Eclipse basics and coordinates
The upcoming total lunar eclipse on the 20th/21st January is the second eclipse of 2019, following the partial solar eclipse that took place on 5th/6th January. An eclipse event never occurs alone; at least one solar eclipse always occurs about two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse, though it might not be visible in the same regions of the world. Sometimes, there are three eclipse events during the same eclipse season.
Anywhere between zero and three lunar eclipses can occur in a calendar year. We know that the shadow of the Earth falling on the Moon brings about a lunar eclipse. This can happen only on a full moon when Moon and Sun are posited opposite of mutual conjunction, while the Earth moves in between them and reduces the Moon’s light source.
In simple terms, the Earth’s shadow that falls on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is either penumbral or umbral. The penumbra is the lighter outer part of Earth’s shadow where only partial sunlight is obscured. The umbra is the dark, central part of Earth’s shadow where all sunlight is blocked—this is the phenomenon that creates ‘nighttime’.
When the Moon is fully encapsulated by the umbral shadow, we observe a total lunar eclipse from the Earth. If the Moon passes partially through the umbral shadow then a partial lunar eclipse is observed from the Earth. An exclusive penumbral eclipse occurs when the Moon passes only through the penumbral portion of the shadow without touching the umbra.
As the Moon enters Earth’s umbral shadow, it will turn a rusty color as it reflects sunlight being refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. In other words, the lunar eclipse is illuminated by all of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets reaching the moon, hence why a total lunar eclipse is often called a blood moon.
More details about the red hue can be found at:
The exact time period of this eclipse will depend upon the latitude and longitude of your location.
Here is an interactive map detailing where this eclipse is visible:
While this total lunar eclipse is visible in the entire Americas as well as other countries such as England and Norway, it is not visible in India, Australia and Southeast Asia.
The link below provides a good perspective about the umbral timings:
A lunar eclipse has nearly equal probability of being a total, partial umbral or only penumbral. Those of you studying or following the Saros cycle on periodicity of eclipses, please refer to this link for details:
As per the ancient Vedic soli-lunar calendar, the umbral eclipse time-period determines the actual impact of a lunar eclipse. For example, the umbral eclipse takes effect in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, 20th January from 7:33pm; the total eclipse begins at 8:41pm; the maximum eclipse is at 9:12pm; the total eclipse ends at 9:43pm; and the umbral eclipse is over after 10:50pm, as shown in this location guide:
You may determine the nature, extent, and time duration of the eclipse relevant to your location using the above link.
Eclipse effects and mitigation
In general, eclipses indicate an interruption of the energy of the luminaries and hence are deemed as important events for life on Earth. An eclipse affects all plants and trees especially those on land receiving the sunlight and moonlight directly. Other living creatures such as birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and even insects have been seen harnessing the power of these transitional events.
While animals seem to be attuned to the forces of nature and better informed, the effect of an eclipse on humans tends to manifest in different ways and to varying degrees. These effects can be analyzed based on the particular position or placement of luminaries at the time of one’s birth. This is calculated accurately by Sanskrit-based Jyotiṣa-vidyā, which astronomically maps the coordinates of the celestial bodies, including distant star clusters and asterisms, at the time of birth using a dynamic soli-lunar calendar.
This indigenous knowledge base (gaṇīta-śāstra or Vedic mathematics) is a Vedic Sanskrit heritage that is still practiced in India, and while the tradition retains its authentic depth, it is much less prevalent than before. If and how an eclipse affects an individual is a specific and detailed calculation and is in itself a vast subject. As such effects on an individual level are mostly out of our control, they are best mitigated at a personal level by way of contemplation or meditation.
Major eclipses and their impact
Based on Jyotiṣa-vidyā, the effects of an eclipse can last for three to six months if of particular significance to an individual, whereas the effects can last for up to a year if relevant to a country. An eclipse of great magnitude influences life across the entire globe to varying degrees. It impacts in such a way that the effects do not necessarily manifest quickly, but rather develop over the subsequent months.
Mindfulness and extra care are the call of these times in making our footprint as minimalistic as possible when it comes to our lives impacting the environment. There is however the geological momentum and forces of nature that are verily beyond our control, and all we can do is share positive energy, mindful service and be prepared as best as possible.
A rare opportunity for meditation
Whereas eclipses and their effects have been either closely followed or studied by many traditions and cultures, meditators patiently wait for such moments to come forth. This is because the depth and power of meditation increases manifold during an eclipse. An event like this brings an excellent opportunity for enhancing one’s spiritual practice.
Regular and persistent practice of meditation can be made to culminate in a new level or the attainment of a special result, a siddhi, from an eclipse. From this perspective, a total eclipse is a greater opportunity to excel in meditation, while a partial eclipse is somewhat less of an opportunity but nevertheless still worthwhile. Seekers in countries where the eclipse is only partially visible can still embrace the meditation practices even though the effects will be milder; however, if the eclipse is not visible at all, the meditation benefits do not multiply.
For a meditator to gain the maximum advantage, Sanskrit literature suggests fasting for 9 hours ahead of the start time for a lunar eclipse (and fasting 12 hours in the case of a solar eclipse). This is of course difficult to practise with the modern lifestyle, especially when working during the day. However, some of the other aspects of preparing for an eclipse could perhaps be done, such as fasting during the entire eclipse period and even abstaining from drinking water during the eclipse. One can drink just enough water ahead of time so that the contemplative practices during the eclipse are not interrupted. Those not able to fast can have a light snack well ahead of the eclipse. Food and drinks are not taken during or at the beginning of the eclipse.
It is traditional among those who follow the eclipse routine to take a wash (a shower) right before the onset of the eclipse and then take another shower just after the end of the eclipse. The two showers or full body ablutions are associated with two changes of fresh clothes, and is known as a samputi system of locking the energy of the eclipse through a customary cleansing. In case of a lunar eclipse, showers or ablutions can be taken during the beginning and ending penumbral periods sandwiching the umbral meditation session.
Taking rest after the second shower would be deemed normal. Fasting can be ended right after this shower and change of clothes. A well-structured pre-planned meditation is usually better practised indoors in a familiar surrounding remaining on one’s own seat of repose (āsana).
In the example for Los Angeles, California, the first shower or ablution can be taken right after the onset of the penumbral eclipse at 6:36pm but before the 7:33pm umbral eclipse and thereafter the second shower or ablution may be taken after 10:50pm at the end of the umbral eclipse but before 11:48pm which is end time of the penumbral eclipse. The entire umbral eclipse time period of 7:33pm until 10:50pm can be used for the meditation practice. Furthermore, maximum intensity of meditation practice can be applied during the total lunar eclipse period of 8:41pm to 9:43pm.
It would be wise to make sure that at least one complete meditation session is done. The peak eclipse is the most intense. Therefore, for those wishing to meditate during the eclipse or preparing to intensify their existing contemplation, may plan the practice to maximize the overlap with the period of the peak eclipse period.
One might need to extend the meditation time by repeating one’s usual meditation techniques a number of times. In that case, repeating a sequence an odd number of times (such as thrice) is better than an even number. However, the depth and quality are more important than number of repetitions.
This is a summary of relevant recommendations from the Sanskrit literature. It is best to utilize this rare opportunity to intensify personal contemplation or meditation practice.