Taregna, Bihar: By 6.30am on Wednesday, this obscure village of about 2,000 would have begun getting back to the familiar quibbles of parched land, fluctuating power and bad roads. Taregna, 27km north of the state capital Patna, has been caught in a wave of media attention ever since the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) said earlier this month that it was the best place to catch a glimpse of this century’s longest total solar eclipse.
Listen to Jacob Koshy talk about Taregna’s significance this solar eclipse
There are no hotels or lodges in Taregna, so hotels in neighbouring Patna are booked to capacity. Vishnu Prasad Sinha, superintendent of the Taregna railway station, said there’s been an unusual rush since Monday. “People land up here, realize that there are no accommodation facilities, and then go back to Patna,” he said.
The excitement started to build in February, say Taregna’s residents, when they were first told of their unique, lucky geography. “A team of international astronomers visited us in February, took some measurements and told us that our village was best suited for watching the eclipse,” said Jose Chirakal, manager of St Mary’s School.
He was not sure whether the astronomers were from Nasa. “But they did say that our school’s terrace offered the best view of the horizon and that they would be coming back to watch the eclipse from here,” Chirakal added.
Oldtimers in the village say that Taregna’s link to astronomy dates back over 1,500 years to Aryabhatta, a legendary scholar and mathematician credited with the invention of zero as well as the first to state that the earth rotated on its own axis around the sun. “He had nine observatories at different places, each to study a different planet,” said S.N. Pandey, a historian and author. “Taregna was meant to study Mars, because of the view it offered from here.”
Taregna, according to Pandey, derives its name from the Hindi phrase “counting the stars”. “That’s what legendary stories of Aryabhatta say. He sat here and counted the stars,” said Pandey. However, this reporter found no structures or observatories to bear this out.
Sun spot: There has been an unusual increase in the number of people arriving at Taregna station since Monday. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, is expected to watch the eclipse from this village. Jacob P. Koshy / Mint
“Technically there’s no reason why Taregna is getting all this attention,” said Amitabh Ghosh, director, Indira Gandhi Planetarium, Patna. “Even from Patna, you can get an excellent view. Taregna’s slight advantage is that the totality phase (when the moon seems to completely cover the sun) lasts only 4 seconds more than in the city. It’s the Aryabhatta factor that’s caught the media and public imagination,” he said.
Ghosh said he planned to watch the eclipse from the city planetarium. “None of that hype for me,” he smirked.
Hype or not, preparations are on in full swing at Taregna. Though St Mary’s School was originally planned as the main “viewing” spot, the venue has now shifted to the lone hospital that’s still under construction. The hospital’s height and location offers an excellent view of the eastern horizon.
“This is where the chief minister is coming and all Nasa scientists are coming,” said Brijesh Kumar, deputy collector (revenue), Taregna. The hospital, a five-floor structure, has a huge terrace and workmen have been frenetically whitewashing the walls and fixing the odd fan. The makeshift toilets in the compound, Kumar said, would be enough for the “visiting VIPs”.
Though the villagers say they are excited about chief minister Nitish Kumar’s visit to their village, they plan to lobby for better seeds and better irrigation facilities. “It’s almost a drought here. It’s hardly rained,” said Brijesh Kumar, “I think the villagers are looking to gain his ear.”
Extremely popular in these parts, the chief minister is credited with having ended the Naxal menace in Taregna. “Till about five years back, these Naxal criminals used to hide right across here,” said Chirakal, pointing to fields across his school. “But this government has taken action, and things are much better now. We even have electricity for 20 hours a day now,” he added. Till two years ago, Brijesh Kumar said, Taregna lived on 2 hours of electricity a day.
Chirakal said the chief minister’s visit would help dispel notions that solar eclipses were inauspicious. Several villagers Mint spoke to planned to watch the eclipse. “I won’t be eating anything, though,” said Jagdish Kumar, a mechanic. Many people believe that solar eclipses are an inauspicious period when pregnant women shouldn’t step out and nothing should be eaten during the Sun’s dark phase.
But villagers here have been complaining they don’t have enough sunglasses. “The astronomers who visited us said they would bring us some from Delhi. We haven’t got them yet,” said Chirakal.
The local Red Cross unit has been selling these sunglasses, said other villagers. Mint couldn’t independently confirm this.
None of the scientists had reached Taregna as of Tuesday noon and the event organizers were beginning to get the jitters about the thick, dark clouds looming around the vantage horizon. “It’s not rained here in weeks. We could certainly live without rain for a day more,” said Pradip Kumar, a shopkeeper. They certainly could. After all it will be 370 years before a repeat show here.