Eclipse is the celestial encounter of the moon and sun, as seen on earth. In ancient times, eclipses were viewed as an evil or strange phenomenon in most cultures. However, with the advent of science, eclipse is understood to be a scientific natural occurrence.
Eclipses have multi faceted significance in cultures, religions, the scientific community as well as astrology. In Hinduism, eclipses depict the fundamental philosophy that after darkness comes light, signifying that evil is followed by goodness. It is this belief that eclipses have the power to change, which is responsible for many rituals and traditions followed in Hinduism.
Science defines Eclipse- Solar and Lunar eclipse, as the position when the sun, moon and earth are in the same line with either moon or the earth in the centre. Mythology depicts a tale of the conflict of Gods with the demons and the evil forces of Rahu and Ketu (planets).
Religious and spiritual significance:
Gods and demons fought over the ocean of milk (amrit) for immortality. Vishnu (Hindu God), dressed as Mohini lured the demons and distributed the immortal drink only to the Gods. Rahu, a demon in the disguise of a God drank the nectar. The sun and moon informed Vishnu about Rahu and his head was immediately chopped off by Vishnu. He had already taken the nectar of immortality, so his upper part came to be known as Rahu and lower as Ketu. The demons thus by Eclipse, take revenge on the sun and moon.
The framework of Hindu religion is based on the position and journey of the celestial bodies. Their worship, devotion, prayers and festivals are chalked in accordance to the planetary movements. Every year a hand book called Panjika is published with the time and situation of the planets and stars. This hand book is treated as a reference to denote all auspicious dates of the year and Hindus perform all religious activities and marriages on those specific dates. The day of Eclipses is the best time for worship and to wash away the sins. The penance and good deeds pay off and the spiritual observance of a soul gets salvation. The chanting of the mantra during the eclipse is also said to impart eternal strength of positivity and bliss.
Thus, eclipses bring about renaissance of the conscience, the victory over darkness, a major thread in the religion of Hinduism.
Prayers and Chants during Eclipse:
The prayers that are mostly chanted during the eclipse are Gayatri Mantra, Punascharana, Vishnu Sahasranama parayana, Vishnu Panjara Sthothram, Aaditya Hridayam (Solar eclipse), Sri Krishna Ashtakam (Lunar Eclipse), Raghavendra Sthothram, Sri Nrusimha Kavacham, Durga Kavacham and Narayana Ashtakshari. It is said that Grahan (Eclipse) time is the best time for reconciliation and meditation with upadesha manthra.
Rituals during Eclipse:
The inauspicious period begins about twelve hours before solar eclipse and nine hours before lunar eclipse. Hindus observe a fast during the period and shut down all activities from cooking, drinking water and avoiding going to washrooms. During the eclipse they pray, worship, bathe in the holy river.
They also take a bath after the eclipse begin and ends. Rituals like going round a cow giving birth is said to be auspicious. Pregnant women are asked to stay indoors and are restricted from any movement. Moreover, temples are closed and people are advised not to watch the eclipse with naked eyes, not to sleep and to refrain from sexual activities.
In Vedic astrology, the presence of Rahu and Ketu ( evil planets) in the planetary position of a Hindu implies omen and darkness. The influence of these planets is said to destroy the individual lives of Hindu. It implies bad time, death, financial crisis, health hazard, hidden enemies, accidents and depression. Cat's eye (stone) is worn to save from the evil effects of Rahu and Ketu.
Those born in the Makar Rashi (Moon Sign) are said to be more cautious during eclipse. They should pray ardently to be saved from evil forces of nature.
Science of Eclipse:
To many, the celestial transverse may be one of scorn or ridicule. One may attribute it as superstition or hoax but if looked at deeply in the scientific connotations, one might get the insight of the real picture. It is not a whim or fantasy of the oldest yet scientific religion of Hinduism. Of course, the picture may be painted as one of superannuation. Scientific research has revealed that eclipses emit harmful radiation: infra-red rays damage the retina of the eyes, contaminate food and water and impacts the foetus of pregnant women.
Eclipse is a celestial wonder, a scientific marvel, a mystic phenomenon and an astronomer's delight. It has a substantial influence on the thought and function machinery of the oldest religion of the world. Myths, dogmas do substantiate in the Hindu religion but all is not what it seems. It is based on the most scientific platform of interest.