Panchang Vs Gregorian Calendar
Being a part of such a great, jest full, celebrative culture, we are fortunate enough that we don’t run out of chances to merry. Every now and then we glance to see what festival is arriving next as per our Hindu calendar. This is when I just got a question in my mind that why sometimes one tithi (day) is smaller/greater than the Gregorian calendar. A small question, A bit of anxiety, and determined research is all what gave birth to this post.
The calendar that we follow today is the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582. This was after it was found that the calendar in use till then, the Julius version, accounted for 365.25 days in a year, when in effect it was 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds, thus slightly lesser than the assumed value. As a result, the equinox was moving steadily ahead in the year, and this was considered unacceptable.
As you know, in the current system, we have a leap year once every 4 years to compensate for the extra fraction of time taken by our MOTHER Earth to revolve around the sun.Now, as the Gregorian calendar adds 1 day at the end of 4 years, it is not moving in synchronism with the sun because this is like a fixed step size, and does not vary smoothly taking into account the sun’s variation.
Comparing the Gregorian with the Hindu Panchang, we see that the Hindu version has a much more scientific relationship. While the former is based on the Solar variation and accounts for the earth’s revolution around the sun as 12 months each having 30 days, the latter is based on the moon’s revolution around the earth, where each month takes 28 days. To compensate for the loss of days, and extra month, called the Adhik Mas (mas is the word for month), is added every 30 months.
The Hindu counting of years generally concurs with the reign of a prominent king. For instance, the current year is the Vikram Samvat 2069, signifying that King Vikramaditya’s reign started as many years ago (in 57 BC). There are many such Samvats known, but the Vikram Samvat is what is the most widely accepted and in use currently. The various months in the Vikram Samvat are listed below along with their approximate Gregorian Calendar counterparts:
Each of these months in the Hindu calendar (with 28 days) is subdivided into 2 cycles of moon waxing and waning. The 1st half is called the Krishna Paksha (dark period), where the moon wanes till Amavasya (new moon), and the Shukla Paksha (bright period), where the moon waxes till Purnima (full moon). This can be understood from the below image:
The Hindu calendar in use is a combination of both solar and lunar inferences. The months are based on the moon, while the seasons are governed by the sun. A prominent example of a solar festival is that January 13-14 is celebrated as Pongal (in Tamil Nadu), Sankranti (north India) and Lohri (Punjab). All of these herald the entry of the sun into the Makar rashi, or the northward movement of the sun. Though the date is supposed to be somewhere between December 20th and 23rd, due to earth’s tilt, it has kept sliding over years. Don’t be surprised if in your future births, you find that Makar Sankranti is being celebrated in May, but that will take 1000s of years to come.
In fact, in certain temples, it is seen that on Sankranti day, sunlight graces the presiding deity. One of such unique temple is the Sun Temple at Konark. The main pratima (idol) is told by the local people to be floating in the air because of the unique arrangements of the main magnets and other series of magnets. The placement of the temple had been aligned in a way that the first rays of the Sun falling on the coast would pass thru the Nata Mandir and would reflect from the diamond placed at the center of this idol in the Main Sanctum.
Coming back to tithis, the days are calculated based on the actual longitudinal angular difference between the respective positions of the moon and the sun. Thus, it is common to see that the tithis vary in length, some shorter than our regular 24 hours, some extending beyond, and this leads to certain auspicious days being celebrated across 2 days of our Gregorian Calendar.
The name for the Hindu calendar is a panchanga. In Sanskrit the word panchanga is made of two parts: pancha and anga. Pancha means five and anga means a part. The panchanga is, therefore, something made of five parts. As a calendar, these five parts are the lunar day (tithi), day of the week (vara), lunar mansion (naksatra), luni-solar day (yoga) and half lunar day (karana). Along with other information, a panchanga especially records the movements of the sun and the moon. Traditionally no religious festival, family event, or even a civic affair is performed without first consulting a panchanga to know the favorable movements of these celestial bodies.
Panchangas are published in India by many learned authors, societies, academies, and universities. Different publications differ only minutely, at least for a casual or un-trained reader. They forecast celestial phenomena such as solar eclipses, forecast weather (rain, dryspells) as well as more mundane occurrences.
The study of Panchangas involves understanding Rasi phala, the impact of the signs of the zodiac on the individual. Astrologers consult the Panchangam to set dates for weddings, corporate mergers, and other worldly activities. Also see Hindu Calendar.
