Hinduism Calendar
by
Klaus Klostermaier
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0149

Introduction

The Indian name of the Hindu calendar is Pañcāngam (“five limbs”). It is of utmost practical importance for Hindus to determine the right time for the performance of vratas (vows) and the celebration of utsavas (feasts) and in order to find the proper times for religious rituals, upanayana (initiation), and marriage. The traditional Hindu calendar is lunar-solar. While the months (māsa) are defined by the moon-cycles, the beginning of the year (varşa) is fixed by either the solar spring––or fall––equinox. The difference between the year of twelve lunar months and the solar year (amounting to roughly 10.87 days every year) is made up by inserting an intercalary month every third year: the so-called ādhika māsa (additional month). At the time of India’s independence in 1947 about thirty different calendars were in use in India. To eliminate the confusion caused by the great variety of traditional calendars and to correlate the Indian calendar with the Gregorian, the government of India established in 1952 a Calendar Commission, which recommended the introduction of a “Reformed Indian Calendar,” valid for the whole of India for official purposes. It became effective with the spring equinox, 22 March 1957, which became New Year’s Day: Chaitra 1, 1879 Śaka era. The Reformed Indian Calendar unlinks the Indian months (whose old names have been preserved) from the moon phases and approximates the length of each month to those of the Gregorian calendar. In light of the great practical importance of the issue, a great many works deal with the calendar or some of its parts.

General Overviews

Since the calendar is of great public as well as personal relevance the Government of India provides every year official Pañcāngas. So do academic institutions like the Benares Hindu University. Akshay 2008 makes relevant calendric information for several regions in India available on the Internet. Chakravarty and Chatterjee 1985 summarize pre-1958 Indian calendars. Chatterjee 1988 discusses the background to the establishment of the official Indian calendar. The Drik Pancang allows Hindus living in the United States to find the correct time for the performance of rituals. Kane 1936–1982 is a universal source for everything connected with Hindu law including rituals and the time to perform these.

  • Akshay, Regulagedda. Pancanga-Tantra: “The Magic of the Indian Calendar System.” 2d ed. Singapore: University of Singapore, 2008.

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    A study and explanation of the workings of the Pañcānga, available on the Internet, dealing with a number of calendars used in different regions of India. Provides useful information on some practical issues such as decision on the days for the celebration of festivals.

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    • Benares Hindu University. Viśva Pañcāngam (Universal Calendar)

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      In Hindi. This is a yearly calendar with ample astronomical/astrological information.

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      • Chakravarty, Apurba Kumar, and Susil Kumar Chatterjee. “Indian Calendar from Post-Vedic Period to AD 1900.” In History of Astronomy in India. Edited by S. N. Sen and K. S. Shukla, 252–307. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1985.

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        A survey of the history of the Indian calendar before the Calender Reform.

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        • Chatterjee, Susil Kumar. Indian Calendric System, Publications Division Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Delhi: Government of India, 1988.

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          Informative study of the Indian calendar. It goes into the background of regional historic calendars and provides specimens of various local calendars.

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          • Drik Panchang.

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            This website (under the words Drik Pancang) offers ample astronomical/astrological detail relevant for the performance of Hindu rituals in the United States.

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            • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. Poona, India: BORI, 1936–1982.

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              A monumental work: dealing with practically all aspects of traditional Hindu dharma. Vol. 5 (1958) offers in Section 1 an extensive background to the calendric aspects of Hindu religious festivals and vows. Section 2 describes the influence of astronomy/astrology on Dharmaśāstra and the calendar. It also gives a long list of Hindu vows and festivities, for whose correct performance the traditional Pañcāngam is indispensable.

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              • The Indian Central Government. Rastriya Pancang (National Calendar).

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                Provides detailed astronomical information in connection with religious festivals but it has not been universally accepted by Hindus who prefer to follow Pañcāngas published by major religious centers, because it leaves many dates for the celebration of important festivals open. In English and in a variety of Indian languages. Obtainable through The Manager of Publications, Civil Lines, Delhi-6 and Government of India Kitab Mahal, Janpath, New Delhi.

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                The Structure of the Indian Calendar

