- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MUMBAI, India | Indian astrologers are predicting violence and turmoil across the world as a result of this week’s total solar eclipse, which the superstitious and religious view as a sign of potential doom.

But astronomers, scientists and secularists are trying to play down claims of evil portent in connection with Wednesday’s natural spectacle, when the moon will come between the Earth and the sun, completely obscuring the sun.

In Hindu mythology, the two demons Rahu and Ketu are said to “swallow” the sun during eclipses, snuffing out its life-giving light and causing food to become inedible and water undrinkable.

Pregnant women are advised to stay indoors to prevent their babies from developing birth defects, while prayers, fasting and ritual bathing, particularly in holy rivers, are encouraged.

Shivani Sachdev Gour, a gynecologist at the Fortis Hospital in New Delhi, said a number of expectant mothers scheduled for Caesarean deliveries on Wednesday had asked to change the date.

“This is a belief deeply rooted in Indian society. Couples are willing to do anything to ensure that the baby is not born on that day,” Dr. Gour said.

Astrologers have predicted a rise in communal and regional violence in the days after the eclipse, particularly in India, China and other Southeast Asian nations where it could be seen Wednesday morning.

Mumbai astrologer Raj Kumar Sharma predicted “some sort of attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad or al Qaeda on Indian soil” and a devastating natural disaster in Southeast Asia.

It is not just in India that some are uneasy about what will transpire because of the eclipse.

In ancient China they were often associated with disasters, the death of an emperor or other dark events, and similar superstitions persist.

“The probability for unrest or war to take place in years when a solar eclipse happens is 95 percent,” announced an article that attracted many visitors to the popular Chinese Web portal Baidu.com.

Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, dismissed such doomsday predictions as an opportunity to enhance their business with predictions of danger and calamity. “They have been very powerful in India, but over the last decade they have been in systematic decline.”

Astronomers and scientists are also working to educate the public about the eclipse. Travel firm Cox and Kings has chartered a Boeing 737-700 aircraft to give people the chance to see the eclipse from 41,000 feet. Clouds are expected to cover much of the sun’s path during the eclipse.

Experts will be on board to explain it to passengers, some of whom have paid 79,000 rupees ($1,600) for a “sun-side” seat on the three-hour flight from New Delhi.

Siva Prasad Tata, who runs the Astro Jyoti Web site, straddles the two worlds.

“There’s no need to get too alarmed about the eclipse, they are a natural phenomenon,” the astrologer said. But he added: “During the period of the eclipse, the opposite attracting forces are very, very powerful. From a spiritual point of view, this is a wonderful time to do any type of worship.”

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