The actual casting of a Panchanga involves elaborate mathematical work involving high level of spherical geometry and sound understanding of astronomical phenomena, such as sidereal movements of heavenly bodies. However, in practice the tabulation is done on the basis of short-cut formulations as propounded by ancient Vedic sages and scholars.
A typical Panchanga may state tabulations of positions of Sun, Moon, and other planets for every day of the year on a fixed place (longitude, latitude) and time of day (in 24-hour format IST). The users calculate the remaining data using the their relative difference from this fixed place and time.
There are several panchangas that contain information for more than one year. There is one Vishvavijaya Panchanga that is for 100 years.
The theories propounded in the two scriptures, Surya Siddhanta and Grahalaghava formed the basis for the plethora of calendars or Panchangas in the past in different regions of the country – a culturally complex system.
The Grahalaghava was compiled some 600 years ago and Surya Siddhanta was available ages before that. But these had become outdated and did not tally with actual astronomical events and did not tally with each other also. Hence, a committee was appointed by the Government of India with experts in the field drawn from various parts of the country who were involved with preparation of Panchanga in local languages to draw up a reliable Panchanga in which the mathematical calculations provides the positions of grahas (the planets) and nakshatras (constellations) in the sky as they are observed.
Measuring the Sky
In order to understand the Hindu calendar it will be helpful to first know how astronomers measure the sky. Just as a road map uses miles or kilometers to show distance between cities, so a celestial sky map uses degrees to show distance between celestial objects. Keeping in mind that there are 360 degrees in a circle, it is easy to measure approximate degrees in the sky. Just raise your hand to the sky, and at arm’s length, use your hand to measure the degrees in the sky. See the accompanying illustration that shows how the hand can be used to measure degrees in the sky. At arm’s length, for example, the width of the end of the little finger is about one degree across. Check to see that the full moon is half a little finger in width and therefore can be estimated to be about a half a degree wide. This system is reasonably accurate for men, women and children, since people with smaller hands tend to have shorter arms. Astronomers have used this hand technique for thousands of years to make approximate measurements of the sky. To see how this system can be used to measure a common constellation see the illustration of the big dipper (sapta-rishi) and the North Star (dhruva) to measure the degrees of separation between each star.
Lunar Day (Tithi)
The first element of the Hindu panchanga is the lunar day known as tithi. This is perhaps the single most important element of the panchanga because it is the building block for the lunar month. Just as the sun rises everyday in the east and sets in the west and we call the time between one sunrise and the next a “day,” so the moon also rises in the east and sets everyday in the west and the time between one moonrise and the next is called a “lunar day.” The Sanskrit word for this lunar day is tithi. There are 30 such lunar days in a lunar month and they are sequentially numbered starting from the new moon as well as the full moon. See the diagram that shows the lunar month along with the phases of the moon. Thus, in the moon’s waxing phase, the first lunar day is called new moon (amavasya), the next lunar day is called the first tithi, next lunar day is called the second tithi, the next is called the third tithi, and so forth until the fourteenth lunar day. The day after the 14th is called full moon (purnima). From this point the numbering sequence starts over again. The day after the full moon is the first tithi, the next day is the second tithi, and so on. The important difference being that the second set of tithis belong to the waning phase of the moon while the first set belongs to the waxing phase. Afterwards the cycle repeats itself. In this way thirty tithis make up a lunar month, which is known as a masa. Some parts of India begin the month from the full moon whereas other parts begin the month from the new moon. Today, the lunar calendar is still in use throughout the Hindu world for religious purposes.
From an astrological perspective the various tithis are considered either auspicious or inauspicious for different events. In general tithis on the waxing or bright side of the lunar month (shukla-paksha) are considered conducive to growth, increase and prosperity and would be selected for such occasions as weddings, moving into new homes or starting businesses. Most religious festivals are held at these times and names of the festivals are even named after these tithis. The moon’s waning or dark side (krishna-paksha) is considered favorable for ancestor worship, and in general Hindu festivals are not held during this dark side of the lunar month, but there are important exceptions. See Hindu festivals: Utsavas
The Day of the Week (Vara)
The second element of the Hindu panchanga is the day, vara. In Sanskrit the days of the week are clearly named after seven of the nine major astrological influences used in Hindu astrology (see Nava Graha):
Sunday, the sun, (ravi-vara)
Monday, the moon, (soma-vara)
Tuesday, Mars, (mangala-vara)
Wednesday, Mercury, (budha-vara)
Thursday, Jupiter, (guru-vara)
Friday, Venus (shukra-vara)
Saturday, Saturn, (shani-vara)
You can still see these astrological influences in the English names, Sunday, Monday and Saturday for the sun, the moon and Saturn respectively. If you examine the French and Spanish words for the days of the week you will see an even greater connection. Astrologically these days are named after these celestial bodies because the influence of that celestial body is said to be prominent on that day. For example, Tuesday, being ruled by Mars, the planet of war, would be a good date to state a battle, but not a good day to get married or move into a new home! Monday (moon-day) would a better day for a marriage.
