The Many New Years of India: A Note on India’s Fascinating Ancient Calendars

I belong to a mixed ‘Punjabi-Bengali’ family. In both sides of my fam, this time of the year is special. It is ‘Baisakhi’ for the Punjus, and ‘Poila Boisakh’ for the Bongs. In my head, I had assumed that the two ancient calendars coincide – but, I came to find out a funky trivia recently.

Baisakhi is not a new year for the Punjabis. That happens on the new moon of the previous month, Chetar (Chaitra)

That sent me on a quest for answers about Hindu calendars. I found all that I was looking for in an unlikely place – in Nobel Prize winner, Indian economist, Amartya Sen’s famous book, The Argumentative Indian. It is year 2073 for the Punjabis, while the Bengali year count is 1424. 

Time out, So Many Calendars

The famous Indian astrophysicist, Meghnad Saha, chaired the official Indian Calendar Reform Committee in 1952. The committee identified 30 different calendars in use in different parts of the country. Whitaker’s Almanaka UK based encyclopedia, crunches the list down to 7 principal Hindu calendars. The oldest of these seem to be the Kaliyuga Calendar, which is in its 6018 the year now. This goes to show the sheer age of the Hindu society as compared to the much younger, western one.

Then, there are the Buddha Nirvana calendar, the Vikram Samvat calendar, the Saka calendar, the Bengali calendar, the Vedanga Jyotisa calendar, the Kollam calendar, the Tamil calendar

Obviously, this is a short list, of the 30 that we have already talked about. But, the study of these calendars highlight some very confusing details.

The Mind-boggling Overlaps

Pic Courtesy: Hat Tours

Of the calendars mentioned above, Vikrami  is common in Northern, Western and Central India. Most part of South India follows the Tamil Calendar, and in the East, it is the Bengali Calendar that prevails. All these emphasize the lunar cycle, and their new years start in Spring. As mentioned before, the new year according to Vikrami calendar is on the new moon in the month of Chetar, a few days before Baisakhi or Poila Boisakh.

The first of Boisakh, which falls typically in the middle of April, is the beginning of the Bengali year. The Tamil New Year coincides at the same time – but, in their calendar, it is the first day of Cittirai (Chaitra), the month of Vaikasi (Boishak) being the second in the year.

So, chaitra in Tamil Nadu is from mid April to mid May, while almost everywhere else, it is from mid March to mid April. Confusing much?

Now, in Kerala, they followed the same calendar till the Kollam era (825 AD). The Kollam dynasty introduced the Kollam calendar, which emphasized the solar cycle in stead. They also shifted the beginning of the year to Autumn, in stead of Spring. So, the erstwhile Malayalam New year, became Vishu. 

It’s All About Patronage

It must be evident by now, that each Hindu calendar was heavily influenced by the patrons who launched them. The Bengali calendar was introduced by Akbar. The calculation of the Bengali year is a complex one, which bases on the Islamic calendar and then adds the Gregorian difference from the date of issue. Read a detailed treatise behind Akbar’s work on Tarikh-e-ilahi here.

Baisakhi celebration in Punjab

The Vikrami calendar was sponsored by King Vikramaditya, and dates back to 57 BC. It is therefore, very easy to figure out the Vikrami year – it is the Gregorian Year + 57! 

It was under the long, colonial patronage that India gave up its multitude of calendars, for official purposes. It adopted the Gregorian Timekeeping to align itself with the rest of the developed world. But, to this date, for all religious purposes, Hindu citizens go back to their respective ancient calendars.

The variety of calendars followed across India is only testimony to its beautiful diversity. It just means that we have more things to celebrate around the year – one new year or the other is always around the corner! Here’s wishing a very Happy New Year, Happy Vishu and a Subho Poila Boisakh to BSC readers celebrating today. 

 

 

 

About Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

Comments

comments

Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons