Remember Vadakaha? | Daily News
A Solar Eclipse on 26th --total eclipse 64 years ago

Remember Vadakaha?

The eclipse with a silver ring around a dark sun, a natural phenomenon, will be clearly visible in Jaffna on December 26 which coincides with the commemoration of 30,000 Sri Lankan lives lost 15 years ago, in a natural disaster. It can be viewed from a scrupulously darkened piece of glass or through a welders mask. A sunglass should never be used to view the eclipse.

How big and brilliant was the Super-Moon of 2016?

In November 2016, the astronomy experts declared that the Ill Full Moon would look 14 per cent bigger and, imagine, 30 per cent brighter, than the its usual. As usual the pronouncement received wide media publicity with both print and electronic.

My neighbour and friend, a retired school teacher was out on the road opposite his home along with a few children. They had been gazing the Eastern sky from 6 O’clock in the evening with moving clouds intermittently blocking the view. The former teacher was gifted with a fair knowledge of astronomy too. On that Poya evening he cleaned up his old camera and other equipment to capture the ‘glorious huge celestial object’ and take measurements of size and brightness of it. The ‘SUPER MOON’, as it was named by astronomer, Richard Nolle, had been closest to Earth after January 26, 1948, and the phenomenon occurs when the Full Moon day coincides with its closest approach to us. He enlightened a few by-standers on the size and brightness of the moon that they were going to witness. The long awaited ‘spectacular object’, thanks to clouds clearing the view, appeared by 9.45 pm, exposing the experts.

The Divine idol looked almost the same size in diameter; there was hardly any change in the brightness either.

Thoroughly disappointed, the “teacher” and his students walked back to their homes. The change in size and brightness had been taking place gradually over the years. When it appears in its peak form, naturally one can hardly notice any change.

The Eclipse of Sun and Moon are different. They occur at mathematically calculated astronomical data, and the predictions are always 100% accurate.

Eclipse of the Sun on December 26

A solar eclipse will occur on December 26. It occurs when the moon passes between our Earth and the Sun, causing totally or partly obscuring the Sun. An annular solar eclipse is when the apparent diameter of Moon is smaller than that of the Sun. it will block most of the Sun’s rays causing the Sun to look like an annulus or a ring. The annular eclipse will cover 97% of the Sun, creating a remarkable spectacle for observers in a path up to 110 km wide and lasting 3 minutes and 40 seconds at the point of maximum vision. It will be visible in many mid-eastern countries, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Mariana Islands, and Guam. Population centres in its path include Coimbatore, Kozhikode, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Singapore etc.

The accuracy of the edges of the eclipse path are limited to 1-2 kilometres approximately due to the edge of the visible surface of the Moon as viewed by us on Earth.

Total Solar Eclipse of June 20, 1955

I recall my nostalgic memories of the total eclipse that cast moon’s shadow on the island of Ceylon on June 20, 1955, almost 64 years ago leaving permanent recollections in the minds of present older generation who witnessed the event. The total eclipse set off a spell of action among the people with mythological beliefs. I remember making tinted spectacles by applying carbon on glass to have a quick look at the eclipsed sun. There was a stern warning by medical authorities on exposing the naked eye to the sun’s rays during the eclipse. Indigenous doctors and astrologers had a field day prescribing various treatment and rituals to be performed at the ‘auspicious-hour’. They even predicted the ill-effects of the eclipse. Some were even responsible for spreading rumours for creating mischief.

It was a normal bright day in the morning of June 20, 1955, till around 7 O’clock. The talk of the town was the total eclipse. The writer was only 11-years-old when the Radio Ceylon, the only electronic media, with only four channels, broadcast a live coverage with expert comments by Dr. E. W. Adikaram from North-Central province’s jungles, where Scientist from many western countries camped a few days ahead of the big event. Sir John’s UNP government’s biased International politics played a role in disallowing Communist Russia to observe the occurrence from the jungles off Anuradhapura, the undisputed best location.

The dramatic total eclipse push the Sun into darkness for 7 minutes and 8 seconds, creating an amazing sight for observers in a wide path blocking all direct rays of sun, and turning day into total darkness in a path across Earth, with the partial eclipse visible over an adjacent region thousands of Kilometres thick was the longest solar eclipse since the 11th century.

The shadowing began over the Indian Ocean, Seychelles and Maldives, crossing Sri Lanka including Andaman Islands, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines , Papua New Guinea, ending over Southwestern Pacific Ocean. The bright sun gradually enveloped in darkness being shadowed by the moon. An unusual occurrence to many of us children. We were warned by our parents not to go outside as the ultra-violet rays of the sun would burn our eyes. With much anxiety we stayed behind indoors for few hours unable to grasp reality. Life came to a standstill. Unlike today, there was little effort to educate the people about the eclipse. Some even advocated to view the whole process with a basin filled with water.

We saw how the crows flew back to their nests, while bats commenced their nocturnal day when darkness fell around 8 in the morning.

Thomas D. Nicholson writing to American, ‘The Scientific Monthly’ in May 1956, says, “Preparations for observing the solar eclipse began some 15 years ago. A.W. Mailwaganam, professor of Physics at the University of Ceylon, began systematic weather observations in various parts of Ceylon, for the eventual purpose of selecting suitable locations for observation sites….it was reported to be the longest eclipse in nearly 1250 years and undoubtedly it was the longest to be the subject of modern astronomical investigation. It may have been the longest seen within recorded history, since the eclipse of A.D. 717, in landless areas of the South Pacific Ocean….”

Vadakaka

I have a faint recollection of stories of hundreds of women being rushed to hospitals following partaking of Vadakaha, a concoction made out of an herbal recipe that made them vomit vigorously. It was hilarious and exciting. The opinion was that dark complexioned women who drank “Vadakaha” with another variety of herb during those seven minutes would become fairer within a short while.

A different herb with Vadakaha would make the chubby, very thin. The brainless were given another preparation with Vadakaha for gaining wisdom. A canard that gave wide publicity through Sinhala newspapers by a team of mischievous local astrologer/Vedamahattaya to create fun. Many gullible women from villages became victims of this hoax and had to be hospitalized. Several Baila singers composed songs; one became an instant hit,

“Aney mage Emali paney kiyannako etta aney buiwa neda Vadakaha Sudhiya?”

Sri Lankans had witnessed a similar eclipse on November 11, 1901.

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