Solar Eclipse Freaks Out Indians July 21, 2009

Solar Eclipse Freaks Out Indians

Well, this is just embarrassing for my people.

Not as bad as having to marry a tree before your husband, but still nothing to be proud of.

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.

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 developing birth defects, while prayers, fasting and ritual bathing, particularly in holy rivers, are encouraged.

How are Indian people so good with math and science, yet so prone to irrational, unscientific stupidity?

There’s at least one voice of reason:

Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, dismissed such doomsday predictions.

“Primarily, what we see with all these soothsayers and astrologers is that they’re looking for opportunities to enhance their business with predictions of danger and calamity,” he told AFP.

But wait! He’s not the only one!

There’s an astrologer who also has some words of wisdom:

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

“There’s no need to get too alarmed about the eclipse, they are a natural phenomenon,” the astrologer told AFP.

Wow… that makes sense… does an astrologer actually have something intelligent to say?

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.

“It will bring about good results, much more than on an ordinary day.”

Son of a bitch…

Here’s another question: Why is Phil Hazlewood, the presumably non-Indian reporter, writing about the astrologers and their predictions as if they deserve an objective hearing? Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean both sides of your story have good points.

It’s not bias to say the astrologers are wrong. That’s a fact. So admit it.

(Thanks to Hector for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tully

    What if I’m pregnant and bathing in a holy river at the moment of the eclipse?

  • Thilina

    From a spiritual point of view, this is a wonderful time to do any type of worship.

    It will bring about good results, much more than on an ordinary day

    Better hold off on sacrificing that goat until the eclipse.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    I watched it on CNN’s online stream (b/c the planned webcasts were all hosed). One site from which they broadcast was Kurukshetra, India. When Sol’s disc was back to 100% visibility, the crowd started wading and diving into the river. If we only knew what percentage of them did it for fun versus those who did it for the religi-cleanse-ritual. Anyway, at least they weren’t afraid to go out and witness the eclipse — though, hopefully, they had some eclipse glasses in hand (or on head).

  • Well, this is just embarrassing for my people.

    What? Idiots? I think you’re being a little harsh on yourself there, Hemant.

  • Sid

    as a fellow, Indian I also shake my head. At the same time, I am reminded of what my wife always tells me.

    Unlike fundamentalist America, in India science and religion are truly kept separate. The faithful do no question evolution or the findings of science. She recalled that even the christian convents taught science as science. There was no sense that science was somehow in competition with religion.

  • Matt D

    Here’s another question: Why is Phil Hazlewood, the presumably non-Indian reporter, writing about the astrologers and their predictions as if they deserve an objective hearing? Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean both sides of your story have good points.

    Sometimes you have to look to find the ridicule.

    I recently saw an article in a Sydney newspaper about Mary McKillop’s impending sainthood – the church was just waiting on “confirmation” of her last miracle.

    The kicker? – the other article on the page was about a cat that read its owners’ thoughts! Hilarious, the editor is my kind of guy/girl.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I’d also question the Indians = good at math and science.

    When you have a population as vast as Indias, those who are good at Math and Science get well ahead of the others and can afford to travel, emigrate, and correspond with foreign people and places. Those crap at maths and science, not nearly as much.

    We think indians are good at these things because we only see the indians smart enough to have a societal position that warrants contact with us in the west.

    Even relatively poor immigrants tend to be those with the independance and will to up sticks and move to an entirely different culture.

    Not the only factors certainly, but pretty big ones i reckon.

  • CiCi

    It’s such a shame when religious superstition compels people to hide in dark houses, praying for forgiveness during one of the coolest eclipse of this century and the next. As an atheist currently living in east Asia, I have to say that experiencing a solar eclipse through earth is not only beautiful, but also breathtaking and unforgettable. Religion blinds so many people to too many things.

  • I feel scared for our people too, Hemant! And I do not think Indians are “good” at science. They may be hard working and and may study science. But it is not applied. As in, they rarely question. I know physicists who are extremely religious(my parent’s colleagues) and follow all astrological and gemstone based predictions and prescriptions. And yet, they are smart bright people who know their science well. I think the difference is between “understanding” science to develop a scientific bent of mind and “knowing” science as a litany of facts and formulae.
    As for the separation of science and religion- it is so on paper. But even prime ministers have gone to visit holy men and temples ON state funds in India.

