Visual Astronomy:

In addition to providing the cosmological setting for pilgrimage, astronomy plays major roles in organizing time through the calendar and in various visual rituals such as darshan ("auspicious sight") of an astronomical object, e.g., the sun at dawn. Observational astronomy also informs pilgrims about cardinal directions and provides vectors to the center, as in the qibla to Mecca or the roads to Chaco and Pandharpur. Organized by the pilgrimage calendar, vast numbers of people move across the landscape in resonance with the motions of astronomical bodies, and pilgrimage is one of the primary examples of a dynamic parallelism of macrocosm and microcosm. The moon is born and dies, to be reborn 27.3 days later; while the sun repeats its cycle every 365 days. Such ebb and flow of vitality, shared with all living systems, is a central feature of pilgrimage. Planets such as Jupiter and Venus move through a backdrop of the celestial sphere and similarly control the ritual life and movement of pilgrimage. The movement of Jupiter determines the timing of the world's largest pilgrimage event, the Kumbha Mela, when every 12 years the planet is in Aquarius. Recent work in Varanasi and Chitrakut provides examples of visual astronomy in pilgrimage circuits, such as the sun at solstices, solar eclipses, naked eye sunspots, and meteor showers.

If you would like to join in an online discussion of this topic, please click here.