Explanation of the custom of not taking food during Solar/Lunar eclipse

[Disclaimer: This is *MY* explanation of the custom of not taking any food widely adopted by the Hindus during the solar and lunar eclipses. You are free to agree or disagree with my viewpoint. I don’t claim this explanation to be perfect. This explanation is totally based on my beliefs and interpretations of events]

Image Courtesy: IBNLIVE

Yesterday, we witnessed the longest lunar eclipse of the century. With every eclipse, solar or lunar, the science vs superstition debate comes to the fore. It happens mainly because of the way households across India force an old custom of ‘not taking/preparing food during the eclipse period’. I don’t believe in this tradition simply because the reason cited for following it. The common reason cited is that the food taken during the eclipse period has ill effects on one’s health. It is really unbelievable and absurd as scientific studies have disproved such theories. In fact, many people take food during the occultation and they don’t face any health troubles. One doesn’t need to be a science genius to realise that one celestial body blocking light rays coming from another celestial body can’t cause any effect to the food prepared on the earth. Still people blinded by superstitions follow such rules without even asking for justification. Well, one can’t stop others from believing in (unfounded) traditions, but in the age of science trusting something without asking for valid reasons is stupid. I spent some time thinking about this particular tradition. Why did the religion include this in its to do/not to do list? Is this tradition wrong and based on no legitimate explanation?

I have a very different perspective about the religion. For me, religion is not about Gods but about people. I feel (and believe) that when people started forming societies, some of them assumed the position of the leaders of the society. They framed certain rules for other members so that everyone can lead a peaceful and prosperous life maintaining peace in the society. Those rules are effectively being called as religion. The then leaders framed rules considering the realities of that age. With changing realities of time, religion(which I defined as the set of rules that binds the society) accepts changes. What I define as religion is conceived as culture by many. To me, culture and religion are just two different names describing the same thing.

Now coming to the particular case of this belief followed during the eclipse period: so what explains having this rule in the religion? Is there any explanation at all? I guess, there is. Not one, but 3 reasons why there is nothing wrong in the tradition of not preparing and eating food during the eclipse.

Close interpretation of the case will make it clear that the reason cited by the followers is not the real reason. The tradition exempts the old, patients and children from fasting during the eclipse period. If religion believed that taking food in a particular period actually affects one’s health adversely, then this part of the society(old, children and patients) would have been the first whom the religion would have tried to save from the adverse effects. What is the message then? This tradition is actually an ‘experiment’ by the society which everyone need not follow. So the dubitable reason cited is false and the real reason for having this ‘experiment’ is something else. Following are the 3 reasons which I believe to be the real cause of having this rule:

1. To control diet: It is very well known how fasting helps one’s overall health. Fasting or to put it in better terms ‘not taking food occasionally’ is often prescribed by doctors too. Fasting once in a week/month is often adopted by people as part of their diet plan. Doesn’t the tradition fit into this scheme? If you see the list ‘Upavasas’ (fasting schedule) in Hindu religion, you can notice that there is at least one day every month when the religion expects you to fast (but doesn’t force you to do it). Eclipses are just another occasion the religion identified to promote this way of diet controlling. Many don’t take controlling diet seriously, perhaps that’s why the religion promoted it in the name of fasting during several occasions with eclipses being one of them.

2. To promote savings: This reason sounds more appropriate than the previous one. I’m sure many of you must have some idea about late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s concept of weekly fasting to promote savings. Why can’t Hinduism’s(for that matter of any religion) idea of fasting be based on promoting the habit of savings among the society members?

3. To give people some time off from the busy life: It is also widely believed that no important work should be done during the eclipse period. Similarly, food is also not made during this period. So all the family members, male and female, actually get some time off from their busy schedule. Those were the times when there was no TV or internet to spend your spare time. So the spare time due to the no work time period might be used by people to interact with each other, to discuss problems of one’s family or of the society. Solar and lunar eclipses happen at least 5-6 times a year. So effectively it means 5-6 days off in a year for everyone to use that time in some good work for one’s family or the society.

I just tried to explain possible reasons fo which the rule is in force. The custom is not a superstition but the reason being shown is one. With the improvement of science, these days no one believes the stories of Rahu or Ketu eating the sun and the moon. People should also do away with the beliefs that are adverse to scientific thinking. There is no place of unjustified beliefs in the society. Not taking food during the solar or lunar eclipse can be followed by the people who want to follow it because it has its justifications. But not  because of the beliefs that are unreasonable.

