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Historical Note: Reactions of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and Laureate Mirza Ghalib to the Celestial Events during 1857-1858



The revolt against the British broke out at Meerut on 10 May 1857 that soon turned into a Great Uprising and shook the foundations of the colonial power in India. A conjunction of Mars and Saturn took place in July 1857. A solar eclipse occurred on 18 September 1857, two days before the capture of Delhi by the British. There followed a lunar eclipse, on 28 February 1858. Then a comet brightened up in the evening skies only days before the British Crown was about to take India in its fold on 1 November 1858. How Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862), central to the upheaval, and the laureate Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), a remote observer, reacted in such a scenario is central to our theme. Ẓafar was a superstitious emperor and had a spiritual incline. What is unique is that he had never mixed up the outcome of the war with the celestial events and left it to Almighty. That he was unaware of these events is difficult to believe. Ghalib was a skeptic and came to believe the celestial events as signals of divine wrath. In the process we discover an unexplored side of Mirza Ghalib and his grasp of astronomy.
Historical Note
Reactions of Emperor Bahādur Shāh Zafar and Laureate
Mirzā Ghālib to the Celestial Events during 1857-1858
R C Kapoor*
(Received 13 December 2017; revised 05 June 2018)
The revolt against the British broke out at Meerut on 10th May 1857 that soon turned into a Great
Uprising and shook the foundations of the colonial power in India. A conjunction of Mars and Saturn
took place in July 1857. A solar eclipse occurred on 18th September 1857, two days before the capture of
Delhi by the British. There followed a lunar eclipse, on 28th February 1858. Then a comet brightened up
in the evening skies only days before the British Crown was about to take India in its fold on 1st November
1858. How Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862), central to the upheaval, and the laureate
Mirzā Ghālib (1797-1859), a remote observer, reacted in such a scenario is central to our theme. Z
was a superstitious man and had a spiritual incline. What is unique is that he had never mixed up the
outcome of the war with the celestial events and left it to Almighty. That he was unaware of these events
is difficult to believe. Ghālib was a skeptic and came to believe the celestial events as signals of divine
wrath. In the process we discover an unexplored side of Mirzā Ghālib and his grasp of astronomy.
Key words: Annular solar eclipse of 1857, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Donati’s Comet, India’s Great
Uprising of 1857, Mirzā Ghālib, Mughal India.
*31, 4th ‘B’ Block, Koramangala, Bangalore-560034, Email:
The chroniclers, astrologers and the bards
always have a tendency not to let go any celestial
events pass unrelated. In relatively modern times,
one such situation emerged during India’s uprising
against the British. Born of an accumulated
discontent over long sufferance from their
dominion and driven by religious feelings, the
revolt that broke out at Meerut on 10th May 1857
soon turned into a Great Uprising that shook the
foundations of the colonial power in India. The
Great Uprising of 1857 and the British response
to it formed an important subject for discussion
in works in English, Urdu and Persian based on
original archival material, administrative records,
contemporary newspapers, personal diaries and
oral history. Too numerous to mention, they make
increasingly clear that the Great Uprising was pan–
Indian and across castes and communities; in the
present context, one may consult the Mutiny
Records Correspondence (MRC 1911), Husain
(1958), Dalrymple (2006) and Dehlvi (2017).
Eclipses, particularly those of the Sun have
affected the course of many a battle in history.
When circumstances on ground are extraordinary,
suddenness of a solar eclipse compounded by
superstition makes it even more fearsome. The
most famous battle in this regard is the one
between the Lydians and the Medians, fought on
28th May 585 BCE on the banks of the river Halys
in central Turkey. The eclipse most likely a total
was taken as an ill omen of the Sun and caused
Indian Journal of History of Science, 53.3 (2018) 325-340 DOI: 10.16943/ijhs/2018/v53i3/49464
the warring armies to lay down the arms and
negotiate an armistice (Stephenson and Fatoohi,
1997; Yazdi, 2008).
That made it a war eclipse. A total solar
eclipse of 17th October 1762, the day of Dīpāvalī,
has been thought by some historians to have cast
a decisive impact on the course of history in
Punjab over which the path of totality passed.
Ahmed Shāh Abdāli (1722-72), acclaimed one of
the greatest warriors of Asia, was in those times
attempting to establish Afghan rule in Punjab. The
incident in question happened while the invader
came over to Amritsar with a 60000 strong army
to decimate the Sikhs who, numbered about 50000,
had gathered to face him. A fierce battle took place
but a darkening noon forced an early retreat by
the Afghans to Lahore (Kapoor, 2010, pp. 491-93).
Commenting on this paper, Micah Ross (personal
communication 17.09.2014) observed that eclipses
during wars are an important event but frequently
overlooked. He asked, ‘eclipses mark many battles
in Greece and Mesopotamia. Is this the only Indian
battle which happened during an eclipse?’
Checking references to battles concurrent with
eclipses, the one of 1762 seems to be the only
eclipse that historians say influenced a major
battle. Battles there always were, and in the case
of some, eclipses may have occurred just before,
around the battle or a little afterwards. Only the
chronicler or a bard had to connect one to the
battle. On this count, the solar eclipse of 18th
September 1857 was a war eclipse. Over Delhi it
reached ~90% obscuration just when the war
against the British reached a very critical stage
and did influence the morale of the warriors.
A conjunction of planets considered
unlucky in the popular parlance, a solar and a lunar
eclipse in a row and the rise of a great comet
chanced one after the other just as our first
Independence struggle passed through its most
critical phases. To a believer and we find one such
in the famous Urdu poet Mirzā Ghālib (1797-
1869), the happenings were rich enough for one
to relate the imperfect past with the present tense.
In his words, the events reflected the wretchedly
sorry state of the country. In the sequel, we let the
story of the ‘celestial design’ unfold in both the
colours – scientific as well as civil built from a
letter Ghālib wrote to a friend upon the apparition
of a dreadful tailed form in the sky in the month
of October 1858. He threads in a few other celestial
events that happened around then but considered
ominous to make his point. In the focus here are
two poets caught in the web of the same
circumstances and witness to a holocaust that
shattered lives, the moral qualities and beliefs,
namely, the Mughal Emperor Bahādur Shāh Z
(1775–1862; r. 1837–1857), central to the
upheaval and a player, and Mirzā Ghālib, a remote
observer and survivor. This study disentangles the
celestial happenings referred to by Ghālib. In the
process we discover an unexplored side of the poet
Ghālib, namely, his grasp of astronomy which is
quite remarkable.
On the evening of 2 June 1858,
Giambattista Donati at the Observatory of
Florence noticed a faint nebulosity between the
constellations of Leo and Cancer about a tenth of
the angular span of the Moon in size what would
evolve into one of the most spectacular comets in
the times to come and bear his name (1858 VI; C/
1858 L1 Donati; vide Appendix). The comet
enthralled sky watchers in Europe and elsewhere
like never before. Clerke (1908), Vsekhsvyatskii
(1964), Olson and Pasachoff (1998) and Kronk
(2003) have given glorious accounts of how the
comet grew to become an unforgettable spectacle.
It was a naked eye object for 112 days. The comet
was noticed to have developed a tail by 14 August.
In September, the curvy form grew very fast and
brightened up to be seen naked eye. On 5 October,
the tail was estimated to be about 40º, some 80
million km in space that grew to 60º on 10 October.
