Saturday, October 15, 2011




Hindu Sastras stipulate three types of rites (karmas)—Kaamya (desire prompted), Nitya (daily ablutions) and Naimittika (occasional) ablutions that should be performed only at specified place(s) and time(s) in the space time continuum. It is believed that if these rites are performed otherwise, they will not be efficacious, though they may not be harmful.

Hindu sages perceived perfect harmony and order in the movements of the heavenly bodies, through their keen observation of the sky above and by their yogic powers. In a bold effort to measure time and pinpoint any given moment of time, they utilized this characteristic of the Universe and devised a marvelous scale of time measurement starting from a kshana (moment or second) all the way up-to the life span of Brahma, the creator.

Closely watching the solar system to which the earth belongs, our sages observed that the apparent path covered by the Sun in relation to the earth (called the ecliptic), recurred periodically with rhythmic precision. Likewise they noticed that the Moon's path in relation to earth also occurred at regular intervals. Based on these observed phenomena, they established units of time such as day, month, year etc. and gained the ability to precisely forecast the timings of these celestial events. Thus they gave mankind a system of time measurement, by which the correct time for observance of religious rite can be ascertained in accordance with saastric injunctions. These were the origins of Panchangas.

In the Vedic tradition, as in many other ancient traditions in the World, the forces of nature have been worshipped as Gods. The people of the Vedic tradition revered the elements and planets and sought their blessings in day-to-day life. They are the Sun, Moon, five elements, Indra, Varuna, Brihaspati, the other planets in the solar system, Rahu and Ketu. Astronomy was formulated as a discipline of knowledge in order to determine the position of planets and stars in the past, present and the future. A system of astrology was developed in order to study the influence of planetary movements on human life. A calendar known as Panchanga was devised, which helped to determine which times were auspicious for performing Vedic rites and which were considered as inauspicious.

A Panchanga conveniently organizes days and longer division of time such as weeks and months in definite order. It also systematically fixes the beginning and length of the year. The five limbs of Panchanga (meaning five parts in Samskrit) connects a given time in terms of Tithi, Vaara (day), Nakshatra, Karana and Yoga and hence it is called so.

Tithi—it is the time Moon takes to increase its distance from the Sun by twelve degrees. There are fifteen tithes in a Paksha or fortnight and each tithi has a special association in the worship of a particular deity. First tithi of bright fortnight, Prathama, begins when tithi sphuta is 0 degree and ends when it is 12 degrees; 12 to 24 degrees is Dwiteeya; 24 to 36 degrees is Triteeya and so on; 160 to 180 degrees is Poornima or Full-moon day; 180 to 192 degrees is Prathama of the dark fortnight; dark fortnight dwiteeya is 192 to 204 degrees etc; 348 to 360 degrees is Amaavasya. So, there are 30 tithis in a month—first fifteen are called Sukla Paksha (bright fortnight or the waxing phase) and the other fifteen, KrishnaPaksha (dark fortnight or waning phase). The first fourteen tithes in Suklapaksha are numbered and designated in Samskrit:

1) Prathama 2) Dwiteeya 3) Triteeya 4)Chaturthi 5) Panchami 6) Shashthi 7) Saptami 8) Ashtami 9) Navami 10) Dasami 11) Ekaadasi 12) Dwaadasi 13) Trayodasi 14) Chaturdasi followed by Pornima tithi. Tithis in Krishnapaksha are also numbered and designated the same way as in Suklapaksha ending in Amaavasya tithi.

Some of the tithes are associated with specific deities: Chaturthi with Ganesha, Shashthi with Skandha or Kartikeya, Purnima with Devi and Amavasya with Pitru devatas, Ekadasi with Vishnu, Chaturdasi with Siva and Annual tithies such as Bhadrapada Ashtami with Krishna and Chaitra Navami with Rama.

