The word on the street in India is that eclipses are very “inauspicious” (read: bad luck) and you shouldn’t look at them at all. Obviously you shouldn’t stare at a solar eclipse or you will go blind. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the idea that the light during an eclipse is bad luck and should be avoided at all costs.
Is that true? Yes. Indian culture (at least the major part of it, the “karma-kanda” part) thinks of eclipses in this way.
Is it superstitious? Yes.
Does that make it silly? No. Superstitious things also have reality and purpose.
Now lets talk about why India thinks eclipses are inauspicious…
First note to make in this regard is that auspicious and inauspicious are concepts that are part and parcel of karma-kanda varieties of religion. Bhakti (devotion) is elevated above and beyond karma-kanda by two huge steps (one step to Jnana, the next to Bhakti). So, bhaktas (devotionalists) needen’t worry much about what is “auspicious” and what is “inauspicious” in the normal sense of the words. For devotional spiritualists (“bhaktas”) auspicious means “whatever reminds me of my object of devotion (Hari)” and inauspicious means “whatever inclines me to forget my object of devotion (Hari).” Personally, I try to be a bhakta. I love to observe solar and lunar eclipses because it brings me all sorts of thoughts of God, his universal form, etc. So in my case such observance of eclipses are quite auspicious, even by Indian standards (though Indians without an education in the bhakti-marga school of their culture might disagree).
Next to the question of why observing an eclipse is inauspicious as far as the karma-kanda (normal, mundane religious) evaluation of things goes… The reason is that the Sun and Moon are the lights of the sky. Everything revolves around them and depends on them and without them we would be dead, frozen solid and sent adrift into space. An eclipse represents a clear THREAT to the Sun and Moon, therefore it is inauspicious.
When there is an eclipse, the asura (“demon”) Svarbhanu (who is now Rahu and Ketu in the heavens) takes the opportunity to extract revenge upon the Sun and Moon for cheating his people of the nectar of immortality. He swallows and terrifies the Sun and Moon during the eclipse. The light that comes from the Sun and Moon during an eclipse is filtered through the shadowy, smoky, occluding paranormal “body” of Rahu/Ketu. Since Rahu/Ketu are asura (“demons”) the light is therefore “inauspicious” by normal standards.
This is why indian people, even including Vrajavasis, don’t let that light fall on anything important, and they take a sacred bath during or after the eclipse light, and during the affair they take shelter of the all-auspicious names of Hari.
– Vic DiCara