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How did the devotees and acharyas of previous times awaken at the appropriate time for morning japa and other activities?

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Hare Krsna Carol Mataji,   I hope you are well and getting peace in your bhajan.    I lived for some years on the land with no electricity and you can learn how to see what time it is by habit.     Certain birds begin to call and there is a fresh feeling in the air.     A blind person can easily detect it.    Because most people live in a city now they have lost all touch with nature and can't even imagine such a peaceful life.

I asked my mother and she said that they would use some king of water clocks. water will be dripping from one vessel to another and that indicates the time. There were some sort of clocks based on lamps. Also was the clock based on the combination of both water and lamp. I do not know much details on its working though :(

 

As Jagadatma pr indicated, there are so many signs in nature that can tel time. Also, the best clock in nature is the body clock. When I was in college, I used to go for jogging in the morning. The alarm I had was disturbing every one at home. But after some time.. like one month or so... I would get up without alarm exactly at 5 in the morning.

 

Hare Krishna.

Hare Krsna peabhus,  Srimad Bhagavatam describes the measurement of time with a vessel with a small hole pierced in the bottem.     It is floated on a large pot of water and when it is full and sinks this a measure according to the size of the vessel and size of the hole.    With Astrology and astronomy exact times can be calculated.  Very acurate.


Hare Krsna
Thank you for this information.

I have been told that recent previous acaryas used watches. Before electronic watches, electric clocks, battery operated watches and clocks, and using computers and cellphones for the telling of time, there were spring mechanism watches that required winding. There are sundials. Many things were built better and were more advanced in ages past, it is a mistake to think societies are more advanced now. As an example, it was pointed out to me the strength of the pyramids to stand up to weather and time, compared to the buildings in large cities that are built today. I am not myself familiar with pyramids and other formations, but I was told they are very accurate, more accurate than methods used today in relation to time and movement of sun and such. Even the weapons of past ages were far advanced to what are used now.

Looking online I found the following:

In India:
...a water clock, which consisted of a copper bowl holding two large floats in a larger bowl filled with water. The bowl was filled with water from a small hole at its bottom; it sank when completely filled and was marked by the beating of a drum at daytime. The amount of water added varied with the seasons and this clock was operated by the students of the university.

N. Narahari Achar  and Subhash Kak suggest that the use of the water clock in ancient India is mentioned in the Atharvaveda from the 2nd millennium BC.

Ghati or Kapala (clepsydra or water clock) is referred to in Jyotisha Vedanga, where the amount of water that measures a nadika (24 minutes) is mentioned. A more developed form of the clepsydra is described in chapter xiii, 23 of the Suryasiddhanta.
[from Wikipedia Water clock]


There are several methods of telling time I found online, I thought these were interesting:

"Mainsprings appeared in the first spring powered clocks, in 15th century Europe. Around 1400 coiled springs appeared in locks, and many early clock makers were also locksmiths. Springs were applied  to clocks to make them smaller and more portable than previous weight  driven clocks, evolving into the first pocket watches by 1600."
[from Wikipedia, Mainspring]

How weight driven clocks work:
"Weight-driven clocks are mechanical  timepieces that are powered by the gravitational pull of heavy weights  slowly falling down.  The gravitational pull generally lasts for up to  seven days, at which time the weights need to be pulled back up.  The  weights hang on either cables or chains and are pulled up by either  winding the cables up with a crank that gets inserted into the holes on  the front of the dial or by manually pulling up the chains."
"The timekeeping function of  weight-driven mechanical clocks are regulated by the use of a pendulum  and can be adjusted by using the length of the pendulum.  This is done  by turning the rating nut at the end of the pendulum bob, which will  either raise or lower the bob. To speed the clock up, the pendulum bob  should be raised up by turning the nut to the right.  To slow the clock  down, the pendulum bob should be lowered by turning the nut to the left."

