Evolution of the Eclipse

1980 Eclipse
1980 Eclipse

Having witnessed 5 solar eclipses, one of which was a totality – over a period of 14 years, and having read about the one from 1980, I am going to try and chronicle how the eclipse viewing has changed over the past 29 years.

The photo at the top shows a normally busy income tax office square in an Indian city bereft of any people during the eclipse of 1980.

1980 1996 2009
TV Showed a movie to keep people indoors Showed a live telecast of the eclipse Let people just watch on their own, nothing special
People Stayed indoors mostly. Only the scientists watched the eclipse. It was quite a people event, the educated watched the superstitious didn’t Everyone watched! Right from the bathing sadhus to the city dwellers
Advise by the ophthalmologists Don’t watch! Not even with filters. Don’t watch! Not even with filters. Forgotten
Media Newspaper Newspaper / TV Newspaper / TV / Web / Flickr
Astrologers Spreading doomsday Spreading doomsday Spreading doomsday

timeline
In 1980, the eclipse was watched in 15 eclipse camps – it was a first in 82 years. Some interesting news items from that time:

  • No let up in rituals. Normally people try to ward off the harmful effects of the eclipse by putting pieces of ‘Durva’ into food items like milk, butter, ghee and drinking water.
  • With the repeated warnings of all the mass media still ringing in their ears, the elite class didn’t dare to have a direct look at the eclipsed sun.
  • ‘It was simply beautiful’ said an observer in Taita hills, Kenya. ‘We had 3 minutes 50 seconds of totality’. ‘The elders say we should go inside’ said Henry Kazungu 28, a member of the rat eating Giriama tribe. ‘But I want to stay out and see it. I want to be able to say later that this great thing happened in this year and I was there’.

Some news items from the 1995 eclipse:

  • The council of astrologers: “The sun signifies the rulers. Thus in the region where the total solar eclipse will be visible the heads of the governments will be adversely affected.”
  • With barely three days left for the solar eclipse, a serious controversy among scientists and ophthalmologists has put the West Bengal government in a quandary and the people in a fix.
  • One publication showed a photo of an elephant at Yamuna Ghat waiting patiently for the sun to be freed from its lunar embrace so that it could have a holy dip.
  • Unlike in 1980, millions of people watched the event last fortnight, turning it into a mass science festival.

From 2006:

  • Schoolchildren clapped and cheered as the first total eclipse in years plunged Ghana into daytime darkness, a solar show sweeping northeast from Barzil to Mangolia.

In 2009, the clincher was a photo in one of the national dailies showing the bathing sadhus wearing solar goggles and watching the eclipse. Flickr also made a world of difference: we could see various cultures in various countries trying to watch the eclipse, and interpreting it in their own ways.

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