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Calendar Hindu Calendars


(Article contributed by Sri Ramana Sharma(email: jamadagni-at-gmail.com)

 

The Hindu Calendar is of two types:

  1. the solar calendar or the saura maana, and
  2. the lunisolar calendar or the chaandra maana.

We will describe both in detail in this article.

The Basic Structure

The structure of the Hindu Calendar is of course composed of days making months making years. The system of describing days is the same in both the solar and lunisolar calendars. The system of describing months and hence years is what distinguishes the solar and lunisolar calendars from each other. We shall first describe the day, then the months and year of the solar calendar, and then the months and year of the lunisolar calendar. Then we shall speak about year numbering and the 60 names of the years.

The Day

The Hindu calendrical day starts with local sunrise. It is allotted five "properties", called anga-s. They are:

  1. the tithi active at sunrise
  2. the weekday
  3. the nakshatra in which the moon resides at sunrise
  4. the yoga active at sunrise
  5. the karana active at sunrise.

Together these are called the panchaanga-s where pancha means "five" in Sanskrit. An explanation of the terms follows.

Tithi

The angular distance (measured anticlockwise) between the sun and moon as measured from the earth can vary between 0° and 360°. This is divided into 30 parts. Each part ends at 12°, 24° etc. The circle ends at 360°. The time spent by the moon in each of this parts (i.e. the time taken for the angular distance to change by 12°) is called one tithi.

The month has two paksha-s or fortnights. The first 15 tithi-s constitute the bright fortnight or shukla paksha and the next 15tithi-s constitute the dark fortnight or krishna pakshaTithi-s are indicated by their paksha and ordinal number within thepaksha. The 15th tithi of the bright fortnight (full moon) is called puurnimaa and the 15th tithi of the dark fortnight (new moon) is called amaavaasyaa.

The tithi in which the moon is at the time of sunrise of a day is taken to be the tithi for the day.

Weekday

The weekdays are as usual seven. They are (starting from Sunday):

  1. Ravi vaasara
  2. Soma vaasara
  3. Mangala vaasara
  4. Budha vaasara
  5. Guru vaasara
  6. Shukra vaasara
  7. Shani vaasara

There are many other variations of these names, using other names of the celestial bodies of the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The word vaasara means "weekday".

Nakshatra

The ecliptic (circle on the sky in which the sun, moon and planets seem to move) is divided into 27 nakshatra-s, which are variously called lunar houses or asterisms. The starting point for this division is the point on the ecliptic directly opposite to the star Spica called Chitraa in Sanskrit. (Other slightly-different definitions exist.) It is called Meshaadi or the "start of Aries". The ecliptic is divided into the nakshatra-s eastwards starting from this point.

The names of the nakshatra-s are given below. As always, there are many versions with minor differences. The names in parentheses give roughly the correspondence of the nakshatra-s to modern names of stars. Note that nakshatra-s are (in this context) not just single stars but are segments on the ecliptic characterised by one or more stars. Hence you will find many stars mentioned for one nakshatra.

Nakshatra to star correspondence

Nakshatra

Star(s)

Ashvinii

β and γ Arietis

Bharanii

35, 39, and 41 Arietis

Krittikaa

Pleiades

Rohinii

Aldebaran

Mrighashiirsha

λ, φ Orionis

Aardraa

Betelgeuse

Punarvasu

Castor and Pollux

Pushya

γ, δ and θ Cancri

Aashleshaa

δ, ε, η, ρ, and σ Hydrae

Maghaa

Regulus

Puurva Phalgunii

δ and θ Leonis

Uttara Phalgunii

Denebola

Hasta

α to ε Corvi

Chitraa

Spica

Svaatii

Arcturus

Vishaakhaa

α, β, γ and ι Librae

Anuuraadha

β, δ and π Scorpionis

Jyeshtha

α, σ, and τ Scorpionis

Muula

ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κ, λ, μ and ν Scorpionis

Puurva Ashaadhaa

δ and ε Sagittarii

Uttara Ashaadhaa

ζ and σ Sagittarii

Shravana

α, β and γ Aquilae

Shravishthaa

α to δ Delphinis

Shatabhishaj

γ Aquarii

Puurva Bhaadrapada

α and β Pegasi

Uttara Bhaadrapada

γ Pegasi and α Andromedae

Revatii

ζ Piscium

The nakshatra in which the moon lies at the time of sunrise of a day is the nakshatra for the day.