Lunar Mansion (Nakshatra)
The third element of the Hindu calendar is lunar mansion or nakshatra. The best way to understand nakshatra is to observe the moon some evening. Notice the moon’s position in relation to the background of stars. The next evening, at the same time and in the same location, again observe the moon’s position in relation to the background of stars. You will see that it has moved considerably towards the east. Use the raised hand technique to estimate how many degrees the moon has moved. The moon will appear to have moved about 15 degrees. In fact, the moon has moved 13 degrees and 20 minutes. The region of the sky that has been displaced by the moon’s eastward movement in one day is called a lunar mansion. In Sanskrit this is known as a nakshatra. There are 27 such lunar mansions in the 360 degrees the moon travels in one lunar month ( 13.3 x 27 = ~360). In the Hindu calendar each of these lunar mansions is named after a star or group of stars in each region of the sky. It becomes a little confusing, but this is why a nakshatra is also called a “star.” See the sample illustration of the region of the sky known as Cancer and Leo to view a segment of the sky that includes five nakshatras: uttara phalguni, purva phalguni, magha, ashlesha, and pushyami.
The nakshatra is important in Hindu culture. At birth a person’s horoscope is traditionally made, and one of the most important items to be known is the nakshatra. Many elements of a person’s character are thought to be determined by the nakshatra. (The moon stands for the mind in Hindu astrology.) In many regions of India a person’s name is based on the nakshatra. The first syllable of the name may be derived from the nakshatra. Thus a person’s existence is tied into the movement of the heavens. At the time of a puja or religious ceremony a priest may ask for the nakshatra, or “star” of the person performing the religious service so that it can be recited in the opening statement of the puja called a sankalpa. At the time of marriage, considerations of the naksatras for the both the bride and groom may be compared to check for psychological compatibility.
The 27 nakshatras are grouped into nakshatra “types.” Certain nakshatras, for example, are considered “fixed” and therefore are good for activities than require stability. Moving into a new home would best done on the day of a fixed nakshatra. Some nakshatras are considered movable and therefore would be good for starting a voyage or buying a new car. Other nakshatras are considered cruel and dreadful and would be good for starting a war or litigation against an enemy. In this way, people will often seriously consult a panchanga in order to find the best timing for the type of activity they are considering.
Luni-solar Day and Half Lunar Day
The final two elements of the Hindu calendar are highly technical and not generally used by lay Hindus and so I will only give them passing mention. They are important to astronomers and astrologers. They are called Luni-solar Day (yoga) and Half Lunar Day (Karana) and they both have to do with the relationship between the sun and the moon.
In addition to these five parts of the traditional Hindu calendar one other component should be noted, the month (masa).
The Hindu year contains twelve lunar months named after the nakshatra in which the moon is full:
Chaitra (March – April)
Vaishakha (April – May)
Jyaishtha (May – June)
Ashadha (June – July)
Shravana (July – August)
Bhadrapada (August – September)
Asvina (September – October)
Karttika (October – November)
Margasirsha (November – December)
Pausha (December – January)
Magha (January – February)
Phalguna (February – March)
The Gregorian calendar is today’s internationally accepted civil calendar and is also known as the “Western calendar” or “Christian calendar”. It was named after the man who first introduced it in February 1582: Pope Gregory XIII.
History of Gregorian Calendar
Before today’s Gregorian calendar was adopted, the older Julian calendar was used. It was admirably close to the actual length of the year, as it turns out, but the Julian calendar was not so perfect that it didn’t slowly shift off track over the following centuries. But, hundreds of years later, monks were the only ones with any free time for scholarly pursuits – and they were discouraged from thinking about the matter of “secular time” for any reason beyond figuring out when to observe Easter. In the Middle Ages, the study of the measure of time was first viewed as prying too deeply into God’s own affairs – and later thought of as a lowly, mechanical study, unworthy of serious contemplation.
