Hindu Calendar History

(I had written an article on history of Gregorian calendar on 15th June 2018. Many of you had requested similar effort to pen history of Hindu Calendar and that was published on 6th April 2019 in Marathi. There were numerous requests for this article in English so as to reach larger audience & hence this translation. The link of Marathi article is also given at the bottom)


Whenever the Indian (Hindu) calendar is thought about, two major questions always arise in everybody's mind.

Question 1. While giving information about the birth of two incarnations, Ram and Krishna, the time of birth and day of birth is given but the year of birth is never mentioned. If that had been provided then many disputes arising today could have been avoided.

In our point of view, the answer to this question is, since different calendars exist in different eras, if the year of birth is mentioned as per the contemporarily prevailing calendar then when that particular calendar becomes outdated and a new system takes its place, the previously mentioned year loses its reference. For example, when it is said that Sant Ramdas was born in Shake 1513 we are clueless about the meaning because we don't know the relationship between the Shalivahan calendar and the present Gregorian calendar which is based on birth of Christ. Experts can calculate that Shake 1513 equals 1608 CE, but what if such experts are not available?

So our ancestors invented a very accurate scientific system and that is to state the planetary positions on the day when a particular event happens i.e. to note the positions of the nine planets  with respect to the constellations and zodiacal signs. For example, Budh (Mercury) occupied this particular zodiacal sign while Guru (Jupiter) was in some other zodiacal sign etc. Since these planetary positions never reoccur, with the help of mathematics we can calculate how many years ago that particular planetary position existed and thus we can find out the exact year of Lord Ram's birth.

This leads us to conclude that in those days there were many learned people who could understand the mathematics of planetary positions. Using this same method in around 2001 a person named Saurabh Kwatra computed the date of birth of Lord Ram with the help of computers. The date he calculated was approximately 9000 years ago. He even calculated the date on which Ram set off for his exile, the days on which the war between Ram and Ravan started and ended, the day of return of Ram from his exile etc. This was possible because the exact planetary positions of the days on which these events happened are mentioned in the Ramayan.

Surprisingly, it can be seen from the above dates that Ram was in exile for 14 years and duration of Ram – Rawan war can also be known. It is clearly evident that the planetary position mentioned in the Ramayan are true, otherwise the duration between two dates would not be 14 years. All the above information has been published in Times Of India's s column titled “Speaking Tree” of edition dated 18 April 2001.

As per the dates calculated by Mr. Kwatra, the birth date of Lord Ram falls in the 1st week of December. This raises the question that if presently Ramnavmi (Birthday of Lord Ram) is celebrated in March or April, how is it possible that 9000 years ago Ram was born in December? The answer to this is that the Earth's axis is not only inclined (it is tilted by 23.5 deg) but it is not even steady. It also rotates around an imaginary fixed axis.

This motion is known as Precession Motion and this circulatory movement is known as revolution. Earth's Axis moves 360 deg in 25,800 years which means that it completes one circumambulation within that period. Due to this precession motion, the point of Summer Equinox keeps on changing. Instead of going into the mathematical complexities of this, let us only simply understand that the 4 months difference in Lord Ram’s birth date between December and April has been caused by the precession motion.

Nevertheless, it is highly admirable that the use made by our ancestors of planetary positions to record events happened in the past is highly scientific and technical. The tradition of noting planetary positions is still in use today but nowadays we tend to ignore it.

When a resolve is made during the performance of a religious ritual, we generally do not try to understand the significance of what priest chants. The priest is saying:

अद्य ब्रह्मणो द्वितीये परार्धे विष्णूपदे श्रीश्वेतवाराह कल्पे वैवस्वत मन्वंतरे अष्टाविंशतितमे युगचतुष्के कलियुगे प्रथमचरणे जंबूद्विपे भरतवर्षे दक्षिणापथे रामक्षेत्रे बुद्धावतारे दंडाकारण्ये देशे गोदावर्या: दक्षिणादिग्भागे शालिवाहन शके अस्मिन् वर्तमाने (अमुक नाम) संवत्सरे (अमुक) यने (अमुक) ऋतो: (अमुक) मासे (अमुक) तिथौ (अमुक) वासरे (अमुक) नक्षत्रे (अमुक स्थिते) वर्तमान चंद्रे (अमुक स्थिते) श्रीसूर्य (अमुक स्थिते) देवगुरौ शेषेशु ग्रहेशु यथायथं राशिस्थानस्थित.

