Millions of people across Asia have witnessed the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century with a mixture of excitement and religious fervor. Millions of others shut themselves in doors, fearing a bad omen.

The once in a lifetime solar eclipse began just after dawn Wednesday in India and proceeded across Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and China. Its path then moved over the islands of southern Japan before entering the Pacific Ocean.

Eclipse enthusiasts used special glasses to watch the solar eclipse, which lasted as long as six minutes and 39 seconds in some parts of Asia.

Tens of thousands of Hindus bathed in the waters of the river Ganges in northern India, seeking spiritual purification during the eclipse. A stampede erupted among the crowd in the city of Varanasi, killing an elderly woman and injuring several other people.

Elsewhere in India, millions of people stayed home on the advice of astrologers who warned the eclipse could bring bad luck.

Some expectant mothers in India asked doctors to re-schedule caesarian deliveries, fearing that giving birth on the day of the eclipse would lead to complications.

Many people in China crowded cities along the Yangtze River to see the eclipse. But clouds obscured the view in Shanghai, disappointing some eclipse watchers. Nepal's government declared a public holiday to mark the occasion.

An eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon that occurs when the moon moves directly between the sun and the Earth, covering the view of the sun completely. Experts say the Earth will not witness another solar eclipse of such a lengthy duration until 2132.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.