The Hindu Calendar The calendar plays an integral role in the lives of Hindus. Apart from measuring the traditional periods of time, it is also used to calculate the date of festivals, and auspicious times and days for performing ceremonies.
Calendars are calculated on the basis of the sun, the moon, and a combination of both. Initially, the Hindu calendar was based on the movements of the moon. After learning of the solar calendar developed in the west, some of its features were incorporated into the Hindu calendar. Although the solar calendar was used to measure the passage of time, most religious festivals and other occasions were still decided on the basis of lunar movement. In 1952, the Indian Government decided to establish a uniform civil and religious calendar. A committee was set up and from its recommendations emerged a civil calendar in 1957. According to the Hindu calendar, one solar year is 365 days and has 12 months. A leap year has 366 days. One solar month consists of the number of days taken by the sun to move from one sign of zodiac, or rashi, to another. There are 12 rashis which are: Mesha in March-April (corresponding to the Gregorian Aries), Vrishabha in April-May (corresponding to the Gregorian Taurus), Mithuna in May-June (Gemini), Karkata in June-July (Cancer), Simha in July-August (Leo), Kanya in August-September (Virgo), Tula in September-October (Libra), Vrischika in October-November (Scorpio), Dhanur in November-December (Sagittarius), Makara in December-January (Capricorn), Kumbha in January-February (Aquarius), and Mina in February-March (Pisces).
A solar year is divided into six seasons of two months each: Vasanta in March-April (spring), Grishma in May-June (summer), Varsha in July-August (the rains), Sharad in September-October (autumn), Hemanta in November-December (winter), and Shishira in January-February (the cool season). According to the Hindu calendar, a lunar year also consists of 12 months. One lunar month consists of the number of days taken by the moon to travel once around the earth. This is approximately 29 solar days. Generally, the lunar month begins with the new moon called amavasya. It has two fortnights. The first is of the waxing moon. It is known as the bright fortnight and is considered to be the auspicious fortnight. The second one is of the waning moon, known as the dark fortnight and is considered inauspicious.
The 12 lunar months are:Chaitra (March-April), Vaisakha (April-May), Jyeshtha (May-June), Ashada (June-July), Shravan (July-August), Bhadrapad (August-September), Ashvin (September-October), Kartik (October-November), Margashirsha (November-December), Pausha (December-January), Magha (January-February), and Phalguna (February-March). However, a lunar year fell short of the solar one by about 11 days. Because the dates of most festivals are decided according to the moon's position, it was realised that this difference would result in the dates varying widely over the years. For instance, Holi, which heralds the beginning of summer, would occur in the winter months, after some years. To rectify this anomaly, an extra month, called adhikamasa, is added to the lunar year every three years or so.
According to the Hindu calendar, the year begins in the month of Chaitra (March-April) when the sun enters Mesha (Aries). This is the day after the spring equinox.
An interesting appendix to the calendar is the concept of the different eras used in India. Although the common reference of measuring time now is the birth of Jesus Christ, other references are also used which give rise to other eras. This may initially lead to some confusion. However, since dates can be calculated to corresponding eras, this is
no longer a problem. Some of the important eras referred to are:
1. The Kali era: According to one theory, time is divided into yugas, and each Yuga is further divided into four parts. The present time is believed to be Kali Yuga, the fourth part. It is believed to have begun with the death of Krishna, which corresponds to midnight between February 17 and 18, 3012 BC. Accordingly, this is the sixth millennium of the Kali era, in which the year 1900 corresponds with 5002. This reference of time is still used in religion and literature.
2. The Vikram era: This is believed to have begun on the day of the coronation of King Vikramaditya. The year 1900 AD corresponds to 1958 of the Vikram era, which is popular in northern India and Gujarat.
3. The Saka era: This era is believed to have begun with King Salivahana's accession to the throne. According to the Saka era, the year 1900 AD would be 1823. Popular in southern India, this reference in almost all-astronomical works in Sanskrit written after 500 AD. The Government calendar also follows the Saka era.
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