Supermoon, Chandra or Soma- myth and science of the Moon. Part 2

(To read from beginning go to super-moon-chandra-or-soma-the-myth-and-science-of-the-moon-part-1)

There is no official term called ‘supermoon’. An astrologer, Richard Nolle, coined it in 1979. The technical term for a supermoon is, ‘perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system’. ‘Syzygy’ refers to the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies Sun, Earth and Moon.

The supermoon’s size is attributed partially to the ‘moon illusion’, a phenomenon that affects perception of the moon’s size. Close to the horizon, the moon can appear up to 300% larger than when it is when it is high in the sky. Yesterday both the psychological effect of the moon illusion, and the physical effect of the supermoon were in play. There are a lot many astronomical phenomena that are otherwise tough to explain but the Hindu scholars take the help of stories to describe them.

How Hindu Mythology describes the lunar eclipse

As per Hindu Astrology, there are two points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon, as they move around the celestial sphere. These are respectively called the North and the South lunar nodes. The eclipses occur when Sun and Moon are at one of these points. The Hindu astrology calls these two nodes the Rahu and the Ketu. To easily explain this phenomenon we have another legend about the Sagar Manthan.

The Devas and Asuras together churned the ocean to extract precious things. Most coveted among them was Amrita, the nectar of immortality. At the end of the Sagarmanthan, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with a pot filled with Amrita. Fresh argument ensued between Devas and Asuras for the nectar. To protect it from Asuras, Vishnu’s divine ride Garuda the eagle, took the pot and flew away from the battle-scene. However Rahuketu, one of the Asuras eventually got hold of the pitcher, containing the nectar.

mohini-among-demons-and-asuras
Vishnu as Mohini cleverly distributing Amrita to the Devas while Asuras wait. Painting by Indra Sharma.

Frightened, Devas appealed Vishnu, who then took the form of Mohini. As a beautiful and enchanting damsel, Mohini distracted the Asuras. She took the Amrita, and distributed it to the Devas. RahuKetu, had kept a close eye on the pitcher, he disguised himself as a Deva and sat with them.  The Sun-God, Surya and the Moon god, Chandra had noticed the switching of sides. When Rahuketu was drinking the nectar, they cautioned Mohini. But before the nectar could pass Rahuketu’s throat, Mohini cut off his head with her divine discus, the Sudarshana Chakra. As the nectar had touched his throat, the demon Rahuketu did not die. From that day, his head was called Rahu and body was called Ketu. Later Rahu and Ketu were considered among the Navgrah (nine planets) ghost planets that caused eclipse of Sun and Moon respectively.

Moon and Human body

Moon is the reason for tides on Earth; due to its gravitational pull, the fluids (oceans and seas) on earth tend to get disturbed and tend to rise towards it. It is said to cause Tsunamis.

Aristotle and Roman historian, Pliny the Elder suggested that the brain was the “moistest” organ in the body. Scientist went further on this line of thought and suggested that since the human body is made up of 70% water, it could be possible that moon does influence human’s state of mind and behaviour.

Researchers have studied and observed their volunteers’ brain activity, eye movements and hormone levels with respect to moon. It was found out that closer to full moon nights, volunteers took an average of five minutes longer to fall asleep. They slept approximately 20 minutes lesser than their usual sleeping hours. Additionally, melatonin (hormone that helps in regulating sleep cycle) levels had dropped, compared to other nights. It proved the fact that people are prone to insomnia during full moon nights.

Lunar calendars and Menstruation

There is a relic called the Goddess of Laussel. It is a solitary carving in rock about 17 inches high, that was discovered in France. The carving has been estimated to be between 24,000 to 20,000 years old. It has a female figure standing upright.  In her right hand, She is holding high a bison’s horn, crescent-shaped like the New Moon. The horn is notched with thirteen lines.

bozica_iz_laussela-godess-of-laussel-rock-carving-22000-18000-bce-dordne-france
Bozica iz Laussela- Godess of Laussel. Rock carving 22000-18000 BCE. Dordne, France.

However the most astounding thing about this carving , is graphically indicated by her left hand. She is resting her left hand upon her swelling womb. She shows all to see in no uncertain terms, a relationship between the cycles or phases of the Moon and the cycles of the womb. In this figure, the mystery and power of the celestial realms have become graphically infused and embodied in the female form.

It is not surprising then, to find that all early calendars were based on this primary association between the cycles of menstruation and the phases of the Moon. In many languages, the words for Moon, month, measurement and menstruation have either similar meanings or common root words. In Gaelic for example, the words for “menstruation” and “calendar” are the same. Similar associations are seen all over the world.

ishango-bone
Ishango Bone with a white quartz crystal on top.

Alexander Marshack, in the 1960’s found a piece of bone near the headwaters of the Nile. Now known as the Ishango bone, is on permanent exhibition at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium. It is a dark brown length of bone, the fibula of a baboon, with a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end, perhaps for engraving.

It is now believed to be more than 20,000 years old. Alexander Marshack examined the Ishango bone microscopically, and concluded that it may represent a six-month lunar calendar. Another historian Claudia Zaslavsky has suggested that this may also indicate that the creator of the tool was perhaps a woman, tracking the lunar phase in relation to the menstrual cycle.

plotting-the-conception-time-with-menstruation-chart-based-on-lunar-calendar
Plotting the conception time with menstruation chart based on lunar calendar. (cycle synchronised with the phases of moon)

Hinduism also describes the Menstrual cycle in terms of the Lunar calendar. Moon is perceived as the giant ovum on the full moon night, unfertilised it slowly degenerates and vanishes out of the sky. Then appears as a crescent and slowly grows to become whole again. Just like the woman’s reproductive system it is cyclic.

somnath-ruins-in-1869
Somnath temple ruins in 1869

In the Daksha moon story (see part 1), Chandra prayed at a place called Somnatha. Somnatha means ‘The Protector of Moon god’. The Somnath Temple is in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat, India. The Somnath Temple is known as ‘the Shrine Eternal’, having been destroyed many times by Islamic kings and invaders. The present temple is built by the Chalukya style of temple architecture and reflects the skill of the Sompura Salats, some of Gujarat’s master masons. The Somnatha temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction.

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Somnath temple in its current glory.

The fascinating Moon or Chandra affects fluids in oceans, plants and animals. In mythology it has evolved from being a mere pitcher of Soma, to being a successor of Soma himself. Influences the mind and is the God of fertility in women. The satellite of earth, that revolves around it in the twenty-seven sectors and takes the proverbial rest on Shiva’s head once a month. It increases, decreases, glows and vanishes but is born again. It is the symbol of hope of cycle of degeneration and rebirth. Just like the Moon, the temple of his saviour has also been demolished and rebuild several times.

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