  • Craig

    How are Indian people so good with math and science, yet so prone to irrational, unscientific stupidity?

    You mean how is it that some Indians are educated and some (the masses) are not?

  • TruFru

    Somebody did die in India due to the eclipse. But stupidity played a big part in that…

    As a lot of commenters point out, the Indians in the US are mostly the well-educated ones. The average Indian is much more superstitious and ignorant. The positive thing in the Indian society is that even the superstitious Indians are not very anti-science (contrast with the evolution denying bible-thumpers).

  • CatBallou

    I think you can let yourself off the hook regarding the whole “my people” thing. I understand that India has a large and diverse population!
    My ancestors came to North America from Scotland and Ireland more than two centuries ago, and their descendants have spread quite far—so I’m related to some of the most pig-ignorant people anywhere on earth, i.e., inhabitants of Appalachia and the Southeast. I certainly don’t think of them as “my people.”

  • Genetically speaking you will be hard pressed to determine any behavioral difference between any of the races. Everything of importance can be contributed to cultural differences. And culture only takes a generation to change. I feel a bond with many like-minded people of many different races.

  • It is a shame that we live in an age of such widespread buffoonery but I have to take issue with your criticism of the journalist for presenting the perspective of the various weirdos objectively. One of the greatest problems I see with the media today is that the line between journalist and commentator is too often blurred to the point that if one isn’t paying attention one can get confused. Take Fox News as an example. They don’t run any unbiased purely journalistic content, as far as I can tell, but they call themselves a “news channel”. What they really are is a 24 hour video news magazine. In fact, they deliberately blur the line by such actions as labeling the Bill O’Reilly Show, or “The Factor”, or whatever the **explitive deleted** they call it, the “No Spin Zone”, when it is nothing but spin, i.e. commentary. It used to be that it was easy to tell the difference between editorial content and the actual news shows. Not any more, and the undereducated among us are fooled by it.

    The blurring of this line is extremely detrimental to society because it muddies the information flowing into peoples heads and can lead them to make poor decisions, such as voting Republican, as Fox would like. Because of this I believe that we should be demanding that our journalists do nothing but report objectively. They should all change their middle names to Objectivity. I cannot overstate this, I don’t think. Society will crumble without a well functioning Fourth Estate. If objective facts cannot make their way through the media to the voters the voters cannot cast accurate ballots. If facts can’t make their way to politicians, well then you get people like Representative Bachmann of Minnesota. If facts can’t make their way to business leaders… well I think you get my drift.

    We atheists may not think it’s bias to say that astrologers are wrong, but we have no idea what the level of scientific education this journalist has and I think it’s unfair to criticize him for making the decision to present those POVs objectively. I would much rather his journalistic instinct be to report every POV objectively.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Manyhats, I take my hat off to you. Excellent post.

    The whole infotainment industry seems to have gutted the news industry quite thoroughly. Fox being the most obvious example. Even the other mainstream media outlets have this though. Along with the lack of objectivity is my personal bugbear, the idea that balance is good.

    Most issues are now presented as a debate between two sides. A show gets on a spokesman from each side and lets them bawl and wail at each other. At no point is any actual analysis of ideas attempted by any journalist. This leads to the silliness we get on CNN and MSNBC where you have some seasoned expert (lets say nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman) put in against some bombastic blowhard from the GOP. Both say their piece and the segment ends. The host of the show never attempts any kind of fact checking, analysis, follow up questions or anything like that. Its entertainment masquerading as news.

    This leads to silliness like the current debate you yanks are having on healthcare reform where millionaire TV anchors get on millionaire healthcare lobbyists and millionaire senators to discuss an issue which none of them have any idea about or have a vested interest in lying about. You get these people saying that America has the best healthcare system in the world, a clear and bold lie known wildly by the 46 million americans with no health cover. something like 76% of the american public are in favour of a public option in healthcare but you’d never know it from the news shows.

  • I don’t think the problem is as bad as it seems. I posted about this on Skepchick. It seems like a lot of it is ‘look at the crazy Indians’ and small incidents are being over-reported. There is plenty of evidence that most Indians were out in full force, watching the eclipse and loving it.

  • Mr. The Munchkin,

    I quite agree. I saw this post on Pharyngula that makes your point humorously. Enjoy!

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