Translation of the above verse:- In this second half of Lord Bramha's Life, during the Shrishvetavaraha Kalpa of the Vishnupad, in the 28th Yuga (Era) of the Vaivaswat Manvantar, in the first kaliyuga among four yugas of this manvantar, during the first occurrence of this kaliyuga, on the Island of Jambu Dveepa, in the country called Bharatavarsha, in the forest named Dandakaranya of the Bharata Khanda, on the Southern bank of the River Godavari, in the Bouddhavtara and in Ramakshetra, in the ongoing Shalivahana Shaka, in the so-and-so year, in the so-and-so Rutu (Season) falling during the Dakshinayan (sun's movement southward of the equator), on the so-and-so day of the lunar cycle, of the so-and-so Paksha of the so-and-so month on this date and day of the week and when such-and-such a constellation prevailed, in the auspicious moment of this auspicious circumstance, the present moment of today is propitious and virtuous blessed with all the above mentioned special properties.

Question 2. If the Time Measurement System is lunar based, the number of days in a lunar year totals to 355. Therefore, if this system is to be synchronised with a solar-based seasonal cycle, an extra month (called as adhik maas in Sanskrit) has to be incorporated into the system. So why didn’t the ancient Indians straightaway use a solar-based time measurement system in order to avoid all this botheration?

The reply to this question is that, in those days printed calendars and almanacs were not available to the common people as they are today. So the easiest method of deciding the day and date of the month was to note the lunar phases. This is a method accessible to everyone. And in case there is a mistake in calculating the date, it could be rectified within 15 days by observing the Full moon or New Moon and therefore the Hindu months follow the lunar cycles.

However, as far as seasons are concerned, since they are dependent on the Sun’s movement, the calculations of yearly seasons have to be connected to the Sun. Furthermore, our scriptures have made it compulsory to perform religious ceremonies in certain seasons only and that is why an extra month is necessary for synchronising with seasonal cycles. There is a mathematical calculation about why it is needed to add an extra month, as well as when and which month to add.

Extra Month and Decay Month:
There is an annual difference of 11 days in the solar year and lunar year. In 3 years, this difference amounts to 33 days or one month. Therefore, if an extra month is incorporated into the calendar every three years, then the years will be smoothly conjoined with each other and the balance of rituals and seasons would not be disrupted. That is the original concept of adding an extra month. However, along with this devisal of adding an extra month, a “decay month” also entered the Indian almanac because in order to match lunar months with seasons it is necessary to subtract one month from a lunar year after a prolonged period.

Extra (Asankranti) Month: The lunar month in which there is no solar transition is called an “extra month”. The Sun’s apparent movement from one zodiacal sign to the next is called as a sankrant (transition). When the sun appears to move into the Makara sign (Capricorn) we term it as Makara Sankranti. Other transitions of the Sun are not considered as important as Makara Sankranti. When a solar month is of longer duration than a lunar month, a New Moon falls at the beginning of that solar month and the next New Moon occurs at the end of that month.

The lunar month occurring after the first New Moon is called the “Extra month” or “Mal Maas”. The lunar month occurring after the second New Moon is considered as regular and is denoted by the epithet “Nij”. For example, Extra Shravan and Nij Shravan which follows after it (Shravan is the 5 th month of the Hindu calendar). No religious rituals are performed during an extra month. It is prescribed that one should only worship God during an extra month and that is why the extra month is also called as “Purushottam Maas”.

Decay Month: Very rarely a lunar month is of slightly longer duration than a solar month; in such a solar month no New Moon occurs and the Sun transits two stellar signs. The lunar month which is connected to such a solar month is subtracted from the lunar year and such a month is termed as “Decay Month” (Kshay Maas). The sun’s motion increases on 4th January every year, since it is at its perigee point (nearest to the earth) at that time. Normally, the Hindu months Margshirsh, Poush and Maagh fall in January. And hence mostly, it is seen that the decay month occurs in Poush month.