The astronomer George P Bond prepared a
LIB 327
monograph entitled An Account of Donati’s Comet
of 1858 that appeared in The Mathematical
Monthly and thereafter. Aimed at a wide audience,
it described the apparition in every detail. The
comet began to trail the Sun beginning 23
September. It passed its perihelion on 30.4645
September; q= 0.578469 au (astronomical unit,
defined by the International Astronomical Union
as exactly 149,597,870,700 m, approximately the
average distance between the Earth and the Sun),
inclination of the orbit i= 116º.9512 (JPL 2017).
Ever since its discovery, the comet was
approaching the Earth. It was arriving at the plane
of the Earth’s orbit about vertically and appeared
in the sky moving south-east. It made its closest
approach to the Earth on 10.875 October, from a
distance of 0.537877 au causing it to turn into a
magnificent object. The first ten evenings of
October presented the most impressive view of
the comet. Its tail stretched to 40º-43º on 11
October, 33º on 15 October, 20º on 16 October
and only 5º on 17 October. On 21 October, the
comet shone at magnitude 3.7, sporting a 5º long
tail. By 4 December, the comet had faded to 5-6
magnitude (Kronk, 2003).
Donati’s Comet was the first one to be
photographed, on 27 September 1858 by W
Usherwood in England on a collodian-coated glass
plate (prints untraceable) and by George Bond on
28 September at Harvard with a 15 inch refractor
(Pasachoff et al. 1996). A pioneer in stellar
spectroscopy, Donati himself was the first to
photograph spectrum of the comet Tempel (C/1864
N1) in 1864, a step that opened floodgates to the
research in physics and chemistry of comets and
thence of the Solar System.
Donati’s Comet raised matching
excitement among men of arts and the print media.
It became the subject matter of many paintings,
poetical compositions and made its mark in The
Illustrated London News, The New York Times and
The Punch. Among the celebrated watchers of
Donati’s Comet were Abraham Lincoln (1809-65)
who ‘greatly admired this strange visitor’ and
according to an observer ‘stayed up to look at it
for a solid hour one night’, and, Stephen Douglas
who too had taken interest in the comet (Finacom,
2008). The gentlemen were in the midst of the
famous ‘Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858’ that
took place through 21 August – 15 October and
Lincoln was yet to be elected the President of the
United States. As Finacom (2008) says,
Comets then were still, even in the United States,
seen with suspicious awe and fear. The Great
Comet of 1811—the most vividly visible until
Donati’s appeared in 1858—was regarded by some
as the precursor of the War of 1812.
The early 19th century India saw the advent
of Indian Renaissance that brought the European
science in Indian languages to the interested
through the efforts of several prominent figures
(Ansari, 2002). However, as anywhere, comets and
eclipses were considered ominous to the rulers and
to the people alike. By happenstance, Donati’s
Comet rose and reached its full glory in the most
troubled times of India. The uprising against the
British had failed, the Mughal Empire fallen and
most of the male members of the royal family
massacred (Dalrymple, 2006, p. 423; Dehlvi,
2017, p. 138), Delhi struggling to get up in the
wake of a maelstrom of blood and plunder and,
the last Mughal Emperor taken prisoner by the
British, subsequently tried, and then sent away to
Rangoon to be kept in prison for life. Mirzā Ghālib
saw this and much more. A hapless spectator and
survivor of the mass destruction, he could not help
it but relate the happenings on the ground with
those in the sky, beginning with a conjunction
followed by two eclipses and as the last straw an
overbearing comet.
Mirzā Asadullāh Baig Khān Ghālib was
of noble descent, his grandfather having migrated
to India from Samarqand (vide Appendix). Born
on 27 December 1797 in Akbarābad (Agra; see
Pritchett, 2017), the young Asad received his early
education in a madarsah run by a well known
scholar Muammad Mu‘az
.am and subsequently
from a scholar ‘Abdus amad during 1810-12,
who had moved over to Agra from Persia. The
latter accompanied Ghālib when he migrated to
Delhi in 1812-13 in his quest for a new life. His
poetic name Ghālib means dominant, while Asad
meant the lion; the latter he used in his early
poems. Once an epitome of great culture and the
capital of the Mughal Empire, Delhi had already
been entrusted to the British in 1803, now decadent
and wearing an uneasy calm. To note is that the
population of Delhi in 1857 was about 150,000
(Kaye (1892, II, p. xvi). Ghālib had begun
composing poetry while very young (Malik Ram,
1969, p. 14; Latif, 1928, p. 21). In due course, he
began making waves in the literary circles in
Delhi, despised by some but admired also by
others. Ghālib compiled his first Urdu anthology
ca. 1816; the Dīwān-i Ghālib came out in print in
1841 (Pritchett, 2017). However, it had taken him
a while before he could secure a place in the court
of the Emperor Bahādur Shāh Z
.afar (vide
appendix). Z
.afar himself was a poet who on the
recommendation of his royal physician appointed
Ghālib in 1850 to write the history of the Timurid
dynasty in Persian (Russell and Islam, 1994, p.
135). With the death of Urdu poet Sheikh Ibrāhīm
Zauq (1790-1854), his ustād (teacher) and poet
laureate of the court, Z
.afar made Ghālib his literary
consultant (Faruqi, 1970, p. 30).
The events beginning 10 May 1857 against
the British at the Meerut cantonment of the East
India Army eventually brought a great catastrophe
to Hindus and Muslims who joined in the struggle
against the British. A large contingent of the
soldiers headed straight to Delhi. On 11 May they
met the Emperor and looked up to him to take the
reins in hand (Dehlvi, 2017, p. 60). Z
.afar was 82
and reluctant for he knew that his writ did not
extend beyond his abode, the Lāl Qil‘a (Red Fort).
Yet he consented and gave his name to the cause.
The word spread and allegiance to the same came
forthwith from several states.
In a letter to a friend, Mirzā Ghālib wrote
(Russell and Islam 1994, p. 135)1,
“.. at midday on Monday 16th Ramaān, 1273 AH,
which corresponds to May 11th, 1857… the gates
and walls of the Fort and the battlements of Delhi
were suddenly shaken. It was not an earthquake;
on that inauspicious day a handful of ill-starred
soldiers from Meerut, frenzied with malice,
invaded the city – every man of them shameless
and turbulent, and with murderous hate for his
masters, thirsting for British blood”.
Delhi was taken by the British on 20
September 1857 and Bahādur Shāh Z
incarcerated the following morning by Capt.
William Hodson (Husain, 1958, p. 280-81;
Dalrymple, 2006, p. 394). The octogenarian
Emperor ended up a state prisoner and made to
face trial. In the early hours of 7 October 1858, a
convoy escorted by the 9th Lancers proceeded to
take Z
.afar and his family to Calcutta (now
Kolkata) to be eventually kept in prison in
Rangoon for life. Rangoon was then part of the
British India. Lieutenant Edward Ommaney
escorted the convoy. An Urdu and Persian scholar,
Ommaney took due care of the prisoners and
reported the proceedings of the long travel
(Dalrymple, 2006, p. 444). The convoy, by land
route, reached Allahabad on 13 November 1858,
to eventually proceed to its destination.
1Most dates listed in this study are Gregorian and the years CE/BCE. Mirzā Ghālib in his writings has used both the calendars,
civil as well as Hijri. In a few Hijri dates I have found 1-2 days difference from the date-converters where day count is from
conjunction. The Moon becomes normally visible 15 to 18 hours after the conjunction but depending on astronomical param-
eters, the geographical location and atmospheric conditions causes a difference of 1 to 2 days to fix the beginning of the month.
With a general view not in favour of the astronomical calculation, the date conversion gets complicated. The printed jantrīs of
the first half of the 19th century were a novel item for use by the populace. Having been prepared in advance, these would have
had to address the fundamental question of fixing a month’s beginning.