As a result, it wasn’t until 1582, by which time Caesar’s calendar had drifted a full 10 days off course, that Pope Gregory XIII (1502 – 1585) finally reformed the Julian calendar. Ironically, by the time the Catholic church buckled under the weight of the scientific reasoning that pointed out the error, it had lost much of its power to implement the fix. Protestant tract writers responded to Gregory’s calendar by calling him the “Roman Antichrist” and claiming that its real purpose was to keep true Christians from worshiping on the correct days. The “new” calendar, as we know it today, was not adopted uniformly across Europe until well into the 18th century.
Here are a few more historical aspects of our calendar.
- Has the year always started on 1 January?
- Then what about leap years?
- What is the origin of the names of the months?
- How did Dionysius date Christ’s birth?
- Was Jesus born in the year 0?
- Why do the 9th thru 12th months have names that mean 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th?
- Why does February have only 28 days?
Has the year always started on 1 January?
In some ways, yes. When Julius Caesar introduced his calendar in 45 B.C.E., he made 1 January the start of the year, and it was always the date on which the Solar Number and the Golden Number were incremented.
However, the church didn’t like the wild parties that took place at the start of the new year, and in C.E. 567 the council of Tours declared that having the year start on 1 January was an ancient mistake that should be abolished.
Through the middle ages various New Year dates were used. If an ancient document refers to year X, it may mean any of 7 different periods in our present system:
1 Mar X to 28/29 Feb X+1 1 Jan X to 31 Dec X 1 Jan X-1 to 31 Dec X-1 25 Mar X-1 to 24 Mar X 25 Mar X to 24 Mar X+1 Saturday before Easter X to Friday before Easter X+1 25 Dec X-1 to 24 Dec X
Choosing the right interpretation of a year number is difficult, so much more as one country might use different systems for religious and civil needs.
The Byzantine Empire used a year starting on 1 Sep, but they didn’t count years since the birth of Christ, instead they counted years since the creation of the world which they dated to 1 September 5509 B.C.E.
Since about 1600 most countries have used 1 January as the first day of the year. Italy and England, however, did not make 1 January official until around 1750.
In England (but not Scotland) three different years were used:
The historical year, which started on 1 January.The liturgical year, which started on the first Sunday in advent.
The civil year, which
from the 7th to the 12th century started on 25 December, from the 12th century until 1751 started on 25 March, from 1752 started on 1 January.
→ See the British Calendar Act of 1751.
It is sometimes claimed that having the year start on 1 January was part of the Gregorian calendar reform. This is not true. This myth has probably started because in 1752 England moved the start of the year to 1 January and also changed to the Gregorian calendar. But in most other countries the two events were not related. Scotland, for example, changed to the Gregorian calendar together with England in 1752, but they moved the start of the year to 1 January in 1600.
Then what about leap years?
If the year started on, for example, 1 March, two months later than our present year, when was the leap day inserted?
When it comes to determining if a year is a leap year, since AD 8 the Julian calendar has always had 48 months between two leap days. So, in a country using a year starting on 1 March, 1439 would have been a leap year, because their February 1439 would correspond to February 1440 in the January-based reckoning.
What is the origin of the names of the months?
A lot of languages, including English, use month names based on Latin. Their meaning is listed below. However, some languages (Czech and Polish, for example) use quite different names.
|January||Januarius||Named after the god Janus.|
|February||Februarius||Named after Februa, the purification festival.|
|March||Martius||Named after the god Mars.|
|April||Aprilis||Named either after the goddess Aphrodite or the Latin word aperire, to open.|
|May||Maius||Probably named after the goddess Maia.|
|June||Junius||Probably named after the goddess Juno.|
|July||Julius||Named after Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. Prior to that time its name was Quintilis from the word quintus, fifth, because it was the 5th month in the old Roman calendar.|
|August||Augustus||Named after emperor Augustus in 8 B.C.E. Prior to that time the name was Sextilis from the word sextus, sixth, because it was the 6th month in the old Roman calendar.|
|September||September||From the word septem, seven, because it was the 7th month in the old Roman calendar.|
|October||October||From the word octo, eight, because it was the 8th month in the old Roman calendar.|
|November||November||From the word novem, nine, because it was the 9th month in the old Roman calendar.|
|December||December||From the word decem, ten, because it was the 10th month in the old Roman calendar.|
How did Dionysius date Christ’s birth?
There are quite a few theories about this. And many of the theories are presented as if they were indisputable historical fact. The following are two theories that tend to be more accepted:
According to the Gospel of Luke (3:1 & 3:23) Jesus was “about thirty years old” shortly after “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” Tiberius became emperor in C.E. 14. If you combine these numbers you reach a birthyear for Jesus that is strikingly close to the beginning of our year reckoning. This may have been the basis for Dionysius’ calculations.
