The Eclipse

blackAnd then …. at the height of the offering, as I was deep in my incantation of Kata Prha Rahu Kam Duang and just as I was placing my  Black Jelly Suriyan down on the altar of Phra Rahu the lord of eclipses, I heard a loud crash. It sounded like an explosion as it echoed under the umbrellas that protected worshipers from the sun (Suriyan!)

I was shaken out of my immersion in the moment and, as I turned towards the source, I was shocked to find that it has been the sound of my photographer, Durga Rajah’s massive 24-70mm Nikon lens crashing to the floor…. falling off the camera body … mid-photo! Durga speedily returned the lens to the camera body and tried to resume the shoot as I carried on with the proceedings but the first few images were black, the next set were overexposed and finally she got the damaged lens working, albeit performing poorly.

The whole temple crowd had been startled and Durga and I were deeply disappointed. We left the scene after completing an otherwise wonderfully successful performance, wondering how two serious professionals had been so unprofessional, … wondering if indeed events had been beyond our control … if, in fact, we had experienced the wrath of Rahu, who might have been displeased by our antics!

As I reviewed the images from the shoot late that night trying to salvage a series, I found my hands going up, almost autonomously, in a gesture of prayer … an epiphany …. I got it … Rahu had accepted my offering … He had eaten the sun! And in my realm of activity … in my medium of representation … in the photography of the event … there had been an eclipse … and a return of a queer penumbral light,  and that, only as Suryian passed through Rahu, as we always knew he would!


Encounter with Rahu

rahu candleIn the Hindu/Buddhist cosmos, eclipses are conceived of and anticipated in terms of the points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon as they move across the sky.  Rahu is the name for the north lunar node which, in mythological representation, is the Asura (Demon) Rahu who  regularly swallows and ejects the sun, causing its cyclic obscuration. In Thai custom, Phra Rahu, who is considered to be the essence of darkness and the harbinger of ill fortune, is ritually placated with various black offerings that are believed to mitigate his maleficence. People make offerings  of black grapes, black liqueur, black coffee beans, black jelly, black beans, black sticky rice, black Thai cake and black fermented eggs. In the course of my performance, at the Huai Khwang Shrine, I lit a black candle for him and then made a special offering Black herbal jelly in the form of  the Suriyan (the Sun) or as he is know in Thailand, Phra Athit.