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Sunday, 10 January 2010

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Memories of Vadakaha Sudiya in 1955 eclipse



Partial - Solar eclipse



Anura C. Perera


Piyasena Rathuvithana

Peering into the distant past perhaps one may recall nostalgic memories of the full blown eclipse that cast its shadow on Ceylon on the 20th June 1955, almost 54 years ago. It left indelible memories in the minds of many people who witnessed the event on that day. Sri Lanka then was known as Ceylon before it became a Republic in 1972.

The eclipse brought about an apocalyptic scene never witnessed before in the country. Some astrologers even predicted that a doomsday had arrived finally. Some even feared for their lives and took refuge in their homes while others dared to venture outside their homes with tinted spectacles to take a glimpse at the eclipsed sun. The total eclipse set off a flurry of activity among the natives with different types of beliefs.

Some even resorted to several unorthodox ways of gaining mileage from the total eclipse. Soothsayers and astrologers even predicted the ill-effects of the eclipse. Some were even responsible for spreading rumours for creating mischief in the country.

It was a bright morning like any other day on the day of the total eclipse and we did not notice anything unusual about it. But the bright sun was eventually enveloped in darkness due being shadowed by the moon. It was a rare occurrence to many of us who were kids that time. We were warned by our grandparents not to step outside the house as the fierce rays of the sun would make us blind. With much trepidation we remained indoors until that afternoon not knowing what was happening. Unlike today we did not have talk shows on television to educate the public about the eclipse. But the print media and Radio Ceylon at that time gave much publicity to the eclipse.

Even at school students were warned not to view the eclipse with the naked eye but to view it through a darkened glass to prevent damage being caused to eyes as a precaution. Some even advocated to view the whole process with a basin filled with water.

Nevertheless the eclipse remained for a few minutes and life came to a standstill suddenly. As kids we were bemused by the occurrence. Even the crows and birds that morning flew back to their nests when darkness fell.

Many with nostalgic memories may still remember when women were rushed to hospitals following the swallowing of "Wadakhaka," a concoction made out of an indigenous recipe that made women vomit furiously. The circumstances that led women to the drinking of 'Wadakaka' was intriguing and hilarious. The perception was that dark complexioned women who drank "Wadakaha" during the eclipse would become fairer overnight. In fact it was a canard perpetrated by a local astrologer to create mischief. However gullible women became victims of this ruse and ended up at hospitals. Following the "Vadakaha" episode several lyricists composed songs such as the famous "Buiwa Neda Vadhakaha Sudhiya Lejje Wenda Harima kariya," that became a instant hit overnight among the young and the old.

The renowned astrologer and the Consultant Editor of the Subasetha Astrological newspaper Piyasena Rathuwithana remembers explicitly how women in lorry loads were brought to the Nagoda hospital after consuming "Wadakaha". "The women had a false notion of becoming fairer by consuming "Wadakaha" during the eclipse of 1955. He said another partial eclipse would occur on January 15 and be visible mainly over the Northern province."

According to Astronomer Scientist Anura C. Perera of the British Astronomy Societies, it will take several years for people to witness a total eclipse over Sri Lanka. He said on January 15, people will be able to witness a partial eclipse over Sri Lanka. They had witnessed a similar eclipse that occurred on November 11, 1901, almost 109 years ago.

The partial eclipse will have a silver ring around the sun that will be most visible in Northern province of Jaffna. However he cautioned the public not to view the partial eclipse with the naked eye. The sun's powerful ultra violet rays could have a detrimental effect on the eye. The partial eclipse can be viewed from a thoroughly darkened glass or by using a welders mask. But at no stage should a sunglass be used to view the partial eclipse, he cautioned the public.

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