Earthquakes

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Earthquakes

March 10, 2011:  An 8.9 earthquake (the media adopted the Spanish word, temblor for the sake of economy) struck north-eastern Japan initiating a massive wave that inundated much of the coastline including cities.  There was a measurable shift in the earth's axis of inclination.  Loss of life surpassed 10,000 as of the 3rd day post-quake, much of it due to the tsunami.  In Fukushima, 3 nuclear reactors sustained damage with chance of a meltdown at at least one. 

January 12, 2010, the worst earthquake in Haiti in 200 years, 7.0 in magnitude, struck near the Caribbean capital city,  Port-au-Prince.  Loss of life continued months later, due to a cholera epidemic.

Tuesday afternoon, January 12th,

In Spring 2008, the region where the Indian sub-continent pushes into Asia was once again subject to a terrible earthquake in the spring of 2008.  It affected Chamdo in Sichuan province, the western Chinese region that incorporates Kham, part of Tibet. The dire conditions were aggravated by the flooding that followed when rivers, dammed by debris, overflowed.

In 2005, at the opposite end of the Himalayan chain, Jammu-Kashmir was struck. Survivors had to suffer starvation in some inaccessible areas and that, during very cold weather.

A year earlier, October 24th, 2004, a  Richter scale 6.8 quake shook Ojiya, Japan, the deadliest since the 7.3R Kobe tremor of January 1995 that killed over 6,000.  One year earlier to the day of the 2004 tsunami disaster, an earthquake rocked the Iranian city of Bam during freezing temperatures. 

In January 2001, a great earthquake (7.9) occurred near Bhuj in northwest India.  A "grinder that kept on turning," its effects were felt as far east as Nepal and Bangladesh.  Well over ten thousand people died.  That quake had been predicted by Tibet's Nechung Oracle.

Taiwan suffered a major earthquake on September 21, 1999, so in April 2001, when the Dalai Lama visited, he was asked for a ceremony to discourage earthquakes:  

"Now, as to its purpose. Well, one purpose is to purify the area. The second is to benefit those who were worst hit by the calamity. And then, number three: well, hopefully . . ." here he laughed again, and again his eyes sparkled - "hopefully it may do some good in prevention. And if it doesn't, well, at least no harm will have been done." 

~ Bradley Wilderton, South China Post

The aftershocks of a quake can cause further destruction, and also prevent people from returning to a semblance of normalcy for some time.  Then, large numbers of corpses lying among the ruins can lead to epidemics. 

Tsunami

On December 26th 2004, there was a deep sea earthquake measuring Richter-scale 9.0 that was centred 240 km. off the coast of Sumatra.  It lasted for 10 minutes, and was so powerful it slowed the earth's rotation.   It produced a tsunami (Jap. "harbour wave") the height of a three-storey building that struck the shores of 11 countries.  People living or visiting near the Indian Ocean were washed away and/or injured by debris. 

As of Jan. 19th, 2005, the death toll was 220,000 people.  As a result of the flooding and destruction, millions were left homeless or without resources such as food and safe drinking water.

When it reached eastern North America eight hours later, the wave was still detectible.  Although there is an early warning system for the Pacific rim, no wave sensors had been established in the Indian Ocean.  Also, none of the regional civil authorities were "in the loop" for receiving such alerts. 

Animal Explanations

In Indian lands, a many-headed serpent or naga is considered to balance the earth on one of its heads.  When he shifts the weight of the world from one to another, it can result in tremors.

A  variant of this Indian myth attributes the earthquake to the world's sitting on the head of a great elephant, Mahapadma, and as she accommodates herself to its weight, she sometimes has to move her head which may produce an earthquake.

Other Asian traditions hold that the earth is placed on the back of a giant frog, fish or tortoise

Jishin-Musho a beetle, or Jishin-Uwo the eel or giant catfish, whose name is Namazu, live under Japan.  When they move around, so do the islands above.  A stone in the temple of Kashima is the exposed part of the sword used by a hero of the gods to pin Namazu down.

Deities

In may societies, an earthquake is interpreted as a consequence of the wrongdoings of human beings. It is seen as a visitation of the wrath of the Deity or deities.  It may be seen as a result of humanity's reluctance, or its inability, to live in harmony with Nature, the Road of Harmony or the Way of Beauty or Truth - what is referred to in Hinduism as Dharma.  The earthquake has been thought of as a punishment for wrongdoing.

