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Indians enthralled by solar eclipse
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-23 09:24
Indians enthralled by solar eclipse

People watch the solar eclipse near the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

VARANASI, India: The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century was experienced first in India, where it triggered scenes of religious fervor, fear and excitement.

Ancient superstition, scientific curiosity and modern commerce all came together in one of the most watched eclipses in history, due in part to its passage over the planet's most densely inhabited areas.

A woman was killed in a stampede in the holy city of Varanasi after tens of thousands of Hindus gathered next to the river Ganges at dawn.

Police said the 80-year-old fainted in the crush to enter a temple near the banks of the river and suffocated, triggering panic. More than 20 people were injured.

Thousands snaked through the narrow lanes of the ancient Hindu holy city of Varanasi and gathered for a dip in the Ganges, an act considered to lead to salvation from the cycle of life and death.

Amid the chanting of Hindu hymns, men, women and children waded into the river with folded hands and prayed as the sun emerged in an overcast sky.

"We have come here because our elders told us this is the best time to improve our after-life," said Bhailal Sharma, a villager from central India.

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A total solar eclipse usually happens every 18 months or so, but yesterday's spectacle was special because of the extended length of its period of "totality" - which lasted for 6 min and 39 sec. Such a lengthy duration will not be matched until the year 2132.

The moon's shadow - or umbra - first made landfall on the western Indian state of Gujarat shortly before 6:30 am local time (0100 GMT). It then raced across India and squeezed between Bangladesh and Nepal before engulfing most of Bhutan, traversing China and slipping back out to sea off Shanghai. From there, it moved across the islands of southern Japan and veered into the western Pacific.

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