Decay month occurs in every 19 or 141 years; however, it has been known to occur even within 4, 65, 76, 122 years period in the past. It would be seen that an extra month occurs before or after a decay month. This reason for this is that 2 New Moons automatically occur in the solar months preceding or following a decay month and as a result two extra lunar months also occur. This could also lead to a general misinterpretation that in the year in which a decay month falls there would be 11 months only, but this never happens. Actually, in that year, there are 12 – 1 + 2 = 13 months.

From all these findings it is concluded that traditions were created by merging science and convenience.

The development of Hindu Calendar is as follows:-
1. Vedic Period - From past unknown till 1500 BCE
2. Vedang Jyotish Period - From 1500 BCE till 400 BCE
3. Siddhant Jyotish Period - From 400 BCE till date

Out of these, we have thoroughly discussed Vedic Period above.

Two texts on Vedang Astrology viz. Rigvedic Astrology and Yajus Astrology are available today. In both texts, the mathematics is based on the decimal system. This shows that the decimal system has existed in India since last 3500 years. In this astrology, mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, triad etc. have been used. That is why many scholars across the world were keen on studying this small book. In 1873, William Brennand, a revenue officer who was posted in India, opined that Hindu Mathematics and Astronomy was not given due recognition by Western scholars and hence after his retirement he did a thorough study of the subject and published a book, “Hindu Astronomy” based on it in 1896. In this book, Brennand has expressed his opinions without any prejudice.

Hindu astrology has described units of time of millions of years duration such as Yug, Mahayug, Manwantar and Kalp. As per this system of time measurement, Kalp means one day of Lord Bramha and the duration of one day of Bramha equals to 4320,000,000 (4.32 billion) years. The complete calculations of Vedic units of time and periods are as follows:

Kali Yug / Epoch - 4,32,000 Years = 1 Kaliyug
Dwapar Yug / Epoch - 8,64,000 Years = 2 Kaliyugas
Treta Yug / Epoch - 12,96,000 Years =3 Kaliyugas
Saty Yug / Epoch - 17,28,000 Years = 4 Kaliyugas
Maha Yug / Epoch - (Grand Total of All Yugas) = 10 Kaliyugas
Manvantar = 71 Mahayugs + 1 Satyug = 714 Kaliyugas
Kalp = 14 Manvantars + 1 Satyug = 10000 Kaliyugas

Equals to 4320,000,000 years.

Kalp is the duration of period between the creation and destruction of the Universe.
There are 6 such Kalpas, namely:
1) Kurm 2) Parthiv 3) Savitra 4) Pralay 5) Shwetvarah 6) Bramh

Currently we are in the Shwetvarah kalp (if one carefully reads what the priest chants while making resolve one will understand). This indicates that the Universe has been created, destroyed and recreated four times before. Surprisingly, according to modern science, the age of the Cosmos is also measured in similar number of billions of years which is why the Hindu Astronomical Calendar is still relevant today and this important point has been proposed and proved by Brennand in his treatise.

Panchang (Almanac)

Whenever Hindu Calendar is mentioned we are reminded of the word Panchang (Almanac). The word is composed of two words which are Panch (= Five) and Ang (= embodiment). It is evident from the name that it is formed of 5 components which are:
1. Nakshtra = Constellation
2. Tithi = Date
3. Waar = Day
4. Yog = Occasion/ Conjunction
5. Karan = Half of the date

It takes 27.3 days for the Moon to revolve around the earth and that is why our ancestors divided the imaginary path of the Moon's revolution into 27 equal parts and each was named as Nakshatra. The Sun and the Moon rise in the east and set in the west but the Moon's apparent motion is faster than of the Sun's. The motion of the Moon relative to the Sun is scientifically defined as Tithi.

Conflict between Saayan and Nirayan Almanac.

Post 1857 i.e. in modern times many eminent astronomers such as Kerunana Chhatre, Creator of Knowledge Encyclopaedia Shridhar Ketkar, S. B. Dixit, Lokmanya Tilak, Raghunathacharya, etc. critically examined Indian almanac and they found several discrepancies in it. They noticed that planetary positions, eclipse times and dates mentioned in the text do not match with actual observations. Therefore, it was necessary to make rectifications in the almanacs. This has led to the creation of the conflict between Saayan and Nirayan almanac which has not been resolved yet. Let us reduce the complexities and understand what exactly the conflict between Saayan and Nirayan panchang is.