Earthquakes are also associated with great positive spiritual transformations.  For example, the place where Buddha Shakyamuni sat in his determination to achieve enlightenment was said to have shaken to its very foundation.

The moment Chenresi manifested as Mahakala, it is said that there were six kinds of earthquake experienced in all realms.

Green Tara the Liberator, in more than one stanza of the 21 Praises,  is described as stamping the earth, shaking mountains and trampling worlds with her cry of Hung! 

Shesha and the Iron Pin

The name Dhilli or Delhi is said to derive from a word meaning loose.

In the old part of Delhi, India is found the Iron Pillar in a courtyard not far from the Qutab Minar (minaret of Quwwat-ul-Islam).   Some say it is 2300 years old.

It was placed there in the 4th century CE by Bilan Deo or Anang Pal, founder of the Tomar dynasty.  Other reports say it was made at Mathura and brought to the present site in 1050 CE by Anandgupada II.  

The intention was to permanently affix the head of Vasuki (also called Ananta or Shesha) whose head serves as the foundation of the earth.  When every now and then Shesha needs to rest from the pressure and strain, he stretches his neck and transfers the weight to one of his other heads.  This movement was believed to be the origin of earthquakes, tidal waves but also of political upheavals.

When the ruler of Delhi was concerned for the future of his dynasty, he consulted the various pandits and prophets of his time who advised him that if he could constrain the naga's movements, he would be able to ensure the future of his reign. 

Thus a great iron pin, a naga nail, was inserted with appropriate offerings, prayers and rituals into the ground in order to pin the earth to the great naga's head (or heads -- when the base was examined it was discovered to be bulb-shaped with eight rods extending from it.)

When it was installed it is said that there was an actual tremor. 

Generations later, a rajah ascended to the throne who wanted to remove the column either to eliminate such a potent reminder of the former dynasty or to give lie to superstition.  His opponents may even have supported the project, for if the buried end showed signs of blood it would prove the truth of ancient Hindu belief. 

Many believed that to proceed would mean disaster and it seems that that was indeed the case, for when the Iron Pillar of Delhi was finally loosened there followed a great tremor that shook the ground.

  • Science of the Iron Pillar by T. Hari Goswami, K.K. Prasad and H.S. Ray in 
    Science Report, Aug. 1997.  (White patches have begun to appear on the Pillar's formerly un-corroded surface that are attributed to the pillar 's no longer receiving offerings.)

Classical Mythology

The Greek god Poseidon 's name means "husband or lord of earth" though he is the deity who is ruler of the seas, as well as being associated with the horse.  His activities give rise to earthquakes. 

Engeladus is a more ancient deity - a chthonic god of earthquakes dwelling half in the sea and half in dry land.  Zeus, ruler of the Olympian Gods, ordered the Giants to conquer him but in spite of their mass and the strength of their bodies, they failed.  However, Athena, goddess of wisdom, succeeded through the use of her wisdom,  but especially, her flexibility.  She casts Sicily upon Engeladus to subdue him.

Similarly, the Romans ascribed earthquakes to the restlessness of the giants whom Jupiter buried under high mountains.

Northern European

In Norse/Teutonic mythology, at the root of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, is the serpent Nidhog gnawing at its roots which makes its stability uncertain.

Hodur [Hoed] the ogress, is a disguise for the Trickster, Loki, murderer of Baldur [Baldr, Balder] the Good.  Loki is finally confined to the underworld where his fetters will be loosened at the time of the Final Conflict or Ragnarok by a tremendous earthquake when he will then have to confront Baldur's avenging brother, Vali.

Americas

Kisin or Kizin (also Cisin) 'the Stinker' is the Mayan and also Aztec, god of the underworld and earthquakes.  Existing codices show Kizin uprooting or destroying trees planted by Chac, the rain god.  In his realm beneath the earth souls, except those of soldiers killed in battle and women who died in childbirth, spend some time.  Suicides are doomed there for eternity.  He is often depicted on pottery and in codices as a dancing skeleton holding a smoking cigarette.  He may also be identified by his death collar from which disembodied eyes dangle by their nerves.

The people of Mexico also believed that the sun god, Tonatiuh was related to earthquake activity.   In a depiction of him as the Divine Eagle, we see him diving below the horizon, surrounded by skulls in the dark underworld which is his home each night. While his face has a sacrificial knife for a tongue, some depictions show him with an earthquake symbol on his back. The Mexica believed that the present world would end in earthquakes with the sun destroyed. 