Vaaram (Vaasara)—Day is divided into 24 parts of equal duration called 'horas' or hours. Each hora is associated with a planet in the solar system of the Sun or the Moon and the horas following each other are named after these heavenly bodies in the manner stated below: If the first hora of a certain day is associated with the Sun, the day is named Sunday, The 22nd hora after three repetitions will belong to Sun, 23rd hora to Venus, 24th hora to Mercury and the 25th hora i.e. the first hora of the next day will belong to Moon and therefore that day is called Monday. The names of the successive days are given in this way and this is the familiar order of succession of the days of the week. The horas are ruled by the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. When the Sun rises in Suryahora the day is named Ravi vaara or Bhanuvaara (Sunday); Similarly Somavaara or Induvaara is Monday. Mangalavaara or Kujavaara or Bhomavaara is Tuesday. Bhudhavaara or Saumya vaara is Wednesday. Guruvaara or Brhaspativaara is Thursday. Sukravaara or Bhriguvaara is Friday. Sanivaara or Sthiravaara is Saturday. Each day is also associated with a particular deity: Sunday—Surya; Monday—Shiva; Tuesday—Ganesha; Wednesday—Skanda; Thursday—Guru; Friday—Devi; Saturday—Shani. Sunday, Monday and Saturday are named after Sun, Moon and Saturn in most parts of the world Sunday being the first day of the week as in Hindu calendar.

Nakshatra—In Panchanga or in astrology Nakshatra (star as is usually translated) is only one of the 27 segments of the zodiac belt whereas in astronomy stars are heavenly bodies twinkling in the sky of which the Sun is the foremost. The Moon's path lies within the zodiac belt which is the region extending to about 9 degrees on either side of the ecliptic. Ecliptic is the great circle of the celestial sphere that is the apparent path of the Sun among the stars or of the earth as seen from theSun. The Moon completes a circuit of its path with respect to earth in about 27 1/3 days. Hence the zodiac is divided into 27 equal parts of 13 degrees 20" each being called a Nakshatra. The first segment longitude of the Moon 0 to 13degrees 20" is called Ashwini, the second form 13 Degrees 20" to 26 degrees 40" is called Bharani and so on. The last 346 degrees 40" to 360 degrees is called Revati. Names of the 27 Nakshatras are as follows: 1) Ashwini 2) Bharani 3) Krittika 4) Rohini 5) Mrigasira 6) Aaridra 7) Punarvasu 8) Pushya 9) Aaslesa 10) Makha 11) P. Phalguni 12) U. Phalguni 13) Hasta 14) Chitta 15) Swaati 16) Visaakha 17) Anuraadha 18) Jyeshta 19) Moola 20) P. Aashaadha 21) U. Aashaadha 22) Sraavana 23) Dhanishta 24) Satabhisha 25) P. Bhaadra 26) U. Bhaadra 27) Revati. (Note: P.=Poorva; U.=Uttara).

The segment in which Moon lies at the time of one's birth is called Janma Nakshatra (birth star) of that person. For e.g. when the longitude of the Moon is 133 degrees 20" to 146 degrees 40" at birth, the Janma Nakshatra is Poorva Phaalguni.

Yoga—Yoga is the time period during which the joint motion of the Sun and the Moon increases in longitude by 13 degrees 20". The 27 Yogas repeat themselves in cycles of 27 days. Yoga such as Amrita and Siddha are considered auspicious Amritadi Yogas depend on nakshatra and day of the week. Marana, Prabalaarishta and Utpada yogas are bad. The twenty-sevenYogas are: 1) Visakumbha 2) Priti 3) Aayushman 4) Sowbhaagya 5) Sobhana 6) Atiganda 7) Sukrama 8) Dhriti 9) Sula 10) Ganda 11) Vriddhi 12) Dhruva 13) Vyaghata 14) Harshana 15)Vajra 16) Siddhi (Asrik) 17) Vyalipa 18)Variyan 19) Parigha 20) Siva 21) Siddha 22) Saadhya 23) Subha 24) Sukla (Sukra) 25)Brahma 26) Indra 27) Vaidhriti.

Karana—The Karana is half a tithi or the time in which the difference of the longitudes of the Sun and the Moon increases buy six degrees. The eleven Karanas are classified as moving and fixed. They are:
  1. Chara (Moving):1) Bava 2) Baalava 3) Kaulava 4) Taitila 5) Gara 6) Vanija 7) Vishti.
  2. Sthira (fixed): 8) Sakuni 9) Chatushpada 10) Nagava 11) Kintughna.

