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Eclipse basics and coordinates

The upcoming lunar eclipses on the 5th/6th June and 4th/5th July are penumbral and hence deemed minor. However, they sandwich an annular solar eclipse on 20th/21st June on the summer solstice. 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, as now, three eclipse events occur in the same eclipse season.

A trinity is to be taken seriously, and this one even more so because of two reasons: (1) several planets are retrograde with respect to Earth during these eclipses; and (2) the solar eclipse on the New Moon spans two lunar asterisms (naxatra) and two lunar days. This indicates the possibility of some sort of fury and fiery torment. In this situation, both full moons of June and July are involved by way of the sandwiching lunar eclipses, even though they are only penumbral lunar eclipses.

Anywhere between zero and four 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 the Moon and Sun are posited opposite in 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 edge of Earth’s shadow where sunlight is only partially obscured. The umbra is the dark, central core 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 exclusively penumbral eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through only the penumbral portion of the shadow without touching the umbra.

When Earth’s shadow (umbra) misses the Moon during a penumbral lunar eclipse, the eclipse can be hard to see as the shaded part is only a little fainter than the rest of the Moon. As per the ancient Vedic soli-lunar calendar, the umbral eclipse time period determines the actual impact of a lunar eclipse.

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 Earth’s sunrises and sunsets reaching the moon, hence why a total lunar eclipse is often called a blood moon.

A lunar eclipse has nearly equal probability of being 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:

The penumbral lunar eclipse of 5th/6th June will cover much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and the penumbral lunar eclipse of 4th/5th July will cover much of North and South America and parts of Africa. Here you can find an interactive map detailing where these eclipses are visible as well as the penumbral timings:

It is not just of astronomical interest that a major solar eclipse occurs on the summer solstice of Sunday, 21st June 2020, but is of concern for its possible calamitous impact on Earth. The greatest duration of this annular solar eclipse, with its characteristic ring of fire, lasts 01m 22.4s. The exact time period of this eclipse will depend upon the latitude and longitude of a particular location, but if one is not on the path of the annular eclipse, the solar eclipse will be only partially visible depending upon one’s distance from the path of the maximum point.

Wherever lunar eclipses are not visible, their impact is greatly reduced on those parts of Earth. However, major solar eclipses usually have impact throughout the globe. The impact of a solar eclipse is of course highest for the regions and inhabitants of those regions where the solar eclipse is visible.

The link below provides extensive details about this major eclipse:

An alternate summary and animation can be accessed in this link:

You may use the location guide to determine the nature, extent and time duration of the eclipse relevant to any particular place using either of these two links. Herein you may also study finer details, such as how the exact view depends on the elevation of the observer.

If at all for astronomical interest, the eclipse is watched, it is best to use good protection for the eyes. That is because if you are watching then, you may catch a glimpse of the brilliant solar surface and this might induce retinal damage. Solar eclipse-safe telescopes or protective solar eclipse goggles, and not regular sunglasses, can be used for safety. Please study the link below if you are indeed planning to look at the eclipse for academic reasons. It is advisable to use the correct type of protection.

You may determine the nature, extent and time duration of the eclipses relevant to your location using the above links.

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 practised 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 manifest within a month, but also 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 how our lives impact 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 (especially lunar 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 an umbral lunar eclipse and fasting 12 hours in the case of a major 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 method of locking the energy of the eclipse through a customary cleansing. In the 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).

It would be wise to make sure that at least one complete meditation session is done. The peak eclipse is the most intense. Therefore, 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 the number of repetitions.

This is a summary of relevant recommendations from the Sanskrit literature.

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