HINDU CALENDARS AND INDIAN TIME

HINDU VIEW OF TIME


sri Yanta

Hindus and Buddhist view life and time in a cosmological sense as an "unending universe of unending cycles." They generally do not have end of the world scenarios. Even creation is seen as something that occurs again and again. By contrast Jews, Christians and Muslims all have end of the world scenarios, foretold by natural disasters and other calamities, that feature the accession to heaven by the faithful. Cosmos , incidently, is a Sanskrit word for justice.

The Hindu lunar calendar has a cycle of 60 years, which Indian call “Poorna Shashti.” Oxford Professor Gavin Flood wrote for the BBC: “Hindus in general believe that time is cyclical, much like the four seasons, and eternal rather than linear and bounded. Texts refer to successive ages (yuga), designated respectively as golden, silver, copper and iron. During the golden age people were pious and adhered to dharma (law, duty, truth) but its power diminishes over time until it has to be reinvigorated through divine intervention. With each successive age, good qualities diminish, until we reach the current iron or dark age (kali yuga) marked by cruelty, hypocrisy, materialism and so on. Such ideas challenge the widespread, linear view that humans are inevitably progressing. [Source:Professor Gavin Flood, BBC, August 24, 2009 |::|]

The basic cycle in Hindu time is a kalpa “a “day” in the life of Brahma. Each kalpa lasts 4.32 billion earth years. A “night of Brahma'”lasts the same amount of time. A “year of Brahma” is comprised 360 such days and nights, and Brahma lives for one hundred such years. Each kalpa marks another Re-creation of the world. During each kalpa-night the universe is once again gathered up into Brahma's body, where it becomes “the possibility of still another Creation on the next day."

Each cycle begins with Vishnu lying asleep on the thousand-headed cobra Sesha . From his naval grows a lotus that give birth to Brahma, who creates the universe. Vishnu awakes and governs over the kalpa, which ends when he goes back to sleep and the universe once again is sucked into his body.

Each kalpa contains fourteen smaller cycles, manvantara , each of which lasts for 306,720,000 years Within each of these cycles a new Manu, or presiding god, is created and he in turn re-creates the human race. Within each manvantaras , there are seventy-one aeons or mahayugas , a thousand of which comprise a kalpa. Within each mahayuga there is a cycle of four yugas , each of which is a different age of the world, including in turn 4,800, 3,600, 2,400 and 1,200 'years.' Each of the four yugas shows a decline in civilization and morality from the yuga just before, until finally the world is destroyed by flood and fire to be prepared for yet another cycle of Creation. [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Discoverers"]

Change on earth is slower than man can grasp. We are currently in the Kali Yuga, the last, darkest and most miserable cycle in Hindu cosmology. This cycle is said to have begin with the battle described in the Bhagavad Gita . Following it will be a period of light, expressed in the 1960s as the Age of Aquarius.

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs

Hindu Calendar


Bengali month of Ashar, 1419 showing difference between traditional sidereal and modern tropical Bengali calendars

India has used the Hindu calendar since their ancient days. The ancient Hindus, Chinese, Egyptians, Babylonians all used 365-day calendars. The Hindu calendar and times scheme is rooted in the Laws of Manu, which states that the world was created and destroyed many times in cycles of 4000, 3000, 2000 and 1000 years. Some Hindus count the years beginning in 3102 B.C., the beginning of the Kali Yuga time cycle. In the past Hindus used calendars bases on dynastic eras and also used the Kali Yuga time cycle. The "Kali" era is "a subdivision of the canonical mahayuga of 4,320,000 sidereal years and the yuga of 432,000 years. Other Indian schemes set dates from beginning with a battle or a calendar reform. All were complicated by local variations of dealing with the differences between the lunar and solar year." [Source: Daniel Boorstin, "The Discoverers"]

Over the years, the calendar has been edited and changed as India has changed. There are several variations of the Hindu calendar in use today, each of which is used in specific region of the country. These calendars usually over small matters. One thing they all have in common is the names of the twelve months. A basis for astrology and religion, the calendar is made up of both solar and lunisolar calendars. [Source:Niclas Marie, Time Center]

The earliest Hindu calendars grew out of astronomical philosophies that developed in the time of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. time. Lunar months are the basis of the calendar and are determined around the phases of the moon.

While there are many different variations of the Hindu calendar, there is a standard version of the calendar that serves as the national calendar of India. In 1957, a Calendar Reform Committee met to establish a standard lunisolar calendar to synchronize leap years with those observed by the Western calendar. The first standard Hindu calendar marked Saka Era, Chaitra 1, 1879 as the initial date of the newly reformed calendar system. In Western calendar terms, this date would be written as March 22, 1957.

Hindu Months, Weeks and Days


According to the Hindu calendar, dawn marks the beginning of the new day. Where the Western calendar divides the day into hours, the Hindu calendar marks passage of time with fifteen muhurtas, each of which is about forty-eight minutes in length. The first two muhartas are typically used for spiritual time. Sunrise, noon, and sunset are considered to be the most important times of the day. They are marked by the chanting of the Gayatri mantra by Brahman priests. [Source: Niclas Marie, Time Center]

The Hindu calendar marks the days of the week and refers to them as the Vasara. As is true with the Western calendar there are seven days in a week. Some variations of the Hindu calendar have the days written in traditional Sanskrit. They days on Hindu calendar are: Ravi (Sunday), Soma (Monday), Mangala (Tuesday), Budha (Wednesday), Guru or Brhaspati (Thursday), Sukra (Friday), and Sani (Saturday).

The Hindu calendar is divided into twelve months that correspond with the phases of the moon. Each month is approximately 29.5 days but varies somewhat according to celestial movements. Each month is broken down into two two-week periods: a Dark one (waning moon) and a Light one (waxing moon), each of which is fifteen lunar days. In some months, a day is eliminated so the months are in sync correlate with the shorter lunar cycle. The first day of the month varies from calendar to calendar. Generally, in North India, the full moon marks the first day of the month, while in South India, the occasion is marked by the new moon. [Source: Niclas Marie, Time Center]

The names of the months are based on the Zodiac signs as they follow the movement of the sun throughout the year. The names of the months and their corresponding Zodiac signs are: Chaitra (Aries), Vaisakha (Taurus), Jyaistha (Gemini), Asadha (Cancer), Sravana (Leo), Bhadrapada (Virgo), Asvina (Libra), Kartika (Scorpio), Agrahayana (Sagittarius), Pausa (Capricorn), Magha (Aquarius), and Phalguna (Pisces).

Hindu Years

Makara Sankranti marks the beginning of a Hindu new year and occurs when the sun enters into the area of the constellation Capricorn. It is most commonly measured as the day after the new moon during the month of Chaitra. The calendar divides the year into six seasons. Hindu years have specific names. There are 60 names corresponding to individual years that repeat every 60 years. The first year is called Prabhava. It repeats every 60 years. [Source: Niclas Marie, Time Center]

Hindu years are numbered in eras, with the most commonly used system corresponding to the Vikrami Era. The numbering of the years also correlates to the epoch of the current era. In terms of the Western Calendar, the epoch of the current era is marked as January 23, 3102 BC. This date is chosen for spiritual reasons, as the date revered for the eternal return of Sri Krishna. The numbering of the years counts the years that have elapsed since the moment Sri Krishna's return.

Hindu Calendar and Festivals

The calendar marks important religious festival and worship days. Most holidays are fixed in accordance with the Hindu lunar calendar. This calendar used is divided into 12 lunar months of 29 to 30 days. This calendar determines when harvest festivals, some temple festivals and the Hindu New Year are celebrated. Every 30 months an additional month is added to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year.


Pooram

Hindu festivals are called "melas". They are often held on dates based in the Hindu calendar and are associated with seasonal changes. Festivals mix worship with having fun and are regarded as a time when caste distinctions are suspended and the emphasis is on creating a community spirit. There are large festivals celebrated nationwide such as Holi and Diwali as well as local festivals dedicated to regional deities and events important to a certain place.

The world largest gatherings are a series of melas (festivals) held on the Ganges attended by millions of Hindu pilgrims who enter the river in hopes of washing away their sins. There are four major melas: in Allahabad (Prayag), in Haridwar, in Nasik, and in Ujjain. Each one is held every 12 years, which means that one of four is held every three years. The one in Allahabad is by far the largest. It attracts over 50 million people. The others attract about 10 million each. See Kumbh Mela Below.

Crazy Times Zone Differences in South Asia

All of India is under a single time zone, which is Greenwich Mean Time plus 5.5 hours Time zones are a half an hour different in Pakistan and India. Nepal is 15 minutes different from India. It is 5:45 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In Sri Lanka, time zones are 20 minutes different from the rest of the world. Time zones are different in the Sinhalese-controlled and Tamil-controlled areas. The time in Tamil areas is one half hour before the time in Sri Lanka proper. When it is 7:00am in the Tamil areas it is 7:30am in Sri Lanka proper.

Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Consider this: Pakistan lies west of India and is usually half an hour (yes, half an hour) behind its political archrival. But by winding its clocks forward today, Pakistan is now half an hour ahead of India, whose time remains unchanged. The situation seems a little absurd, like California being ahead of Utah. Or take India and its little neighbor Bangladesh. Imagine India as a friendly country with its arm slung over Bangladesh's shoulder. The hand on the shoulder is India's northeast corner, a sizable chunk of territory connected to the rest of India by a thin arm of land. [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2008 |:|]


time zone of India and its neighbors

“Now, a Bangladeshi who crosses his country's western border finds himself in India, whose time is set to half an hour behind Bangladesh. So far, so good. But if he goes in the opposite direction, across the eastern frontier, he finds himself in India yet again, and still has to turn his watch back 30 minutes, even though the sun will rise earlier than it did when he was at home. Maybe this feels too much like the movie "Groundhog Day." To escape the time warp, you flee to Nepal, home of Mt. Everest, scruffy backpackers and an easygoing spirituality. |:|

“Ah yes, the timeless Himalayas. If less is more, that is. Its time zone is different from that of any other country in South Asia -- indeed, any other country on Earth -- in an attempt, perhaps, to assert Nepal's individuality. Official time as decreed by Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, falls on the 15- or 45-minute mark relative to most of the rest of the world. So, for example, when it's 6 p.m. in New Delhi, in Katmandu it's 6:15 p.m. A worried mother in Los Angeles calling Nepal at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time will reach her mountain-trekking daughter just as the young woman is sitting down to a cup of butter tea for breakfast at 8:15 the next morning. After the daughter scales Everest at 1 p.m., snaps a photo and starts climbing down the Chinese side of the mountain, she'll find that she has suddenly lost 2 1/4 hours for her descent, because according to China, it's already 3:15 p.m. |:|

“The head-spinning clutch of time zones attests to the fact that a country's official time is linked as much, if not more, to political considerations as scientific ones. For years, the island nation of Sri Lanka, off India's southern tip, operated according to the same time as India: 5 1/2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT+5 1/2 . To save energy, the Sri Lankan government decided in 1996 to nudge ahead its official time and, after a bit of experimentation, eventually settled on half an hour earlier, or GMT+6. Buddhist astrologers warned that the change would bring bad luck. And Tamil Tiger rebels, who controlled the north and east of the island, refused to switch. "Then the Sri Lankan military decided to operate on the same time as the insurgents. So you had half of the government and the rest of the country on a different time zone," said Dilip Ahuja, a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. "It was so confusing that they just gave up and went back to 5 1/2 hours."” |:|

Pakistan's Switch to Daylight Savings Time Deepens South Asian Time Confusion


time zone of Pakistan and its neighbors

In June 2008, Pakistan became the first nation in South Asia to adopt daylight saving time, Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The three-month experiment is aimed, as elsewhere, at cutting energy costs by taking advantage of long summer days. But what might make practical sense for Pakistan is yet another headache for a region that already clocks up more than its share of chronological confusion. For residents of South Asia, figuring out what time it is in the next country, let alone beyond that, can be an exercise in frustration. Ahuja knows so much about time zones because he and two co-authors published a paper last year recommending that India adjust its own official time to GMT+6. [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2008 |:|]

“By shifting ahead half an hour, the country could shave at least 0.3% off its annual electricity consumption, a saving of $250 million, the study said. Other potential benefits include fewer car accidents (India suffers more traffic fatalities and injuries "than entire continents," the study noted), less street crime and the virtue of being "on the hour," in sync with 95% of the world, instead of on the half-hour. |:|

“Ahuja and his co-authors rule out splitting India into two time zones for east and west, although the country is big enough to accommodate such a division. China insists on a single fixed time for the entire nation, despite spanning several potential time zones, for the sake of national unity, and India should stick to the same principle, Ahuja said. It's just that he hopes the Indian government will, out of simple pragmatism, take up his suggestion to shift everyone's clocks to half an hour later. It would be, he said, about time.

Life Cycle Events in India

Life cycle events are often celebrated with great fanfare in India. In the old days there were between 12 and 16 such events but now birth, the first hair cutting, marriage and death are the main ones that are commemorated. Ceremonies and rituals vary greatly depending on region and caste. The first life-cycle event takes place when a woman is seven months pregnant when she is honored as the Mother Earth Goddess, with family members placing flowers in her hair and giving her bangles to symbolize fertility. Traditionally, a women was secluded for six to ten days after a birth and the first clothes given to the child were not new, a custom believed to have been tied to the high mortality rate.


Annaprashan (first rice-eating ceremony)

Throughout much of India, a baby's birth is celebrated with rites of welcome and blessing--songs, drums, happy distribution of sweets, auspicious unguents, gifts for infant and mother, preparation of horoscopes, and inscriptions in the genealogist's record books. In general, children are deeply desired and welcomed, their presence regarded as a blessing on the household. Babies are often treated like small deities, pampered and coddled, adorned with makeup and trinkets, and carried about and fed with the finest foods available to the family. Young girls are worshiped as personifications of Hindu goddesses, and little boys are adulated as scions of the clan. [Source: Library of Congress *]

On around the tenth day after birth a priest is summoned for a naming ceremony. The name is often selected in accordance with the child’s horoscope, with the priest “blowing” the name into the child’s ear and writing it on unpolished rice. Some families still hold a small celebration when a child eats solid food for the time. A bigger deal is made when children get his first haircut. A special barber is brought in for the task. Sanskrit verses are chanted as the hair is cut or shaved and the first hair is offered to the gods asa kind of sacrifice.

Traditionally nothing big happened on a person’s birthdays other than the first one, but birthdays are increasingly being marked with Western style celebrations by urban and middle and upper class families. A coming of age ceremony is still held in some areas for girls when they reach puberty. It traditionally meant that the girl had reached marriageable and was marked with the girl being presented her first sari. Hindus are not circumcised. Muslim are. After a big wedding ceremony individuals are often not honored again until their 60th birthday (60 marks the completion of a cycle of five 12 year period, an auspicious achievement). Sometimes a big celebration is held when a person reaches 80.

Buying land, opening a new business and moving into a new house is often marked as a special occasion. The opening of a new house is marked with special ceremony called grihapravesham

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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