The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people. The gist of it is quite simple though. There are twelve months in the year and 30 or 31 days in each month. Leap years are accurately accounted for, as are other astronomical events like equinoxes and eclipses. The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar) is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.
That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.
In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.
The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.
Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.
Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Durmukhi Samavatsara, and it began on April 8 2016.
The 31st year in the cycle begins today, i.e., March 28, 2017. The new year is named Hemalambi or Hevilambi. This is not predicted to be a good year!
Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.
Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD. Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.
Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).
And therefore today, March 28, 2017 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Hevilambi Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1939, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).
Yugadi is celebrated across India. In Maharashtra, it’s celebrated as Gudi Padva.
I’ve always wondered … why do most of our festivals celebrate somebody’s death?
It’s usually about some demon who obtains special powers or advanced weaponry by propitiating various Gods. He then goes on a global killing and looting spree, thereby becoming a major nuisance to the general public and incurring the wrath of the same Gods who gave him all those powers in the first place. Invariably, a mighty battle follows between said demon and said Gods, and our unfortunate demon is decapitated, eviscerated and dismembered, as a stern example to other demons with divine ambitions.
And we mortals rejoice, abandon our work, release malodorous fireworks into the atmosphere, eat and drink lustily, burn a lot of money, and generally celebrate the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’.
Yet, most people won’t even know the name of the demon whose death they celebrate.
So it is with Deepavali. When asked, most of my friends give me a vague reply. Something to do with Lakshmi puja or Lord Rama or something, they tell me, before rushing off to buy Chinese firecrackers at cheap rates – and stocking up on booze.
If you wish to celebrate a festival, then do it right.
Herewith then, some Diwali fundas …
Diwali is always celebrated during the last six days of Ashvina and the first day of Kartika, these two being the sixth and seventh months in the Hindu calendar. This corresponds to end-October/early November.
This year, 2016, that period is between Oct 26th and November 2nd.
The Hindu calendar is based on the waxing and waning of the moon. There is one full moon day every month as you probably know. Therefore, each month has two halves – the fortnight before a full moon and the fortnight after it. The fortnight before the full moon, i.e. the waxing period is called Shukla paksha – the bright half, Shukla meaning white in Sanskrit. The fortnight after the full moon is called Krishna paksha – the dark half, Krishna meaning black.
Diwali is perhaps the oldest of the Indian festivals. In some form or the other, India has celebrated Diwali since the past five thousand years at least.
Diwali is not one festival. It commemorates six separate events from Vedic history. Over the ages, these six festivals merged into one major festival.
OK, here goes:
The 12th day of Ashvina-Shuklapaksha, is Govatsa Dwadashi. As you can figure out from the name, this day is dedicated to cows and calves. Those who celebrate Govatsa Dvadashi perform a puja for their cows and do not consume milk products on this day, This year, Govatsa Dvadashi falls on Thursday, Oct 27th.
The 13th day of the dark half of Ashvina, i.e. Krishnapaksha Trayo-dashi, is the birthday of Dhanvanatri, the celestial physician who appeared during Sagaramanthan, the churning of the ocean. Hence it is called Dhantrayodashi.
People up North also believe that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is in a benevolent mood on this particular day. People light lamps through the night, in the hope that Lakshmi pays them a visit. For this reason, this day is also called Dhanteras.
This year, Dhanteras falls on October 28th, Friday.
Medical professionals who consider Dhanvantari as their patron god may perform a Dhanvantari puja on this day.
Some others prefer to gamble on this day, in the belief that if they win on Dhanteras they keep winning through the year. They usually lose heavily.
In some parts of west and north India, it is believed that evil spirits are at their strongest on this night, and some perform a Hanuman puja.
– The 14th day of Ashvina-Krishnapaksha, i.e. Chatur-dashi, commemorates the death of Narakasura. The son of Bhoodevi (Mother Earth) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) incarnation, Narakasura became a nasty warlord due to special boons given to him by Vishnu himself.
He had to be slain by a later incarnation of Vishnu, i.e., Krishna, or in some versions of the legend, by his wife Satyabhama. Apparently, just before he died, Narakasura requested Krishna and Satyabhama that his death should not be mourned by his subjects, but celebrated with a lot of light and colour.
Since he was slain just before sunrise, Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated with bright lights and a lot of noise in the wee hours of the morning – unfortunately.
Narakachaturdashi, or Choti Diwali as it is called up North, falls on October 29, Saturday.
There is a belief that anyone who has a bath-cum-oil massage (or Abhyangsnana) before sunrise on Narakachaturdashi will avoid going to hell. Now you know why your grandma would haul you out of bed at an ungodly hour and dunk your head in hot water.
Well, if you so believe, the correct time for avoiding hell is 04.58 to 06:15, on October 29.
The 15th day, i.e., No moon day or Ashvina Amavasya, marks the day on which Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana. Rama slew Ravana on Vijayadashami. After handing over Lanka to Vibhishana, he returned to Ayodhya eighteen days after Vijayadashami. Since it was Amavasya, the darkest night of the month, the residents of Ayodhya lit up the whole city with oil-lamps.
That of course, is why it is called Deepavali.
On this day, the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, specifically during the evening hours, or Pradosh kaal.
Diwali and Lakshmi puja this year are on Sunday, October 30. For those of you who are serious about Lakshmi puja, the correct time is between 18:50 to 20:19.
The next day is the first day of the bright half of Kartika, i.e. Prathami-Shukla paksha. This day is celebrated as Govardhana Puja, to commemorate Krishna’s feat of lifting the entire Govardhan mountain on his finger, to protect his villagers from Indra’s wrath.
In North and West India, this day is also celebrated as Bali Padyami, believed to be the day on which Raja Bali returns from the depths of the underworld and visits his kingdom on earth. In Kerala however, this day is celebrated during the festival of Onam.
Usually, the Gujarati new year also falls on this day or on the day before. Traditional Gujarati businessmen close their account books (or Chopda) and open a new Chopda, with a Chopda puja.
The second day of Kartika, i.e. Kartika Dvitiya is celebrated as Bhau Bheej or Bhaya Duj. According to our scriptures, Yama, god of death, visited his sister Yami on this particular day. Brother and sister were very happy with the visit, and Yama assured his sister that any brother who visits his sister on this day will be blessed with long life.
Hence this day is also called Yama Dvitiya.
For those brothers who are unable to visit their sisters (as am I), prayers offered to Yama by the concerned sisters will suffice.
This then is the six-day festival of Diwali.
Note however, that nowhere and nowhere in the scriptures, does it specify that Diwali must be celebrated by intense air and noise pollution, extreme drunkenness, rowdy behavior and by a vulgar exhibition of wealth.
Have a happy Diwali everyone. And let me have a peaceful Diwali – for a change.
The scriptures tell us that if you see your Guru and God together, then fall at your Guru’s feet first. This is because your Guru shows you the way to God. And that is why the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness’.
The 15th day of the month of Ashada is celebrated as Guru Purnima, and this year, that day falls on Tuesday, July 19th. In Buddhist tradition, this was the day on which Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath, after he attained enlightenment. Since Gautama set the wheel of Buddhism in motion with this discourse, it is known as the Dharmachakra pravarthana sutra.
This day marks the birth of Veda Vyasa, revered in our scriptures as the Guru of all Gurus. Vyasa was born to the sage Parashar and a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati, the same Satyavati who later wed King Shantanu, father of Bhishma.
Veda Vyasa is one of the most important personalities in Vedic history. He is the author of the Mahabharata and the progenitor of the Kuru race.
Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, and made it much easier for ordinary people to appreciate our ancient scriptures. After splitting the Vedas into four sub-Vedas, Vyasa first imparted that knowledge to four of his disciples, thus creating the guru-shishya tradition. This system of teaching is unique to India.
Nowhere else in the world was the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it was in Vedic India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple was considered sacred, above and beyond material considerations. It was purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gave to his disciple all that he knew and he expected nothing in return. The student accepted his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula was not a school. It was regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples lived together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples would live as one, until the Guru deemed it fit for the student to take his place in the world.
The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, would offer him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asked for money or for objects of desire, and no student was expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asked his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave back Drupada his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to let Drupada know that he was his equal in all ways.
More often than not, Gurus in ancient India took nothing at all from their students. They would consider their students’ success in the world as their Gurudakshina.
Even in modern times, our reverence for our teachers remains. Even in the age of the Internet and even with all the on-line courses available today, there is no substitute for the guiding presence, the motivation, the inspiration, the dedication and the selfless love that a student gets only from a real teacher.
So this Guru Purnima, do not forget to seek your teachers’ blessings – and to show them your gratitude.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994.