LIB 329
Coincidentally, just when the arduous
journey began it was also the phase when Donati’s
crystal tresses laced the evening sky brilliantly.
Lieut. Ommaney in his communications makes
no mention of it, though everyone in the party and
above all Z
.afar was there to see it. He apparently
showed no reaction. Had there been any, Lieut.
Ommaney would have recorded it. That an
apparition noticed all over finds no reaction on
record here is quite surprising. Comets are no
harbingers of misfortune but this one dared to be
one to the few in the convoy for whom the
emotional shocks of the loss of dear ones and
power were too fresh. Going by the Mughal history
where the irrational side of celestial phenomena,
namely, astrology and superstition prevailed over
the life, the apparition could not have been seen
other than as evil. Astronomical observations were
required generally for astrological purposes, to
precisely determine auspiciousness of events and
their timings. Be it the royal births, the eclipses,
omens or the strategic marches, Hindu astrologers
were invoked (Schimmel, 2004, p. 139-40).
There is an account of a sitāra‘-i dumdār
(tailed star, Urdu term for comet) in an Urdu letter
by Mirzā Ghālib that was witnessed after sunset
near the horizon and which was the talk of the
town for several days on. Ghālib’s letter is about
the apparition of Donati’s Comet2. The letter was
addressed to his friend Nawāb Anwārud Daulah
Shafaq. Here below, we reproduce translation of
the full letter from Rahbar (1987; letter numbered
101), for reasons of its content and the risk that
paraphrasing will only kill the magic of his
literary flavour apparent even in the English
A gracious letter came from you and from it I
received the glad tidings that the Dastanbū [the
diary] had arrived safe and sound. My response
was the acknowledgement of an indebtedness to
those who run the postal train and the happy
thought that my efforts had not been in vain. A
few days later, I received another letter, a veritable
life saver. In other words, it was the second round
of the cup of favour. It was then imperative to write
some account of the comet. Since the arrival of
that letter I have been wondering what to write,
for nothing can be said without consultation of the
astrological works. Thus I helplessly repeat the line
of Mirza Saib:
I am frightened by this star
Which has a tail
This line belongs to the opening verse, the
first line being:
The mole at the corner
Of my darling’s eyebrow
Makes me shudder.
Don’t you recognize in me a man highly
accomplished in meritlessness and worthlessness?
Haven’t you discovered the secret of my success?
It is told in the words of the following Persian
Before a priest, I am a physician;
Before a physician, a reverend priest.
When neither is present, I am both;
When both are present, I am neither.
I dabble a bit in mysticism and a bit in
astrology in order to have resources with wish to
adorn some poetic line. So, tell me: besides a sense
of poetic rhythm, what other endowment may I
rightly claim as mine? As far as astrology is
concerned, when the forces of sedition begin to
work in the world, their forms become visible on
the surface of heaven. You determine the position
of the sign of zodiac in which such a form appears
and calculate by a thousand conjurations before
2 In a seminar in 2006 at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, N. Kameswara Rao had independently suggested that Ghālib’s
reference in his letter is to the bright naked eye comet of 1858 named after Donati (Kameswara Rao, N, Vagiswari, A. and
Birdie, C., 2008. Telescopic Astronomy in Colonial Times, Proc. National Symposium India, Mysore, 2008; unpublished).
reaching a verdict. In Shahajahanabad, the Sun’s
light lingered on the western horizon after sunset.
Now, since in the beginning of those days the Sun
was at the last stage of the sign of Libra, it was
believed that this form was in the sign of Scorpio.
The exact position of the sign I wish to know. Over
this comet the people of this city made for many
days much ado. Now it hasn’t been in sight for
ten days. Judging from your enquiry about it, I
would guess that it has now appeared there. All I
know is that such things are signs of divine wrath
and signals of devastation and its aftermath. The
conjunction of unlucky planets, the eclipse of the
Sun, then the eclipse of the Moon, and then this
form, this sinister sister of these other evil omens!
Heaven help us!
On Wednesday, the first of November, the
alleys and bazārs here were illuminated and, after
nightfall, the annulment of the Kampani contract
and the inauguration of Imperial Rule were
proclaimed. Nawab Gavarnar Janral Kaining
Bahadur received the title of Blessed Illustrious
Son from the Mighty Queen of England and was
appointed Chief Administrator by Her Majesty. I
have already written a qasādah [panegyric]
offering felicitations on this occasion. You must
have seen it included in the Dastanbū,
When it comes to fruition
Then we’ll see
For we have planted
A friendship tree.”
For the footnotes referenced in the letter,
see Rahbar (1987). The original letter is in Urdu
with the poetic lines in Persian (Fārsī). The phrase
Pīr-o-Murshid means mentor and guide. The letter
in Rahbar’s translation is not dated. In Sharma and
Sharma (1958, pp. 198-200) and Anjum (1993,
pp. 986-988), we do find the letter ending with
jum‘a panjum navambar san 1858 ‘ī (svī)
(equivalently, Friday 5 November 1858 CE; see
also Kanda, 2005, p. 359). As for the date 1
November referred to by Ghālib in the letter, it
was in fact a Monday. The ‘Mirza Saib’ quoted in
the letter is some other poet. The word ‘astrology’
is translation of the word ‘Ilm-i nujūm. The
Dastanbū meaning a bunch of flowers is the title
of Ghālib’s work in Persian prose wherein he
narrates in his own perception the events following
the uprising against the British beginning on
11.05.1857; the narration covers events until
31.07.1858 (Sharma and Sharma, 1958, p. 57, p.
197). The Dastanbū was published from Agra by
the press Maba‘i Mufīd-i Khalā’iq (Faruqi 1970,
p. 10, p. 21). Like this book, Ghālib’s letter carries
a leaf from the history of India during its most
troubled times. He survived the bloodbath that
followed Delhi’s re-capture by the British. The
imperial city of the Mughals now wore a deserted
look and was not quite normal even after a year
since the re-capture. Ghālib had innumerable
friends, but now many killed, jailed or banished
from the city. Only very few visited him. Ghālib’s
avelī (house) stands in Gali Qāsim Jān, Bāzār
Ballimārān, in the old city of Delhi, also known
as Shāhjahānābād which was founded by
Shāhjahān (1592-1666) in 1639. It is declared a
heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India
and the avelī is now a museum. The word
‘Kampani’ in the letter refers to the East India
Company and the phrase ‘Nawab Gavarnar Janral
Kaining Bahadur’ refers to India’s first Viceroy
and Governor General Charles Viscount Canning
Ghālib’s letter carries a strong astrological
slant. Looking back at the celestial events
happening in a row, he was convinced of these as
signs presaging the miserable present. He was a
learned man, well versed with logic, philosophy,
astronomy, medicine and master of Persian and
Arabic literature. For a religious skeptic but
rational, it looks odd that he should see the celestial
events, mutually unrelated and far apart on the
time axis, as ominous signs. Turbulence in life
around numbs people’s mind and spurs them to
find meaning in the obscure and even seek
solutions. As it appears, he could not help it,
LIB 331
having lost everything to the storm. To top it, the
addressee himself would be given to such beliefs.