Yoga

First, the angular distance along the ecliptic of any object on the sky, measured from Meshaadi (as defined above) is called the longitude of that object. Now when the longitude of the sun and the longitude of the moon are added, they produce a value ranging from 0° to 360°. (Values greater than or equal to 360° must be reduced to less than 360° by subtracting 360°.) Now this is divided into 27 parts. Each part will now equal 800' (where ' is the symbol of the arcminute which means 1/60 of a degree.) Now these parts are called the yoga-s. They are labeled:

  1. Vishkambha
  2. Priiti
  3. Aayushmaan
  4. Saubhaagya
  5. Shobhana
  6. Atiganda
  7. Sukarman
  8. Dhriti
  9. Shuula
  10. Ganda
  11. Vriddhi
  12. Dhruva
  13. Vyaaghaata
  14. Harshana
  15. Vajra
  16. Siddhi
  17. Vyatiipaata
  18. Variiyas
  19. Parigha
  20. Shiva
  21. Siddha
  22. Saadhya
  23. Shubha
  24. Shukla
  25. Braahma
  26. Aindra
  27. Vaidhriti

Again, minor variations many exist. The yoga that is active during sunrise of a day is the yoga for the day.

Karana

karana is half of a tithi. Since the tithi-s are 30 in number, one would expect there to be 60 karana-s. But there are only eleven. There are four "fixed" karana-s and seven "repeating" karana-s. The four "fixed" karana-s are:

  1. Kimstughna
  2. Shakuni
  3. Naaga
  4. Chatushpaad

The seven "repeating" karana-s are:

  1. Bava
  2. Baalava
  3. Kaulava
  4. Taitila
  5. Gara
  6. Vanija
  7. Vishti
  • Now the first half of the first tithi (of the bright fortnight) is always Kimstughna karana. Hence this karana is "fixed".
  • Next, the seven repeating karana-s repeat eight times to cover the next 56 half-tithi-s. Thus these are the "repeating"karana-s.
  • The three remaining half-tithi-s take the remaining "fixed" karana-s in order. Thus these are also "fixed".

The karana active during sunrise of a day is the karana for the day.


The Month and Year of the Solar Calendar

Now that the days are defined, we shall speak of how the solar calendar reckons its months and year.

As has been previously noted, the sun is observed to travel along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is now divided into twelve parts called raashi-s, starting from the point of Meshaadi defined above and moving eastwards. They are:

  1. Mesha
  2. Vrishabha
  3. Mithuna
  4. Kataka
  5. Simha
  6. Kanyaa
  7. Tulaa
  8. Vrishchika
  9. Dhanus
  10. Makara
  11. Kumbha
  12. Miina

These are the Sanskrit equivalents of the zodiac – Aries etc.

The day on which the sun transits into each raashi before sunset is taken to be the first day of the month. In case the sun transits into a raashi after a sunset but before the next sunrise, then the next day is the first day of the month. (Minor variations on this definition exist.)

The days are then labeled 1, 2, 3…. till the first day of the next month.

Thus we get twelve months with varying lengths of 29 to 32 days. This variation in length is because the path of the earth around the sun is an ellipse. The months are named by the raashi in which the sun travels in that month.

The new year day is the first day of the month of Mesha. Currently, it occurs around April 15th on the Gregorian calendar.

This is the structure of the Hindu Solar Calendar.


