Understanding Virodhakrit Samvatsam-Indian Calendar

  • By Mama
  • November 1, 2023
  • Know the basis of the Hindu/Indian Calendar, simply explained.

My dear Chiranjeevis,

BY the time this issue of the Bhavan’s Journal reaches your hands I am certain you will be making elaborate preparations for celebrating the New Year, Yugadi or Gudi Padava as the Maharashtrians and others call them here. I wish you a happy New Year. Of course .the Hindus will be celebrating this feast but others will certainly join them and share the happiness that such a festivity gives people. 


Has it occurred to you that the Gudi Padava or the Yugadi never falls on the same day of the English Calendar? Last year it was on April 7. This year it will be celebrated on 27th of March. But the other festival Sankranti always falls on a fixed day, the 14th of January. Why is this so? To answer this question you must just consider how man keeps account of the days and months that elapse; how he measures time.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal.


In the olden days there were no delicate instruments with which man could measure time. But for his day-to-day needs he was content with using anything that could be a kind of a clock. One quality very necessary for a clock is regularity and for man there are two clocks in the sky that were fairly useful as they were regular. They are the Sun and the Moon.


In a complete day there are two parts, the lighted part, the day, and the dark part, the night. The time of the day could be roughly estimated by looking at the sun and its position. In fact in our ancient books there are some methods indicated, by the application of which we can get the time of the day by measuring our own shadows. A careful observer of the movements of the sun may tell with a certain amount of accuracy the time of the day.


Not only had man to keep stock of the hours of the day; he had to keep account of the passing days. How did he do it?


I will tell you how he did it not in my own words but in the words of late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Have you read his Discovery of India? You know it was written in jail and Pandit Nehru was imprisoned in the Ahmednagar fort for the time. This is what he says and you will see from a reading of it how the moon serves as a useful clock for the measuring of the days that fleet by.


“The new moon, a shimmering crescent in the darkening sky, greeted us on our arrival here. The bright fortnight of the waxing moon had begun. Ever since then each coming of the new moon has been a reminder to me that another month of my imprisonment is over. So it was also with my last imprisonment which began with the new moon, just after the Deepavali, the festival of lights. The moon, ever a companion to me in prison, has grown more friendly with closer acquaintance, a reminder of the lovelinessof this world, of the waning of life, of light following ,darkness, of death and resurrection following each other in interminable succession. Ever changing, yet ever the same, I have watched it in its different phases and its many moods in the evening, as the shadows lengthen, in the still hours of the night, and when the breath and whisper of dawn bring promise of the coming day. How helpful is the moon in counting the days and months, for the size and shape of the moon, when it is visible, indicate the day of the month with a fair measure of exactitude. It is an easy calendar (though it must be adjusted from time to time) and for the peasant in the field the most convenient one to indicate the passage of the days and the gradual changing of the seasons.” 


You may as well ask me: why the moon?


The answer must have occurred to you. When does the thought of the days that have passed by occur to us? Not during the 'earlier hours of the day but only when the day’s work is done and we are already in the evening hours. During this part when man’s work is done and he takes times off it, he will think of such things. Then there is the bright and cool moon which gives him delight and lets him also keep measure of the passing days. One other thing is that the moon does not hurt your eyes like the sun. You can watch it for long and watch it more carefully and note its waxing and waning size. But the sun hurts your eye, does not either increase or diminish in size and so it does not serve so well the purpose of measurement. Further the moon undergoes this change in shape for a period of these thirty days you have a disappearing moon and a full moon. So man was enabled to measure the passing days by means of this thirty day clock.


Pandit Nehru in the above extract says: though it must be adjusted from time to time. Do you know why he says so? Have you noticed one thing regarding the festivals of Ramzan and Muharram and so on? These festivals go on falling behind according to the English calendar. They do not come in the same month every year. The reason is they are arranged in accordance with the movements of the moon.


In a year there are, as everyone knows, 365 days; this being the time taken for the earth to make one complete revolution round the sun. But when we measure days according to the movements of the moon, we get only 360 days. Naturally we have to make some adjustments between the years which we compute on the basis of the sun and the months which are measured using the moon. Such adjustments were made by Indian Astronomers long ago and these are known as intercalary months and in our own languages, Adhika masas. These adjustments help the two clocks to agree with each other.


If you just observe this you will notice one interesting thing. Note down your birthday according to English Calendar and also according to Hindu calendar. On your eighteenth birthday you will notice that the two birthdays fall on the same day. It happens also once every 18 years.


Now you should be in a position to answer the question that was asked in the beginning.


The yugadi or the Chandramana newyear cannot fall on the same day as the English calendar because the English calendar is based on the sun


In Indian astrology and astronomy we have both ways of measuring time. One is called Sowramana or the measurement according to the sun and the other the Chandramana, the measurement according to the moon. Some people use the first, for instance the Tamilians use the Sowramana and there the names of the month are designated on the basis of the zodiacal part in which the sun is at the time. In this measure the one full circle of the sky above our head and, below our feet (of course it is not visible) is divided into 12 parts and they are twelve Rashis or zodiacal divisions. During each month the sun rises in one of these twelve parts and the months are called by the names of these Rashis, Mesha, Vrisha bha, etc. I shall stop here and ask you to make further study of these things. I will give a little quiz here which you may answer and send to me.


Chiranjeevis’ General Knowledge Quiz No. 1. 


1. There are twelve months in the year. They are named by people in many different ways. Can you write down the names of these months? Give the names of months used by various communities, the Gujaratis, the Maharashtrians, the Parsees, Muslims and so on. 

2. Hindus not only have names for the months; they also have names for the years. These years like the months are not twelve but sixty in number. Do you know the names of these sixty years? The New Year that you are celebrating is called Virodhikrit samvatsara. What are the others? 

3. The twelve months of the year are further divided into seasons; some have four seasons, some six and so on. Write down the names of these seasons and say why people have divided them into three, four or six seasons. 

4. Write down the names of the days of the week and say why they have been given such names. 


Send answers to: Mama C/o Editor, Bhavan’s, Journal Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Chowpathy: Bombay 7


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, March 21, 1971 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Also read

1. History of Vikram Samvat calendar

2. Indian calendars – good read

3. Introduction to Panchang and Indian Calendar

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