When Rahu Swallows the Sun: The Eclipse According to One Hindu Myth

When billions of eyes gaze upon the obscured sun this Monday, some devout Hindus will observe, in their view, the enduring battle between Rahu (really just the head of Rahu) and the Sun (Surya). The myth to which they refer, mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana (5.24, 8.9) and in the Mahabharata (1.19), concerns amrita, the nectar of immortality, produced from Samudra manthana, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. After the ocean is properly churned (in which Mount Mandera is used as a churning rod and Vasuki, the serpent king, is used as the pull rope!) coveted amrita is produced. Visnu turns himself into Mohini, the only female avatar of Visnu, an enchanting and titillating damsel, to distribute the amrita to the devas (gods), and to distract and keep it from the potentially pilfering asuras (demi-gods). One asura, Rahu, sits with the gods and is able to imbibe the desirable amrita. He is spotted by Surya (the Sun) and Chandra (the Moon), who alert Visnu. Visnu decapitates Rahu with his sudarshan-chakra (discus), . Having drunk just a bit of the amrita, Rahu’s head is made immortal while his body, called Ketu, not having come in contact with the immortalizing amrita, dies. The head of Rahu, then, remains and grudgingly attacks the Sun (and Ketu attacks the Moon) and is said to swallow it, and to cause the “eclipse”! Since Rahu has no body he is unable to digest the sun and thus the sun is released, and the eclipse ends.

So when you get a good view of the eclipse on Monday, you may be getting darshan (auspicious sight) of Rahu taking revenge on Surya (the Sun)!

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