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THE VEDIC CALENDAR


 

Although the Srivaishnava Sampradaya is a larger one with many splinter groups within viz. Ahobila Mutt followers, Srimad Andavan Ashram, Chithanya - ISKON, Vadakalai - Thenkalai, Swayamacharyals, etc. the main and intended purpose of observing the Visesha Panchanga saram and how to read the panchangam is listed below. There is not much difference to the type & style of reading panchang among Sri Vaishnavas excepting some slight difference in festival dates observation. However, The Srivaishnava Sampradaya Panchangam list of festivals (in English) is given in another page in this site; that might slightly vary from the Madhva or Shaivite sampradayam; the vital Srivaishnava Festival listing (In Tamil) is given according to the followers of Sri Ramanuja.  

TRS Iyengar

HOW IT WORKS

 

This essay explains how the Vedic lunar calendar works and why for the days of ekadasi separate calculations have to be made for all different time-zones. The reason to present this topic is that the calendar is important for the proper practicing of our spiritual activities.

 

The most important difference between the Vaisnava and the western calendar is that the Vaisnava calendar made according to the calculations of the movements of the moon and the western according to the movements of the sun. 

There are to ways to calculate the duration of months and year. The solar and the lunar. The solar month is equal to the duration of time needed for the suns traveling through one whole zodiac. In one zodiac there are 12 signs each covering an angle of 30 degrees. The sun in the zodiac moves every day one degree and thus it needs 30 days to pass through the whole zodiac. Actually, more precisely, the duration of one month is 30,4 days. 12 such months consist one solar year of a little bit more then 365 days. With other words, the duration of one solar month is equal to the necessary time of the sun to come back to the same group of the stars. This solar year is nicely harmonized with the four seasons of the year.

 

 

 

To understand the lunar year is little bit more difficult. The Vedic definition of lunar month is based on the changing of the moon from dark to the full moon and backward. While the sun needs one year to make one round around the zodiac, the moon does the same in one month. We know that the moon is sometimes dark, sometimes a half moon and sometimes a full moon. This is understood from our position on the earth when we see how much sun is covering the sun. When the sun and the moon are close to each other in the zodiac, only the back side of the moon (when observed from the earth) is illuminated, and the most of its pat remains dark. In the case when the sun is in the one and the moon in the other part of the zodiac, the side of the moon which we can observe from the earth, at that time will be fully illuminated and we will see the full moon. In all other position of the sun and the moon, we will see the moon illuminated by the sun to different degrees.

 

 

 

In the lunar calendar, the month begins when the moon is full and it continues to the next full moon. This lasts for 29,5 days. As 12 solar months consist 1 solar year, thus 12 lunar months consist 1 lunar year. Because the duration of the lunar month is 29,5 days, the 12 months of lunar year equals 354 days. Thus the lunar year is shorter for 11 days from the solar year (which has 365 days) and therefore, it is not in harmony with the changing of the seasons. To harmonize the lunar year with the seasons, every third year there is an additional month. Thus the shorter lunar year becomes perfectly attuned with the solar year.

 

 

THE VAISNAVA PANCHANGA

 

 

The Vaisnava calendar is called pancanga. The word pancange means that the calendar consists of five parts or that it gives information about five elements. These elements are: vara (a day in the week), tithi (the lunar day), parana (half of the tithi), naksatra (constellation) and yoga (the planetary combination).

 

 

 

Tithi. We described that the lunar month is a period from one full moon to the another full moon. The lunar month is divided into 30 parts of which each part is called a day or tithi. The tithis are simply the different changing of the moon. Thus the first tithi begins at the full moon (when the angel between the sun and the moon is 180 degrees), and it continues as long as the angel is not increased for 12 degrees. Thus, one small part of the illuminated moon becomes unobservable from the earth (or with other words, the moon is not anymore full). At that time, another tithi begins which lasts as long as the angel between the sun and the moon again increases for additional 12 degrees. Then the moon becomes even less full. After 15 of such tithis the angel between the sun and the moon becomes 360 degrees (or 0 degrees). Because of that, the illuminated side of the moon cannot be visible at all. After the following 15 tithis the moon becomes again full moon and thus by passing of 30 tithis the duration of one month becomes over.

