Calendars of India by Vinod Mishra

Introduction to the Calendars of India (Hindu Calendars)

  • 07 March, 2023
  • Motilal Banarsidass

 

Calendars of India by Vinod Mishra

India is a land of diversity with many religions, languages and regional cultures. This even gets carried to the calendars that govern peoples’ social and religious lives. If one asks many Indians, when is the Indian New Year’s day, it is very easy to get many answers. The western Christian calendar (henceforth called the Common Era calendar) is the only one being followed by all Indians. Compared to many ancient cultures like Chinese, Jewish, Muslim and others, India may be unique in not having developed a single unique calendar for all of her people. Instead, we have too many calendars to choose from and all of them are based on the ancient science of jyotiṣa.

The word jyotiṣa in Sanskrit is equivalent to the two modern subjects of astronomy and astrology. It was considered to be an in- tegral part of the ancient Vedic curriculum. The jyotiṣa or Science of Light is one of the six ancillary Vedic sciences, other five being Rituals (kalpa), Phonetics (śikṣā), Etymology (nirukta), Grammar (vyākaraṇa) and Prosody (chhanda). They were known collectively as Limbs of Vedas (vedāṅga) with jyotiṣa being known as the Eyes of veda-puruṣa (Vedic scriptures envisioned as a human being).

The importance of jyotiṣa arose from the need to understand and predict various celestial events, and fix the dates of ritual and religious significance. Later it developed to include such branches of Mathematics as Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, etc. The an- cient Indian scholars of jyotiṣa subsequently made many signif- icant contributions to the fields of Astronomy and Mathematics.

The jyotiṣa comprised of both Astronomy and Astrology, as they were never considered separate in India as it happened in the West. One should emphasize the fact that Astrology has always been an integral part of Hindu Dharma (a better synonym for Hinduism). One of its theological assumptions is the correspondence between the outer world of objects and the inner world of con- sciousness. This is expressed by the saying “yathā piṇḍe tathā brahmāṇḍe”, or whatever is inside the human body is out there in the outside universe. This led to the hypothesis of a deep correla- tion between the moving astronomical bodies of the sky and the past, present, and future lives of the newborn. The ideas of karma (action) and punarjanma (rebirth) then imply that the planetary positions are indicators of the quality of the past lives and do not have any causative functions. So in India, astrology was not jus- tified by postulating the influence of planets on humans through physical forces (like gravitation and electromagnetism) as was at- tempted in the West.


In the present work, we will try to understand the astronomical and historical origins of the main calendars prevalent in India. The main part of the book consists of five chapters. The first two (ch. 2 and 3) provide the astronomical understanding and the rest (ch. 3, 4, and 5) describe the
panchāṅga. Some of the relevant informa- tion has been provided in the Appendixes.

The material presented does not claim originality and has been compiled from many sources like books, magazines and Internet. I acknowledge my debt to all of them. Some of them have been mentioned by name but many have not for which I offer apologies.

The transliteration scheme

The rules for the Roman script transliteration of Sanskrit words are given below. This system is the standard scheme followed by academic scholars.

The Sanskrit or devanāgarī alphabet is given as:

Vowels:

a ā I ī u ū ṛ

e ai o ou aṃ aḥ

Consonants:

ka kha ga gha ṅ
cha chha ja jha ña
ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa
ta tha da dha na
pa pha ba bha ma
ya ra la va śa ṣa ṣa ha

A few widely understood English versions of Sanskrit words have been retained.

 

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