The world’s biggest, noisiest religious festival was brought to a silent standstill Friday by a dramatic annular eclipse.
The phenomenon, observable across a 300-kilometer-wide (about 185 miles) band stretching across half the earth, began in India in the southwestern state of Kerala and ended in Mizoram, in the northeast. Astronomers reported that south Kerala and the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu offered the best views.
The northern state of Uttarakhand, where millions of Hindus are celebrating the Kumbh Mela along the banks of the holy Ganges river, did not witness the “ring of fire” visible when an eclipse is annular, meaning the moon blocks out most of the sun’s middle but not its edges. But temple doors were closed and the religious ceased their chanting to meditate in silence.
It was unclear whether the eclipse put a halt to the Kumbh Mela – which commemorates a mythical battle between gods and demons over a pitcher of the nectar of immortality and draws crowds of millions – because it is was considered auspicious or inauspicious. These are potent terms in Hinduism, determining the date of weddings and job interviews and even, sometimes, whether they take place at all.
Some newspapers reported that Hindus considered an eclipse unlucky or evil while others quoted sadhus – holy men – promoting the eclipse as an especially auspicious moment to bathe in the Ganges, an act believed to purge sins.
Elsewhere in India, many people were reported to have stayed indoors and abstained from cooking or eating during the eclipse, warned off by ancient superstitions.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), however, greeted the eclipse with enthusiasm, launching three small rockets Thursday – with a further five scheduled for Friday – to study the effects of the event on the atmosphere.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The original story incorrectly identified the state where the Kumbh Mela took place.