On that note, I leave you with some exciting pictures of yesterday’s lunar eclipse:

Different phases of the eclipse(Photo: Huffington Post)

Spectacular view (Photo: space.com)

(Photo: space.com)


6 thoughts on “Explanation of the custom of not taking food during Solar/Lunar eclipse

  1. I tend to disagree on explanations, and consciously not citing any scientific reason or explanation from religious speaker, for 1. it will take time to collate (not a major problem though) and 2. Understanding theory to be replied by another understanding (sound or other wise)
    1, The theory mentioned above is too simplistic and hence difficult to understand. for eclipse is a scientific event (aero space) and hence it is to be well understood, when it was written, there has to be strong scientific study gone for predicting eclipse and it can not be done other wise, and hence if so much of study / analytical thinking has gone with in identifying the eclipse, the after math effect or precautionary step would have to have a reason

    2. Again if we consider the above two points to be the reason, of not having food and not doing important work in eclipse, then again question arise – why the practice are not guided for regular interval but on sporadic moments of eclipse, as and when they come. And if it is argued that upvasas and other practice are already there in regular intervals, then the logic is diminutive for occasional eclipse.

    I strongly feel, there has to be a reason for certain actions, so asked – yeah whether their relevance sticks now or nor, is altogather a different subject to think. but dismissing the though process of vedic generations, is not called for, especially when time and again it has been proved equivalent and at times even more superior and ahead in time than present school of thinking. The details and its relevance can be sought from vedic teacher or expert. I rest my case

  2. I agree with your thoughts…… Also if you observe maximum number of fasting days happen to be in Monsoon system when there is lack of fresh food products and to add to it the digestive system also does not function properly.

  3. Yorks says:

    A very nice and balanced post, Dibyasundar. I will not agree to the probable reasons that you have cited for people fasting during eclipses. I feel that the Brahminical class realized thousands of years back that the only way they can retain control over people is by shrouding them with morbid fear and forebodings, and offering their package of practices and mantras as escape routes from such imagined evil. The ‘rules’ around eclipses are examples of such low cunning.

    • Krishna says:

      All the rules were not created by Brahminical class as you mentioned, even this class don’t know the inception for these myths. If you find some foolishness in this act just don’t follow. No one can dare to oppose you cause India is democratic country LOL.

  4. Harikrishnan says:

    During lunar eclipses, what would happen in 28 days over a full lunar cycle is happening in a subtle way over the course of two to three hours of the eclipse. In terms of energy, the earth’s energy is mistaking this eclipse as a full cycle of the moon. Certain things happen in the planet where anything that has moved away from its natural condition will deteriorate very fast. This is why while there is no change in raw fruits and vegetables, there is a distinct change in the way cooked food is before and after the eclipse. What was nourishing food turns into poison. Poison is something that takes away your awareness. If it takes away to a certain minor level, that means you are dull. If it takes away your awareness to a certain depth, that means you are asleep. If something takes away your awareness completely, that means you are dead. Dullness, sleep, death – this is just a progression. So, cooked food will go through the phases of its deterioration much more rapidly in a subtle way than it does on a normal day.

    If there is food in your body, in two hours’ time your energies will age by approximately twenty-eight days. Does that mean you can eat a raw food diet on such a day? No, because the moment food goes into your body, the juices in your stomach attack and kill it. It becomes like semi-cooked food and will still have the same impact.
    This is not just about food. This is about the way you are itself. If you have moved away from the natural dimension of who you are in anyway, you become more susceptible to these forces. If you are in your natural state, you are least available to these forces.

    The cycles of the moon have an impact upon the human system, physically, psychologically and energy-wise. This is evident in the way our mothers went through their cycles. I am talking about our mothers because we are here only because our mothers were in tune with the moon. If our mothers’ bodies were not in tune with the moon we wouldn’t be here today. When the moon is going through a whole cycle in two to three hours’ time, there is a little bit of confusion in all our mothers’ bodies. This is also happening in a man’s body, because your mothers are present in a certain way – not physiologically but in other ways.

    When the body is in a confused state, the best thing is to keep it as empty as possible, and as conscious as possible. One of the simplest ways to be conscious is to not eat. Then you will constantly be conscious of at least one thing. And the moment your stomach is empty, your ability to be conscious becomes so much better. Your body becomes more transparent and you are able to notice what is happening with your system much better.

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