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India?s first known eclipse

As per the Rig Veda, the first eclipse happened over Kurukshetra, some time between 1200 BC and 3296 BC.

india Updated: Mar 29, 2006 16:22 IST

This afternoon's eclipse makes you recall the first known eclipse reported in the ancient world, in the Rig Veda.

How long ago? Dates swing madly between 1200 BCE and 3296 BCE (“Before Common Era” as “Before Christ” is now referred to). Who cares, given its antiquity anyway? What we do know is that it happened over Kurukshetra in the afternoon, madhya dine, as that ancient voice chattily informs us.

The stages of the eclipse are described in the Rig Veda’s Mandala (book) Five, Sukta (hymn) Forty, verses 5-7 that begin Yat tva surya svarbhanus tamasavidhyad asura.

In English, it would read something like:

“O Surya, when the Asura’s spawn Svarbhanu pierced you right through with darkness, All creatures were bewildered and could not tell where each one stood.

When you smote down Svarbhanu’s magic that spread itself below the sky, O Indra, By his fourth sacred prayer Atri  discovered Surya concealed in the darkness that stopped him from shining.

(Let not this fearful enemy swallow me up in his fury, O Atri, for I am yours. You are Mithra, the sender of true blessings; you and Lord Varuna are both my helpers).

So the Rishi Atri aligned the soma-pressing stones and praising the deities, Set back in the sky the eye of Surya, causing Svarbhanu’s magic arts to vanish.” But fear of “Svarbhanu’s magic” obviously didn’t vanish with science. In 1999, astroscientists calculated that AN10, a large asteroid of one km width, would narrowly miss the Earth on August 7, 2027, coming as close as 38,000 km (the moon orbits ten times further). They warned that Earth’s gravitational pull would affect the asteroid’s trajectory and lead to an impact in 2039, destroying continents and changing our climate. MIT professor Richard Binzel developed the Torino Scale of “asteroid risk” to explode this theory. But this loose galactic cannon will apparently stay “dangerously close” to our orbit for almost 600 years.

Curious. Seems Svarbhanu still spooks us, hoping someone, somewhere will finally have to hymn Earth with: “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”