It is not known how deep he got into it but
he had to be quite well versed in with basic
astronomy. He would need an almanac for the year
to be able to come to know of an event like the
conjunction of planets (in the present case for the
Hijri year 1273). In a letter sent on 19 February
1859 to his friend Munshi Hargopal Tafta, he does
refer to having sent money to the publishers for
12 copies of Dastanbū and a jantrī (Urdu almanac;
Sharma and Sharma, 1958, p. 90; Russell and
Islam, 1994, p. 195). The latter were printed in
advance of the beginning of a year. An almanac
would normally contain calendar of the year,
information on events of the year, positions of the
planets for each day, the astronomical events like
the eclipses and planetary conjunctions,
particularly of Jupiter and Saturn with timings and
the astrological interpretations, and, even probable
disastrous events. It would be interesting to
examine the early 19th century jantrīs and pac-
āgas for eclipse predictions and what those had
to say about an annular eclipse3.
In his letter, Ghālib points to the conjun-
ction of unlucky planets but does not allude to
which ones. That reference is mentioned in the
Dastanbū (Faruqi, 1970, p. 28):
Astronomers have told us that Saturn and Mars
were in confluence in the sign of Cancer at the
time when the courtly revelries of Yazdagird, last
emperor of Iran, were disrupted by the Arab
invasion. Today, also, Saturn and Mars are in
confluence in Cancer and will so remain until the
turmoil in the world has ended. This turmoil – the
cruelty, bloodshed and degradation – issues from
the inauspicious conjunction of these stars. But
those who can read the truth will find the difference
between these two periods quite obvious…. The
Arab invasion of Iran was the invasion of one
country by another; in India, however, the army
has revolted against its own leaders….the invasion
of Iran was neither as devastating nor as full of
despair as is the rebellion in India….I am not so
dull as to call the bright stars lightless, or to believe
the high heavens are impoverished, nor am I so
ignorant as to consider the effects of these stars as
false, or the confluence of inauspicious stars as
illusion; for I know the terrible issue of the
confluence of Saturn and Mars which took place
one thousand years ago.
The duo actually came to their closest
position in the sky on 27 July 1857 when while
trailing the Sun the planets drew to each other to
about 1º, and ~7º south of the star Pollux. Rising
about an hour before the Sun, the planets stood in
the constellation of Gemini though the sign was
Cancer. For the conjunction, Ghālib uses the
Persian word nasīn (Persian pl. of naas meaning
inauspicious). It means unfortunate stars Mars and
Saturn. Yazdgird III (624–651 CE) referred to in
the passage above was the last king of the
Sassanian Empire, by whose name the pre-Islamic
Persian calendar is known. Ghālib cites the
episode from history to draw a parallel with his
present and the rise against the British dominion
where the situation seemed presaged by the same
conjunction of the unlucky planets in the sign of
3In the Ptolemaic concept, minimum diameter of the Sun and the Moon were the same that excluded the possibility of annular
eclipses. The Islamic astronomers believed on the contrary that annular eclipses of the Sun are possible, since some astronomers
of the late medieval period accepted their occurrence, by working with the methods in the Indian astronomical works to deter-
mine the angular diameters of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth’s shadow (Mozaffari, 2015, p. 125). ‘In modern Persian, it is
named Kusūf-i alqavī ( ), but in the medieval period, a similar name used and common to Arabic and Persian was
alqāt al-nūr (“the bright ring”). The annular solar eclipses were defined and justified as a celestial phenomenon about the
early 11th century by Abū al-Rayān al-Bīrūnī. No reference to it can be found in an earlier time’ (Mozaffari, 2017, personal
communication 08.12.2017). There is no discussion or observational reports of such eclipses in the Ancient Indian astronomy
texts though Varāhamihira was the first to talk about them in the Bhat Sahitā (Bhat, 2010, p. 56). Shylaja and Ganesh (2016)
have found a few early inscriptional records of annular eclipses from South India.
The Madras Almanac and Compendium of
Intelligence (MACI) for 1857 mentions Mars and
Saturn to be in Gemini in the month of July, and,
in conjunction on the 27th (MACI, 1857, p. 33).
There were a number of planetary conjunctions
and alignments that happened since early 1857
until around the apparition of the Donati’s Comet.
An interesting conjunction of Mercury-Venus-
Jupiter also took place when the planets huddled
up within 3º - 4º on 29 April 1858, post sunset, at
altitudes ranging from ~14º to 18º. The
conjunction of Venus-Jupiter is believed to be
fortunate but it did not pass muster with the poet.
Note that Shāhjahān’s title was ‘Second Lord of
the Conjunction (Qiran)’, that is of Jupiter and
Venus at Shāhjahān’s birthday on 5 January 1592;
see Ansari (2015, p. 584) for its importance.
Notably, right in the beginning of the Dastanbū,
Ghālib comments on such conjunctions thus
(Faruqi, 1970, pp. 26-27):
Whereas Venus and Jupiter, being auspicious,
assure our good fortune, Saturn and Mars, being
inauspicious, are responsible for our losses. Those
who know the truth know wherein lies the source
of happiness and sorrow, inauspiciousness and
grace – for the stars are but servants of the most
just Emperor. The soldiers of His court can never
step from the circle of His justice; nor can they do
other than remain in conjunction with one
another…..How can we think that the effects of
the stars are cruel when the skies are turned by the
Hand of the Lord?
However well one might have known the
cause of eclipses, the Mughals were ever fearful
of them. The Mughal memoirs bring forth this fact
clearly. During eclipses, specific rituals were
carried out to ward off their evil influence, like
the ruler being weighed against the alms (grain,
butter, etc.) to be given in charity (see Schimmel
2004, p. 140). Referring to Precis of Palace
Intelligence (National Archives of India, Foreign
Dept Misc., Vol. 361), Dalrymple (2006, p. 376)
quotes from an entry for the day 2 July 1852:
According to the Palace Diary, after the eclipse of
2 July 1852 Zafar had attempted to counter the
malignant effects by having himself weighed
‘against several kinds of grain, butter, coral etc and
then distributed the results among the poor’.
The Diary entry reflects the Mughal
tradition only. It started in Akbar’s time as a
ceremony on the occasions of the birthday of the
Emperor, Nauroz and major Hindu festivals,
including eclipses. Z
.afar had a spiritual incline
but was superstitious as well. He kept a string of
Hindu astrologers by his side who would suggest
remedies to untoward incidents4.
These few months, the city under siege was
witness to street-to-street and combat fight, loot,
panic and desertions. Did Z
.afar know of the
forthcoming eclipse? He had left the Red Fort in
the early hours of 17th September itself
(Dalrymple, 2006, p. 369). The solar eclipse
preceded his capture from Humāyun’s Tomb by
Capt. William Hodson by three days. A waning
Sun could only add to the anxiety of the Fort and
the fighters and accelerate the battle towards its
4The eclipse of 2 July 1852 was a lunar. It was actually on the evening of Thursday, 1 July 1852, that ended a little before
midnight at Delhi. That day at Delhi, the sunset was at 13:51 UT, the Moon already up at 13:45 UT and partially eclipsed. The
eclipse was total during 14:39 – 16:13 UT and ended at 17:15 UT. That is around when the Hijri date would change to 14
Ramaān 1268 AH, Friday. If this date is converted back, one may get 2 July 1852, Friday. Dalrymple (2006, p. 538) quotes
another entry in the Precis of Palace Intelligence for Thursday, 9 January 1851 as follows:
“Sookhamund Astrologer intimated that there would be an eclipse of the moon on Thursday night the 13th of Rubbee Ool Ouwal
[Rabī‘–I], and that HM should not appoint that day for his departure to the Kootub [Qutub, a suburb of Delhi]. Instructions were
accordingly issued for HM’s departure on the following day, Friday.”
