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The Magnificent History of Indian Calendar

Ever wondered why your school’s new session always began and terminated during the months of March-April each year? Why your office salary increments are done mostly during the months of March-April?

Why there are some particular dates decided for a wedding ceremony, for hosting a havan or pooja, for a newborn baby’s nama-karana or perhaps, for launching an inauguration of a business? Well, it appears that most of the present generation is slightly unaware of the facts behind this timekeeping.

But you don’t have to, especially when the history behind this is so interesting and illuminating. So, let’s dig deep into the roots of this Indian timekeeping and unfold some incredible details from the trunks of India’s history.

A Word About Ancient Indian Calendar & Timekeeping

Our ancestors and ancient sages were truly very wise, insightful, imaginative and discerning at the same time.

While they didn’t have any watch on their wrists, or a mobile phone which could remind them of dates and occasions, they kept a track of time quite efficiently.

Maybe even better than it is done today. In this ancient era, the days, seasons, hours and months were usually predicted by means of various Vedic systems and direct studying of the conditions in the sky.  

 This was Vedic period, the golden stage of Indian wisdom. In this period, the estimation of time was considered important for many Vedic rituals.

To keep a track of time, people referred to Jyotisha, which is one of the sciences included in the Vedic texts Vedangas. Jyotisha is based on the tracking of time through the observation of movements of various astronomical bodies at regular intervals.

Following through this, people determined the cycles of years, months, seasons, days & nights by observing the respective cycles of Moon and Sun.

By studying the relative positions pertaining to solar, lunar, planets and stars, the timekeeping scholars would predict the important dates and occasions for the following year.

 

Some Old Indian Calendar Systems

Followed by the Vedic period, many scientists, scholars and rulers created their own calendars and timekeeping systems. Some of these can be seen in the ancient Indian calendar examples mentioned below.

 

    1.      Vikrami Calendar 

Also known as Vikram Samvat, the calendar was created during 57 BCE. It was named after king Vikramaditya when he defeated the province of Sakas. Based on 12 lunar cycles, the Vikram Samvat is currently the official calendar of Nepal. In India, it is mostly used in the northern and central regions.

 

    2.      Shaka Samvat

Based on the epigraphs written during 78 AD, this Shaka calendar system was popular in Southeast Asia along with a portion of Indian population.

This calendar consisted of the systems combined from various Hindus, Buddhist and Jain texts, which remained popular till 15th century. A huge part of the present day panchangam has been derived from this system.

 

    3.      Tarikh-ilahi

Tarikh-ilahi was the calendar created during Mughal Empire under the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar. At this time, the people used to refer to the Islamic calendar, also known as Hijri calendar.

Akbar ordered his royal astronomers to create a new calendar by combining the lunar cycles of Islamic calendar and solar cycles of Hindu calendars in one.

 

In addition to these, a number of other calendars were prominent during the ancient era such as Buddhist calendars, Bangla Calendar, Tamil Calendar, Malayalam Calendar etc.

Till this day, there are two main calendar systems used in India. That is, the Western Gregorian calendar and the Indian National Calendar.

 

The Formation of Indian National Calendar or The Panchangam

As mentioned above, there were different calendars invented by different empires, rulers and scholar groups. So, by the time India reached Independence, there were multiple calendars being used in different regions of the country.

In 1955, after a report presented by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it was decided to create a committee which would make the new calendar to be used throughout the Indian subcontinent.

This was decided in order to instil uniformity and consistency among the people.

 

About thirty to forty Indian calendars were studied thoroughly. Systems were developed. Finally followed by the efforts of astrophysicist Meghnad Saha and several members of the Calendar Reform Committee the official Indian Calendar was ready and in use starting from 22nd March 1957.

Also known as Saka calendar in some areas, the Indian National Calendar is used in addition to the Gregorian calendar, by the Government of India, the Gazette of India, All India Radio, and in all calendar communications related to government organizations.

 

An Year in the Indian Calendar

The Indian Calendar is a luni-solar calendar based on positional astronomy. That is, the timekeeping is based on the movements of the moon and sun, as inherited by the systems of ancient Indian subcontinent.

Quite intricate though, the calendar also features accuracy and a marvellous structure of predicting time on a multi-dimensional level of various stellar constellations.

 

So, when does a year begin according to the Indian calendar? Well, according to this calendar, the year begins with the New Moon just before the solar sign returns to Aries.

This is during the spring season, around March equinox. This is the primary reason behind the names of months differing in Indian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar.

 

Timekeeping Structure of Indian National Calendar

The foundation of Indian Calendar is based on the solar and lunar cycles as studied from Earth. So, there are 12 lunar months and 12 solar months.

While each lunar month is divided into 30 to 31 lunar days, each solar cycle corresponds to a zodiac or Sun Sign. In each lunar month, there are 2 fortnights.

The lunar days are divided into the phases of bright and dark relative to the phases of the Moon.

The 12 lunar months are named in the following sequence respective to the months from March to February, and zodiac signs from Aries to Pisces – Chaitra, Vaishakha, Jyestha, Ashadha, Shravana, Bhaadra, Ashwin, Kartika, Agrahayana, Pausha, Magha and Phalguna.

The names of these months have been derived from the older calendar systems of India. The first Indian month Chaitra falls on March 21st or March 22nd as based on whether the total number of days fall to 365 or 366.

 

Usage of Indian Calendar In The Present Day

You might have seen in your house a small booklet your mother or grandmother referring to while keeping their fasts and carrying out certain religious rituals.

Or, you might have seen many Indian families getting a panchanga read by some astrologer to find out the auspicious date or muhurata of a marriage.

This panchanga is no other than the Indian calendar itself in a detailed, printed almanac form. In some states, this almanac is also known as panjika.

 

What is Panchangam?

The term panchangam has been coined from the combination of words pancha and angam which means ‘five’ and ‘limbs’ respectively.

As the meaning implies, this Indian calendar booklet consists of five elements of Vedic astrology – Tithi, Nakshatra, Yoga, Karana, and Vaar. Each element plays an important role in determining a certain date or occurrence.

The panchangam, also based on Vedic science, mathematical work, deep geometry and astronomical studies, comprises of lunisolar cycles in the form of tithis, vaars, grahas, karanas, yoga, nakshatras & rashi phals to carry out various rituals and ceremonies.

In addition to predicting the dates and muhurats, the panchangam is used to predict various meteorological and seasonal occurrences.

While considering a panchanga to be read thoroughly, a trained reader or Vedic astrologer is required.

 

The National Panchanga & The 100 Year Panchangam

The National Panchanga is published and printed each year by the Government of India in all regional languages.

Although most panchangas contain information for one or two years, you will also find many of these written for over 100 years usually in some regional language.

One such example is the 100 year panchangam ‘Vishvijaya Panchangam’.

 

Apart from this, these days you will also find the 100 year panchangam in the form of decorations and artwork.

Many artists who are well aware about the elements, structure, astrology and geometry of a panchanga, tend to create them in a circular or square decorative format.

Coming in materials like enamel, metals, brass or shell, these 100 year Indian calendars are based on the concept of rotation wheel and elaborate geometrical artistry.

 

Wrapping Up

The Indian Calendar or a panchangam isn’t just important for timekeeping but it is also an epitome which reflects the wisdom, experience and intelligence of Vedas, the holy texts.

Old it might sound at first however, a panchanga is as modern and apt today as it was 5000 years ago, when there were no satellites or scientists.

So, the next time you look at the Moon or lie down under the blanket of stars, just think what those ancient Vedic sages would predict looking at them?