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Solar eclipse celebrated by millions across Asia

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on July 23, 2009

A statue of Houyi, a legendary Chinese hero reputed to have shot down nine suns with his bow and arrow, is silhouetted against a partial solar eclipse in Changzhi, Shanxi province, yesterday as the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century passed across Asia. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

A statue of Houyi, a legendary Chinese hero reputed to have shot down nine suns with his bow and arrow, is silhouetted against a partial solar eclipse in Changzhi, Shanxi province, yesterday as the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century passed across Asia. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

RAHUL BEDI in New Delhi

THIS CENTURY’S longest solar eclipse plunged large regions of Asia into darkness at dawn yesterday, and millions watched the breathtaking spectacle, which will not recur for 123 years.

Lasting six minutes and 39 seconds in some Asian countries, it was visible for over four minutes over India before moving on to Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan and crowded Chinese cites along the Yangtze River, after which it headed out to the Pacific.

“I don’t want to wait hundreds of years to see this again,” said an animated Song Chun Yun, sporting special protective glasses and a new white dress for the occasion in coastal Shanghai, where clouds initially shrouded the eclipse.

Across superstitious India, however, where eclipses are linked with Hindu fables, one of which associate the phenomenon with the demon-dragon swallowing the sun, tens of millions shuttered themselves indoors and abstained from sleeping, eating and drinking – all such activity being considered inauspicious during the eclipse period.

Many Hindus believe the sun’s rays during an eclipse adversely affect newborns, and expectant mothers asked doctors to either advance or postpone births to avoid complications and wretched subsequent karma for their children.

Tens of thousands of Hindus also immersed themselves in the holy Ganges river at Varanasi in northern India, believing it would cleanse their sins and help their souls attain salvation by releasing them from the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.

“We have come here because our elders told us this is the best time to improve our afterlife,” said Bhailal Sharma, a villager who travelled to Varanasi from central India.

Throughout the day, Indian television channels relaying the eclipse featured a host of astrologers informing viewers of how it would impinge on their respective birth signs.

A 10-member team of astrophysicists filmed the eclipse from a specially equipped Indian Air Force transport aircraft, while a commercial airline operated a charter flight with seats at 80,000 rupees (€1,159).

In neighbouring Hindu-majority Nepal, the government declared a public holiday, and thousands took the opportunity to head off to bathe in rivers and ponds.

“Taking a dip in holy rivers before and after the eclipse saves and protects us from disasters and calamities,” said Sundar Shrestha (86) – who had come to bathe in the holy Bagmati river with six children and grandchildren – with heartfelt conviction.

Eclipse-viewers in central China were luckier than those in the coastal cities near Shanghai, where overcast skies and rain in some places blocked the view of the sun entirely.

Crowds gathered along the high dykes of the industrial city of Wuhan exultantly waving the sun goodbye as the moon moved directly between it and the Earth, covering it completely.

In ancient Chinese culture, an eclipse was an omen linked to natural disasters or deaths in the imperial family.

– IRISH TIMES-

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