The Months of the Lunisolar Calendar

When a new moon occurs before sunrise on a day, that day is said to be the first day of the lunar month. The days are not labeled separately from 1 as in the solar calendar, but the tithi is their only label. When two successive days have the sametithi, the latter is called an adhika tithi where adhika means "extra". Sometimes, one tithi may never touch a sunrise, and hence no day will be labeled by that tithi. It is then said to be a tithi kshaya where kshaya means "loss".

The lunar month names are:

  1. Chaitra
  2. Vaishaakha
  3. Jyaishtha
  4. Aashaadha
  5. Shraavana
  6. Bhaadrapada
  7. Aashvayuja
  8. Kaartika
  9. Maargashiirsha
  10. Pausha
  11. Maagha
  12. Phaalguna

Naming Lunar Months

The naming of the lunar months is somewhat complex. It is based on the raashi into which the sun transits within a lunar month, i.e. before the new moon ending the month.

Extra Months

There are twelve raashi names, there are twelve lunar month names. When the sun transits into Mesha raashi in a lunar month, then the name of the lunar month is Chaitra. When the sun transits into Vrishabha, then the lunar month isVaishaakha. So on.

When the sun does not at all transit into any raashi but simply keeps moving within a raashi in a lunar month (i.e. before a new moon), then that lunar month will be named according to the first upcoming transit. It will also take the epithet of adhikaor "extra". For example, if a lunar month elapsed without a solar transit and the next transit is into Mesha, then this month without transit is labeled adhika Chaitra. The next month will be labeled according to its transit as usual and will get the epithet shuddha or "clean". [Note that an adhika month is the first of two whereas an adhika tithi is the second of two.]

An adhika maasa (month) occurs once every two or three years.

Lost Months

Now if the sun transits into two raashi-s within a lunar month, then the lunar month will be labeled by the first transit and will take the epithet kshaya or "loss". Actually, the month "lost" is the month which would have been labeled by the second transit. For example, if the sun transits into Mesha and Vrishabha in a lunar month, then it will be called Chaitra kshaya. There will be no month labeled Vaishaakha. Sometimes a kshaya is named by both months, so: Chaitra-Vaishaakha Kshayain which case the implication would be that the two months have merged (for religious purposes, see below).

kshaya maasa occurs very rarely. Known gaps between occurrence of kshaya maasa-s are 19 and 141 years. The last was in 1983 CE. Jan-15 through Feb-12 were Pausha(-Maagha) kshaya. Feb-13 onwards was (adhika) Phaalguna and notMaaghaMaagha was "lost" that year.

Special Case: If there is no solar transit in a lunar month but there are two transits in the next lunar month,

  • the first month will be labeled by the first transit of the second month (as usual) and take the epithet adhika and
  • the next month will be labeled by its first transit (as usual) and take the epithet kshaya.

By one calculation, the last such occurrence was in 1963 CE. Oct-18 to Nov-16 midday were adhika Kaartika. From then on to Dec-15 were Kaartika(-Maargashiirsha) kshaya. Dec-16 onwards was Pausha, not Maargashiirsha.

Handling of religious observances in case of extra and lost months

Among normal months, adhika months, and kshaya months, the earlier are considered "better" for religious purposes. That means, if a festival should fall on the 10th tithi of the Aashvayuja month (this is called Vijayadashamii) and there are twoAashvayuja months, the first adhika month will not see the festival, and the festival will be observed only in the second nijamonth. However, if the second month is Aashvayuja kshaya then the festival will be observed in the first adhika month itself.

A festival which is to be observed on a month that was lost will be observed on the corresponding "previous" i.e. kshayamonth. For example, the festival of Mahaashivaraatri which is to be observed on the fourteenth tithi of the dark fortnight ofMaagha was, in 1983 CE, observed on the corresponding tithi of Pausha kshaya, since in that year, Maagha was lost, as we mentioned above.


The Year of the Lunisolar Calendar

The new year day is the first day of the month of Chaitra. In case of adhika Chaitra or Chaitra kshaya the rules outlined above will apply.