Sankranti—Time when Sun leaves one zodiac sign and enters another is known as Sankranti. The sign in which the travel commences is the name given to the Sankranti. This day is considered sacred and is celebrated with prayers, festivity or fasting. When the Sun enters Makara (Capricorn), Uttaraayana Sankranti is celebrated to mark the beginning of Sun's journey in the Northern Solstice. Ayana, solstice refers to the journey of the Sun. Uttaraayana, the northern journey, covers the zodiacs from Makara (Capricorn) to Mithuna (Pisces). Dakshinaayana, the Southern Journey, comprises the sign Kataka (Cancer) to Dhanus (Sagittarius).

Panchanga provides several pieces of other information also such as the movements of the stars and planets and inauspicious times of the day etc. One part (amsa) of Sani is called "Gulika Kaala". One part (amsa) of Guru is called "Yamaganda or Yamakantaka Kaala". One part of Ravi is called "Rahukaala". One part of Budha is called "Arthapraharana Kaala". These four Kaalas or timings are indicated in all Panchangas which depend on the time of Sun rise at a particular place and are indicated for any given day in the year. All these Kaalas are inauspicious for performing Subha Karmas (good or auspicious events, like wedding, house warming, ground breaking ceremony, Upanayanam, Teerthayaatra--pilgrimage etc.) which are performed once in a life time.



Cycle of Hindu calendar Year
Hindu calendar is prepared for specific Hindu year from its 60 years cycle. The sixty years are:
1) Prabhava; 2) Vibhava; 3) Sukla; 4) Pramoduta; 5) Prajotpatti; 6) Aangirasa; 7) Srimukha; 8) Bhava; 9) Yuva; 10) Dhatu; 11)Eswara; 12) Bahudhaanya; 13) Pramaadi; 14) Vikrama; 15) Vishu; 16) Chitrabhanu; 17) Subhaanu; 18) Dhaarana; 19) Paarthiva; 20) Vyaya; 21) Sarvajit; 22) Sarvadhaari; 23) Virodhi; 24) Vikruti; 25)Kara; 26) Nandana; 27)Vijaya; 28) Jaya; 29) Manmatha; 30) Durmukhi; 31) Heyvilambi; 32) Vilambi; 33) Vikaari; 34) Saarvari; 35) Plava; 36) Subhakrut; 37) Sobhakrut; 38) Krodhi; 39) Viswaavasu; 40) Paraabhava; 41) Plavanga; 42) Keelaka 43) Soumya; 44) Saadhaarana; 45) Virodhikrit; 46)Paritaapi; 47) Pramadeesa; 48) Aananda; 49) Raakshasa; 50) Nala; 51) Pingala; 52) Kaalayukti; 53) Siddhaarti; 54) Roudri; 55) Dunmati; 56) Dundhubi; 57) Rudirothkaari; 58) Raktaaksha; 59) Krodhana; 60) Akshaya.

 The cycle of sixty years is divided into twelve units of five years, each unit being called Yuga. The five groups a of years which make the Yuga are called Samvatsara, Parivtsara, Idavatsara, Idaavatsara,and Idvatsara in the Taitaareeyabraahmanas III.10.3.

