Mr Cho gave some information on eclipses in yesterday's episode in the mega serial "Enge Brahmanan?'
I don't agree with him fully on what he said on 'peedai' as caused by eclipses.
Astrology is the best source to know the importance attached to eclipses.
There is no taboo attached to eclipses and Varahamihira and Bhaskara were vocal about it.
There is no 'peedai' in the meaning of 'torment' connected with eclipses.
Peedai is derived from 'peeditthal'.
This is the Tamil equivalent for 'grahanam' which means 'binding' or 'catching'.
There is no torment caused by this 'peedai' in effect.
This peedai is a description of the eclipse.
But gradually it came to be identified with a non-existent torment as being caused by the eclipse.
One common practice at the time of eclipse is bathing (sarvanga snanam - head to toe bath) and washing the house after the eclipse is over.
Bathing oneself and washing the house are done not to remove this 'peedai'.
They are done because of the belief that pithrus or departed ancestors visit our plane of existence or the houses where pithru tarpan is done at the time of eclipse.
Another practice is to stop eating any food minimum four hours before the eclipse begins. (In olden days this was stretched to more than eight hours)
Food takes four hours to move out of the stomach. This restriction shows that there must not be any food in the stomach at the time of eclipse.
This restriction on food could be because there is likely to be some disturbance to the digestive juices of the stomach caused by the combined attraction of the sun and the moon.
Another reason could be that one must fast at the time of coming of the pithrus during eclipse, as it is done at the time of pithru tarpan or yearly shraddha when the pithrus come to the earthly plane.
Yet another practice in food matters is that of keeping a piece of darbha grass on edible items just before an eclipse. These pieces of darbha grass must be removed after the eclipse. There is a proven property of darbha grass in inhibiting x-rays. (can be read in this link)
We don’t know what kind of radiation is let out during an eclipse. But the practice to keep the darbha on food items does indicate that some sort of radiation reaches the earth and enters the food items. Darbha gives protection from such radiations. That there is some radiation let off during an eclipse can also ascertained from a custom of not using the cooked food prepared before the eclipse. That is, one must not consume the food prepared prior to the eclipse. Food is freshly made after the eclipse for consumption.
Perhaps this radiation is called as ‘peedai’. This is removed by water wash. Bathing after an eclipse and washing the house after an eclipse may be due to this.
The only serious problem with eclipse is in the case of pregnant women.
Throughout the period of pregnancy, the fetus is in some stage of development.
It is vulnerable to outside influences. Such vulnerability is exploited by Vedic society only once, during the 3rd month of the first pregnancy to change the sex of the fetus.
The 'pum' ceremony is found effective in influencing the status of the fetus. This goes to show that any outside force can tamper with the fetus. In this sense, eclipse is viewed as a potential agent to disturb the fetus – at any stage of its development and therefore the pregnant woman is made to hide herself from the direct rays of the sun or moon at the time of eclipse.
This seclusion does not happen in other societies prompting one to question whether they had any problems in their kids after they were born. My answer is that we can not say that their kids did not have any problem attributed to exposure to eclipse. There is another possibility that not all fetuses can be influenced. Seclusion is done only as a precaution to avert any damage to that faculty or part of the body that is developing in the fetus at that moment of eclipse. Nothing stops one from experimenting or analyzing this supposed influence of the eclipse. Since we have seen Sanatanic wisdom as highly scientific in so many other issues, we depend on it in this issue too and continue to recommend seclusion for pregnant women at the time of eclipse.
Apart from this, no seclusion is done for others. Mr Cho seemed to suggest that some diseases could take root due to the exposure to eclipse. Nowhere such a predicament is suggested in texts or in practice.
Eclipses are the time when people used to go to the banks of river or the sea shore to do pithru karma. People should not see the sun directly – obviously to avoid damage to their eyes. That does not mean one should not go out during eclipse.
There are many inscriptions found in South India on what people in those days did on eclipse days. The following link provides the information.
From these it is known that solar eclipses were the time when people were ready sacrifice their lives. Yes, pyre would be lit and the one intending to go to Surya mandala after death, would enter the pyre at the time of Solar eclipse.
Such sacrifices were not done on Lunar eclipses.
They were the time to do charity.
Both the eclipses were special occasions for doing pithru tarpaN and charity.
Astrology recommends some propitiation for those born in those stars influenced by an eclipse. It is because any celestial body in close proximity with sun loses its power in astrological terms. In reality we do find problems in mental faculties (such as thoughts, temper etc) of those born in eclipses or on new moon days. This gives rise to the concept of needing to do some propitiation for those born in stars afflicted by eclipse.
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