Correspondence of the Lunisolar Calendar to the Solar Calendar

lunisolar calendar is always a calendar based on the moon's celestial motion, which in a way keeps itself close to a solar calendar based on the sun's (apparent) celestial motion. That is, the lunisolar calendar's new year is to kept always close (within certain limits) to a solar calendar's new year.

Since the Hindu lunar month names are based on solar transits, and the month of Chaitra will, as defined above, always be close to the solar month of Mesha, the Hindu lunisolar calendar will always keep in track with the Hindu solar calendar.


Year numbering and names

The epoch (starting point or first day of the first year) of the current era of Hindu calendar (both solar and lunisolar) is BCE3102 January 23 on the proleptic Gregorian calendar (i.e. the Gregorian calendar extended back in time before its promulgation from 1582 October 15). Both the solar and lunisolar calendars started on this date. After that, each year is labeled by the number of years elapsed since the epoch.

This is a unique feature of the Hindu calendar. All other systems use the current ordinal number of the year as the year label. But just as a person's true age is measured by the number of years that have elapsed starting from the date of the person's birth, the Hindu calendar measures the number of years elapsed. Today (as of writing this on 2005-05-18) the elapsed years in the Hindu calendar are 5106 and this is the 5107th Hindu calendar year. Note that the lunisolar calendar year will usually start earlier than the solar calendar year.

Apart from this numbering system, there is also a cycle of 60 calendar year names, which started at the first year (at elapsed years zero) and runs continuously:

  1. Prabhava
  2. Vibhava
  3. Shukla
  4. Pramoda
  5. Prajotpatti
  6. Aangirasa
  7. Shriimukha
  8. Bhaava
  9. Yuvan
  10. Dhaatu
  11. Iishvara
  12. Bahudhaanya
  13. Pramaathin
  14. Vikrama
  15. Vrisha
  16. Chitrabhaanu
  17. Svabhaanu
  18. Taarana
  19. Paarthiva
  20. Vyaya
  21. Sarvajit
  22. Sarvadhaarin
  23. Virodhin
  24. Vikrita
  25. Khara
  26. Nandana
  27. Vijaya
  28. Jaya
  29. Manmatha
  30. Durmukha
  31. Hemalambi
  32. Vilambi
  33. Vikaarin
  34. Shaarvari
  35. Plava
  36. Shubhakrit
  37. Shobhana
  38. Krodhin
  39. Vishvaavasu
  40. Paraabhava
  41. Plavanga
  42. Kiilaka
  43. Saumya
  44. Saadhaarana
  45. Virodhikrit
  46. Paritaapin
  47. Pramaadin
  48. Aananda
  49. Raakshasa
  50. Nala
  51. Pingala
  52. Kaalayukti
  53. Siddhaarthin
  54. Raudra
  55. Durmati
  56. Dundubhi
  57. Rudhirodgaarin
  58. Raktaaksha
  59. Krodhana
  60. Akshaya

Eras

Hindu mythology speaks of four eras or ages, of which we are currently in the last. The four are:

  1. Krita Yuga
  2. Tretaa Yuga
  3. Dvaapara Yuga
  4. Kali Yuga

They are often translated into English as the golden, silver, bronze and iron ages. (Yuga means era.) It is believed that the ages see a gradual decline of dharma, wisdom, knowledge, intellectual capability, life span and emotional and physical strength. The epoch provided above is the start of the Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga is 432,000 years long. The DvaaparaTretaaand Krita Yuga-s are said to be twice, thrice and four time the length of the Kali Yuga respectively. Thus they together constitute 4,320,000 years. This is called a Caturyuga.

A thousand and a thousand (i.e. two thousand) caturyuga-s are said to be one day and night of the creator Brahmaa. He (the creator) lives for 100 years of 360 such days and at the end, he is said to dissolve, along with his entire Creation, into the Eternal Soul or Paramaatman or Brahma (different from Brahmaa).

(Article contributed by Sri Ramana Sharma(email: jamadagni-at-gmail.com)

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