                The traditional Indian calendar, called Pañcāngam (Five Limbs), consists of five parts: tithi (lunar day), vara (solar day), nakşatra (stars, asterisms), yoga (planetary conjunctions), and karaṇam (influences of stars). Each tithi is sub-divided into two karaṇas, which are either cara (changing) or sthira (fixed). Each of these has a presiding deity, whose influence determines the auspicious or inauspicious character of the time-span designated. The Reformed Indian Calendar issued by the Government in New Delhi also contains basic information on all of these items, but does not offer all the minutiae required for religious and astrological purposes, for which the numerous regional Pañcāngas, which are published every year from many places, must be consulted. The months of the Reformed Indian Calendar begin on these dates of the Gregorian calendar: Caitra (30 days; 31 days in a leap year) 22 March (21 March in a leap year); Vaişākha (31 days) 21 April 21, Jaistha (days) 22 May, Āsāḍha (31 days) 22 June, Śrāvana (31 days) 23 July, Bhādrapada (31 days) 23 August, Āśvina (30 days) 23 September, Kārtīka (30 days) 23 October, Agrahayana (30 days) 22 November, Pausa (30 days) 22 December, Māgha (30 days) 21 January, Phālguna (30 days) 20 February. While the Rgveda mentions only five seasons, leaving out Śiśira, later texts and the standard Indian Calendar identify six seasons (ṛtu): (1) Vasantha (Spring) comprising Phālguna and Caitra; (2) Grīśma (Summer) comprising Vaiśākha and Jyeṣṭha; (3) Varsa (Rainy Season) comprising Āṣāḍha and Śrāvana; (4) Śarada (Autumn) comprising Bhādrapada and Āśvina; (5) Hemanta (Late Fall) comprising Kārtika and Agrahayana; (6) Śiśira (Winter) comprising Pausa and Māgha. The days of the week (vāra) are: ravivāra = Sunday; somavāra = Monday; maṇgalavāra = Tuesday (day of Mars); budhavāra = Wednesday (day of Mercury); guruvāra = Thursday (day of Jupiter); sūkravāra = Friday (day of Venus); saṇivāra = Saturday (day of Saturn). There is some evidence that in Vedic times there was a six-day week.

                Calculating Dates for Religious Festivals and Publications of Pancangas in India

                The times for religious festivals are still set according to lunar months. Since in some areas of India, such as Punjab and Orissa, the beginning of the (moon-) month is reckoned from the beginning of the bright fortnight (śuklānta), in others from the beginning of the dark (kṛṣṇanta), there is no India-wide agreement concerning the beginning of a feast-day, and thus many problems arise in connection with the setting of popular feasts. The Rāsṭṛīya Pañcānga provides alternate dates for various regions. Regional Pancangas decide the case for each locality. Each lunar month is divided into two paksa: śukla pakşa (bright half) and kṛṣṇa pakşa (dark half). Each pakşa is subdivided into fifteen tithi (moon-days). Dates of festivals are given in the form: masa/pakşa/tithi. For example: Kṛṣṇa’s birthday is always celebrated on Sravana (masa) Kṛṣṇa (paksa) aṣṭamī (tithi). According to the Reformed Calendar Kṛṣṇa’s birthday is a movable feast, whose commencement is calculated differently in various parts of India according to the system used locally to determine the commencement of a tithi. The names of the fifteen moon-days (tithi) in each half-month (paksa) are: (1.) pratipad; (2.) dvītiya; (3.) trtīya; (4.) caturthī; (5.) pañcamī; (6.) ṣaṣṭhī; (7.) saptamī; (8.) aṣtamī; (9.) navamī; (10.) dasamī; (11.) ekādaśī; (12.) dvādaśī; (13.) trayodaśī; (14.) caturdaśī; and (15.) paňcadaśī kṛṣṇapakṣa: amavasya, darśa (new moon), in śuklapakṣa pūrnimā (full moon). Each tithi is divided into thirty muhūrta (“hours”), each muhūrta into sixty nimesa (“minutes’), each nimesa into sixty ksana (“moments,” wink-of-the-eyes). For astrological purposes it is important to find the right tithi (and kārana) as well as the appropriate muhūrta for every activity: there are auspicious and inauspicious times for everything and no important enterprise is to be undertaken without ensuring the auspiciousness of the day and hour. Many Hindus even today follow a timetable called Rahu-kala, which identifies auspicious/inauspicious times for every day of the week. The Jyotisa Department of Banaras Hindu University and other places in India connected with traditional centers of learning issues a Pañcānga following the pre-reformed Indian calendar. Its charts for every lunar paksa with traditional astronomical/astrological information are widely used by astrologers in India. The Central Government’s Rastriya Pañcānga follows the Reformed Indian Calendar. It too offers additional information on lunar tithi, naksatra, yoga, kārana, and rāśi, which can be also used for astrological purposes. It contains a comparative table showing the beginnings of years in other eras used in some parts of India such as Vikram, Bengali San, Kollam, Kali, Buddha Nirvana. Mahāvīra Nirvāṇa, and Hejra. The year 2014 common era corresponds to Saka 1935/36; Vikram Samvat 2071/62; Bengali San 1421/ 12; Kollam 1190/91; Kali Yuga 5116/17; Buddha Nirvāṇa 2558/59; Mahāvīra Nirvāṇa 2541/42; Hijra 1434/3. Given the great practical and theoretical importance of the calendar, a great many ancient and modern works address it from various perspectives.