There are two types of Hindu calendars which are in practical use today, Chandramaana (Lunar Calendar) and Sauramaana (Solar Calendar), even though there are other calendars based on other planets. These are: Saavana Maanam—A year consists of 360 days, each such day being the interval between two successive sunrises; Nakshatra Maanam—A year made of 12 months, each month being the interval of time between successive occasions of Moon's entry into Ashwini Nakshatra; Brihaspatyam—A year represents the duration taken by Jupiter (Guru or Brihaspathi) to transit a zodiac sign. On an average it takes 361 days.
Chandramaana system—Motion of Moon around Sun is taken into account in Chandramaana system. It takes 354 days to complete one circle round the Sun.
Sauramaana system--Apparent Motion of Sun around the earth is taken into consideration in the Sauramaana system. Sun takes 365.25 days to complete one circle around Earth. Hence there are 365.25 days in a solar year.
The earth revolves round the Sun in 365.25 days. The English calendar which is used globally, accounts for 365 days which are divided into 12 months in a year, but to coincide with the cycle of the earth, one day is added every fourth year to February. This year becomes the leap year and the calculations stand corrected.
In the Hindu method of calculations although 365.25 days of the revolution of the earth round the Sun is recognized, the calculations are done according to the revolution of the Moon round the earth, which falls short by approximately seven days during one year vis-à-vis calculations done according to solar calendar. The latter calculations are done in India, but are not used in determining the months or festivals except for Loori, Makara Sankranti and Baishaakhi. The Panchanga based on the Lunar Calendar, which has also 12 months in a year, comes level with the Ayanas or solstice or Sun calculation, by adding a month (known as Sunya Maasa, Loonth or Purushottam) every three years. This month is added in the middle of the year. No festivals are celebrated in this month but are adjusted earlier or later as the case may be. The calculations of the Panchanga are complicated as the days in each month vary from 27.5 to 29.5 days, thereby causing a tithi to overlap on a given day or sometimes a tithi vanishes altogether. The calculations are best left to the experts.