Dionysius’ original task was to calculate an Easter table. In the Julian calendar, the dates for Easter repeat every 532 years. The first year in Dionysius’ Easter tables is C.E. 532. Is it a coincidence that the number 532 appears twice here? Or did Dionysius perhaps fix Jesus’ birthyear so that his own Easter tables would start exactly at the beginning of the second Easter cycle after Jesus’ birth?
Was Jesus born in the year 0?
There are two reasons for this:
There is no year 0.
Jesus was born before 4 B.C.E.
The concept of a year “zero” is a modern myth (but a very popular one). In our calendar, C.E. 1 follows immediately after 1 B.C.E. with no intervening year zero. So a person who was born in 10 B.C.E. and died in C.E. 10, would have died at the age of 19, not 20.
Furthermore, as described in section 2.14, our year reckoning was established by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century. Dionysius let the year C.E. 1 start one week after what he believed to be Jesus’ birthday. But Dionysius’ calculations were wrong. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus was born under the reign of king Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.E.. It is likely that Jesus was actually born around 7 B.C.E.. The date of his birth is unknown; it may or may not be 25 December.
Why do the 9th thru 12th months have names that mean 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th?
September through December were the seventh through tenth months of a calendar used by the first Romans. Ancient historian and Greek biographer Plutarch, wrote in C.E. 75, about how they became displaced to two positions higher than their names would indicate.
Why does February have only 28 days?
January and February both date from about the time of Rome’s founding. They were added to a calendar that had been divided into ten month-like periods whose lengths varied from 20 to 35 or more days. A winter season was not included, so those period lengths are believed to have been intended to reflect growth stages of crops and cattle.
When introduced, January was given 29 days and put at the beginning of the calendar year. February was given 23 days and put at the end. Then, for an undetermined period shortly after Rome’s founding, months were said to have begun when a new moon was first sighted. At some later time, month lengths were separated from lunations and again became fixed. At that time, February’s original length was extended by five days which gave it a total of 28.
6 Things You May Not Know About the Gregorian Calendar
1. The original goal of the Gregorian calendar was to change the date of Easter.
In 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian calendar, Europe adhered to the Julian calendar, first implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. Since the Roman emperor’s system miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes, the calendar had since fallen out of sync with the seasons. This concerned Gregory because it meant that Easter, traditionally observed on March 21, fell further away from the spring equinox with each passing year.
2. Leap years don’t really occur every four years in the Gregorian calendar.
The Julian calendar included an extra day in February every four years. But Aloysus Lilius, the Italian scientist who developed the system Pope Gregory would unveil in 1582, realized that the addition of so many days made the calendar slightly too long. He devised a variation that adds leap days in years divisible by four, unless the year is also divisible by 100. If the year is also divisible by 400, a leap day is added regardless. While this formula may sound confusing, it did resolve the lag created by Caesar’s earlier scheme—almost.
3. The Gregorian calendar differs from the solar year by 26 seconds per year.
Despite Lilius’ ingenious method for syncing the calendar with the seasons, his system is still off by 26 seconds. As a result, in the years since Gregory introduced his calendar in 1582, a discrepancy of several hours has arisen. By the year 4909, the Gregorian calendar will be a full day ahead of the solar year.
4. Some Protestants viewed the Gregorian calendar as a Catholic plot.
Though Pope Gregory’s papal bull reforming the calendar had no power beyond the Catholic Church, Catholic countries—including Spain, Portugal and Italy—swiftly adopted the new system for their civil affairs. European Protestants, however, largely rejected the change because of its ties to the papacy, fearing it was an attempt to silence their movement. It wasn’t until 1700 that Protestant Germany switched over, and England held out until 1752. Orthodox countries clung to the Julian calendar until even later, and their national churches have never embraced Gregory’s reforms.
5. Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar sparked riots and protest—maybe.
According to some accounts, English citizens did not react kindly after an act of Parliament advanced the calendar overnight from September 2 to September 14, 1752. Rioters supposedly took to the streets, demanding that the government “give us our 11 days.” However, most historians now believe that these protests never occurred or were greatly exaggerated. On the other side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin welcomed the change, writing, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”
6. Before the Gregorian calendar’s adoption, the English new year began on March 25, or Lady Day.
Julius Caesar’s calendar reform of 46 B.C. instituted January 1 as the first of the year. During the Middle Ages, however, European countries replaced it with days that carried greater religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation). The latter, known as Lady Day because it celebrates the Virgin Mary, marked the beginning of the year in Britain until January 1, 1752.