The eclipse in fact was on Friday 17 January 1851, a partial, during 15:41 UT - 18:00 UT, and in Cancer. The corresponding
date should be 15 Rabī‘–I. There is nothing in any document to suggest of the repercussions of such a wrong prediction by a
palace astrologer. The Bengal Almanac, for 1851 duly listed the lunar eclipse, to be visible as partial at Calcutta.
LIB 333
Dāstān-e-Ghadar (Dehlvi, 2017) is an
exceptional eye witness account in Urdu of the
events of 1857 in Shāhjahānābād and elsewhere
by Z
.ahir Dehlvi, a 22 year old official in Z
court. On the struggle for Delhi, he gives a vivid
account of how the British gradually established
themselves and eventually took the city. At times
he does not give the dates. Surprisingly, while
describing the events of the days around 18th
September, he makes no allusion to the occurrence
of the eclipse (Dehlvi, 2017, pp. 130-135). Earlier
in his memoirs, he describes the night sky as on
the night of the 16th day of Ramaān (1273 AH;
i.e., 10 May 1857) and the approaching dawn
(Dehlvi, pp. 48-50). With still some time to the
sunrise, the moon of the sixteenth night is about
to disappear from the sky. He notices the morning
star in the sky around when the signs of the
morning are beginning to appear. And then he
makes a chilling comment ‘After wishing
everyone Ramzan Mubarak, we go to lie down in
our beds. No one knows that the morning will
bring devastation akin to doomsday’.
Did Ghālib know of the impending
occurrence of the eclipse? He subscribed to Urdu
jantrīs. The 18th century European almanacs had
been carrying such information. Nearer home there
were many in English like The Bombay Calendar
and Almanac, Bengal Almanac, Madras Almanac
and Compendium of Intelligence, Temperance
Almanac etc., published over the years and packed
with sufficient astronomical information. The local
populace relied on indigenous almanacs and
sourced these from specific centres of astronomy
like Ujjain, Varanasi and Gaya, the temple towns
in the south or the newly set up printing presses.
Their correctness and accuracy in predictions was
a question (Bayly, 1996, pp. 247) as these were
prepared on the basis of formulation and
parameters that had come down the ages, not based
on fresh observation, and thus leading to errors in
predicting planetary positions, eclipse timings, etc.
By the middle of the 19th century, jantrīs and
almanacs were being printed by the new
lithographic presses at Kanpur, Lucknow and
Agra. Orsini (2004, pp. 111-2) lists many books
brought out by a Kanpur publisher Maba‘-i
Mutafāī in the year 1853 with all the 1200 print
copies of its Hindi almanac and Urdu jantrī for
the year 1854 sold out. It would be interesting to
know whether in any one of these pacāngas the
conjunction was mentioned.
In my search for an Urdu Jantrī for the
year 1274 AH, I came across one in the possession
of the Khuda Bakhsh Library. The Jantrī contains
8 pages, covering the period of 1857-58. It was
published by Nami Press, Lucknow. It is basically
a calendar. These pages 226-227 cover six months,
from April to September and give column-wise,
right to left, the dates of four principal eras,
namely, the Isvī (Gregorian) beginning with April
1, the Hijri 1273-74 with Sha‘bān 5, the Falī 1264
with the date 22 and the Vikramī Samvat 1914 with
Chet 7. The date 18 September here corresponds
to Muarram 28 yawm al-jum‘a (Friday). There
is no mention of the eclipse on that day. There is
no section in the jantrī on eclipses or prophesies
about the political climate. That is rather
disappointing and the question if Ghālib knew of
the impending occurrence of the solar eclipse
remains unanswered.
The solar eclipse of September 1857 was
the only one that passed over India while Ghālib
was writing the Dastanbū. It was an annular one
(the last solar eclipse Delhi had seen was on 11
December 1852, a partial and at mag. 0.18, it was
nondescript). The path of annularity started from
north Turkey and passed over Peshawar,
Rawalpindi, Jammu, Manali, Uttarakhand, Nepal,
West Bengal and Bangla Desh, etc. (vide
appendix). Delhiwalas saw it as a partial eclipse
with a magnitude 0.893, the magnitude at Lahore
being 0.93 and at Madras (now Chennai) 0.57.
The circumstances at Shāhjahānābād were as
follows: Contact 1 at 2h 54m 06s, maximum at 4h
19m 51s and Contact 2 at 5h 54m 11s UT.
An eclipse at that magnitude would not
pass unnoticed. This one finds mention in the
government documents and the memoirs,
notwithstanding the circumstances being what
they were on the 18th of September. The Mutiny
Records Correspondence (MRC 1911), a
document brought out by the then Government of
Punjab, carries a string of telegrams as parts of
the daily records of the goings on in Delhi,
including information received from other places
sent by the British officers to the Chief
Commissioner, Punjab, Lahore, the Secretary to
the Government of India, Foreign Department, and
to other officers elsewhere. The item no. 190 in
the MRC has an enclosure (1) to it, a telegram
dated 18th September 1857 from Brigadier-General
Neville Chamberlain, Delhi to the Chief
Commissioner, Punjab describing the state of
affairs (MRC 1911, p. 64). The telegram describes
the troops’ position and the situation with ‘no
certain intelligence as to the King and his family’
but a mere mention of the eclipse, as if for record
However, in his narrative of the capture
of Delhi in which the 61st Regiment, an infantry
regiment of the British Army, had participated,
Captain Charles Griffiths (Griffiths 1910, p. 183)
does note the effect of the eclipse:
During the forenoon of the 18th there was, I think,
a partial eclipse of the sun, which lasted three hours.
The unusual darkness which prevailed astonished
us beyond measure (our minds being taken up with
events more startling than astronomical
phenomena) till reference to an almanac explained
the mystery. The eclipse had, we were told, an
alarming effect on the mutineers, who attributed
the phenomenon to some supernatural agency. The
darkness no doubt worked on their superstitious
fears, and hastened their flight from the city on
which the wrath of the Almighty had descended.
Dalrymple (2006, pp. 376-77; p. 538)
writes about the other side:
In the middle of the following morning, 18
September, the sun was completely eclipsed for
five minutes. The city darkened ominously for
nearly three hours, before the light slowly returned.
The British soldiers were unnerved by the event
since no one had warned them to expect it. But for
the Hindus it was an event of far greater
significance….Although the eclipse was
considered the worst possible moment to begin any
journey, it was on this occasion taken as indicating
that for the last lingering sepoys now was the
moment to abandon the hopeless fight, and to
escape the doomed city.
In the Dastanbū, Ghālib describes the
eclipse of 18 September as follows (Faruqi, 1970,
pp. 41-42):
All has been written in eternity and nothing can be
changed. Our fears are decreed in an eternity that
has no beginning and no end; and each of us has
received according to his written destiny. Sorrow
and joy issue from this eternal order. So I should
leave my cowardly state of listlessness and, in my
old age, watch like a child, with ready excitement,
all the astonishing things which are occurring.
At noon on Friday, the twenty-sixth of Muarram,
which is the eighteenth of September, an eclipse
occurred when the sun, which sheds joy and light
upon the world, entered into a new constellation.
The darkness so frightened the people that inside
and outside of the city the misguided rebels fled
like swine, and the victors captured the city and
the Fort. The horror of mass arrests, assassinations,
and slaughter now reached our lane and the people
shook with fear.”
In the Persian version of the Dastanbū, the
date is 28 Muarram (Hoda Ataollahi, personal
communication, 21.01.2018). Ghālib goes on
about how the ghastly events of murder and pillage
affected the people in the months that followed
(Faruqi, 1970, p. 58):
In January 1858, the Hindus were given a
proclamation of freedom by which they were
allowed to live again in the city and these people
have begun to return from the places where they
had found refuge. But the houses of the
dispossessed Muslims had long remained empty…
Sir John Lawrence, who was the Chief
Commissioner of Punjab in 1857, came over to
Delhi in February 1858 as its Chief Commissioner.
