Did you know March 22 marks India's new year?

Adopted in 1957, the Indian national calendar is based on astronomy and coincides with the natural weather cycle.

 |  6-minute read |   22-03-2017
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Maharashtrians are looking forward to celebrating the Gudhi Padwa on March 28 (for some, it is on March 29) just as Kannadigas and Telugu people are awaiting Ugadhi on March 29. Sindhis too would celebrate Cheti Chand on March 29 — all New Year days as per respective traditional panchangs (calendars).

While most know that these dates keep changing every year as they are based on the lunar tithi/month — in stark contrast to the solar-based Gregorian calendar — how many know about India’s national calendar? And that March 22 is the New Year as per this calendar?

India adopted the Bharatiya Saur Shaka, based on Saka era with Chaitra as its first month. Unlike the many traditional calendars across India, the dates of this calendar have a permanent correspondence with dates of the Gregorian calendar. First day, Chaitra 1 falls on March 22 every year; March 21 in a leap year.

And no, unlike how many would quickly conclude, this is not a recent attempt at "saffronisation", but India had adopted the Indian national calendar on March 22, 1957, corresponding to Chaitra 1, 1879 Saka era. Leading astrophysicist Meghnad Saha had headed the Calendar Reform Committee, which submitted its report (portion of the report is available here) in 1955.

The then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his message to the Calendar Reform Committee, formed under the aegis of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), had clearly pointed out the need for the exercise in view of the “uniformity” needed in post-independent India.

The government accepted its recommendations to use the uniform national calendar for certain official purposes in conjunction with the Gregorian calendar. The government of India’s own record places this on a par with India’s other national symbols — national flag, national bird, national animal, national anthem et al. Official purposes where dates from this calendar need to be mentioned are: 1.Gazette of India, 2. News broadcast by All India Radio, 3. Calendars issued by the government of India, and 4. Government communications addressed to the members of the public.

The national calendar

The Calendar Reform Committee had suggested a fundamental change vis-à-vis adopting the solar system, unlike the lunar months as followed by most of the 30-odd traditional panchangs across India.

For a tropical country, the committee recommended the adoption of tropical system with the first day coinciding with the vernal equinox day, that is, March 22 (On leap years, the year starts on March 21; incidentally, the Parsis celebrate Nawroz, their New Year on March 21 coinciding with the equinox).

But it adopted the same names of the months as per the lunar calendar, except for changes in two months. The names are as follows: Chaitra, Vaisakha, Jyaistha, Asadha, Sravana, Bhadra (and not Bhadrapad as in traditional), Asvina, Kartik, Agrahayana (and not Margashirsha as in traditional), Pausa, Magha and Phalgun. The months of this calendar have fixed days: Chaitra has 30 days in normal year, and 31 in leap year; Vaisakha to Bhadra, the five months have 31 days while the rest of the months have 30 days.

Emphasising that this is not a panchang (almanac) but a dindarshika (calendar), a bunch of people based in Aurangabad in Maharashtra have formed a "Rashtriya Dindarshika Prasar Manch" and have been working for the past three years to spread awareness amongst the government officials, banks, media and, of course, the common public to bring in use the national calendar.

For all practical purposes, India follows the Gregorian calendar at all levels. Then there is the traditional tithi-based panchang (almanac, the traditional calendar) that almost each state/linguistic community has its own and then to have a third Indian national calendar.

Why so much confusion?

"Why not? Since Independence, we have adopted a lot of changes. For instance, the rupee had 16 annas, now it is 100 paise. We went in for metric system for weights and also adopted the decimal system. The new generation is not aware of the National Calendar, which is based on astronomical science,” says Abhay Marathe, treasurer of the Aurangabad-based Rashtriya Dindarshika Prasar Manch.

Set up in 2014, this Manch has about 160 members across 14 states, who work for spreading awareness about one of the prime national symbols. The Manch has this year published the national calendar along with Gregorian calendar dates.

“The national calendar is both scientific and Constitutional. This is based on astronomical sciences and was prepared with deep understanding of the Indian rutuchakra (weather cycle). Sun spends more time in the northern hemisphere than the southern. So, the initial months till Bhadra have 31 days each,” says Girish Datar, secretary of the Manch.

Not much public awareness

A major problem that the members of the manch face is lack of awareness among government officials and the common public about the national calendar.

For instance, the Reserve Bank of India issued a circular on July 31, 1992, directing the banks to accept cheques having dates as per the national calendar. But most banks/branches are simply not aware. These activists then take copies of the RBI circular, convince the bank officials, and so on and so forth.

The manch has already brought out an app for easy conversion of the dates to encourage anybody and everybody to use the national calendar dates. It holds programmes across the country to spread awareness about the national calendar.

“Children need to be taught about our unifying calendar. Only in a few states their respective education boards have introduced the national calendar to the students,” Marathe points out.

The  Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education has introduced a chapter on the different calendars in its Mathematics book for class two students (see images).

maha_032217061457.jpg  maha2_032217061508.jpg '...the present confusion in our own calendars in India ought to be removed.'

No bilateral agreements with Indian government is complete without the mention of date as per the national calendar. If the government can do, why can’t its citizens?

All that the government needs to do is to advertise it vigorously. There are just so many ways to bring the national calendar in use: write it on cheques, one can write this date on sales deeds, mention it on wedding cards and basically, use in day to day work.

niv_032217062752.jpg A screenshot of the latest government gazette. It clearly mentions the date as per the Gregorian calendar and right next to it is the date as per Bharatiya Saur Shak (Indian national calendar). 

Of course, a shift to new system offers its own set of problems. India recently experienced it, thanks to demonetisation. But in few months, things did come back to normal.

Similarly, there would definitely be teething troubles while accepting the Indian national calendar. But the guiding words can be that of Jawaharlal Nehru, who in his message to the Calendar Reform Committee had said on February 18, 1953: “It is always difficult to change a calendar that people are used (sic), because it affects social practices. But the attempt has to be made even though it may not be as complete as desired. In any event, the present confusion in our own calendars in India ought to be removed.”

Also read: Happy New Year: Call it Gudhi Padva or Yugadi, it is Spring's gift to India


Nivedita Khandekar Nivedita Khandekar @nivedita_him

The author is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental, developmental and social issues.

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