Have you noticed the ‘Blue Moon’ on the 31st August last?
If you have missed it, wait for 2015 to see another ‘Blue Moon’.
The morning papers of 31st August, 2012 announced that there would be a ‘blue moon’ that night. So I eagerly waited for the sunset and moon rise. As the sky was overcast with dark clouds and it rained intermittently throughout the day I was apprehensive that I would not be able to see the ‘blue moon’. :(((( However God answered my prayers and the sky became partially clear just before sunset. Soon after that, I went to the roof to watch the rare sight. White and dark clouds were floating around. There were small openings among them and to my delight, the moon appeared in one of these openings. Clouds were moving and were blocking the moon once in a while and the moon was playing 'hide and seek'. After some time, the sky became clear and the full moon shone in all its grandeur, its gentle beam spreading light expelling the darkness of the night.
The Blue Moon
But the moon was not blue. I looked hard, again and again. The moon continued benignly smiling down on me with her usual soothing, soft and golden light! Had I become colour-blind? No, I could discern all the hues around but no blue moon!
(Talking of the smiling moon, I am reminded that when Neil Armstrong who in 1969 was the first man to land on the moon, died on the 25th August, 2012, his family wished that when people see the moon shining down on them, they should think of Armstrong and wink at him!)
Then I came down to the earth. The ‘Blue Moon’ is ‘blue’ in name only. The term ‘blue moon’ is a misnomer, although on rare occasions moon takes a blue tinge because of the presence of dust-particles in the atmosphere. Typically, every Calendar Month has a full moon although, sometimes, February does not have a full moon. The term ‘blue moon’ is used when two full moons appear in one month. In 1999, there were two full moons in January and March and no full moon in February. This time the first full moon had appeared in Asia, Europe and Africa on the 2nd August (on the 1st August in America) and the second full moon appeared on the 31st August. The appearance of two full moons in one month is due to the fact that the average lunar cycle is a slightly more than 29.5 days. February has 28 days and so sometimes, it does not have a full moon. There are 365 days (and 12 months averaging about 30.4 days) in a solar year. This means that there are about 12.36 lunar cycles in a solar year. The solar year contains about 11 days more than the lunar year of 12 months. The extra days go on accumulating and every 2 or 3 years there is an extra full moon. In Hindu Calendar, this is called ‘Adhik Mas’ (extra month). It is called Mala Masa in Odia.In the Hindu calendar, there is no concept of blue moon.The year is solar year but the months are as per the phases of the moon. So there is no extra full moon in any month. The time difference with the solar year is accounted for in the Adhik Month.
The next ‘blue moon’ will be in 2015 and double ‘blue moons’ in 2018.
The phenomenon of ‘blue moon’ is the origin of the term ‘once in a blue moon’ and explains its meaning ‘rarely, very seldom’.
Talking of ‘blue moon’ takes me to ‘super moon’ which appeared on the 6th May this year (Buddha Purnima). (I had watched it.) Moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular and because of this, sometimes moon comes closer to the earth and sometimes it moves away. ‘Super Moon’ appears when the moon is closest to the earth. At that time, it appears 14% bigger and 30% brighter. On the 29th November, 2012, moon will be at a point in its obit, farthest from the earth.
In a popular folklore in Odisha, mothers point to the moon to show the moon and sing;
Aa janhamamu sharada shashi,
Mo kanhu hatare padare khasi.
(Come moon mama (maternal uncle), the autumn moon,
Descend into the palms of of my Kanhu (baby Krishna).)
In autumn the sky remains clear and one can watch the full moon clearly. Hence a large number of people come to see Taj Mahal on the full moon day (Kumar Poornima or Sharad Poornima) in autumn every year. Sharad Poornima comes a few days after Durga Puja.
In my childhood I had read a story saying that there is hare on the moon. (The dark craters on the moon create this image.) That explains the other name of moon, Shashadhar (holder of hare). The story said that a monkey, a fox and a hare were great friends. Once a hungry Brahmin appeared before them. The monkey climbed a tree, plucked some fruits and offered these to the man; the fox caught a fish from a nearby stream and offered it; the hare said that he ate only grass which the man would not eat. The hare became sad for being helpless and then asked his friends to light a fire into which he would enter. The man could then eat his roasted flesh. The Brahmin was a great soul. He was so impressed by the hare's offer that he carried him and placed him on the moon.
Am I moonstruck?
The term 'lunatic' comes from the the Latin word for moon 'lunaticus'. It originated from the belief that intermittent insanity was caused by the phases of the moon. There is still a belief that personality quirks like violence and lunacy are caused by the phases of the moon.