Ghālib saw his arrival as assuring to the people
LIB 335
and even sent him a panegyric (Qaīdah) on the
19th of February. Two days later came the news of
capture of Lucknow by the British. Ghālib says
the news brought relief to the destitute and
signaled times of calm. He relates this to the lunar
eclipse that happened on the night of 27 February
(Faruqi, 1970, p. 60):
Saturday, February twenty-seventh, came to an end
and darkness fell over Delhi. When most of the
night had passed such sighs from the hearts of the
oppressed had risen into the skies that they
obscured the face of the moon and the people cried
out saying that the moon was eclipsed. On that
same Saturday the orders of the durbash came to
an end and those who sought justice, or audience,
or refuge were given these things…. In the entire
city of Delhi it is impossible to find more than one
thousand Muslims; and I am one of these. Some
have gone so far from the city it seems as if they
were never residents of Delhi.
This eclipse was a partial, beginning at
21:11 UT, that is, past midnight (therefore, 28
Under the then prevalent circumstances,
the September 1857 eclipse may be called a war
eclipse. Whether the eclipse was noticed as annular
from places in north-west that lay in the path, there
is no account of it by any historian, or, in any
available reports or the memoirs.
In the translation of Ghālib’s letter by
Rahbar (1987), the part describing the position of
the comet among the stars needs reparation. With
due correction, it may read as:
You determine the position of the form in the sign
of zodiac in which it appears in darjah (degrees)
and daqīqah (arcminutes). One has to calculate by
a thousand conjurations before converging to a
result. In Shahajahanabad, it was seen after sunset
on the western horizon. Now, since in those days
the Sun was in the beginning of the sign of Libra,
it was believed that this form was in the sign of
Scorpio, so its position in darjah and daqīqah
remained unknown.
Ghālib’s sky positions for the comet, we
note, are in the tropical system. The Sun being in
Awwal Mīzān means it to be in the beginning
(initial point) of the zodiacal sign Libra, i.e., in a
longitude of 180º; that is when the autumnal
equinox occurs. The Sun’s entry into Libra would
have worried Ghalib on another count, for, in that
sign the Sun is in its fall. His last observation: a
‘position in darjah and daqīqah remained
unknown’, acknowledges that the comet is still
close to the Sun so that its position in degrees and
arcminutes can not be ascertained.
We can fix the window of his observation
by following the course of the comet with JPL’s
Horizons System and that of the Sun with Your
Sky through the months of September-October,
with Delhi as the place of observations. The Sun
passed the equinox on 23 September 1858, 08:35
UT. It crossed the longitude 210° to enter the sign
of Scorpio on 23 October, 16:49 UT. That forms
our window in the first approximation.
The Sun being in the beginning of the sign
of Libra means, we may consider it located within
the first half of the sign (180º-195º). The Sun
passed the longitude 195º on 8 October, 14:14 UT.
That means in the period 23 September – 8
October, the comet ought to be in between the
longitudes 210º-240º. The orbit computation
suggests that the comet passed into the sign of
Scorpio on 7 October 13:38 UT and exited it on
15 October 02:28 UT. In India, the comet could
have been seen in the sign of Scorpio first on the
evening of 8 October only, placed about 3º south-
east of ζ Bootis. For the Sun and the comet to be
in the respective signs as per Ghālib’s letter, his
window narrows down to 8-15 October.
The computed positions of the various
solar system objects as at sunset on 8 October and
15 October are given in the Table 1. The positions
are apparent and with respect to the Earth true-
equator and the meridian containing the Earth true-
equinox of date. The quantities
are ecliptic
longitude and latitude respectively. The Sun’s and
the planets’ positions are computed for Delhi. The
quantity r is comet’s heliocentric distance and
delta the geocentric distance in astronomical units
(au); the Moon’s distance is in Earth Radii (ER).
Between these two dates, Mercury, Jupiter and
Saturn were set and the comet trailed the Sun.
As for its visibility, we gather from
Vsekhsvyatskii (1964) and Kronk (2003) that the
comet was visible to the naked eye as follows: on
9 October and 12 October as bright as Vega (mag.
0.03), on 24 October as bright as β Aquilae (mag.
3.71, primary of the binary) and fainter than the
latter by 31 October. It could be seen with an
unassisted eye until 10 November. The comet
became spectacular in the second week of October
when it passed closest to the Earth on 10 October
from 0.5379 au at 21:00 UT, and after which it
began to dwindle fast in tail length and brightness.
The path of the comet through the period 24
September – 27 October can be made out from its
observed positions in the sky as given by various
observers in the pages of the Journal: Monthly
Notices (MNRAS 1858).
Ghālib’s sighting of the comet, though not
dated should be within the period 8 October - 15
October, more likely in the earlier part of the week.
When he observes that it hasn’t been in sight for
ten days, that is at the time of his writing in early
November. This is in order knowing that a 33º
long tail seen on 15 October diminished to a mere
5º between 17 to 27 October. There is no reference
in his writing to a Moon brightening up to its full
on 22 October and the comet’s brightness
As noted in Russell and Islam (1994),
Ghālib’s Dastanbū came into print by mid-
October, 1858. Ghālib and his friend Nawāb
Shafaq missed out on referring to another
attraction in the sky, namely, a brightening Venus,
up those days to add to the observers’ delights.
For instance, on Saturday, 16 October, 13:00 UT
at Delhi (sunset at 12:16 UT), Venus stood at about
17º altitude, about 11º south-west of the comet
and barely a degree to the east of the bright star
Antares. Then at 0.577 au from the Earth, the
planet would be very bright, for, Venus attains its
maximum brightness when 0.43 au from us. On
20 October, the comet slid past Venus from ~ 2°
Mirzā Ghālib, who at the beginning of his
letter commented: ‘azīm sitāra’-i dumbāldār mī
tarsam (I am scared of this great tailed star), could
be witness to the great comets of 1807, 1811, 1831,
Table 1. The computed positions of the various solar system objects
UT r Delta
Alt Az (S-W)
1858-Oct-08 º º º º
Comet 12:24 0.606 0.548 214.238 25.799 29.18 87.55
Sun 0.998 -0.327 83.495 Setting
Venus 0.639 23.554 42.166 Up
Moon 61.6 ER 7.071 67.398 Up
Mars 1.163 35.869 6.970 Up
Comet 12:17 0.669 0.575 241.275 8.059 30.93 54.25
Sun 0.996 -0.432 80.554 Setting
Venus 0.585 23.337 39.687 Up
Moon 63.4 ER 36.087 -15.632 Up
Mars 1.204 36.229 6.741 Up
LIB 337
Halley’s Comet in 1835, the Great March Comet
of 1843 and the comets of 1845 and 1854. Each
one of these created sensation but there is no
comment from him thereon. We also do not find a
reference by him to several large magnitude solar
eclipses at Delhi, namely those of 17 July 1814
(mag. >0.9; total at Chandigarh), 19 November
1816, or that of 14 April 1828. The last one was
annular at Agra but Ghālib was then in Calcutta
(Malik Ram p. 29; Russell and Islam 1994, p. 51)
where the eclipse at maximum reached the
magnitude 0.866.
