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Calendars and New Year(s) of India !


People often ask, how does the Hindu calendar work ?
Next popular question is, why do Hindus celebrate so many New Years ?  Which one of them is their correct New Year ?

How Hindu Calendars work

Like most ancient calendars, Hindu calendar works on the lunar cycle.  We follow the moon as most ancient agricultural societies did. Lunar cycle is between 28 - 31 days.  Lunar month has a 'bright' and 'dark' fortnight to mark the waxing and waning of the moon.  Lunar year is of 354 days, 8 hours and 34.28 seconds

Like most well developed civilizations, we are also aware of other heavenly bodies and their cycles - Sun, Venus, Jupiter etc.  The other main cycle used to mark time is that of the Sun.  For Hindus, Solar year starts at the spring equinox.  Solar year is of 365 days, 6 hours, 9.54 seconds.

In nature, it takes a number of years for solar and lunar two cycles to coincide.  For practical purposes, Hindus bring these two cycles together by adding an extra "month" every 3 years.  When 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.865 seconds have accumulated between the Solar and Lunar cycles, an extra month is added to bring the two calendars into synch.  The timing of adding the extra month depends on the lunar cycle.  Usually, the Sun "enters" a new sign of the zodiac each "month".  When the Sun does not migrate to a new sign in the zodiac, and it remains in the same sign for 2 consecutive months, that month is considered to be the "extra month" - the Adhik (literally - extra) or Purshottam maas.

Western calendar is essentially a Solar Calendar.  It alternates the number of days of the month (30 and 31) and adds a day every 4 years to regulating the calendar.

Indian New Year(s)

There are two "official" New Years in the Hindu calendars - Vikram Samvat and Shaka Samvat.
Vikram Samvat celebrates the crowning of Vikramaditya of Ujjain in 56BC.  Divali (Oct - Nov) marks the start of this particular year.
Shaka Samvat celebrates the crowning of Shalivahan king in 78AD.  Gudi Padvo (March - April) marks the start of this particular year.

In addition to this, Hindus celebrate many other new years.  Different societies in India celebrate different days as their New Year.  In a nation as vast as ours - culturally as well as geographically - much has happened over the past several millennias.  Different tribes, communities, sects, kingdoms, nations and people have decided to use different life changing events as their "cultural markers".  These cultural markers are often celebrated as New Years.  Over the centuries, Kings have established their victories and crowning events as 'New years'.

Some communities use astronomical events as their new year.  For example, Makar Sankranti - (14-15th Jan) - is celebrated as a new year across much of South India.  Sun enters the sign of Capricorn and its Northern cycle becomes noticeable on Makar Sankranti.  Keralites, and much of South India celebrate this festival as "Pongal" by cooking freshly harvested sugarcane and jaggary.  North Indians celebrate the same festival by flying kites.


Seasonal New Years

Some use changes in season as their New Year, as this is a strong 'natural marker' for agricultural societies.  Hence, Pongal, Vasant Panchami, Baisakhi, Bali Pratipada (Gudi Padvo), Guru Purnima, Divali etc are marked as New Year by different societies across India.

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 minds and lives of the people.  Farmers and communities who rely on them (such as merchants) for their welfare, often use agricultural dates as their New Years. 

Divali is at the end of the monsoon season and harvest is gathered and sold by Divali.  This is the ideal time to repay the debts and restart the account books.  Hence merchants celebrate this as their New Year.  As always, Indians use their surplus money by investing in gold, silver and land at this time of the year.  Return of Lord Rama from the forest is also 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 during Kali Chaudas, Dhanteras and Divali.  Later, worship of Krishna and other Gods was added to this essential festival, resulting in Annakut for the Vaishnavs and Mahavir Nirvan day for the Jains.  Later still, the victory / crowning of King Vikramaditya was associated with the same festival and Divali is celebrated as the start of the Vikram Samvat.  Parts of North India still use this as the start of their calendar year.

Officially, the government of India considers Shaka Samvat to be the start of the Hindu calendar.  Bali Pratipada, called Gudi Padvo, signaling start of Indian summer, is celebrated as a New Year across Western India.  King Shalivahan defeated his enemies and established a new dynasty during this period and hence the Shaka Samvat starts at this time of the year.  

Baishakhi marks an important farming deadline for North-West and so the Punjabis celebrate it as their New Year.


New Years by communities

Some communities celebrate their own New Year -
Brahmins celebrate Guru Purnima, during the monsoon, as their New Year.  Students offer respects to their teachers (guru) on this day.
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, the warriors, celebrate Desherah after the nineth day of Navratri, as their New Year.

Vaishyas, the merchants, celebrate Divali as their new year.

Sudras, the workers and artisans, celebrate Holi as their new year.

Indians now celebrate the Christian New Year with the same gusto as Divali and Pongal.  Fireworks, food and partying takes precedence over religious considerations. 

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

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


For more info on Months and Constellation related to them, check internet in general..


� Bhagwathagwatat    [email protected]

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