The summer equinox point of the Earth regresses by 1 deg in every 72 years due to the precession motion of the earth. Zodiacal cycle begins with this equinoctial point, but this point itself is not steady. Due to this shift in the equinoctial point, the planetary positions which prevailed 2000 years ago when the mathematical theory of preparing the almanac was formulated do not exist anymore. Therefore, the backward motion of the equinoctial point is taken into consideration while preparing the almanac. The almanac which takes into account this backward motion is called Saayan (S+ayan i.e. with movement) almanac whereas the almanac that does not consider this motion is called Nirayan (nir+ayan i.e. sans movement) almanac.

There was no difference between the Saayan and Nirayan Almanacs in 280 CE because the position of summer equinox point in both Saayan and Nirayan almanacs occupied the same position. But in the last 1738 years a difference has occurred in the planetary and zodiacal positions due to the movement of summer equinox point. In these years this point has regressed by (1738 ÷ 72) = 24.1 deg. Due to the regression of this point, Zodiac sign appears to move forward and therefore to calculate the Saayan sun sign, we have to add 24 to the Nirayan sun sign. Since it takes the Sun one day to move forward by 1 deg, it takes 24 additional days for the sun to cover these extra 24 degrees. Around 280 CE, the sun transited into the Capricorn sign (Makar Sankranti of those days) on 22nd December. Currently the sun takes 24 additional days to enter the Capricorn sign i.e. 14 January, but 62 years from now this day will be either 15th or 16th January.

Then the question arises why don't we start following the solar based time measurement system? Since very ancient times, two basic principles have been accepted in the Indian Almanac System:-
1) Religious rituals should be performed only during appropriate seasons and
2) The dates of the religious rituals should be fixed as per the lunar phases.

This means that the seasons are controlled by the Sun while religious rituals are controlled by the Moon. Therefore Indian Almanac has a lunisolar characteristic i.e. the months are as per the lunar phases while the year is as per Solar Motion.

Important Calendars in India.

Another confusion in the Indian system is that this is not the only calendar in existence. Therefore, let us take a brief review of the important Indian Calendars.

1. Kaliyugabdha:- A story is told in the Mahabharat that when King Parikshit had once gone for hunting, he put a dead snake around the neck of one meditating sage. Enraged by this act, the sage's son cursed King Parikshit that he would die of snake bite within 7 days. Now the question arises as to why would a virtuous king like Parikshit behave in such a manner? The explanation given for this is that the king's wisdom was corrupted because of the end of Dwaparyug and the beginning of Kaliyug. Taking this as a reference, Aryabhatta assumed that Kaliyug began around that time. According to the planetary position existing then, this date works out to be 23rd January 3101 B.C. as per the Gregorian Calendar and that is accepted as the beginning of Kaliyug. Therefore, today in 2019, Kaliyugabdh is calculated as 2019 + 3101 = 5120 and the new year begins on Chaitra Shuddh Pratipada, that is Gudi Padwa.

2. Vikram Samvat:- The Kaartik Shuddh Pratipada (Kartik is the month of Hindu calendar, shuddh pratipada is the first day of the waxing lunar period) i.e Diwali Padwa occurring in 57 BCE is considered as beginning day of Vikram Samvat. If we add the number 57 to the CE year, we get the Vikram Samvat year. Thus, 2019 CE means 2076 Vikram Samvat. Trading communities in Gujarat and North India begin their business activities as per this calendar. The important reason of this is, newly harvested food grains arrive into the market and their trading begins around this time and therefore the business communities find this period very convenient to begin their financial transactions. In Southern India, since the entry of newly harvested food grains happens before Diwali, this calendar was not widespread. There is much controversy regarding the exact identity of King Vikramaditya who started the Vikram Samvat, as there is no historical record of any king by that name who ruled around 57 BCE. Therefore historians think that the Malavaganana (मालवगणना) time measurement system, which was being used in the Malva region (having Ujjain as its capital) by the name Krit Samvat, was renamed EITHER by King Vikramaditya, son of Samudragupta, between 380 to 430 CE OR was renamed in the memory of the vikram (record) of the victory achieved by Yashovarman, the King of Ujjain, over the Hun invader Mihirgul in 528 CE.

