By Nishtha Shukla October 2003 Recently, when Mars came closest to Earth in 50,000 years, it became an astronomical marvel. But could it also be an astrological phenomenon, which could sway man/s destiny or that of nations? The stampede at the Nashik Kumbha mela, the car bomb blasts in Mumbai, a spate of violence in Kashmir, the freak bridge accident in Daman… no doubt someone somewhere was not doing his job well, governance was rickety. Yet, could there also be something else to it than what meets the eye? An extra-terrestrial link? For, many believe that a close encounter with Mars can be of concern. Coming closest to the Earth in 50,000 years, Mars` proximity 1z(called Opposition) became an astronomical phenomenon that sent many to their terraces. Later, it became a topic of discussion as India had an unnaturally eventful week. In mythology, Mars is a celestial warrior and Romans named the planet after their God of War. In his play Malvikaagnimitram, Kalidas blames the retrograde motion of Mars while describing the marital fight of a royal couple. In the 1938 radio play, The War of the Worlds, Orson Welles scared the world by fictionalising an invasion from our celestial neighbours on Mars. Similarity of size, of the tilt, the composition of the land, the mountains and the storms seen around Mars during many studies and explorations have given the planet its analogous position with reference to Earth. Some astrologers refer to Mars as a `fiery` planet invoking a lot of energy. From this many seem to deduce claims of disruption and destruction during the time of the Opposition. This caused a lot of hype, wonder and worry among Indians. Many seers apparently even conducted the Mahamrityunjaya Jap for our safety. Scientist Jayant V. Narlikar, Director, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, pooh-poohed the fears: ‘This is pure superstition! Please think rationally… why should Mars affect only India?’ Similarly, well-known tarot expert Ma Prem Usha says that while the Mars Opposition might have some astrological impact, you can`t blame it for all negative events because they have always been happening. Saying that ‘astrology is superstition, astronomy is science: never the twain shall meet’, Narlikar echoes the same point: ‘Don`t acts of terrorism occur all the time in this world, wherever Mars (or Saturn for that matter) may be?’ The last time Mars was this close to our planet was, believe it or not, in the year 57537 B.C. And the next closest approach is calculated to be in August 2287. Well beyond our times. Certainly, we were witness to a historical event. The red planet could be seen with the naked eye as a bright red star and with average telescopes, one could somewhat view its surface. In August, the Earth was near its longest distance from the Sun (called aphelion), and Mars reached perihelion (its nearest approach to the Sun). This further coincided with the Sun-Mars Opposition on August 27, 2003, 3:21 p.m. (IST), when the two were on directly opposite sides of Earth. Because Earth and Mars follow elliptical orbits and not perfectly circular ones, we travel a little closer to the Sun at one end of the orbit than another, so that an Opposition can occur anywhere along Mars` orbit. It happens about every 26 months, and every 15 or 17 years it occurs within a few weeks of Mars` perihelion. But when the Opposition happens while Mars is closest to the Sun (perihelion), the two come particularly close. And this time round, it was as close as it gets. However, as Delhi-based astrologer K.N. Rao, editor of Journal of Astrology, explains: ‘A single planet in transit is not capable of causing so much change, devastation or improvement. Astrology is an art of synthesis. Taking Mars alone and explaining away anything and everything is not sound and is actually very faulty.’ Astrologically, Mars is said to indicate energy in one`s horoscope. The qualities associated with the planet are a mixed bag. It is said to make one assertive, creative, energetic, self-confident, egotistic and responsible. Ma Prem Usha says: ‘It will energise and enhance energy but it will not cause disruption. For example, terrorists will be more active. Energy will be pumped into everything. But it will also be positive. It won`t last too long because planets keep shifting.’ Denying any correlation between the recent disasters and the Opposition, astrologer Dr Prem Kumar Sharma reasons: ‘Kashmir militancy is not because of Mars but because of other planetary positions as well. Even when Parliament was attacked last year, there was no Mars effect!’ Says Rao: ‘It is unfortunate that astrologers have come out with their views without any research. What they have done is to exaggerate the well-known effects of Mars in a horoscope.’ Dr Sharma believes that because of the positioning of the planets, water and fire accidents were to happen. He also says that Mars is a planet of courage and energy so while it can cause disruption, it can also cause happiness, depending upon the planet`s position in one`s horoscope. He posits that while it will not harm India, except increasing energy levels on the whole, it portends tough days ahead for the rogue nations. Acknowledging the proximity of Mars, some astrologers pronounced bloodshed, violence and war for the coming months. But Dr N. Rathnasree, Director, Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi, says: ‘Mars is totally unrelated with our life. Why any conclusion needs to be drawn at all?’ Dr Sharma still insists that the brush with Mars does make a difference. ‘It is like fire has come closer to us and so we feel warmer.’ But Rathnasree maintains: ‘Recently, Mars was at a distance of 55.76 million km from Earth. At its farthest, Mars may be 62 million km from Earth. If we calculate the changes in gravitational forces from such a difference, they will be negligible. Vehicular movement in one`s vicinity will cause more gravitational changes.’ Both Rathna sree and Narlikar question the fact that if recent events did coincide with Mars` close approach, how was India singled out? Argues Rao: ‘That Mars in Kumbha according to mundane astrology affects electricity has been found in our research. It was during this period that there was a major power breakdown in North America.’ Ma Prem Usha offers a middle ground in the debate: ‘Because we only tend to focus on the negative, these events are taking centre-stage. But it`s really our choice how we utilise the energy that this planet will bring us. We should be thankful for all its energy and use it positively.’ Even if astronomers and astrologers argue from different vantage points, the fact remains that a lot of unnecessary worry seems to have been created with perturbing statements made by some astrologers. It would do us good as a country to weigh every word before we let it out.
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