Spring-driven clocks:
"In spring-driven clocks, a key winds  the mechanical main spring which
powers these clocks as it unwinds.Spring-driven clock movements generally run the clock for up to sevendays before winding down, although some 14-day models are offered. There are, however, some  31-day movements..."
"Spring-driven clocks are generally  regulated with a pendulum or with the use of a balance wheel, which acts  in the same manner as a pendulum.  More sophisticated models will  utilize a platform escapement in place of a balance wheel or pendulum.   To speed or slower the clock, a screw is turned near the balance wheel  in the direction of the appropriate indications or by adjusting the  length of the pendulum."
[from How Clocks Work, http://www.giftoftimeclocks.com/en-us/pg_73.html ]

The "Atmos" clock:
"Atmos is the brand name of a mechanical clock manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre in Switzerland which does not need to be wound manually. It gets the energy it needs to run from temperature and atmospheric pressure changes in the environment, and can run for years without human intervention. Its power source is an internal hermetically sealed capsule containing a mixture of gaseous and liquid ethyl chloride, which expands into an expansion chamber as the temperature rises, compressing a spiral spring; with a fall in temperature the gas condenses and the spring slackens. This motion constantly winds the mainspring. A temperature variation of only one degree in the range between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius, or a pressure variation of 3 mmHg, is sufficient for two days' operation.
"In order to run the clock on this small amount of energy, everything inside the Atmos has to work in as friction-free a manner as possible. For timekeeping it uses a torsion pendulum, which consumes less energy than an ordinary pendulum. The torsion pendulum executes only two torsional oscillations per minute, which is 1/60th the rate of the pendulum in a conventional clock."
[from Wikipedia, Atmos Clock]

The "Beverly clock":
The Beverly clock is a clock situated in the foyer of the Department of Physics at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. The clock is still running despite never having been manually wound since its construction in 1864 by Aurthur Beverly.
The clock mechanism is driven by variations in atmospheric pressure and by daily temperature variations; of the two, the temperature variations are the more important. Either causes the air in a one cubic-foot air-tight box to expand or contract, pushing on a diaphragm. A six-degree Celcius temperature variation over the course of each day creates enough pressure to raise a one-pound weight by one inch (energy extracted = .11 joules), which drives the clock mechanism. It is not therefore an example of perpetual motion.
A similar commercial example of this mechanism is known as the Atmos clock.
Whilst the clock has not been wound since it was made by Arthur 
Beverly in 1864, it has stopped on a number of occasions: when its 
mechanism needed cleaning; when there was a mechanical failure; when the Physics Department moved to new quarters; and on occasions when the 
ambient temperature has not fluctuated sufficiently. After environmental parameters readjust, the clock begins operating again.
[from Wikipedia, Beverly Clock]

A rolling-ball clock:
"A Congreve clock (also known as Congreve's Rolling Ball Clock or Oscillating Path Rolling Ball Clock) is a type of clock that uses a ball rolling along a zig-zag track rather than a pendulum to regulate the time...The ball takes between 15 seconds and one minute to run down the zig-zag track, where it trips the escapement which in turn reverses the tilt of the tray and at the same time causes  the hands of the clock to move forward. Thus the angle of the plate  reverses and the clock hands move forward between one and four times  every minute. On versions of the clock with a dial to indicate seconds,  the second hand jumps forward either 15 or 30 seconds on each oscillation depending on the length of the track."
[from Wikipedia, Congreve clock]

Sundials and other devices:
"The sundial, which measures the time of day by using the sun casting a shadow onto a cylindrical stone, was widely used in ancient times. A well-constructed sundial can measure local solar time with reasonable accuracy, and sundials continued to be used to monitor the performance of clocks until the modern era. However, its practical limitations—it requires the sun to shine and does not work at all during the night—encouraged the use of other techniques for measuring time.
"Candle clocks
and sticks of incense that burn down at approximately predictable speeds have also been used to estimate the passing of time. In an hourglass, fine sand pours through a tiny hole at a constant rate and indicates a predetermined passage of an arbitrary period of time."
[from Wikipedia, Clock]