 

 

 

The fortnight period of waning moon is Krsna paksa and the fortnight period of waxing moon is called gaura paksa. Some lunar calendars start the calculation of the month when the moon is in the position of 0 degree or just after the dark moon. This type of calendar is called mukhya candra. The other calendars which we follow start imediately with ful moon with Krsna paksa and are called gaura candra. The speed of the moon in relation to the sun is not always the same and therefore, the duration of the tithis are varying between 19 and 26 hours. Thus the lunar tithi is not the same as the solar day of 24 hours. In this way the tithi can begin at any time during the day. The names of the tithis are same during the krsna paksa (the dark moon period) and gaura paksa (the full mon period) except the names of the full and dark moons.

 

 

 

Naksatra. The configuration of the stars in the background is called zodiac and it is divided in 12 signs of which each one covers 30 degrees (360 degrees in a circle). Another way to divide the zodiac is on 27 parts of which each one then covers 13 1/3 degrees (27x 13 1/3=360). All these different parts are called naksatras. Moving in the zodiac, the moon is always crossing through different nakshatra one after another. In the pancanga the nakshatra refers to naksatra in which the moon is momentarily present.

 

 

 

Yoga. The tithis and the nakshatras can be simply understood according to the signs in the sky. The tithi is the changing of the moon and the nakshatra is the position of the moon. Now, it is not at all easy to understand yoga in a similar way and so we will only mention that, just as the nakshatra the yoga has also 27 divisions. In our daily use of Vaisnava calendar, the consideration of yoga is not very important.

 

 

 

WHY WE FOLLOW THE LUNAR AND NOT SOLAR CALENDAR.


 

 

In the Vaisnava calendar the time of different festivals and celebrations is calculated according to the tithi. Sometimes other things are also considered like nakshatra etc. most of the scholars who studied the different Indian calendars, both the solar and the lunar, came to conclusion that the lunar calendar is the most ancient and the original one. It well known that the changing of the moon influence the different aspects of life, not only the agriculture (what is generally well known), but the subtle aspects of human life as well.

 

 

CALCULATING THE TIME OF EKADASI


 

The solar day begins with sunrise and it continues till the beginning of the next sunrise. On which days we should celebrate certain tithis? Different scriptures give different rules how to calculate that. In the following section there is a list of rules given in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa. 

 

 

 

THE POSITION OF THE TITHIS


 

 

The general rule is that one should celebrate the tithi on that day when the sunrise accrue  within the tithi. Sometimes the tithi don't match with the sunrise but starts after the sunrise and ends before the next sunrise. Such tithi is placed within the day in which day it falls. If the tithi is touching the two sunrises the priority is given to the first day.

 

 

 

In estimating the day on which we have to follow the ekadasi there is a difference between the Brahmanical and the smarta tradition. In the smarta tradition the rule for calculating the day of ekadsi is the same as the general rule for calculating the tithi. With other words the tithi must begin before the sunrise. However, that the ekadasi is sudha or pure, in the Vaisnava tradition the ekadasi must start at least two muhurtas before the sunrise. This period of two muhurtas is called Brahma-muhurta or arunodaya.

 

 

If the ekadasi tithi starts after the Brahma muhurta, even if it is before sunrise, that ekadasi is called viddha or contaminated and on that day one have to reject fasting for ekadasi. Fasting for ekadasi have to be observed the other day. 

 

 

 

Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed us to avoid the observing of "mixed ekadasi".  In the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta He says: "You should recommend the avoidance of mixed Ekadasi and the performance of pure Ekadasi. You should also describe the fault in not observing Ekadasi. One should be very careful as far as these items are concerned. If one is not careful, one will be negligent in executing devotional service."

 

 

 

The "mixed ekadasi" is the translation of "viddha ekadasi" described in the Hari-bhaki-vilas.

 

 

Under certain circumstances which are called mahadvadasis, one don't fast on ekadasi but on the next day even if the Ekadasi is not viddha but suddha or pure. There are 8 different types of mahadvadasis of which 4 are determined by tithis and 4 by nakshatra.

 

 

1.       If the ekadasi starts at daybreak and ends after the sunrise next day, or with other words if the duration of the ekadasi is longer, the second day is called unmili mahadvadasi. In this case one should follow ekadasi vrata on the second day.

