a collection of ideas that lays down the rules for worship, temple building, practices and rituals. To best of my knowledge there are more than 200 Agamas. Different temples follow different agamas.
Major Hindu temples across India shut their doors during eclipse as part of their beliefs and precedence – that doesn’t mean it has a scientific base.
“Isn’t it Hindu achara (ritual) to keep the temples closed during eclipse?”
Hindu rituals (achara) can be divided into three – Vedic, Puranic and Mixed. The rituals that use fire as medium to invoke the channels are mostly Vedic rituals. In Purnanic rituals we use deities or images for offerings (pooja). There are mixed rituals too.
We shouldn’t mix up Achara with Precedence. Both are two different things. Sabarimala temple does not allow young women to enter into the temple – it is precedence, not achara. Each and every temple has its own precedence as well as acharas. If you want to visit this temple, you will have to follow whatever the temple authorities say. Nobody invites you there and it is not mandatory for a Hindu to visit any temples. If any temples do not open during eclipse it is precedence, not achara.
In short, it is for the temple management and devasthan to decide whether to open or close during the eclipse. In Maharashtra, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust has allowed women to enter the sanctum sanctorum, breaking the tradition followed for several decades. Temple may or may not follow precedence. Voice of the people is the voice of the god.
So, we may have to follow many traditions due to social compulsion. As long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, we may have to humour our fellow human beings in our society. Only concern is that our traditions shouldn’t create harm to the environment with sound pollution, air pollution or any other sort of pollution. Hindu Dharma is very particular about protecting environment.
If you feel like going to temple during eclipse you may go. If you want to go for movies with family during that time, no god will send you to hell. Because God knows there is no hell and heaven. Hindu dharma is all about individual freedom with self-discipline and all inclusive humanity founded upon non-discrimination and non-violence.
Please do not fall prey to the religious fanatics who preach nonsense. Asking for a logical reason to superstitious beliefs and precedence in temple will get only a subjective answer, not an accurate one. So when somebody threatens you showing achara, you should question it – demand to them to explain it scientifically and logically. All achars in Sanatan Dharma has a logical and scientific base.
In fact we are experiencing eclipse everyday. A complete perfect eclipse! We go below earth’s own shadow. It is known as night! Happy eclipsing to all.
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