May 1--15, 2003 - Vol. 12, No. 09

"Hindu" New Year's day and related issues
Arabinda Ghose

One of the peculiarities of the Indian culture as has been described by eminent persons, is "unity in diversity". A cultural bond unites this country from the north to the south and from the east to the west. However, there are diversities too within this macrocosm. One of the fields in which this differences, or diversities, manifest themselves is the system of time reckoning, or as we all are aware, the "calendar" for the people of India.

On April 2, Wednesday, many regions of the country celebrated the "Hindu" New Year's Day - to be precise the Chaitra Shukla Pratipada. The President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and other dignitaries issued statesments on this day conveying their goodwill. It is welcome that such a day, which is basically a lunar phenomenon, has received such an attention from the Government of India. It is also the day on which R.S.S. founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Heghdewar was born.

However, there is another New Year's Day which has been totally ignored by the Government of India and its leaders, although that was the New Year's Day of the official calendar of the Government. It fell on March 22 as always and is called the first day of the solar Chaitra month of the Saka era 1925. This official calendar was introduced way back in 1956 after an official committee led by scientist Meghnad Saha, an M.P. then, considered the suitability of a particular calendar for the whole of India and decided upon the Saka era, introduced in Christian Era 78 by the Kushan King Kanishka.

Regrettably, no high dignitaries of the Government including Prime Minister Nehru had shown interest in this era and as far as this scribe can remember, he or other dignitaries have not issued any goodwill messages on March 21 or 22, the Sake New Year's Day, ever since its inception.

Yet the Saka calendar is the most scientific of all the calendars we are familiar with, including the (lunar) Vikram era and the Gregorian or the Christian calendar. The lunar Vikram era is good for fixing the "tithis" of various Hindu religious festivals, but one cannot use it for one's day-to-day functing. A "tithi" may change at any time during the day and night, a "date" can change only at "local" midnight or as some people insist, at daybreak.

The people of Nepal, on the other hand, uses the solar version of the Vikram era and that country's New Year's day is on the First of Baishakh, the day Sun, in its apparent motion, crosses from the "Meen" (Pisces) to the "Mesha" (Aries) "Rashi" (Sign of the Zodiac). That day follows the "Chaitra Sankranti" day, the last day of the "stay" of the sun in the "Meen Rashi". The duration of a month is coterminus with the "stay" of the sun in a particular "Rashi." For example, the rainy solar months of Ashadh and Sharavan mean that the sun "stays" in the "Mithuna (Gemini) and Karkata (cancer) Rashis" then. The very small gap of time between the movement of the Sun from one Rashi to another is known as the "Sankranti". There are 12 Sankrantis in a year, but the more well known is the "Makar Sankranti", when the Sun moves from the "Makar" to the "Kumbha rashi". This phenomenon takes place almost always on Jan. 14 of the Christian Era.

The other important "sankranti" is the Mahavishuva Sankranti, when the Sun in its apparent motion is "on" the Vishuvarekha (the Equator). This day is also known in astronomy as the vernal equnox, the day of the onset of the spring season when the day and night all over the world are of 12 hours' duration each. The Parsi New Year's day falls on this day every year.

Not only Nepal, but Kerala, Tamilnadu, West Bengal and Bangaladesh, Assam, Kashmir and Punjab (even Pakistan Punjab) celebrate the Baishakhi or Pehla Baishakh or Rongali Bihu on April 13/14 every year. Kerala calls the day "Vishu", the word having been derived from Vishuvarekha. Same with Assam, although in Ahamia, 'S' is normally pronounced as "h". (Ahamiya instead of Assamiya).

In all the States mentioned here, the New Year's day is celebrated-with gusto in Punjab and with cultural functions in West Bengal and Assam. The Rongali Bihu in Assam is a scintillating affair, one of the most picturesque celebrations of the New Year's Day, and it will be rewarding for people outside that State to visit Guwahati or Shibsagar in particular that day.

The reader might have noticed that corresponding dates for all the events have been given from the Gregorian calendar. This is becomes the reality is that it is the standard calendar for the entire world. That is why dignities send messages and greetings unfailingly on January 1. Pakistan, an Islamic country, celebrates independence and Pakistan days on Aug. 14 and March 23, respectively on dates from the Gregorian calendar and not the Islamic calendar, which is used to celebrate on observe religious occasions, just like the Hindus do.