3. Shri Nrup Shalivahan Shaka:- The Shalivahan Shaka was started by the Shaka King Chashtan of the Kshatrap dynasty. In the first century, Maharashtra was ruled for 46 years by King Nahapan, of the Kshaharat Kshatrap dynasty. History has witnessed several battles between the Kshatraps and the Shalivahans. But the biggest battle among these was fought in the 78th year of the first century, between the Satvahan (Shalivahan) king Goutamiputra Satakarni and the Kshatrap king Nahapana at Govardhan, near present-day Nasik. Satakarni's mother, Gautami Balshree has recorded this battle in the form of an inscription on a stone tablet which was later found in a cave near Nasik. The inscription says that in this battle, king Nahapana was defeated and beheaded and the dynasty of Kshatrap was decimated completely by the Satvahanas. After the termination of the Kshatrap dynasty, a new Kshatrap dynasty, the Kardamak's, came into existence and King Chashtan was the first king of  this dynasty. The day Chashtan started ruling, he started a new Shaka, which we know today as the Shalivahan Shaka. Chashtan started this Shaka in 78 CE and later on it was also referred to by some as the Samvat of the Shaka Kings. Chashtan and all the Kardamak dynasty rulers after him have used the Shalivahan Shaka for almost 300 years but the Satvahanas are not known to have used this Shaka. If the number 78 is subtracted from the year of CE, the Shaka year is calculated. For example, 2019 CE is 1941 Shaka year

4. Rajyarohan Shaka (Coronation Shaka):- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj also started Coronation Shaka; from 6th June 1674 (Jyeshtha Shuddha 13; Jyeshtha = 3rd month of the Hindu calendar, Shuddha 13 = is the thirteenth day in the waxing lunar period), that is, from the day of his own coronation. However, this Shaka system is not in use today.

5. Indian Solar Almanac:- Different almanacs are being used in various regions of India and they even have different new year beginnings. In addition, the controversy of Saayan and Nirayan is yet unresolved. In order to avoid all this chaos and ambiguity and also with a view of having a uniform and scientific Indian time measurement system, a Committee was appointed in 1952 under the chairmanship of Dr Meghnad Saha, which submitted its report on 14 September 1954. As per the recommendations of this Committee, the Indian Solar Almanac was started from 22 nd March, 1957 (the summer equinox of that year). The important features of this almanac are as follows:

  • This almanac is totally based on the Sun and therefore there is no necessity of adding an extra month in it. The duration of the year of this almanac is 365.2422 days.
  • The years are counted as per the Shalivahan Shaka.
  • Since the summer equinoctial point marks the start of every year, therefore, the New Year begins on 22nd March or on 21st March if it is a leap year. The months retain their original names such as Chaitra, Vaishakh, etc. Since this calendar has no connection with the moon, there is no place in it for lunar periods and lunar phases.
  • The Chaitra month of this almanac has 30 days normally and 31 days during a leap year. Vaishakh, Jyeshtha, Ashaadh, Shravan and Bhadrapad have 31 days each and Ashwin, Kartik, Margshirsh, Poush, Maagh and Phalgun are of 30 days duration each.

Despite the fact that this almanac is scientifically accurate, it was not used or attempted to be used much beyond just mentioning the Indian Solar Date on the government radio station, Akashwani. However, the concept of having a single and uniform time measurement system for free India was and is indeed an appreciable idea.

Now a question must have surely arisen in your minds as to why have we written such a lengthy article on this subject? The reason for this is that the new generation should be told and be familiarized with this glorious history of our nation and the technical advancement of our ancestors and they should be duly proud of this. If our purpose is accomplished even fractionally, we would be very glad from the bottom of our heart.

Yeshwant Marathe
Sudhir Dandekar

#Hindu_Calendar #almanac #Summer_Equinox #panchang

My original article in Marathi


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Vishakha Bhagvat

4 years ago

Yeshwant, thanks for writing analytical lucid article. After reading which in fact I read twice, most of my doubts got cleared. Writing such article requires huge research. Thank you.


3 years ago

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