                Early Modern and Modern Studies of Indian Calendars

                Sachau 1964 gives a translation of what may be the first “modern” outsider’s description of Hindu astronomy/astrology by a Muslim scholar of the 13th century. Brelich 1955 includes the Hindu calendar in a general study of religious calendars. Thomas 1966 provides a practical guide for dating Hindu holidays. Basham 1954, possibly the most widely read work on classical India, includes a short (not fully correct) summary of the Hindu festive calendar. Tilak 1956, written by a famous Indian freedom propagandist, points out Hindu calendars divergent from the commonly accepted Pañcānga. The 4th century BCE author Kautilya (Shamasastri 1961) gives proof for a practical application of the Pañcānga for the determination of the best time for beginning a war. Raghavan 1972 offers a collection of seasonal poetry in Sanskrit (with English commentary). Underhill 1921 (also online) provides a detailed practical guide for dating Hindu festivals. Vivekjivananda 2011 includes in a popular survey of Hinduism a short description of the Hindu calendar.

                • Basham, Allan S. The Wonder That Was India. Vol. 1, Evergreen Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

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                  Appendix III (pp. 492–495) provides a short summary of Hindu calendric reckoning. The popular work is often quoted, but it is not fully correct in some of its detail.

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                  • Brelich, Angelo. Introduzione allo studio dei calendri festivi. Rome: Edizione dell Ateneo Roma, 1955.

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                    Provides general information and reflection on the topic of ritual calendars, including Indian feast-days.

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                    • Raghavan, Vir. Ṛtu in Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 1972.

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                      Contains a rich collection of poetic descriptions of the Indian seasons.

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                      • Sachau, Edward C. Alberuni’s India. Reprint. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1964.

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                        Alberuni, a 13th-century Muslim scholar, who spent several years in India to study the culture and the sciences of the Hindus, exhibited great interest in Indian (Hindu) astronomy and astrology. Chapters 34–79 contain detailed calendric information (division of time of day and night, months and years).

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                        • Shamasastri, R., trans. Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. 7th ed. Mysore, India: Mysore Printing and Publishing, 1961.

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                          Offers a “practical calendar” to determine the time most suitable for warfare.

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                          • Thomas, Paul. Hindu Religious Customs and Manners. Bombay: Taraporevala, 1966.

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                            Contains a section on “Hindu Calendar and Holidays” (pp. 119–127).

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                            • Tilak, Bal Gangadhar. The Arctic Home in the Vedas. Poona City, India: Gaikwar Wada, 1956.

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                              Mentions an earlier Indian division of the year into ten months and describes “The Oldest Aryan Calendar” (pp. 405ff.).

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                              • Underhill, Muriel Marion. The Hindu Religious Year. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921.

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                                Gives a detailed description of the Hindu calendar and the dates for Hindu festivals. Due to the complex nature of the issue, there are discrepancies with other presentations.

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                                • Vivekjivananda, Sadhu. Hinduism: An Introduction. 2d ed. Ahmedabad, India: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2011.

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                                  “Holy Festivals” (Part 1, chap. 14) provides a short explanation of the Hindu calendar and a description of some major Hindu feasts.

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                                  Hindu Thinking on Time

                                  Time (kāla) has been a major preoccupation of Hindus from the earliest eras. Finding the “right time” was essential for the agricultural work-cycle as well as for the performance of sacrifices (yajñas). The Ṛgveda speaks of the rotating wheel of time as having twelve spokes. The Maitri Upanisad (5.15) muses: “Time cooks all things in the great self. He who knows in what time is cooked is the knower of the Veda.” In the Puranas time is one of the uncreated principles (tattvas), on a par with prādhana (matter) and purusa (spirit), emerging from the non-manifested universal being (avyakta). Being dissociated from time, brahman remains totally transcendent and is not connected with the evils of the world. In the Bhagavadgītā (9.32) Kṛṣṇa says: “Time am I, world-destroying, fully matured, engaged in subduing the world.” In the Mahābhārata (16.2.1–2) time, in an embodied form, is wandering about the earth: “It looked like a man of terrible and fierce aspect––none else but the destroyer of all creatures.” According to the Yatīndramatadīpika “what is called time (kāla) is a particular inert substance devoid of the three gunas, eternal and all pervasive, the basis for such terms as ‘simultaneous,’ ‘immediate,’ ‘long’ etc.” Time is the material cause of existence-in-time. Time is an instrument in the divine līlā (sport): in his avatāras the Lord appears as subject to time, while in reality he is independent of time. Patañjali, defines Yoga as “the cessation of all time-conditioned fluctuations (vṛttis) of consciousness,” which leads to a transcendence of time. Since the ultimate condition is one of timelessness, time cannot be an aspect of reality. (This information is intended to show that not all Indians/Hindus are in agreement with each other with regard to the nature of time. This should not be surprising to anyone who is familiar with Hinduism.) For Patanjali “Temporality” is a figment of the mind; however, the moments, which cause the perception of time, are real. One gains metaphysical knowledge by concentrating on the sequence of moments. Vyasa explains: “Just as the atom (paramānu) is the smallest particle of matter (dravya) so a moment (kṣaṇa) is the smallest particle of time (kāla).” Physically a kṣaṇa is the amount of time which an atom in motion takes to cross a space equalling the space it occupies. The sequence of such moments cannot be combined into a “thing.” Time is not a real thing but is based on changes in the mind. The moment, however, is a real thing in itself and constitutive of the sequence. The sequence is constituted by an uninterrupted succession of moments. In dharmamegha samādhi a Yogi reaches a zero-time-experience leading to final emancipation. Time has been a topic of universal interest in practically all cultures. No wonder that Indians devoted much thought to it. It was the transience of everything through time that compelled the future Buddha to relinquish his earthly kingdom and seek reality beyond time.