Since times immemorial, people have seen
providence in situations developing in the sky,
namely the conjunction of planets, occurrence of
eclipses, meteors and comets. Recording such
events in the political history was a tradition in
the empires of the Middle East. The Mughal
Empire when in its heydays was no exception. The
Emperors took these occurrences quite seriously
and even sought remedial measures. Political
astronomy is about the role and the influence
celestial events make on polity or a people’s life
and their response thereto. Mirzā Ghālib’s
Dastanbū and the letter to his friend are central
documents for the present paper. He was goaded
by the appearance of a comet, a subject of talk
among people and their fears. When one after the
other four celestial events came to pass, the poet,
a hapless witness to the greatest political upheavals
of life could not help it but to connect the dots.
Ghālib and Z
.afar fell in situations very
different from each other’s but the turbulence
brought about a pole-reversal in their minds. Their
city of joy and hope had turned a necropolis right
before them. The former becomes fatalist, blaming
it all on the fault in the stars. That Bahādur Shāh
.afar, ever fearful of the same, was unaware of
the conjunction and eclipse is difficult to believe.
Most surprisingly, the apparition of the great comet
noticed all over finds no reaction on record from
.afar. Rather, he is so benumbed by the agony of
loss that he ends up totally insensible to the same.
It was not easy being at the helm of affairs and
yet come off a fighter. In his utterances, Z
imputes no fault on the celestial design – neither
through the course of the events and his trial by
the British, nor subsequently –when he lamented
about his city (Husain, 1958, p. 341):
Dehli was not a city but a garden of hearty pleasures
(Chaman-i Dillī) with all kinds of security and
amenity. That epithet of Dehli is obliterated. Now
Dehli is a ruined waste land.
In an expression such as in the following,
he consoles himself for the punishment by Allah
for his inability to save kingdom, and hoping for
the Prophet’s support:
.afar! You should have no fears of standing
before the Divine Tribunal and of being called to
account openly by God on the Day of Judgment
since you can count on the intercession of the
Prophet. He is your supporter in any case and
.afar believed whatever happened was as
had been written in his fate only.
As we make it out from the whole lot of
letters that Ghālib wrote his friends, he appears to
see only the celestial events of 1857-58 as ominous
signs. In a letter addressed to ‘Alā’ud Dīn Amad
Khān ‘Alāī dated 6 August 1862 (Sharma and
Sharma, 1958, pp. 488-90), the poet, a victim of
financial crises always, mentioned the starry nights
that he enjoyed to the brim with no apprehension
of the heavens falling. This we can notice in the
following part of the letter (Russell and Islam
(1994, p. 275-6):
I do not fear death, nor do I lay claim to patience.
And I believe not in freewill but in
predestination…….But let your refined mind be
at rest: all cause for uneasiness and fear has gone.
The rain has stopped; the landlords have had repairs
put in hand; the boy is no longer afraid; the mistress
is no longer disturbed; I no longer suffer
discomfort. I have the open roof, the moonlit night,
the cool breeze. All night long Mars can be seen in
the sky, and an hour before first light shining Venus
comes into view. As the moon sinks in the west,
Venus rises in the east: and I enjoy my morning
draught of wine and this radiance.
The ‘boy’ referred to above is Ghālib’s
grandson who had been scared of the continuing
torrential rains and the word ‘mistress’ is for his
wife. The letter dates four days prior to the Full
Moon. Notably, the Great Comet of 1861 (C/1861
J1, Tebbuttt) that had excelled even Donati’s
Comet in brightness and was visible to the unaided
eye for three months seems not to have left any
impression on him. Celestial imagery figures only
a little in his poetry. Nevertheless, our hobbyist
of ‘Ilm-i nujūm (astrology) knew the stars well,
better than we can imagine. In his letter to his
friend Nawāb Anwārud Daulah Shafaq, Ghālib
addressed his concern about the sitāra‘-i dumdār
(comet) that appeared in the autumn of 1858 and
specified exactly where the comet was to be found
in the zodiacal circle. In the same letter as also in
Dastanbū, Ghālib kept track of how the planets
Mars and Saturn were drawing close that too in
the sign of Cancer, a conjunction that is always
seen as sinister. He also knew where to find the
planets in the sky, by the naked eye. Ghālib
practiced astrology for extra income only, not
possible without an adequate knowledge of
astronomy. An observation on him by Samad Rizvi
(2011) is in order who credits Amīr Khusro (1253–
1324) with pioneering a form of astrological
poetry where horoscope is presented pointing
figuratively to the good and bad influence of
celestial circumstances:
“….”Astrological Poetry” is the exclusive
invention of Ameer Khusro. No other poet had ever
produced such illustrious Astrological Poetry
earlier to Ameer Khusro. Even after Ameer Khusro
no poet has produced this type of Astrological
Poetry, except Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib of
Delhi who, after about 550 years of Ameer Khusro,
adopted this art of Astrological Poetry in a
marvelous manner surpassing even Ameer Khusro
at places.”
Distant from the storm, a few interested
individuals had observed the comet for science.
They had the necessary wherewithal and technical
expertise. We intend to discuss elsewhere the
details of modern observations of Donati’s Comet
made from India, which are important for the
history of modern observational astronomy in
I thank the Referees for their valuable
suggestions that have led to a considerable
improvement in the presentation. I am grateful to
Prof. S M Razaullah Ansari (Aligarh), Dr. S M
Mozaffari, Research Institute of Astronomy and
Astrophysics of Maragha, Iran, Dr. S. Balachandra
Rao, Gandhi Centre of Science & Human Values,
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru for useful
communications. My thanks are due to Dr. Sohail
Anwar and Dr. Abdul Wahid at the Library of
Ghalib Institute, New Delhi for useful discussion
on the Persian parts of Mirzā Ghālib’s Letter and
Dr. Raza Haider, Director Ghalib Institute for
warm hospitality. Thanks are due to Khuda Bakhsh
Library, Patna for providing the digital copy of
the Urdu Jantrī for the year 1274 AH, and to Dr
Hasibur Rahman, Dr Shazia Alvi, Jamia Millia
Islamia, Dr. Mehar Adiba and Dr. Tabarak Hussain
for help in the matter. I thank Prof. Emerita Frances
Pritchett, Columbia University for useful
correspondence. I gratefully acknowledge the
support by the Director, Indian Institute of
Astrophysics (IIA), the Library, IIA for help in
accessing various references. This research has
gratefully made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data
System, the “On-Line Solar System Data Service”
of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “Eclipse
Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA GSFC
Emeritus”, the websites of John Walker, Iran
Chamber Society, and Juhani
Kaukoranta and Raahen lukio, and several classic
works and reference material on the Internet etc.
LIB 339
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(Proceedings of the IAU Joint Discussion-17, held in
Kyoto (Japan), Aug. 25–26, 1997), Edited by S.M.R.
Ansari. Kluwer Academic Publisher, Dordrecht (The
Netherlands), 2002, esp. pp. 133-144.
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... Be it a royal birth, eclipses, omens or strategic marches, Hindu astrologers were invoked (Schimmel 2004: 139-140). At such a juncture, the emergence of a large and bright comet could not be other than a baleful sign on the side of the devil and out to cause ruin only (Kapoor 2018b). ...
... The search for observations of comets made in India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is in progress. Nineteenth century comets that have been dealt with in this series are the Great Comet of 1831 (Kapoor, 2011), the bright comet of 1825 IV (Kapoor, 2016), Donati's Comet as described by Mirza Ghalib (Kapoor, 2018b), the Great Comet of 1807 (Kapoor, 2019a), the Great Comet of 1811 (Kapoor, 2019b) and the Great September Comet of 1882 (Kapoor, 2020). 2. J.B.N. ...
