Lakhs witness solar eclipse

Clouds play spoilsport; one dies in Varanasi stampede

Lakhs witness solar eclipse

An awesome spectacle

The world of pedantic textbooks came to spectacular life on Wednesday as the morning sky darkened to night and the sun was reduced to a flaming rim of fire.

Millions of Indians across the country watched the celestial play of the moon and the sun that, much to the disappointment of eclipse watchers, ducked behind clouds in many places. Cutting a swathe across the expanse of India, the eclipse was first seen at 5.28 am in Surat, Gujarat, and last at 7.40 am in eastern Dibrugarh, Assam. The spectacle, marred by a cloud cover in many places, lasted six minutes and 44 seconds. The next time it will take place will be 123 years later in 2132. The total solar eclipse was visible in places like Surat, Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Patna and Taregana in Bihar, and Guwahati in Assam. The rest of the country experienced a partial eclipse.

In a tragic fallout, two people were killed in Varanasi where thousands gathered on the banks of the Ganges to take a holy dip. “One person drowned and another was crushed in a stampede,” said Deputy Inspector General of Police P C Meena said.
While a dip in the waters of holy rivers is traditionally believed to rid a person of his sins, Hindus believe that a solar eclipse showers rays that make the water even holier.

A sea of humanity also converged in Kurukshetra, the land of the epic Mahabharata, in Haryana, where 1.5 million arrived to take a dip in the Brahmsarovar, the lake of Lord Brahma, considered the creator of the universe.

As the faithful congregated, so did scientists, amateur astronomers, students and tourists at various places. Many gathered in the village of Taregana, about 35 km from Patna, which was catapulted to the limelight after US space agency NASA declared it the best place to watch the eclipse. Taregana has an ancient connection with astronomy, having been one of the two places used by 6th century Indian astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta for his celestial studies.

On Wednesday, the overcast skies cast a dampener and the rare celestial event unfolded behind rain clouds. But the clouds did part momentarily, and for some that was enough. A moved Gaurav Singh said: “It was a memorable moment when I saw the skies dim into night in the early morning and the solar eclipse reached its totality.” A cheer went up as the crowds that had given up on watching anything suddenly saw the eclipsed sun through the clouds. Belgian Mitchell Mark had been chasing the eclipse for 10 years -- and missed it again.

“I missed a total eclipse in Europe in 1999 and missed it again this time,” said Mark. Not so for the group of 50 people who chased the eclipse at 41,000 feet above the ground in a chartered flight over Gaya in Bihar.  The most beautiful part of the eclipse was when the sun was completely covered by the moon and the corona became visible, forming a faint crown of pearly white light.

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