Solar Eclipse And Hindu Mythology

A landmark solar eclipse will take place on July 22, 2009. It is the appropriate time to look at the most celebrated solar eclipse in Hindu mythology.
Solar eclipse translates as “surya grahan” in Hindi. A solar eclipse will occur on July 22, 2009. The total solar eclipse can be viewed from a band running across India and China.

This eclipse, lasting 6 minutes 39 seconds, will be the longest total solar eclipse of the twenty-first century [1]. All ancient cultures have stories of eclipses that have significantly impacted them. The same is true of Hinduism. The Mahabharata, the greatest epic of Hinduism, features a total solar eclipse at an important juncture in the war.

The Penance of Jayadrata
The story of the eclipse is linked to Jayadrata, the husband of Dushala, who was the sister of Duryodhan. When the Pandavas were in exile Jayadrata abducted their wife Draupadi. The Pandava brothers rescued Draupadi but could not kill Jayadrata because he was married to their cousin. Hence they shaved his head and painted his face black and let him go. Pained by this treatment worse than death, Jayadrata undertook a penance and received a boon. On a day of his choosing he would stand equal to all the Pandava brothers except Arjun.

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Jayadrata cashed this boon during the Mahabharata War. In the war he sided with his brother-in-law Duryodhan against the Pandavas. One day when Arjun was engaged elsewhere in the battle field, Duryodhan’s army laid out a special formation. Arjun’s son, Abhimanyu broke the formation but Jayadrata prevented the other Pandava brothers from entering the breach. As a result Abhimanyu was trapped alone and mercilessly killed. On hearing of his son’s death, Arjun swore that he would either slay Jayadrata before sunset the next day or give up his life by entering a burning pyre.

Jayadrata’s Death
Duryodhan decided that Jayadrata would not enter the battlefield the next day but remain in the camp. His entire army would surround the camp and prevent Arjun from reaching it. The next day saw the fiercest fighting of the Mahabharata war. Single-handedly Arjun, with his chariot driven by Krishna, defeated one after another of Duryodhan’s generals. But they kept coming back at him. Despite that just before sunset Arjun was within striking distance of Duryodhan’s camp.

However Krishna told Arjun that he would never make it to the camp in time. There was now only one way out. Krishna would use his Maya or divine powers to hide the sun from the sky. Arjun should pretend to concede defeat. Jayadrata would not be able to resist witnessing the spectacle of Arjun’s death. He would come out of hiding. Arjun should not worry about the sun having set. He should kill Jayadrata there and then.

This plan worked to perfection. No sooner had Jayadrata died, Krishna again worked his Maya and the sun shone brightly. This is how the incident has been described in the original version of the Mahabharata written by Veda Vyasa [2].

Some later retellings of the story have a slightly different narration. Seeing the sky go dark Jayadrata comes out to see Arjun die. The sun then starts shining again and it is then that Arjun shoots the fatal arrow. The possible rationalization for this is that not only must promises be kept but they must be seen to be kept.

Solar Eclipse Or Krishna’s Maya
The phenomenon described in the Mahabharata fits the description of a total solar eclipse. This has raised an unending debate between theologians and historians, with the former claiming that the event was a divine creation and the latter insisting that it was a solar eclipse. The stand taken by the theologians is not unreasonable. Astronomy was sufficiently advanced during the Mahabharata period and eclipses could not only be understood but also predicted. Therefore if an eclipse was to occur on that fateful day both warring factions would have been aware of it.

The historians are undeterred by this reasoning. They attribute the narration in the Mahabharata to the literary license allowed to story tellers. In fact assuming the event to be an eclipse has helped historians to date the Mahabharata war [3]. A lunar eclipse has been described to occur thirteen days before this solar eclipse.

Astronomers have calculated all possible eclipse pairs matching the above time difference and visible from Kurukshetra, the battlefield of the Mahabharata war. There are six possibilities between 3129 BCE and 1397 BCE. Based on other astronomical information available in the epic 3129 BCE appears to be the best candidate for the Mahabharata war.

Sources:

[1] Solar Eclipse of July 22, 2009; Wikipedia; Accessed from Wikipedia.org
[2] Mahabharata Book 7 Section CXLV; Hinduism; Sacred Texts; Accessed from Sacred-texts.com
[3] Dr. S. Balakrishna; Dating Mahabharata; Accessed from Boloji.com

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Posted on March 20, 2012, in Mahabharata. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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