                                  Primary Sources on Time

                                  Danielou 1963 describes the power of time as destroying everything. The classic Laghuyogavasistha (Mumbai: Nirnayasagaramudralaya, 1936 [English translation by K. Narayanaswami Aiyer, 3rd edition, Madras: Adyar Library and Research Center, 1975.]) devotes a section to time. Balslev 1983 offers a comprehensive overview of various Hindu conceptions of time. Klostermaier 1986 studies Patanjali’s notion of time in relation to samādhi. Agrawala in a survey of topics dealt with by Pāṇini (Agrawala 1963) discusses his concept of time. The Viṣṇu Purānam as well as the Viṣṇudharmottara Purāṇam contain useful information on traditional Hindu notions and divisions on time. Kloetzli and Hiltebeitel 2004 in their chapter on kāla deal with a great many topics connected with time such as The Ontological Status of Time, Motion and Soul, The Divisions and Intervals of Time, The Cosmos as a Map of Time, Astrology, Narrative Time. In Macey 1994 several articles deal with Hindu notions of time.

                                  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sastri. India as Known to Panini. 2d revised and enlarged edition. Varanasi, India: Tara Printing Works, 1963.

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                                    Discusses Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhāyī 3.17: Divisions of time; and 8: Śraviṣṭha as the first nakṣatra.

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                                    • Balslev, Nandita. A Study of Time in Indian Philosophy. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1983.

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                                      So far this is the most complete survey of Hindu notions of time. It discusses the various major schools of Indian philosophy and their views of time.

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                                      • Coward, Harold. “Time (kāla) in Bharṭrihari’s Vākyapādīya.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 10 (1982): 277–287.

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                                        The grammarian Bhartrihari developed his own views on time. According to him, time is the instrumental cause for the arising, the existence and the destruction of beings.

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                                        • Danielou, Alain. Hindu Polytheism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

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                                          In the context of an overview of Hinduism, the author devotes a section to “time and eternity” and offers some original reflections on Hindu symbols of time.

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                                          • Eliade, Mircea, “Time and Eternity in Indian Thought.” In Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Edited by Joseph Campbell, 173–200. New York: Pantheon, 1957.

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                                            Provides a good summary of Hindu notions of time and eternity.

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                                            • Hazra, Rajendra Chandra. Studies in the Upapurānas. Major Vaiṣṇava Upapur ā ṇas. Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1958–.

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                                              One of the Upapurāṇas discussed is the Viṣṇudharmottara Puraṇam, which has long sections titled “Division of Time” (chaps. 72–73) and “Astronomy/Astrology” (chaps. 82–105).

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                                              • Kloetzli, Randy, and Alf Hiltebeitel. “Kāla.”: In The Hindu World. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, 553–586. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

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                                                Beginning with a short survey of literature on the topic, the authors deal with the ontological status of time, motion, divisions or intervals of time, the cosmos as map of time, time as the body of the deity, astrology, cyclical time, and narrative time.

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                                                • Klostermaier, Klaus. “Time in Patañjali’s Yogasūtra.” Philosophy East and West 34.2 (1986): 205–210.

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                                                  Points out that for Patanjali time is an important issue: the ultimate samādhi is a condition of timelessness.

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                                                  • Laghu Yoga Vasiṣtha. Vasudevasharma Pandurang Javaji. Bombay, 1851.

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                                                    This is a very popular work dealing with the process of liberation. It contains an interesting section on time. With a Sanskrit commentary by Pansikar.

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                                                    • Macey, Samuel M., ed. Encyclopedia of Time. New York and London: Garland, 1994:

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                                                      Contains several articles dealing with Hindu notions of time under headings “Hinduism,” “Indian Traditions and Time,” “Indo-Iranian Gods of Time.”

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                                                      • Śri Śri Visnu Purānam. Gorakhpur, India: Edition Gitapress, 1961.

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                                                        The Viṣnu Puraṇam is an important early source for Hindu measures of time (1.3), divisions of time (2.3) and manvantaras (3.1).