 

2.       If after suddha ekadasi the dvadasi tithi starts before the next sunrise and lasts until the other sunrise or with other words, the dvadasi is longer, the first dvadasi is called vyanjuli mahadvadasi. On this day, one should follow the kadasi vrata.


3.        If the ekdasi tithi is prevailing during the dawn and the dvadasi ends before the next sunrise (or with other words trayodasi begins on same day), that day when three tithis are touching the day is called trisprisa mahadvadasi. On that day one should follow the ekadasi vrata.


 

4.       If the full moon day is longer lasting through two sunrises the previous dvadasi is called praksavardini mahadvadasi. On that day one should follow the ekadasi vrata.  


 

5.       If on the day of gaura dvadasi the purnavasu naksatra is also there that day is called jaya mahadvadasi.


 

6.       If on the day of gaura dvadasi the rohini naksatra is also there that day is called jayanti mahadvadasi.


 

7.       If on the day of gaura dvadasi the pushya naksatra is also there that day is called nasini mahadvadasi.


 

8.       If on the day of gaura dvadasi the sravana nakshatra is alos there that day is called vijaya mahadvadasi


 

In the 5th, 6th and 7th cases the period of the day of gaura dvadasi must begin before sunrise and end at sunset. In

 the 8th case the tithi must begin before the sunrise but end before the sunset. In all these cases (from 5-8) that the

 day is considered to be a mahadvadasi the naksatra have to start at sunrise and end at the next sunrise on trayodasi.

 

 

 

SPECIAL FESTIVALS


 

 

The day of Govardhana puja is on the full moon day - gaura pratipat - in the month of Damodara. If the pratipat starts after sunrise and ends before the next sunrise the Govardhana puja should not be observed at  that day because it is contaminated with amavasya. The festival should be observed on the next day on dvitiya. If the pratipat is longer, the Govardhan puja have to be celebrated on that day of the month on which the moon is growing. If the appearance or disappearance of the acarya is on the day of suddha ekadasi or on mahadvadasi, the feesting should be on the next day. Although Lord Vaman appeared on dvadasi fasting for this occasion is observed on previous ekadasi day. The Vamana puja is held on the midnight of ekadasi day or in the morning of dvadasi before parana. However, if the dvadasi is combined together with sravana nakshatra, according to the rules of mahadvadasi, one should fast for ekadasi and Vamana dvadasi on the day of mahadvadasi and stop fasting on the next day. (This same principle is applied on  other types of mahadvadasi.)

 

 

 

Rama navamiis usually celebrated at gaura navami in the month of Visnu. However, if the dasami (the tithi for parana) is on the same day as navami and the ekadasi tithi starts at the dawn after the day of navami, the appearance day of of Lord Ramacandra should be celebrated on the day of astami. And the parana will be on navami. Janmashtami, the appearance day of Sri Krsna is on the day of Krsna ashtami at the month of Hrsikes. If the astami is trisprisa or contaminated with saptami the Janmastami festival should not be celebrated on the very same day but on the next day. If the astami covers two sunrises, the janmashtami festivity should be held n the day when the Rohini naksatra is dominant. And if Rohini is prevailing over two days the proper day for celebration is that in which Rohini is there in the midnight as well. However, if Rohini is there in both midnight the celebration is held in the first day of the two days. If Rohini is not prevailing in neither of these two days, the day of Janmashtami is observed on Monday or Wednesday. If no one of these days is Monday or Wednesday you can chose the first day. Ratha yatra is usually on the day of the day of gaura dvitiya in the month of Vamana. According to the scriptures the returning of the ratha is 9 tithis after, when we count the dvitiya as the first. However, the current tradition is to count the 9 days from dvitiya and not from tithi. Thus the returning of the ratha is sometimes on ekadasi and sometimes on navami.


 

PROBLEMS WITH CLASSICAL CALENDAR

 

 

 

There are basically two problems. The first problem is that in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa according to an important rule one who follows this calendar has to calculate everything according to the sunrise in the place where he lives. Therefore the calendar made for Calcutta or Navadvipa will be not the same as the calendar made for London etc. the dates for ekadasi and other festival days will certainly differ.      

       

 

 

 Translation by Sri Avadhuta Raya Das Prabhu

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