By Swami Harshananda
Grahaṇa literally means ‘the sun or the moon being seized by Rāhu’, an ‘eclipse’.
Grahaṇa or eclipse, either solar or lunar, has been given great importance in the liturgical works. It was a natural phenomenon known to the astronomers as gleaned from Varāhamihira’s (6th cent. A. D.) Bṛhat-samhitā. However, the religious nature of the people made them look at this event with awe and wonder. They took it to be the reflection of God’s power and glory. Consequently eclipses became the occasions for performing religious rites.
Between the lunar and the solar eclipses, the latter has been considered to be more holy and rewarding from the standpoint of religious observances. The observances generally prescribed are:
- Bath before and after the eclipse
- Performance of worship of gods and śrāddha as also homa
- Giving of gifts to worthy persons
- Japa of Gāyatrī and other well-known mantras
- Fasting and even giving dīkṣā or initiation
Taking bath in holy places like Kurukṣetra or rivers like Godāvarī was highly commended. Any religious act like doing japa or giving gifts was considered to confer infinitely greater results when performed during eclipses. Certain astrological results, good or bad, were deemed to follow from eclipses depending on the nakṣatra at the time of the eclipses. Śāntis or propitiatory rites have also been prescribed to offset the evil results.
- Bṛhat-samhitā 5.8 and 13
- Nakṣatra is the constellation of the stars.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore