By Swami Harshananda
Pañcāṅga literally means ‘the almanac which has five limbs’.
Vedic sacrifices were very common even in the most ancient period. However, they had to be performed at certain times considered to be auspicious based on the astronomical position of stars and planets. Thus evolved the science of the Almanac called ‘pañcāñga’. Literally, the word means ‘five limbs’.
Classification of Pañcāṅga
These five limbs of the pañcāṅga are:
- Vāra or day of the week
- Tithi or lunar day
- Nakṣatra or the lunar mansion
- Karaṇa or half a tithi
- Yoga or the time during which the sun and the moon together accomplish 13 degrees and 20 minutes of space
Classification of Time in Pañcāṅga
Day as per Pañcāṅga
Vāra is the day of the week, the solar day or the civil day. A day is the period between two sunrises. This period is divided into ahan and rātri. The week comprises of seven days named after the seven planets:
- Bhānu or the sun
- Soma or the moon
- Mañgala or the mars
- Budha or the mercury
- Guru or the jupiter
- Śukra or the venus
- Śani or the saturn
Tithi as per Pañcāṅga
Tithi is one lunar day which is defined as the day in which the moon, leaving the sun at the last moment of amāvāsyā or new-moon, traverses twelve degrees towards the east, every day. The tithis are counted from the day next to amāvāsya as pratipad, dvitīyā, tṛtīyā and so on, up to the fifteenth which is purṇimā or full-moon day. The same calculation is continued after that, in the same way, ending with the amāvāsyā or the new-moon day. The first fortnight is called śukla-pakṣa and the second, kṛṣṇapakṣa. Consequently a tithi has to be qualified by this also. For instance, the fourth day after amāvāsyā is śukla-caturthī. The eighth day after purṇimā is kṛṣṇa-aṣṭamī.
Ghaṭikās as per Pañcāṅga
Though the exact duration of a lunar day is of 60 ghaṭikās, the motion of the moon being irregular, the traversing of twelve degrees varies from 54 to 65 ghaṭikās. Consequently there may be two tithis on the same unit day or the same tithi can extend over two unit days.
Nakṣatra as per Pañcāṅga
Nakṣatra is actually the lunar mansion. It is the name of part of the path of the moon on round 1 around the earth which comes to 13 degrees of the sky. Though the moon travels through a little less than one nakṣatra everyday, the day can be called as having that nakṣatra for that day. The nakṣatra in its turn is named after a prominent star or constellation nearby. Twenty-seven nakṣatras have been recognized by the astronomical works and incorporated into the pañcāṅgas also.
Karaṇa as per Pañcāṅga
Karaṇa is half of a tithi. Hence there are 60 karaṇas in a lunar month of 30 tithis. The karaṇas are only of astrological use and have been given different names which are eleven in number. It can be further classified as the following:
- Cara-karaṇas - There are 7 karaṇas of this type.
- Sthira-karaṇas - There are 4 karaṇas of this type.
The cara-karaṇas are:
The sthira-karaṇas are:
Pakṣas as per Pañcāṅga
In a lunar month there are two pakṣas or fortnights (śukla and kṛṣṇa). In each pakṣa, on each of the days like pratipad, dvitīyā and so on, there are two karaṇas. The sthira-karaṇas come only at the end of the kṛṣṇapakṣa whereas the cara-karaṇas rotate in both the pakṣas, the series of seven getting repeated. For instance, after viṣṭi also known as bhadra or kalyāṇī come bava, bālava and so on. The following table gives an idea as to how many times these cara-karaṇas occur in a lunar month:
The numbers indicate the serial number in the series from 1-60 karaṇas. The sthira-karaṇas get the numbers as follows:
Works on astrology indicate what type of actions can be performed and what should not be done when these karaṇas occur. For instance, bava is auspicious for religious acts that conduce to good health and taitila is used for building a house. The seventh karaṇa viṣṭi is considered as terrible and forbidden for all auspicious acts.
Yoga as per Pañcāṅga
Yoga is defined as the time taken by the sun and the moon together to traverse is 13° 20’ of space. When this amounts to 13° 20’, the yoga called viṣkambha ends. When it is 26° 40’, the second yoga called prīti ends and so on. There are 27 yogas making a total of 360°, each of which is given a separate name. These very names describe their nature also. For example śula, the 9th yoga is like a spear and Śobhana, the 5th is auspicious. Each yoga is said to be presided over by a deity. For instance:
There are numerous pañcāṅgas in vogue today, being followed by the various sections of the society. Though scientific-minded astronomers like Varāhamihira tried to update their works to accord with the actual positions of the stars and the planets during their times, others do not seem to have done it. As a result, several anomalies have crept into the present-day pañcāṅgas. For instance the Makara Saṅkrānti is being celebrated on the 14 January every year, though the actual transit takes place on the 21st December itself, thus pushing it forward by 23 days.
Calendar Reform Committee
The Government of India appointed a committee called the Calendar Reform Committee in A. D. 1952, with Dr. Meghanād Saha as its chairman. After examining all the existing calendars, the committee submitted its proposals in November 1955 for an accurate and uniform calendar for the whole of India. The proposals covered both the civil calendar and the religious calendar. The following are the important recommendations of the committee:
- The Śaka era should be used in the unified national calendar. The Śaka year 1876 corresponds to 1954-55 A. D.
- The year should start from the day following the vernal equinox day.
- Normal year consists of 365 days, while a leap year would have 366 days. After adding 78 to the Śaka era year, if the sum is divisible by 4, then it would be a leap year. But when the sum becomes a multiple of 100, it would be a leap year only when it is divisible by 400; otherwise it would be a common year.
- Caitra should be the first month of the year and the lengths of the different months should be fixed as follows:—
Days in Months
- Caitra - 30 days
- Vaiśākha - 31 days
- Jyestha - 31 days
- Āṣāḍha - 31 days
- Śrāvaṇa - 31 days
- Bhādrapada - 31 days
- Āśvina - 30 days
- Kārttika - 30 days
- Mārgaśīrṣa - 30 days
- Pauṣa - 30 days
- Māgha - 30 days
- Phālguna—30 days.
Dates of Each Month
The dates of the reformed Indian calendar would thus have a permanent correspondence with the Gregorian calendar. The corresponding dates would be:
|Hindu Calendar||Gregorian Calendar|
|Caitra 1||March 22 in a common year and 21 in a leap year|
|Vaiṣākha 1||April 21|
|Jyeṣṭha 1||May 22|
|Āṣāḍha 1||June 22|
|Śrāvaṇa 1||July 23|
|Bhādrapada 1||August 23|
|Āśvina 1||September 23|
|Kārttika 1||October 23|
|Mārgaśīrṣa 1||November 22|
|Pauṣa 1||December 22|
|Māgha 1||January 21|
|Phālguna 1||February 20|
However, unfortunately it did not gain popular acceptance due to the people being habituated to the old and the traditional almanacs.
- Ahan means day, from sunrise to sunset.
- Rātri means night, from sunset to sunrise.
- Ghaṭikā means 24 minutes.
- Pratipad means the first.
- Dvitīyā means the second.
- Tṛtīyā means the third.
- Śukla-pakṣa means the bright fortnight.
- Kṛṣṇapakṣa means the dark fortnight.
- Ghaṭikās is equal to 24 hours.
- Nakṣatra means star or constellation.
- Nakṣatras from Aśvini to Revatī.
- Cara means moving.
- Sthira means stationary.
- Parigha is the 19th.
- Vyatīpāta is the 17th.
- Vidhṛti is the 27th.
- He lived in A. D. 505-587.
- It is the date of the sun leaving the zodiacal sign Dhanus or Sagittarius and entering the sign Makara or Capricorn.
- He lived in A. D. 1893-1956.
- It is between Chaitra as often written.
- 31 days in a leap year.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore