Reflecting on Panchanga

TRADITIONAL LEARNINGS

S. Ainavolu

3/28/2022 6 min read

Reflecting on Panchanga, the Vedic Calendar

Introduction

Panch-anga is the traditional calendar followed in India. “Pancha” means five and “Anga” means parts or branches, thus “Panchanga” means “five parts”. Panchanga is a holistic calendar that indicates different parameters for a given day, periods for performing certain activities, auspicious times for major events. It also gives general predictions for the specific year based on planets' astrologically interpreted “movement”. Astronomically the alignment and visibility between different space entities change over a period of time with a certain periodicity. Vedanga of Jyotish (Astrology) uses this knowledge and ascribes and predicts the possible happenings for different groups of people. Panchanga uses calculations based on Astrological principles and incorporates predictions with respect to Moon/ Chandra. The dominant method of clustering people is based on the “Moon sign” in Vedic Astrology. Moon sign is the “rashi” in which Moon was located at the time of one’s birth. A similar notion around Sun is used in Western Astrology. “Sun sign” method used in the western method of astrological predictions is more popular with our NextGen.

Traditional time measurement

Pachanga divides the typical year into two, Uttara-ayana and Dakshina-ayana, based on relative northward or southward movement with respect to Sun. It also gives us six ritus and twelve months. Ritus broadly indicate the seasons. Varsha ritu signifies rainy season, Sharad, the onset of winter. Two months is one ritu. Each month is divided into two pakshas, Shukla (waxing moon) and Krishna (waning moon). We know that 360-degree space is divided into twelve rashis. Moon (Chandra) transits each rashi in two and quarter days. Thus, its movement across twelve rashis takes close to a month. And, it takes twelve such months for Sun to complete the transiting of all twelve rashis. That makes one full year. The names of traditional months are based on the Moon’s presence in a particular nakshatra/star on the full moon day of that month. In other words, if the Purnima of the month happens when the moon is in the constellation of Chitra, then the month is Chaitra masa. If moon on a month’s Purnima is in Visakha nakshatra, then the month is Vaisakha masa/month. Thus, we have twelve months of Chaitra, Vaisakha, Jyesta etc. till finally the Phalguna. Many regions in India follow the Chaitra as the first month in their calendar. Select few consider Vaisakha or even Karthik as the first month. There are certain regional variations across India. Irrespective of these differences, Vedic calendar contains same twelve months. To account for the differences due to differential transits and factor-in excess days, the cumulative extra days are accommodated every few years as one excess month, called “adhika masa”. Through this method of extra month every few years, the balance is achieved.

Tithi

Panchanga’s five aspects are tithi, vara, nakshatra, yoga and karana. Of these five, the first two are well known, the third is lesser known, and the last two are almost unknown to general users. The tithis signify shodasha (sixteen) kalas of the Moon. Amavasya and Purnima are on two extreme ends, one when the moon is invisible and the second, with full presence. There are fourteen kalas (nuances) in between these two extremes of no-moon and full-moon. Thus, there are total sixteen different degrees of presence of Moon that happen in a month, and this cycle gets repeated every Lunar month. The counting order of the nuances of moon are simply one, two, three etc. The Sanskrit names of these being Prathama, Dwitiya, Tritiya etc. Chaturthi, Panchami, Shashti, Saptami, Ashtami and Navami count remaining single digit days. Comes the tenth day as Dashami, one plus ten become Eka+Dashi, next is Dwa+Dashi, and thirteenth is Trayo+Dashi (three plus ten). Chaturdashi completes the count as fourteenth. Amavasya and Purnima are special, existing at either end as nodes. These two are reserved often for special spiritual exercises or pujas. Every month, the monthly “tarpana” for departed ancestors is performed on Amavasya. Often havan / pujas are performed on Purnima days.

Many regions of the country have months ending with Amavasya and a few have ending with Purnima. Additionally, a few regions in India follow the Souramana or the Sun transit-based method of beginning new month. Given the cyclicality of Earth’s encircling around Sun, the monthly transit into twelve rashis happens around 14th or 15th of every month. This is called masa-Sankranthi. When such an event happens during Vaisakha month, it is celebrated as “Poila Baisakh”, the new year in Banga or Bengal. When such an event happens during January, it is celebrated as “Pongal” festival in Tamil Nadu.

