Astronomy in India has been practiced as a science in conjunction with astrology since the dawn of the first civilization. At one point of time, Indian Astrologers also doubled up as some of the finest astronomers of the world. The earliest treatises on Astronomy were published around 1500 BC by Indian astrologers. These were then systematically organized under the ‘Vedas’ by Indian priests. Aryabhata, Brahmagupta , Varahamihira and Bhaskara were some of the notable astronomers of yesteryear’s.
Post Independence in 1947, astronomy once again received a fillip under the leadership of the Prime Minister Pandit Nehru who set out to build “The Temples of Modern India“. Great success was achieved in establishing scientific institutions like TIFR and IIAP across the country in the post independence period. These institutions went on to serve as nurseries for the pioneers like Meghnand Saha, V. V Narlikar, N R Sen, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Vainu Bappu and P C Vaidya.
Amateur Astronomy has taken off in the last two decades with astronomy equipment becoming affordable and easily accessible. Coupled with the growing accessibility of the Internet, information on astronomy is now available at everyone’s fingertips. There are hundreds of astronomy clubs and associations across the country. Many of them are placed in institutions like IIT’s and Engineering colleges. Astronomy clubs have also been started in Tier II cities like Hyderabad, Mysore, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Patna, Kolkata and Guwahati.
The top five such societies in terms of outreach, infrastructure and mastery of the astronomical sciences are given below.
Astonomical Society of India (ASI) – http://astron-soc.in/
Started in 1972, ASI is India’s second oldest society for professional astronomers. With more than 1000 members spread across the country it also India’s largest astronomical society. ASI holds an annual symposium every year where develpments in astronomical research are discussed. This year the meeting was held at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar between 10-13 May, 2016. The society has professionals from various government organizations like TIFR, IISER, IISc, IIT, ISRO, PRL and IIAP. Amateur astronomers can become a member of ASI and attend it’s workshops.
ABAA – http://abaaonline.blogspot.com
Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers (ABAA) is the third oldest astronomy club in India. Founded in 1976. It was inaugurated by the legendary Vainnu Bappu and is located on the premises of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in central Bangalore. ABAA organizes workshops on telescope making along with lectures on astronomy for the public. It has a well equipped workshop with all the tools and materials required for grinding mirror blanks.
ABAA is also home to several skilled amateur astronomers who pioneered Astro-Photography in India. It has served as a nurturing ground for amateur astronomers who later on became professionals. It has more than 150 active members who meet on every Sunday. Annual Membership costs Rs 150 per year.
Bangalore Astronomical Society (BAS)- http://bas.org.in/
BAS was started in 2006 and is a registered society. The club does not have a physical address and operates in cyberspace. The best place to get in touch with them is online on their Google Groups forum where more than 200 members have vibrant discussions on topics closely intertwined with astronomy.
The society used to have a vibrant community when it started functioning but many of it’s founding members have since moved abroad to pursue doctoral research in Astronomy. BAS organizes an annual star party every year in the western ghats which is attended by amateur astronomers from across the country.
It is also among the only two astronomy club in India that can claim credit to having an asteroid named after one of it’s founders. The other being Vainu Bappu , the founder of ABAA who had an asteroid named after him posthumously during the 19th General Assembly of the Indian Astronomical Union held at New Delhi.
AAAD – http://aaadelhi.org/
Amateur Astronomers Association Delhi (AAAD) is the most active astronomy club in North India. They are located in the Nehru planetarium complex at Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi. They meet on Sundays at around noon every week. They recently organized a telescope making workshop that saw more than a dozen astronomy enthusiasts fabricate their own telescope from scratch. AAAD has a long history of conducting special sessions for Solar Eclipses and other celestial events.
Jyotirvidya Parisanstha (JVP) – http://jvp.org.in/
Located in Pune, JVP has an active public outreach program. Over the decades they have managed to popularize astronomy across the length and breadth of Maharashtra. The organization was informally started in 1944 by eminent citizens of Pune to popularize science and can be considered to be the oldest astronomical clubs in India.
These are the top five astronomy clubs in India. They have been judged based on their outreach activities and caliber of their members.
Update : 18/09/2016 – Edited information about ABAA and JVP