A water clock is a timepiece in which time is measured by the regulated flow of liquid into (inflow type) or out from (outflow type) a vessel where the amount is then measured...
The bowl-shaped outflow is the simplest form of a water clock and is known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt around the 16th century BC. Other regions of the world, including India and China, also have early evidence of water clocks, but the earliest dates are less certain.
Water clocks from Egypt:
These simple water clocks, which were of the outflow type, were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a small hole near the bottom. There were twelve separate columns with consistently spaced markings on the inside to measure the passage of "hours" as the water level reached them. The columns were for each of the twelve months to allow for the variations of the seasonal hours. These clocks were used by priests to determine the time at night so that the temple rites and sacrifices could be performed at the correct hour. These clocks may have been used in daylight as well.
Water clocks in Babylon:
These clocks were unique, as they did not have an indicator such as hands (as are typically used today) or grooved notches (as were used in Egypt). Instead, these clocks measured time "by the weight of water flowing from" it. The volume was measured in capacity units called qa. The weight, mana (the Greek unit for about one pound), is the weight of water in a water clock.
China;
In China, as well as throughout eastern Asia, water clocks were very important in the study of astronomy and astrology
Greco-Roman:
A commonly used water clock was the simple outflow clepsydra. This small earthenware vessel had a hole in its side near the base. In both Greek and Roman times, this type of clepsydra was used in courts for allocating periods of time to speakers. In important cases, when a person's life was at stake for example, it was filled. But, for more minor cases, it was only partially filled. If proceedings were interrupted for any reason, such as to examine documents, the hole in the clepsydra was stopped with wax until the speaker was able to resume his pleading... the Hellenistic physician Herophilos employed a portable clepsydra on his house visits in Alexandria for measuring his patients' pulse-beats.
Korea:
What made the Jagyeongnu self-striking (or automatic) was the use of jack-work mechanisms, by which three wooden figures (jacks) struck objects to signal the time. This innovation no longer required the reliance of human workers, known as "rooster men", to constantly replenish it.
Islamic and Arabic:
The most sophisticated water-powered astronomical clock was Al-Jazari's castle clock, considered by some to be an early example of a programmable analog computer, in 1206. It was a complex device that was about 11 feet (3.4 m) high, and had multiple functions alongside timekeeping. It included a display of the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits, and a pointer in the shape of the crescent moon which traveled across the top of a gateway, moved by a hidden cart and causing automatic doors to open, each revealing a mannequin, every hour. It was possible to re-program the length of day and night everyday in order to account for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year, and it also featured five musician automata who automatically play music when moved by levers operated by a hidden camshaft attached to a water wheel.Other components of the castle clock included a main reservoir with a float, a float chamber and flow regulator, plate and valve trough, two pulleys, crescent disc displaying the zodiac, and two falcon automata dropping balls into vases.
[from Wikipedia, Waterclock]

A candle clock is a thin candle with consistently spaced markings (usually with numbers), that when burned, indicate the passage of periods of time. While no longer used today, candle clocks provided an effective way to tell time indoors, at night, or on a cloudy day. A candle clock could be easily transformed into a timer by sticking a heavy nail into the candle at the mark indicating the desired interval. When the wax surrounding the nail melts, the nail clatters onto a plate below.
[from Wikipedia, Candle clock]

The incense clock ... timekeeping device .... The clocks' bodies are effectively specialized censers that hold incense sticks or powdered incense that have been manufactured and calibrated to a known rate of combustion, used to measure minutes, hours, or days. The clock may also contain bells and gongs which act as strikers. Although the water clock and astronomical clock were known in China....incense clocks were commonly used at homes and temples in dynastic times.
[from Wikipedia, Incense clock]

 

    

Mata jee, nice question.

when I was kid, I used to visit my ancestrol village once a year. Those days, electricity was not available in Indian villages. Brahmins will not use clock either. They had vedic calculations - basis of Indian astrology and divine vision to know the time. The life of such pious souls is very controlled and they live with Brahmcharya. (even married one will be with their wife only for getting child). Mostly time was calculated on moon's phase and planetary position. (hence moon calendar). The difference of eight prahar minus the night time was day time. Later sun dials came into being in India (Jantar mantar of Jaipur and Delhi and Arya Bhatta's calculations).

Hare Krsna.

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