-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi
Dr. Mishra is National Coordinator of Jyotish at Mukta-Swadhyaya-Peetham (Institute of Distance Education), Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi
“Time never marks its beginning with a thunderstorm”, this quotation of Thomas Mann does indicate the lack of concepts of the beginning of time in western world which often termed as Epoch, Era in historical parlance. While in Bharatvarsha, numerous eras have been in practice since Vedic period. The most ancient eras like; Brahma-Samvat, Srishti-Samvat, Kartikeya Samvat etc are purely the concept of prodigious Indian mind and no such era is being mentioned in any other civilization. Such concepts not only emphatically establish the antiquity of Aryan or Indian civilization but also indicate its height of advancement in academic, social and political perspective. As mentioned before, several Samvatsaras or eras described in Vedic and Pauranic scriptures were being practiced in India and being followed by other cultures with subtle changes according to their suitability. Before defining several Samvatsaras its concept must be understood first.
In Vedas, the word Samvatsara (short form is Samvat) is used for year. The definition of Samvatsara is ‘Samvasanti ritavah yasmin’ means ‘in which Ritu or season does reside’. Hence Samvatsara is the collection or cycle of seasons. Now the question is that why the word ‘ritavah’ used to define the meaning of Samvatsara or how Ritu does related to Samvatsar? Actually the answer is in the word itself which is derived from the root verb ‘tsara’ (Bhwaadi-gana, 554) that means ‘to move in hiding (Chhadma or Vakra) or curve’. We know that the Earth’s curved motion in its elliptical orbit constantly changes its direction that causes seasons or Ritus. One must understand that the primary cause of life on earth lies on her constantly changing seasons. Therefore ‘Samvatsar’, the originator of seasons, also called as ‘Prajapati’. In the space of solar system there are 6 zones of varying energy which are called as ‘Vashatkara’. Parallel to 6 Vashatkara in space, there are 6 seasons on earth, each extending to motion of sun in 2 signs (60 degrees). The word Varsha or Sharad clearly manifests its relation with Ritu (such as ‘Varsha’ & ‘Sharad’) or season. Aitreya Brahmana (7/17) defines the Samvatsar- It means, there are 360 Ahaani (24 hours) or 720 Ahoraatraas (days & nights) in a year (Samvatsar).
Synonyms of Samvatsar are Samvat, Vatsara, Varsha, Haayan, Shaka, Sharad, San etc. Each synonym ensconces different meaning, form and usage of Samvatsara in it. Another meaning of Samvatsara is Sam+vat+sarati (Sameekrirooopena saranti yasmaat kaalaat sa Samvatsara) that means the period from which everything start from the balanced state. In other words, it is a particular point of time from which all move accordingly and simultaneously. In fact, when a king wanted to start a particular Samvatsara or Samvat he tended to release his subject from all kinds of debts. Thus new financial year, and later on, the academic sessions etc did start from the commencement of Samvatsara. Hence, all our activities, financial year, academic sessions, festivals etc tends to move along with Samvatsara. It also means ‘a series of sequential years’ that started from a phenomenon like Yudhishthir Samvat, Kali Samvat, Vikram Samvat etc.
The Cause of the beginning of Samvatsara:
There must be a social, sacral, gracious or political cause behind the commencement of any Samvatsara. Several sacrifices (Shraut & Smaart Yaag) like ‘Aagraayaneshti’, ‘Navaanneshti’ ‘Chaaturmaasya’ etc tended to start at the beginning of Samvatsar. Whenever a king wanted to introduce a new Samvat or era he had to amortize all the debts of his subject. This uniqueness of introducing a new Samvat makes Indian civilization more sublime than rest of the world.
The time of the start of Samvatsara (or Era):
In Vedic tradition, the start of any era (Samvat or Shaka) generally coincides with particular celestial phenomena. Why? It is because our ancestors had a strong belief that there is a direct relation among time, planetary motion and mundane world. Some of those copiously mentioned phenomena which used as the commencement points of any Samvatsar are:
- Vernal equinox (Vasanta Sampaat) – When sun comes at equator on 23rd March (Visuva-din).
- Summer solstice (Dakshinayana) – When sun reaches at the farthest point in his northward motion and starts southward journey on 23rd June.
- Autumnal equinox (Sharat Sampaat) – When sun crosses equator on 23rd September.
- Winter solstice (Uttarayana) – When sun reaches at the farthest point in south and starts northward journey on 22nd December.
Based on these phenomena, there are several systems (or ways) used to manifest a year or Samvatsar. For an instance, one of the calendars starts from the Uttarayana or winter solstice. It is the beginning of divya–din (day of devas). Bhishma Pitamaha waited for 58 days after falling on the bed of arrows on 10th day of Mahabharat war in 3139 BC. As it is start of ‘divya-dina’, it is commonly called as ‘Bada-dina’. As solar year starts with this month so Krishna in Gita (10/35) said that he is Margashirsha among months. It is called ‘Agrahayana’ because it is starting month (agra) of ‘Hayana’ or year. Year or hayana has two halves or ayans: Uttarayan and dakshinayan. Since equinoctial point is moving backward in about 26,000 years (300 in about 2000 years) therefore in Bhaarateeya chronological history, almost at intervals of 2 or 3 thousand years one can find the commencement of new system of calendar.