Indian Calendar

 

Lunar and Solar cycles

One of the most often asked questions is why do our festival dates do not match the western calendar and how does our calendar work ?  How comes we have so many different "New Year" festivals !

Like most ancient calendars, ours works on the lunar cycle.  We follow the moon, as most ancient agricultural societies did. Lunar cycle is easy to calculate, as it is easy for everyone to follow.  Being a natural cycle, it was always in harmony with the world and it had practical applications.   Farmers, fishermen, merchants and monarchs were able to use the lunar cycle to plan their annual activities.

Like most well developed civilisations, we are also aware of other heavenly bodies and their cycles - and know that the lunar cycle is not the only way to measure time.  Of all the other planetary orbits (Venus, Mars, Jupiter), the other major cycle of time is that of the Sun.

In nature, it takes a number of years for these two cycles to coincide.  For practical purposes, Hindus brought these two cycles together by adding an extra "month" every 3 years.  Usually, the moon "enters" a new sign of the zodiac each "month".  When the moon does not migrate to a new sign in the zodiac, and it remains in the same sign for 2 consecutive months, that is considered to be the "extra month" - the Adhik (literally - extra) or Purshottam maas.

The western calendar adds a day every 4 years and alternates the number of days a month has to achieve the same effect.

 

So many different New Years in India ! 

In a nation as vast - culturally and geographically - as ours, much has happened over the past several millennia's.  Different tribes, communities, nations and people have decided to use different life changing events as their "cultural markers".  As a society, we enjoy festivals of all descriptions.  Historically, we have celebrated each other's New Years, as its always a good excuse for a party !

Some have used astronomical events as their new year - and so use Makar Sankranti - (14-15th Jan) - when the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn and its Northern cycle becomes noticeable.  Keralites, mark this solar migration as "Pongal" and celebrate it as their New Year.

Some use changes in season as their New Year, as this is a strong natural marker for agricultural societies.  Hence, Vasant Panchami, Baisakhi, Bali Pratipada (Gudi Padvo), Guru Purnima, Navratri, Divali etc are marked as New Year by different societies.  Some of these seasonal celebrations are invested with cultural importance and often mythical and historical events are associated with them.  This gives them greater significance in the hearts and minds of the people.

Eg - Start of the summer season is an important time for the farmers.  Spring harvest is finished and there is a lull in the farm work for farmers.  They are repairing buildings, tools etc, readying for the monsoon season.  Bali Partipada is celebrated on this day, marking the victory of Vaman over Bali.  Later the victory of Vikramaditya was associated with this same festival and celebrated as the start of the Vikram Samvat - used as an important calendar date throughout North India.

Divali is the end of monsoon season and harvest is gathered and sold by now.  There is plenty of money for everyone and so they invest this in the way we have always done - buying gold, silver and land !  Return of Lord Rama from the forest is celebrated at the same time.  Due to this being the season of plenty, there is general thanks giving to the Gods. So, we worship Kali, Sarasvati and Lakshmi at this time.  Later, worship of Krishna and other Gods was added to this essential festival.  This is hence marked as a major New Year in the North.

New Year can be community specific too Eg - Brahmins celebrate Guru Purnima as their New Year, as this is an important spiritual festival for them.  Fisher folk of western India celebrate the same day as Naryeli Poonam - literally, the coconut full moon !  This marks the day when the worst gales of the monsoon season are over and fishing can begin once again.  Kshatriyas celebrate Desherah - the day after Navtratri festival finishes - as their new year.  Vaishya start their account books on Divali and celebrate it as their new year.  Sudras celebrate Holi as their new year, marking the end of cold weather.

Different tribes, sects and even kingdoms celebrated their own New Years in India. 

Now, the Christian New Year is celebrated with the same gusto as Divali and Pongal.  
Fireworks, food and partying takes precedence over religious celebrations.

Indians, and Hindus in particular, have always tended to adopt festivals from their neighbours.
This is what gives India, and its various communities, its different New years. 
Accepting everone as they are
is our cultural heritage.  It has made us who and what we are. 
Our experiences over the ages have shaped out history and these are reflected in our festivals and various "New Years".

Let us celebrate this diversity !!
Happy New Year !!

 

Bhagwat    Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com

 

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