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                                                        The Scientific Basis of the Hindu Calendar

                                                        Jyotiṣa (from jyoti, a Sanskrit word for “star,” meaning: light, bright), or Indian astronomy/astrology, is a requisite for the establishment of a calendar and among the oldest Vedic disciplines of learning. Its practice predates the ancient Lāgadha Jyotiṣa, one of the six Vedāngas, dated by internal evidence c.1300 BCE. Its importance derives from the necessity of finding the right time for offering Vedic yajñas (sacrifices) and other religious rituals. This was determined by astronomical conjunctions. Naksatra, meaning “imperishable,” can designate (1) an individual star; (2) one of the 27 (28) parts into which the zodiac is divided; (3) an asterism consisting of one or more stars. The oldest list of nakṣatra begins with the Krttikas (Pleiades) associated with the spring equinox. The Krttikas, “swerve from the eastern direction”––like all other nakṣatra, though approximately nine hundred years elapse before the next nakṣatra becomes the point of reference for the spring equinox. Kane (1958) provides a complete list of nakṣatra names, which have changed over the ages, together with their gender and presiding deity. Under the influence of Greek astronomy (around the 4th century CE) the so-called Siddhanta calendar was adopted (the best known work of this genre is Suryasiddhanta). The older division into 27 (28) nakṣatra became obsolete and was replaced by the zodiac, divided into twelve rasi (constellations) each extending over two and half nakṣatra. The twelve rasi correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac as used today in the West: Mesa (Aries), Vrsabha (Taurus), Mithuna (Gemini), Karka (Cancer), Simha (Leo), Kanya (Virgo), Tula (Libra), Vrscika (Scorpio), Dhanus (Sagittarius), Makara (Capricorn), Kumbha (Aquarius), and Mina (Pisces). They are identified with the limbs of the Kalapurusa, “the person made of time”: in astrology particular constellations are related to the health or disease of specific limbs of the (human) body. Individual naksatra were associated with auspiciousness/inauspiciousness bearing on the time for vrata (vows) and religious ceremonies. A Nakṣatra-vidya also arose, close to what we call astrology. A great role in Indian astronomy was played by Dhruva (“firm”), the polestar. In legend Dhruva is the immortalized form of a faithful and constant seeker of Visnu. The Vedic Dhruva was Alpha Draconis, the Dhruva of the Puranas was Beta Ursae Minoris, and the polestar of today is Alpha Ursae Minoris. The earliest Hindu astronomical texts are the Jyotisa Vedanga, consisting of forty-three verses in the Yajurveda and thirty-six verses in the Rgveda. Other early sources are the Gargi Samhita, the Vrddha-Garga Samhita, Naksatrakalpa and Paitamaha Siddhanta. Pingree 1981 offers the most comprehensive overview of Hindu astronomy and astrology. Winternitz 1968 was compiled in 1920 (in German). Similar is Billard 1971 (in French). A pioneering work was Thibaut 1899. Burgess 1989 (1876), Thibaut and Dvivedi 1968, Kuppanna Sastry 1985 and Sarma n.d. offer translations of important early sources. Many interesting new ideas are presented in Kak 1999.

                                                        • Billard, Renee. L’astronomie Indienne. Paris: Ecole Francais d’Extreme Orient, 1971.

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                                                          Offers a survey of the history of Hindu astronomy.

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                                                          • Burgess, James, ed. “Śilpa Śāstra.” In The Indian Antiquary. Edited by J. F. Kearns, 230–237, 293–297. Delhi: Indological Book Reprint Corporation, 1989.

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                                                            Originally published in August 1876. Provides astrological detail for the installation of images of deities.

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                                                            • Gode, Parashuram Krishna. Studies in Indian Literary History. Vol. 2. Singhi Jain Series No. 38. Bombay: Bhubhramavāda, 1954.

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                                                              Offers detailed information on Aryabhatta (born 476 CE), who assumed that the earth rotated once every twenty-four hours, a notion opposed by Appayadiksita (1549–1613 CE).

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                                                              • Kak, Subhash. “Development of Astronomy between the Vedanga Jyotisa and Aryabhata.” In Science and Civilization in India. Edited by G. C. Pande, 1–21. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                                                The article provides a survey of the history of Indian astronomy between 1300 BCE and 500 CE.

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                                                                • Kuppanna Sastry, T. S. Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadha. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1985.

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                                                                  Edition and translation of an important classical astronomical work. It is one of the “classics” of Indian astronomy.

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                                                                  • Pingree, Robert. Jyotiśāstra: Astral and Mathematical Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1981.

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                                                                    Provides an overview of primary and secondary literature.

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                                                                    • Rénou, Louis, and Filliozat Jean. L’Inde classique Tome II. Paris: École Francaise d’Extrême Orient” Hanoi, 1953.

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                                                                      With the collaboration of P. Demieville, O. Lacombe, and P. Meile. Offers detailed description of authors and sources. At the time of publication it was the most extensive up-to-date survey of the subject with full bibliographic details. See “Astronomie” (pp. 177–194) and “Notions the Chronologie” (pp. 720–738).