Full-text available
On 02 June 1858 at the Observatory of Florence, Giambattista Donati (1826–1873) discovered a faint nebulous patch what was destined to become one of the most brilliant comets in history. Named after him, Donati’s Comet (1858 VI; C/1858 L1 (Donati)) enthralled sky watchers in Europe and elsewhere like never before. This paper brings together tales of the observations of this comet made in India. Ironically, the celestial visitor happened to rise in India’s most turbulent times. It was seen by many as a baleful sign out to ruin and observed by some for science.
... Research on observations of comets made from India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is in progress. A few nineteenth century comets that have been dealt with in this series are the Great Comet of 1831 (Kapoor, 2011), the bright comet of 1825 IV (C/1825 N1) (Kapoor, 2016), Donati's Comet (Kapoor, 2018b), the Great Comet of 1807 (Kapoor, 2019a) and the Great Comet of 1811 (Kapoor, 2019b). Donati's Comet also is dealt with in Kapoor (2020). ...
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This paper brings together India-centric accounts of the Great Comet that appeared in 1882. It grew to be the most magnificent one seen since the Great Comet of 1843, and was observed from throughout the Indian Subcontinent. The comet of 1882 has been variously designated as the Great September Comet, 1882 II, 1882b and C/1882 R1. We look into the observations of the comet made in India by persons of diverse backgrounds, namely, by Norman Pogson, Major G. Strahan, Dr Mahendralal Sircar, A.V. Narsinga Rao, James Burrell Smith and J. Philaire, from different locations. The Madras Observatory observations stand out with Norman Pogson noting the pre-perihelion dual nature of the nucleus before it was reported elsewhere.
... No wonder the asteroid falling in the air space of Russia and making headlines in a way seems to renew the vibes of Cold War and keep the stagnated confrontation alive . Also since asteroids like Apophis the orbit of which will remain known to the target nation for many years and region will continue to be seen by that set of mankind who may be be earmarked for crucification , it can be seen as a stretched catapult diplomacy to trade safety for some benefit the stronger nation may be looking forward to accrue .At least in India it is possible that the superstition of Demons & Beasts as described 40 in Skanda Purana will return back and masses will hallucinate Shumbha & Nishumbha , ...
Conference Paper
As per a report in the 'Monthly Science Explainer 'of Guardian news published on the web on 28 November 2013 there is a mention of structured and concerted observations on the types of asteroids entering the earth. The Chelyabinsk asteroid strike on 13 February 2013 put NASA on a cosmic wake up call. A blinding flash , a loud sonic boom and shattered glass were the visible effect of such a strike. A persuasion of the progress of NASA over these five years brought out it's consistent preparation by the way of organising early warning , telescopic observations , simulations in sync with FEMA and plans for a more daring actual interventions in space most of which has been covered in the paper. However this paper looks at India which is comparatively weaker than the existing superpowers in terms of scientific advancements and capability to deflect such asteroid impacts from space. However there seems to be a correlation of records of such impacts in the ancient Hindu texts due to which man's thoughts about the unknown took shape in the form of various scriptures as the Vedas. Based on a hypothetical assumption of an assured cosmic impact this paper brings to fore a thought on the composition of the apt Incident Command System and the way to handle this Disaster, should the same impact the Indian landmass in future. It also attaches the strings to asteroid mining due to which developed nations may resort to an arm twisting tactics to circumvent the Outer Space Treaty of October 1967. The paper concludes as a near proven conspiracy theory.
This contribution presents earliest records in the Indian stone inscriptions and literature that specifically mention the eclipse as total or annular and the eclipses that timed with wars. Solar cult temples can be found all over India. In a few, the assigned dates coincide or are close to the dates of solar eclipses of large magnitude in the area.
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Survey of Zijes Written in the Subcontinent
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In this communication we present the circumstances of the total solar eclipse of Oct 17, 1762 that passed over India, specific to Amritsar to recreate the ambience that may serve as a definitive input to certain perceptions that the total eclipse affected a fierce battle on the day between Ahmed Shah Abdali’s forces and the Sikhs at Amritsar, forcing an early retreat by the former. The eclipse took place in the afternoon. However, at Amritsar it was partial, not total as is understood in the astronomical sense and erroneously written about so in the historical accounts. Here, the magnitude of the eclipse, the fraction of the Sun’s disc as covered by the Moon, was 0.99 while the path of totality missed the town by over 50 km. In comparison to a total, the near miss however does not dilute its large impact factor over the human psyche nor does it affect the inferences that can be drawn about the battle circumstances. At Delhi, the eclipse was total, with a magnitude 1.02. The year 1762 was one of the sunspot maximum phase of the Solar Cycle 1 when the solar corona presumably would have shown up as fairly symmetrical during the brief moments of totality.
This study deals with considerations on the angular diameters of the Sun and Moon in ancient and medieval astronomy and focuses on their role in predicting the existence of annular eclipses. Historical reports of annular eclipses probably date back to the ancient Greeks. From that period there are some documented theoretical considerations about the angular diameters of the Sun and Moon, implying the possible existence of annular eclipses. Nevertheless, according to the Ptolemaic context, since the minimum angular diameters of the Sun and Moon were considered to be equal, there was no justifiable basis for annular eclipses. During the medieval Islamic period, some observational evidence, including annular eclipses in AD 873 and 1283, and a total solar eclipse in AD 876 in which the Sun was completely covered for an unusually long interval, led to attempts by the astronomers of the time to revise Ptolemaic ideas, and come up with acceptable alternatives. Accordingly, non-Ptolemaic ideas concerning the angular diameters of the Sun and Moon were adopted from Indian astronomy, inserted into the Ptolemaic model, and eventually transferred to European astronomy. Finally, by the late medieval period a ‘bright ring eclipse’ had become an accepted term for one of the three types of solar eclipses––the others being total and partial. With the progress of astronomy, the discussion of annular eclipses was back on the agenda whenever the idea of homocentric models arose, and were used to reveal their glaring deficiencies.
Preface; Introduction; Part I. Progress of Astronomy During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century: 1. Foundation of sidereal astronomy; 2. Progress of sidereal astronomy; 3. Progress of knowledge regarding the Sun; 4. Planetary discoveries; 5. Comets; 6. Instrumental advances; Part II. Recent Progress of Astronomy: 1. Foundation of astronomical physics; 2. Solar observations and theories; 3. Recent solar eclipses; 4. Spectroscopic work on the Sun; 5. Temperature of the Sun; 6. The Sun's distance; 7. Planets and satellites; 8. Planets and satellites (continued); 9. Theories of planetary evolution; 10. Recent comets; 11. Recent comets (continued); 12. Stars and nebulae; 13. Methods of research; Index.
The first known photographs of a comet were taken in 1858. The earliest astronomical telescopic photographs, daguerreotypes from 1850-51, had been made only when the violet focus of telescopes was found. Tracking remained a problem preventing astronomical objects from being photographed. When the Harvard refractor's tracking was improved in 1858, it was used by the Bonds and colleagues to photograph Comet Donati on a collodion plate. The plate remains in the archives of the Harvard College Observatory, though the image shows only very faintly and no tail can be seen. Bond was scooped the previous night by the commercial English photographer W. Usherwood, who used a portrait camera at a much lower focal ratio to capture the comet's tail. The plate was seen and evaluated by W.C. Bond. No further comet photography took place until 1881, when P.J.C. Janssen and J.W. Draper took the first generally recognized photographs of a comet, followed by D. Gill's photographs of the Great September comet of 1882. This work was sponsored by two Senior Research Grants from the Getty Grant Program.