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While many flock to see the eclipse, these cultures are doing something different

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

(CNN) — For many people, the upcoming total solar eclipse is a joyous and celebratory occasion.

Countless skygazers are gearing up to witness the rare cosmological marvel as it crosses over Mexico, the US and Canada on April 8. Along with the 30 or so million people living in the path of totality, millions more are expected to travel for a better view. Crowds will gather at eclipse watch parties to cheer on as the moon passes between Earth and the sun, and hundreds of couples plan to mark the phenomenon by tying the knot.

But in other cultures and faith traditions, an eclipse is less spectacle and more spiritual. Some take time to meditate and reflect on the universe, while others engage in rituals to ward off negative energies.

Here’s how some religions and cultures observe this celestial event.

Some Hindus see eclipses as a bad omen

Some Hindus, especially those with roots in South India, consider eclipses a bad omen, says Sangeetha Kowsik, a Hindu chaplain and spiritual life advisor at New York University. In Vedic astrology, an eclipse occurs when the shadow planet Rahu swallows the sun.

One interpretation from Hindu scriptures references an episode known as the churning of the ocean, which produces a nectar of immortality, Kowsik explains. Vishnu, one of the principal Hindu deities, transforms into the female avatar Mohini and distributes the nectar to the gods. The serpent demon Svarbhanu, however, sits between the sun and the moon and obtains the nectar under false pretenses.

When the sun and the moon alert Vishnu to this deception, Vishnu decapitates the demon — the head becomes Rahu and the body becomes Ketu. Having drunk the nectar, Rahu becomes immortal while Ketu dies. In his anger, Rahu attempts to swallow the sun and the moon, producing an eclipse.

Some Hindus who see eclipses as inauspicious fast before and bathe after the celestial event — sometimes with their clothes on — to clear themselves of negative energies, Kowsik says. Some temples, meanwhile, close down during the eclipse and offer special prayers.

But Hinduism encompasses a wide range of spiritual beliefs, practices and traditions, and not all Hindus view eclipses as negative. According to other Hindu legends, all nine planets of Vedic astrology are said to live in the belly of the god Ganesha or in the tail of the god Hanuman.

“So if you are a Ganesha devotee or a Hanuman devotee, all of these effects of these planets are gone because God is there to save you,” Kowsik says. “God is there to take care of you always and eradicate any issue that you might have.”

Kowsik, meanwhile, feels torn on how she’ll mark the upcoming eclipse.

“It doesn’t happen that often, and I don’t know if I should stay indoors,” she adds. “I’m a big believer in Lord Ganesha and Lord Hanuman and God in general, so I might take a look because I think it’s going to look really cool, personally.”

Muslims consider eclipses a sign from God

For many Muslims, eclipses are a time for prayer and spiritual contemplation, says Akif Aydin, president of the interfaith organization Atlantic Institute SC.

Per Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad’s young son Ibrahim died on the day of a solar eclipse, and many of his followers at the time associated the celestial phenomenon with death and sorrow, Aydin says.

But the Prophet was quick to dispute such notions, declaring that an eclipse was merely a sign from God — not a harbinger of life or death. The Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to remember and worship God during an eclipse, inviting his disciples to worship with him at the mosque until the cosmic event passed, says Aydin.

“It is a time to connect with God again — to remember God’s creation again,” he adds.

Aydin says he plans to watch the upcoming eclipse from his backyard in South Carolina with his wife, four children and nieces. As the sky darkens, he’ll roll out a rug on the grass and bow down in prayer.

Some Christians believe it signals the second coming of Christ

In the eyes of some Christians, the solar eclipse is a sign that the “end times” — the period prophesied in the Bible when Jesus Christ will return to Earth — are imminent.

The New Testament of the Bible contains several mentions of the sky darkening while Jesus was hung on the cross, which some believers associate with a solar eclipse.

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land,” a passage from Matthew 27 reads. “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”

Celestial phenomena such as eclipses are often accompanied by end times predictions, though some authors and scholars point out that such prophecies are usually rooted in North American evangelical ideas around the apocalypse.

“But while some passages in the Bible do link astronomical phenomena with “the end” (Matthew 24:29; Joel 2:31), doomsday prophets fail to explain why their biblical, global, and cosmic calculus often revolves around America,” author and pastor Andrea L. Robinson writes in Christianity Today.

“They further neglect the fact that an eclipse happens somewhere on Earth approximately every 18 months—and that these solar events have been associated with imminent doom for thousands of years without consequence.”

For Navajos, it’s a time of reverence

While many towns and cities will be abuzz on Monday with people trying to catch a glimpse of the eclipse, the Navajo Nation reservation will be more still.

Eclipses are a more solemn occasion in Navajo tradition, according to Evelyn Bahe, a program manager in the Department of Diné Education in Window Rock, Arizona. The Diné, the term Navajos use to refer to themselves, see the celestial event as a time to show reverence and respect for the sun and the Earth.

“During the eclipse, we have to get back into our dwelling, close the curtains and make it really quiet,” Bahe says. “During this time, we cannot eat. We cannot sleep. We cannot drink water.”

Engaging in these activities during an eclipse is said to negatively affect a person and disrupt their spiritual harmony, Bahe adds. During previous eclipses, offices, parks and schools on the Navajo Nation have closed to honor the cosmic phenomenon.

Bahe says Navajos have varying explanations for what happens during an eclipse: Some consider it a meeting of the sun and the moon — others view it as a rebirth and renewal of the celestial bodies.

“It is considered a time of interaction between the Sun and the moon,” the Indigenous Education Institute’s Nancy C. Maryboy and David Begay say in a statement on the Exploratorium website.

“(Navajo elders) sit quietly and in contemplation, or recount traditional teachings about the origins of the Sun and moon. These practices are grounded in their deeply held respect for the cosmic order.”

CNN correspondent Kristin Fisher contributed to this story.

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