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                                                                      • Sarma, Krishna Venkateshvara, ed. and trans. Siddhānta Darpanam by Nilakantha Somayajin. Madras, India: Adyar Library and Research Centre, n.d.

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                                                                        Original text and English translation of an important mediaeval Indian astronomer. The author and his work are recognized as important by those who know something about the matter.

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                                                                        • Thibaut, G., “Astronomie, Astrologie und Mathematik.” In Grundriss der indo-arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde, Vol. 3. Strassburg, Germany: Trübner, 1899.

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                                                                          Thibaut was one of the leading Indologists of his time. He contributed to the “Grundriss…” a summary of all then known ancient Indian texts on Astronomy and Mathematics which is still worth reading.

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                                                                          • Thibaut, George, and Sureshvaran Dvivedi, eds. Pañcasiddhāntika. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba, 1968.

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                                                                            An important astronomical/astrological source.

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                                                                            • Winternitz, Moriz. Geschichte der Indischen Literatur. Vol. 3. Stuttgart: Koehler Verlag, 1968.

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                                                                              Reprint of 1920 edition. Offers a detailed account of sources and relevant literature that had appeared up to then. “Astronomie, Astrologie und Mathematik,” pp. 555–577.

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                                                                              Planets

                                                                              The observation of the planets (graha) and their movements, as well as the belief in their influence on persons and events, goes far back in Indian history. Graha, the Sanskrit word for planet, is derived from the root grh- to grasp, seize. There is, according to some scholars, literary evidence for the ancient Indians’ knowledge of planets and their orbits by 1900 BCE, which was expressed in the form of myths. The Epics and Puranas are filled with episodes that narrate in great detail the good and evil influences of the planets. Later astronomical literature offers fairly precise observations and calculations of the movements of the planets and their conjunctions. The full list of planets (together with their influence) as employed even today in Indian astrology, appears in texts like the Bṛhatsamhitā and Rājamārtaṇḍa: In the geocentric Hindu universe sun and moon also figure as planets, in addition to those recognized today as such. Each of the nine planets has many names in Sanskrit literature: Sun: sūrya, ravi, bhanu, savitr, bhāskara, arka, prabhākara. Moon: candra, indu, candramas, soma, śasī, niś akara. Mars: angāraka, kuja, bhauma, vakra, lohitānga, rudhir. Mercury: budha, bodhan, vibhud, kumāra, rājaputra, saumya. Jupiter: guru, brhaspati, vākpati, giriśa, suri. Venus: śukra, bhṛgu, bhṛgusuta, sītā, kavi, kavyā. Saturn: sanaiśvara, sauri, suryaputra, manda, asita, sani. Rahu: tamah, agu, asura, svarbhanu, dānava, surāri. Ketu: sīkin, brahmasuta, dhumravarna. While the first seven coincide with the heavenly bodies known universally, the last two are peculiarly Indian: Rahu, the ascending node: represented as a head (whose body is Ketu) that swallows the moon, and Ketu, the descending node: represented as a trunk (to which Rahu is the head) from which the moon is emitted again. (Ketu may also mean a comet, or a meteor.) The planets are associated with colors, deities, directions, varnas (classes), body parts, habitats, flavors, etc. The traditional Indian science of Jyotisa embraces both astronomy and astrology and is also taught at university level institutions in India. Since the establishment of birth horoscopes is still almost universal in India, there is much scope for professionals in Jyotisa who also have begun working with computers to produce kundlis. Already the Grhya Sutras and the Brahmanas know favorable and unfavorable asterisms. According to the Dharmasutras the astrologer is as important as the purohita for a ruler. One of the most important ancient texts is Varahamihira’s Bṛhatsamhitā (Sanskrit text with Hindi translation, Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba, 1959). Discussed in Winternitz 1968 (cited under The Scientific Basis of the Hindu Calendar).

                                                                              • Kak, Subhash. “Planetary Periods from the Rigvedic Code.” Mankind Quarterly 33 (1993): 1–10.

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                                                                                Kak assumes that the Rigveda contains an astronomical code which he was able to decipher. See also “Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy.” In Astronomy across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy. Edited by H. Selin, 303–340. Boston: Kluwer Academic.

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                                                                                • Kak, Subhash. “The Astronomy of the Age of Geometric Altars.” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 36 (1995).

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                                                                                  Based on his assumption that the Rigveda contains an ancient astronomical code, Subhash Kak provides a correspondence between the architecture of Vedic altars and the movements of the planets. Volume 37 published in 1996 (“Knowledge of Planets in the Third Millennium BCE,” pp. 709–715).

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                                                                                  • Kak, Subhash. “Development of Astronomy between the Vedanga Jyotisa and Aryabhata.” In Science and Civilization in India. Edited by G. C. Pande, 1–21. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                    This is a historical overview of the development of early Indian astronomy.

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                                                                                    • The Manava Srautasutra. Translated by Jeanette Marie van Gelder. Sata-Pitaka-Series No.27. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1963.

