Concept of New Year (or Calendar) in Vedic System (Part- I)

-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi

mishraDr. 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).

Happy Chaitra Vikram Samvat 2071 and Happy Navratri 2014 by Vikrmn CA Verma 10 Alone

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:

  1. Vernal equinox (Vasanta Sampaat) – When sun comes at equator on 23rd March (Visuva-din).
  2. Summer solstice (Dakshinayana) – When sun reaches at the farthest point in his northward motion and starts southward journey on 23rd June.
  3. Autumnal equinox (Sharat Sampaat) – When sun crosses equator on 23rd September.
  4. 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 divyadin (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.

to be continued….

Ethics of the Gita – lessons for individuals to work according to their nature

– Dr. Shakuntala, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy,  University of Gauhati, Guwahati, Assam

Dr. Shakuntala did M.A. and Ph.D. from North-Easter-Hill-University, Shillong, Meghalaya. She has authored the following books – Enquiry into Nature of Self (2009), Essays on Philosophy of JidduKrishnamurti (2010), ‘What Ought I to Do?’ The Gita’s Perspective (2014), Rethinking Philosophy of JidduKrishnamurti (2015), and Revisiting the Upanisads (2016).

In the ethics of the Gita svabhava or one’s own nature plays a very important role. It holds that everyone, including the man of knowledge acts according to his own nature. It further says that one is compelled to act as prescribed by his nature and it is simply futile to try otherwise. Krishna tells Arjuna that it is pointless on the part of Arjuna’s to say that he would not fight for nature will certainly induce him to fight. ‘That which, through delusion, thou wishest not to do, O Son of Kunti (Arjuna), that thou shalt do even against thy will, fettered by thy own acts born of thy nature.’ (XVIII.60). Arjuna is born Kshatriya and thus there is no escape but to fight: ‘Even the man of knowledge acts in accordance with his own nature. Beings follow their mature. What can repression accomplish?’ (III.33) Gita says that the karma or action prescribed by one’s nature or svabhava is one’s duty or dharma. What one ought to do is prescribed by what one’s nature is. ‘Heroism, vigour, steadiness, resourcefulness, not fleeing even in a battle, generosity and leadership, these are the duties of a Kshatriya born of his nature.’ (XVIII.43). In fact, there is no good other than performing one’s duty as prescribed by one’s nature: ‘Having regard for thine own duty, thou shouldst not falter, there exists no greater good for a Kshatriya than a battle enjoined by duty.’ (II.31).

Now, if one indeed realizes the truth of such a situation, that one cannot escape doing what one’s nature forces one to do, one automatically becomes happy. When one acts according to one’s nature there is no conflict between what one is and what one thinks one ought to be. The ‘is’ is the ‘ought’. In other words, there is nothing one is putting up as ideal in such a situation to achieve. There is no gap between what one is and what one is trying to be- action becomes niskama, that is, action is performed without desire for becoming.


We further see that svadharma of the Gita as prescribed by one’s svabhava also dissolves the gap between individual and social duty. Arjuna by svabhava is a Kshatriya and thus is asked by Krishna to give up the thought of not-fighting and enter into the battle. But while performing his individual duty he also performs the social duty of a Kshatriya that demands from him generosity and lordly nature; demands that Arjuna does not get affected by personal preference while deciding an action that can change the fate of thousands of people. The Gita does not say that one is to perform two kinds of duties- individual and social. In the Gita in performing one’s individual duty one helps in smooth running of the society.

The Gita does not tire of saying that one cannot change the way nature behaves. Actually this has an important bearing on the whole issue of the ethics of Gita. On one hand we have seen that it helps one in performing action without desire, and on the other hand such a realization, the Gita shows, helps one in working out moral dilemmas.  According to Gita the realization that one cannot change the way nature behaves automatically brings in detachment. When one truly understands the futility of trying to change course of nature, one in a way resigns to it. This attitude, the Gita shows, helps one in solving moral dilemmas of life. In the Gita, Arjuna is shown not questioning the rightness or wrongness of the action of going to battle. But Arjuna is shown as not wanting to enter into battle having seen his friends and family as his opponent: ‘When I see my own people arrayed and eager to fight O Krishna, my limbs quail, my mouth goes dry, my body shakes and my hair stands on end.’ (I.29). The question for Arjuna is not rightness or wrongness of action of doing battle but whether he would incur evil by killing the people who are his relatives: ‘And I see evil omens, O Kesava (Krishna), nor do I foresee any good by slaying my own people in the fight.’ (I.32). Krishna is reprimanding Arjuna for his behaviour that is borne out of attachment for his loved ones: ‘Thou grievest for those whom thou should not grieve for, and yet thou speakest words about wisdom.’ (II.11). If Arjuna were detached, he would not have been affected by who is standing against him but would have performed his duty: ‘As the unlearned act from attachment to their work, so should the learned also act, O Bharata (Arjuna), but without any attachment, with the desire to maintain the world-order.’ (III.25). Again, if Arjuna were detached he would have seen the fact that the battle would not stop with him not-fighting and in fact his not-fighting would affect the fate of all those people who agreed to enter into the battle and are fighting for the Pandavas in a negative way.

*The translation of the verses are taken from The Bhagavadgita by S. Radhakrishnan, HarperCollins India, Impression 2008.