Chandramaana calendar—Chandramaana month is divided into two parts namely Suklapaksha and Krishnapaksha, and the duration of each paksha is 15 tithis. Chandramaana month is observed in two ways: 1) Commencing from Shukla Prathama to Amaavaasya (New Moon day) called Amaanta Maasa; 2) Commencing from Krishna Prathama to Poornima (Full Moon day) called Poornimaanta Maasa. A lunar year or Chandramaana year consists of twelve months, or 13 months when mala maasa occurs in order to equalize the solar and lunar years.
It is possible that in a lunar month there may not be a Sankranti. The successive New moon may occur while the Sun is in a particular Raasi. The lunar month between those two new moons will not have a Sankranti. This phenomenon occurs once in three or four years. Such a lunar month is called Adhika maasa (extra month). It is given the name as the succeeding lunar month. The two consecutive lunar months having the same name are distinguished by adding the prefixes adhika (extra) and nija (proper) respectively to the name of the month.
It is also possible that in a particular lunar month two Sankrantis may occur, i.e. no new moon will occur as the Sun passes through a Raasi. In that event there will be a gap in the sequence of the names of the lunar months. In the year 1963, no new moon occurred when the Sun passed through Vrischika Raasi, so the name "Maargasira" had to be skipped. The lunar month following Kaartika was called Pushya. Maargasira was called "Kshaya Maasa" or skipped month.
Whenever a kshaya maasa occurs there will be two adhika maasaas—one before and the other after the lunar month. Of these only one is taken as nija maasa and the other one is adhika. The period of such recurrence of such gaps varies from 19 years to 141 years.
Chandramaana month is named according to the Nakshatra prevailing in the respective Poornima:
No.    First day of the Moon            Nakshatra        Name of the Month
1. Chaitra Poornima Chitra Chaitra Maasa
2. Vaisaakha Poornima Visaakha Vaisaakha Maasa
3. Jyeshtha Poornima Jyeshtha Jyeshtha Maasa
4. Aashaadha Poornima P. or U. Aashaadha Aashaadha Maasa
5. Sraavana Poornima Sraavana Sraavana Maasa
6. Bhaadrapada Poornima P. or U. Bhaadra Bhaadrupada Maasa
7.     Asweeja Poornima Aswini Aasweeja Maasa
8.    Kaartika Poornima Krittika Kaartika Maasa
9.    Maargasira Poornima Mrigaseera Maargasira ,,
10. Pushya Poornima Pushya Pushya Maasa
11. Maagha Poornima Makhaa Maagha Maasa
12. Phaalguna Poornima P. or U. Phalguni Phaalguna Maasa
Sauramaana Calendar—Duration of time taken by the Sun to pass through one zodiacal segment (Niraayana Raasi) to another zodiacal segment is called Sauramaana Maasa or Solar Month. 12 such Raasis of Sun's entrance to the zodiac segments is called one Sauramaana year. Solar months are observed as follows:
  1. Period for which Sun is in zodiac segment Aries (Mesha Raasi)—Mesha Maasa—Chittirai.
  2. Period for which Sun is in zodiac segment Taurus (Vrishbha Raasi)—Vrishabha Maasa—Vaikaasi
  3. Period for which Sun is in zodiac segment Gemini (Mithuna Raasai)—Mithuna Maasa—Aani
  4. Period for which sun is in the zodiac segment Cancer (Kataka Raasi)—Kataka Maasa—Aaadi
  5. Period for which sun is in the zodiac sign Leo (Simha Raasi)—Simha Maasa—Aavani
  6. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Virgo (Kanyaa Raasai)—Kanyaa Maasa—Purattaasi
  7. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Libra (Tulaa Raasi)—Tulaa Maasa—Aippasi
  8. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Scorpio (Vrischika Raasi)—Vrischika Maasa—Kaartikai
  9. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Sagittarius (Dhanur Raasi)—Dhanur Maasa—Maargazhi
  10. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Capricorn (Makara Raasi)—Makara Maasa—Thai
  11. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Aquarius (Kumbha Raasai)—Kumbha Maasa—Maasi
  12. Period for which Sun is in the zodiac segment Pisces (Meena Raasi)—Meena Maasa—Panguni.
Note: The last name given for each month is the name of corresponding month in Tamil Language.
These twelve months consist of six seasons called Ritus in Samskrit. These are:
  1. Vasanta Ritu—Spring—Chitra and Vaisaakha
  2. Greeshma Ritu—Summer—Jyeshtha and Aashaadha
  3. Varsha Ritu—Rains—Sraavana and Bhaadrupada
  4. Sarad Ritu—Autumn—Asweena and Kaartika
  5. Hemanta Ritu—Early winter—Maargasira and Pushya
  6. Sisira Ritu—Late winter—Maagha and Phaalguna
Tithi, Nakshatra and so on are not different for Chandramaana and Sauramana systems. They are one and the same for both the systems.
Nakshatra and Raasi—Nakshatras belonging to various Raasis are as follows:
  1. Ashwini, Bharani, Krittika (1st quarter)—Mesha (Aries)
  2. Krittika (2nd to 4th quarters), Rohini, Mrigasira (1st and 2nd quarters)—Vrishabha (Taurus)
  3. Mrigasira(3rd and 4th quarters), Aaridra, Punarvasu (1-3 quarters)—Mithuna (Gemini)
  4. Punarvasu (4th quarter), Pushya, Aaslesha—Kataka (Cancer)
  5. Makha, P. Phalgun, U.Phalgun(1st quarter)—Simha (Leo)
  6. U.Phalgun(2-4 quarters),Hasta, Chitra (1-2 quarters)—Kanya (Virgo)
  7. Chitra (3-4 quartes), Swaati, Vishaakha (1-3 quartes)—Tula (Libra)
  8. Vishaakha (4th quarter), Anuraadha, Jyeshtha—Vrischika (Scorpion)
  9. Moola, P.Aashaadha, U. Aashaadha (1st quarter)—Dhanus (Sagittarius)
  10. U.Aashaadha (2-4 quarters) Sraavana, Dhanishta(1-2 quarters)—Makara (Capricorn)
  11. Dhanishta (3-4 quarters), Satabhisha, P.Bhaadra (1-3 quarters)—Kumbha (Aquarius)
  12. P.Bhaadra(4th quarter), U.Bhaadra, Revati—Meena (Pisces)
Knowing one's Janma Nakshatra (birth star) one can thus easily find out one's Janma Raasi (birth zodiac sign).


This lecture has been prepared by N. R. Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple from the following sources:
  1. R. Kumar, North American Panchangam, 2006, The Hindu Society of North American Temples, New York, U.S.A.
  2. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. I., Simon & Schuster, U.S.A.
  3. Swami Harshanada, An Introduction to Vedic Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore.
  4. Sunita Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage, Vol. II., Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, U.S.A.