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                                                                                      Mentions new moon and full moon sacrifices. A general overview can be found in Paul Thomas, Epics, Myths and Legends of India (Bombay: Tareporewala 1961), chapter 9 “The Sun, Moon, Earth and other Planets” (pp.113–121); chap. 12, “Principal Hindu Holidays” (pp.136–142) with an illustration of the Zodiac (Plate LX).

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                                                                                      The Cosmic Calendar

                                                                                      Ancient Hindus were not satisfied with establishing a calendar mapping the movements of sun and moon within a year, but they believed that there were longer periods of time that showed calendric regularities and that were important to know. These are “Ages of Manus” (Manvantara), “World Ages” (Yuga), and “Ends of the World” (Pralaya)– periods of great length but finite. They constitute what might be called the “cosmic calendar.” Manu is the name for the forefather of all humans (manusyamanusya), a parallel to the Biblical Adam. However, there is not just one but there are fourteen Manus, each initiating a new race of humanity. There is no unanimity in Hindu literature with regard to the length allotted to a Manvantara, nor with regard to their number. According to Manusmṛti 1.63 a Manvantara comprises 1/14th of a Day of Brahma or 4,320,000 human years. Fourteen Manvantaras constitute one full Day of Brahma. Each of the fourteen periods is presided over by its own Manu. We are presently living in the seventh Manvantara with seven more to come before the end of the current Day of Brahma. The first Manu was Manu Svayambhuva, who produced the ten Prajapatis (“Progenitors” of famous human races). He is also the author of the Manusmṛti, arguably the most important Hindu Code of Laws. The present Manu, born from the sun, is the creator of the now living race of human beings. He was saved from the great flood by Visnu in the form of a fish (Matsya-avatara). He is also the founder of the solar race of kings who ruled over Ayodhya. The names of the fourteen Manus are not identical in all sources. The most widely accepted list reads (1) Svayāmbhuva, (2) Svārocisa, (3) Auttami, (4) Tāmasa, (5) Raivata, (6) Cāksusa, (7) Vaivasvata, (8) Sāvaṛni, (9) Daksasāvaṛni, (10) Brahmasāvaṛni, (11) Dharmasāvaṛni, (12) Rudrasāvaṛni, (13) Raucya-daivasāvaṛni and (14) Indrasāvaṛni. The first six Manus belong to the past––the last seven to the future. The sequence of Manvantaras is a much discussed topic in much of classical Sanskrit literature. Manusmṛti 1.63 and Bhāgavata Purāṇa 2.2 provide complete lists of manvantaras.

                                                                                      Yuga

                                                                                      The term yuga (literally “yoke”) is sometimes used for the number four and as designation of various periods of time. In early Indian astronomy it designated a five-year cycle (beginning with the conjunction of sun and moon in the Dhanista naksatra on the first tithi of śuklapaksa of Māgha, the autumnal equinox). In that period of five years the solar year of 366 days and the lunar year of 360 days were “yoked” together by adding two intercalary months at the end of the third and fifth year when the cycle of sixty-two full and new moons was completed. More popularly the term yuga is connected with the “world-ages” (kalpas) made up of four yugas. Traditional accounts do not agree on their length. According to Manusmṛti each kalpa begins with a Krta-yuga, lasting four thousand years, followed by a Treta-yuga, lasting three thousand years, a Dvāpara-yuga of two thousand years, and finally a Kali-yuga (“Age of Strife”) lasting one thousand years. Each of these yugas is preceded and followed by a sandhya (twilight (lasting six hundred, four hundred, and two hundred years respectively. The four (human) yugas together comprise twelve thousand human years: this span of time is called a yuga of the devas (divya-yuga). One thousand of these divya-yugas constitute one Day of Brahma––the same duration is allotted to one night of Brahma. Seventy-two combinations of twelve thousand divya-yugas constitute one Manvantara. In the Puranas we find variant accounts of yugas––all connected with huge numbers. According to the Visnu Purana each Mahāyuga (= Day of Brahma) consists of a Kṛta- or Satya-yuga lasting 1,728,000 human years, a Treta-yuga, lasting 1,296,000 years, a Dvapara-yuga, lasting 864,000 years, and a Kali-yuga, lasting 432,000 years. According to the Purana the condition of the world is constantly deteriorating and living conditions for humans worsen from the Kṛta-yuga (the Golden Age) down to the Kali-yuga (the Iron-Age). In the Kṛta- yuga dharma was four-footed and complete––and so was truth––and no gain accrued to humans by unrighteousness. In the other three yugas the dharma was successively deprived of one foot and through theft, falsehood and fraud merit was diminished by one fourth. People were free from disease in the Kṛta age: they accomplished all their aims and lived four hundred years. In the succeeding ages life was lessened by one quarter each. In the Krta-yuga austerity was the chief virtue, in the Treta-yuga wisdom, in Dvāpara-yuga the performance of rituals, in the Kali-yuga dana (“giving,” charity) is the means to find salvation. According to the Visnu Purana the Kali-yuga will end with the apparition of Visnu’s Kalki-avatara who will defeat the wicked and liberate the virtuous and initiate a new Kṛta-yuga. Among the Puranas the Visnupurana (Joshi 2002) is the most important source. For information on divisions of time see Visnudharmottara Purana.

