Nepal PM breaks eclipse taboo


Nepalese Prime Minister Madav Kumar Nepal wears a pair of goggles before viewing a solar eclipse in Kathmandu on Wednesday. AFP

The 56-year-old veteran communist leader, who had refused to take oath in the name of god and last week scrapped an old tradition invoking five goddesses while embarking on journeys, reached the Nepal Academy  of Science and Technology (NAST) in Khumaltar at 6.15 a.m. to watch the eclipse that began in India and traversed through Nepal, Bhutan and China.

Nepal was accompanied by his wife Gayatri and press advisor Bishnu Rijal.

"It was a life-time spectacle," the moved prime minister said, according to Rijal.

Despite his hectic schedule, the Nepali prime  minister spent an hour at the observatory, where the eclipse started at 5.45 a.m. and continued till 7.47 a.m. local time.

It was an unusual step for a man whose ancestors were Brahmin priests who adhered strongly to religious rituals.

In Nepal, a country that enjoyed the unique distinction of being the only Hindu kingdom in the world till 2006, eclipses are traditionally regarded as bad omens when the demons overpower the gods.

Even today, people do not take food during eclipses while venturing out, relieving oneself or defecating and having sex are taboo.

Bowing partially to public sentiments, the government declared a public holiday Wednesday when even diplomatic missions remained closed.

However, the winds of change were evident as people thronged NAST to peep at the sun through telescopes.

The Kathmandu Mall, one of the biggest shopping arcades in the capital, saw a different early morning crowd with the B.P. Koirala Memorial Planetarium and Observatory pitching its telescopes on the mall roof for public use.

Even a school, Taxila Academy, arranged for telescopes for public viewing of the sight that will recur worldwide only after more than a century.

The last such solar eclipse that could be viewed from Nepal occurred Jan 22, 1898 while the next one would occur May 14, 2124.

A total of 14 districts in Nepal afforded a full view of the eclipse. In Ilam district, western tourists braved a local shutdown to arrive on bicycles to watch the grand spectacle.

When the face of the sun finally began emerging from the moon's shadow, cheering crowds took a dip in rivers and began offering prayers.

Men and women flocked to the hallowed Pashupatinath temple to offer ritualistic worship and give alms to beggars.

However, Nepali scientist and astronomer Uday Raj Khanal struck a note of caution amid the festivities.

"Nepal has just a handful of trained astronomers and very little scientific equipment," Khanal said.

The Himalayan ranges are extremely suitable for setting up an observatory and China has done it.

"However, Nepal lags behind due to lack of funds and commitment by the government."

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