Vara

Comparatively Vara is more commonly known among five “angas”. Seven weekdays are named after seven grahas (“planets”). Though Panchanga and Calendar systems have evolved over different geographies over different time periods, there is commonality in the nomenclature. Probably the knowledge of our Solar system diffused across cultures and this knowledge got incorporated into the “week system”. Sun being the centre of our solar system, the Sunday known as Aditya-var or Ravi-var is the beginning. Astrologically Sun/Surya signifies the self, the individual's overall health, and the “head” portion of the body. Thus, it is apt that week begins with Sun. While the head signifies “rational” thinking part, the manas/soft-heart part is governed and controlled by Moon/Chandra (Soma). Hence, the second day is called Somvar. Soma etymologically means “Sa+Uma” (along with Uma). It is the “complete” name of Shiva as he is the one who comes as “along with Uma”. Moon/Chandra is the closest proxy that represents real Soma. Appropriately titled, other weekdays are Mangal/ Budha/ Guru/ Shukra/ Shani, mapped to Mars/ Mercury/ Jupiter/ Venus/ Saturn respectively. The mapping of the full day to a planet is implicit from the name of the weekday. There is also a Vedic concept of hora (part of the day) and each full day has number of horas. Each day has these horas that cover different time periods of the day. Reportedly the influence of the concerned planet is maximum during its hora on a day.

Nakshatra, its pada/charana and others

There exists total of twenty-seven nakshatras. Ashwin onwards the moon’s transit happens in each nakshatra constellation for close to twenty-four hours. Each of the nakshatra is divided into four parts called pada/charana. Thus, a total of 27 times 4 meaning 108 pada/charanas exist. Depending on which pada/charana of the star/nakshatra one is born, specific rashi is ascribed to the person. In other words, the person is said to be born in that “rashi”. The gochara based on various transits of planets is inferred based on the rashi. In other words, gochara interpretation based on the relative positioning of grahas/planets with respect to Chandra/moon’s presence at the time of birth of the person. The Panchanga provides broad predictions based on the transit of grahas for each of the twelve rashis. Relatively unknown and less used among the five angas are yoga and karana. These are the sum of nirayana rekhanshas divided, and half of the tithi respectively.

Macro-predictions

The micro-centred predictions for individuals clustered as “rashi” (moon sign) are provided by the Panchanga above. In addition to this, macro-centered predictions too are provided in the Panchanga. Based on the placement of major planets during the year and various aspects / conjunctions / constellations that happen during the year, predictions are made on an annual basis. The general weather conditions and rain-fall and other seismic events that may happen are also predicted. The crops that shall have favourable outcomes are fore-told. General political happenings, wars and famines are also commented upon on their possibility. One of the ways of commenting on the year ahead is, if the year beginning is happening on particular weekday, then the lord of that day shall be the “king”, one who decides major occurrences. The next day’s “lord” shall be the minister and so forth. As an illustration, if the year beginning is happening on say on Saturday, then the “king” for the year shall be Shani/Saturn (as is the case for this year) and the mantri/minister is Jupiter/Guru, the lord of the advice. Based on the characteristics of these grahas/planets which play particular role for the incoming year, the phaladesha or the expected results are given.

On a closing note

Panchanga is based on our traditional astronomical knowledge and the calculations inspire awe. It is intense mathematical exercise involving large number of cascading computations. Precision is required. Vedanga of Jyotisha (Astrology) also draws from the same knowledge base that existed for thousands of years. There were no observational and computing devices then. Holistic understanding of the subject, intuition, and revelation facilitated Panchanga calculations. Eclipses are an example that prove the accuracy of proposals contained in Pachanga.

Year is the micro representation of the macro timeline. It is full cycle and complete in itself with all seasons. It is truly mini replica of the macro. Thus, new year festival is also known as Yug-adi! Our journey gets realigned at the beginning of every new year. The day may begin with revisiting our awareness about the macro portion - the universe, contemplating climate actions, and resolving to adopt more sustainability-related measures. Micro steps count and save the macro. At the micro-level, we may respect the wisdom in Panchanga and study the new year Panchanga - our guide into the unknown timeline called “future”. May tomorrow be a brighter tomorrow with Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya as today’s prayer.