                                                                                      • Joshi, K. L., ed. Dvaipāyanavyāsapraṇītaṃ Śrīviṣṇupurāṇam. Translated by H. H. Wilson. Delhi: Parimal, 2002.

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                                                                                        Reprint, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1961. The Visnu Purana is one of the oldest and most authoritative of the Puranas. It is considered a “revealed scripture” by the Vaisnavas. Previously published in Sanskrit. Visnupurana (Gorakhpur, India: Gita Press). English translation by H. H. Wilson, originally published in 1840.

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                                                                                        • Kloetzli, W. Randolph. “Ptolemy and Purana: Gods Born as Men.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 38 (2010): 583–623.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/s10781-010-9104-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Among many questions raised by Kloetzli 2010 about the yugas and kalpas are whether the days (northern course/devayana) and nights (southern course/pitryana) are to be understood as the sun’s motion from solstice to solstice or from equinox to equinox.

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                                                                                          • Macdonell, Arthur Anthony, and Arthur Berriedale Keith. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects. Vol. 2. Indian Texts Series. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967.

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                                                                                            Originally published in 1912. Offers some discussion of the Vedic five-year yuga cycle.

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                                                                                            • Visnudharmottara Purana. Bombay: Venkat Press, 1834.

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                                                                                              Chaps. 72–73, division of time. A summary is provided by R C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas (Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1958), Vol. 1, Major Vaisnava Upapuranas, p. 161 The Visnudharmottara Purana is a so-called “Upa-Purana,” of lesser authority than the “Maha-Puranas.”

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                                                                                              Pralaya

                                                                                              Traditional Hindu cosmology presupposes an endless cycle of periodic creations (sarga) and dissolutions (pralaya) of the universe. Viṣṇu Purāna 6.2 ff speaks of three kinds of pralaya: the first one is called naimittika pralaya (“occasional”) and occurs at the end of a kalpa, coinciding with a Night of Brahma, to be followed by a new Day of Brahma. The second is called prākṛtika pralaya (“material”) and occurs at the end of a Life of Brahma, after two Parārdhas (two times ten years to the 17th!), ending one Day of Visnu. The third is called atyāntika pralaya (“final”) terminating all notions of time and individual existence. The text describes in great detail the processes involved in each of these. In naimittika pralaya all the worlds are burned up and absorbed by Visnu, who then reposes for a thousand kalpas (= One Night of Brahma) on śeṣa (the world-snake) in the midst of the original ocean. “Awaking, at the end of his night, the unborn Visnu, in the form of Brahma, creates the universe anew.” In prakrtika pralaya, after the dissolution of all entities, the elements (bhūtas) are absorbing each other till unformed prakrti (primary matter) alone remains. This pralaya also involves the Egg of Brahma (brahmāṇḍa) and eventually prakŗti itself is dissolved in Puruṣottama. The Life of a Brahma is equal to a Day of Viṣṇu, or, according to some sources, just a blink of Visnu, who after an equally long Night issues Brahma again to begin another world cycle. Atyantika pralaya results in the complete and final absorption of jīvas (living souls) into Viṣṇu. In addition to these three, the Agni Purāṇa mentions a fourth, nitya pralaya: the end of individual bodily existence.

                                                                                              • Biardeau, Madeleine. Etudes de mythologie hindoue, I, Cosmogonies purāṇiques. Vol. 128. Paris: Publication de l’ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient, 1981.

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                                                                                                An excellent discussion which integrates the structures of yugas, sandhyas, manvantaras, kalpas, pralayas, and avataras.

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                                                                                                • Fleet, J. F. “The Kaliyuga Era of B.C. 3102.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1911): 479–496, 675–698.

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                                                                                                  Discusses the usual traditional dagte of the beginning of the Kali-yuga against the background of mainly Puranic texts.

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                                                                                                  • Kloetzli, W. Randolph. “Myriad Concerns: Indian Macro-Time Intervals (Yugas, Sandhyas and Kalpas) as Systems of Number.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 41 (2013): 631–653.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1007/s10781-013-9196-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    An analysis of these divisions of time as the joining of three systems of number.

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                                                                                                    • Pingree, David E. “History of Mathematical Astronomy in India.” In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 15–16, Supplement I. Edited by Charles Coulton Gillespie, 533–633. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1978.

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                                                                                                      Good on Indian astronomy and its sources.

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                                                                                                      • Thompson, Richard L. The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000. 212–223.

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                                                                                                        Good treatment of Bhagavata Purana cosmography against background of scientific astronomy and other puranic texts and the Mahabharata’s Book 6 cosmography.

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