Polynesia

Ngendei is the creator, and head of all the original gods of Fiji and the supporter of the world.  He is described as half snake and half rock. Every time he moves there is an earthquake.  Ngendei is also god of the harvest and king of the land of the dead. 

Science

In 136 CE, Chinese scholar Chang Hing, built a kind of seismoscope, a device which could determine the direction of origin of an earthquake. This was a large urn with marbles around the rim, and when the earthquake tremors shook the urn, one of the marbles fell out.  By noting which one, the observer could determine the direction of the quake. 

Earthquakes are vibrations produced in the earth's crust. When the plates that make up the earth's 'flesh' move, great forces are exerted on the rocks of the crust or 'skin'.  As the limits of tension are approached, or extension or compression has been increasing, ruptures and rebounds occur. 

Vibrations ranging from the barely noticeable to the catastrophic  occur as rocks in the crust reach their limit.  They break and faults form in the crust --  huge cracks at or below the surface. 

Where rocks begin to slide past each other, usually beneath the surface - the point at which an earthquake starts --  is called the focus.  This sudden motion causes a vibration to spread out from the focus which is called a seismic wave.  It soon reaches the surface at a point directly above the focus referred to as the epicenter.  This is the place where people usually first feel the ground shaking. 

Six kinds of shock waves are generated in the process of displacement of the crust of which two are classified as body waves - they travel through the interior; the other four are surface waves. 

Waves are further differentiated by their effect upon rock particles. Primary or compression waves (P waves) send particles oscillating back and forth in the same direction as the waves.  Secondary or transverse shear waves (S waves) impart vibrations perpendicular to the direction of travel. P waves travel faster than S waves, so whenever there is an earthquake P waves are the first to arrive and to be recorded at the geophysical research stations situated all around the globe.

The Richter scale rates quakes according to strength or magnitude of tremors going from 1 to 10 in increasing magnitude.  Each 1 unit on the scale indicates an increase of about 30 times the energy released.  (The Mercalli scale rates earthquakes according to the severity of the effect on the populace and structures.) 

Much of the loss of life that results from quakes stems from badly constructed buildings in the areas known to be subject to tremors. 

The Tibetan plateau is riven with geological faults so that earthquakes are a concern which is why, to increase stability traditional buildings in Tibet were made narrower at the top than at the base.  

 

An earthquake, among other things!

If one put the head of a fresh herring upon the coals to fumigate, and he get up on the house in the night, he will think that all the stars run into one. And if any one at the full moon shall put the head into a dry fig, and shall lay it on the fire when the air is still, he will see the orb of the moon as big as half of heaven. And if you powder the stone pyrites, and in like manner lay it on, there will be thunder and lightning. And if you also lay on earth, which fell from an hour upon a man [?], there will be an earthquake in the place. 

~ Harpocration at "The Bestiary Project,"  U. Calgary..

End of Time

Like the Greeks, and the Hindus and Buddhists too, many other cultures such as that of the Incas (Peru) also had a belief that the current era is only one of  several.  

The Aztecs (Mexico and Central America) of the Toltec period had four mythological eras. The first was that of the Water Sun, destroyed by flood.  The second was the era of the Earth Sun which was destroyed by earthquake.  (The Wind Sun age met destruction at the hands of a giant, but Quetzalcˇatl, the feathered serpent, remained to prophesy and bring civilization to the people although the current age of the Sun of Fire inevitably will end in conflagration.)

This view of time as a series of cycles rather than as an infinite but straight line is not a Judeo-Christian or Biblical one.  The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, among others, and the New Testament contributors speak instead of an end-time.  One of the several indications of its approach is a great shaking of the earth.

Northern Europe

Cursed by Odin for having tried to kill him, Loki left the company of the gods in great haste.  Despite the fact that he hid, disguised as a salmon in the Franangr waterfall, they caught him.  Then they hobbled him with the guts of his own son, Nari, but his other son, Narfi became Fenrir the wolf.  Then Skadhi took a venomous serpent and hung it above Loki's face so that its poison dripped on him, but Loki's wife Sigyn kept holding out a bowl to collect the poison.  Whenever she carried it away to empty it, some drops fell on Loki. Then he writhed so fearfully that all the earth shook, and nowadays men call this "earthquakes." ~ Lokasenna or "Hobbling Loki."

Helping Out

 

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