The Sikh Nanakshahi Calendar
(Pal Singh Purewal)
Since the beginning of 1999 a lot has been written and said about the Nanakshahi Jantri (Calendar). In fact it remained a hot topic of discussion amongst the Sikh laymen and intellectuals.
A calendar is part of a Nation’s religious identity. “Today each of the major religions has its own calendar .and it is almost as true to say that each calendar has its religion- (E.G. Richards, Mapping Time). Bikrami Calendar is Hindu calendar used by the Sikhs.
There are two problems with the Bikrami calendar. Firstly, because it is based on the length of sidereal year , its months wander in seasons – the relation of the months with seasons as given in Gurbani is changing. Secondly, since the Gurpurbs are celebrated according to the lunar dates of the Bikrami calendar, these occur on different dates of the Common Era calendar from year to year. Both these problems have been resolved in Nanakshahi Calendar. Its year is based on the length of the tropical year – the year which is based on Gurbani tuk – . Therefore, its months will always maintain the present relationship with seasons, and will stay according to Gurbani. Also, since the Gurpurb dates have been fixed according to the solar dates, and since Common Era Calendar is also based on the tropical year , Gurpurbs will always occur on the same dates of the Common Era Calendar, and will not shift from year to year. In 1998 CE the Parkash Purb of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib occurred twice according to Bikrami Calendar, and did not occur in 1999CE at all. The same situation is going to repeat in 2003CE and 2004 CE. Parkash Gurpurb will be twice in 2003 CE, and none in 2004 CE. In Nanakshahi Calendar there is no such anomaly. This Gurpurb shall always occur on 23 Poh (Nanakshahi) / 5 January CE.
The opposition to the Nanakshahi Calendar came mainly from BJP/RSS, Baba Kashmira Singh, and late Baba Mangal Singh (may his soul rest in peace) and their followers, and very few intellectuals. The opposition can be categorized as follows:
1. From persons who are slaves to the tradition and resist any change however good.
2. From those who in the garb of Sikhism act against the tenets of Sikhism, and who have infiltrated into the very high Sikh Institutions and adversely influence the process of decision making, which results in decisions that are not in the best interest of the Sikh Nation.
3. From those who find technical faults with the Calendar.
4. From those who say that since in Gurbani ‘tithis’ and Bikrami dates are mentioned, and since Guru Sahiban used the Bikrami Calendar, we cannot discard Bikrami Calendar.
Briefly my response is as follows:
1. It is not unnatural to resist change, but if the change makes things easier, better, and is more scientific we should accept it. In every sphere we are accepting change daily, but where traditions are concerned we have problems. However, sometimes a wrong belief is the cause of the resistance to change. One such commonly held belief is that Vaisakhi always occurs on 13th April. But this is not true. The dates of Vaisakhi, and for that matter, of all Sangrands have been changing slowly but consistently. In the last century Vaisakhi occurred on 12th April, 13th April and 14th April. It will go on shifting. In Nanakshahi Calendar Vaisakhi has been fixed on 14th April. Vaisakhi and other ‘sangrands’ will not change both in relation to the seasons and the Common Era, but in the Bikrami Calendar these will always go on changing. In 3000 CE Vaisakhi will be on May 1.
2. I had discussed the Gurpurb dates and the Nanakshahi Calendar with Baba Kashmira Singh on 28th February, 1999 at his Dera, for more than two hours. I answered all his questions to his full satisfaction. But it appears that he was toeing the line of RSS in opposing the Nanakshahi Calendar vehemently, and supporting the Bikrami Calendar vigorously. It was Baba Kashmira Singh who said at the meeting at Akal Takht Sahib that Nanakshahi Jantri [Calendar] would do what AK47 could not do? I am given to understand that he is now in support of the NS Calendar, provided certain dates of Gurpurbs are changed.
3. Persons, like Dr Harinder Singh of Punjab University, Chandigarh, S. Santokh Singh of Amritsar, and Col. Nishan of Chandigarh, and lately Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer who do not possess adequate knowledge of calendars, find ‘gross errors’ in the Nanakshahi Calendar. It appears , that some objectors have not even read the introduction given by me in the Nanakshahi Jantri 1999-2000 published by SGPC (available free of cost).
4. And lastly, in Gurbani :
a. ‘yojan’, and ‘kos’ have been mentioned as units of distance. We discarded them first for ‘mile’ and then for ‘kilometer’.
b. ‘gaz’, ‘hath’, ‘angul’ have been mentioned as units of length. We gave them up for ‘meter’, and ‘centimeter’
c. ‘man’, ‘ser’, ‘tola’, ‘tank’, ‘masa’, ‘rati’ have been mentioned as units of weight. We have replaced them with ‘quintal’, ‘kilogram’, ‘gram’ and ‘milligram’.
d. ‘muhurat’, ‘ghari’ ‘pal’ have been mentioned as units of time. We have given them up and are using hours and minutes.
Guru Sahiban used the then prevalent units without commenting on their accuracy or inaccuracy. They did not ordain that the Sikhs shall forever use these units, and this applies to the Bikrami Calendar as well.
The following lines from Guru Granth Sahib give clear indication not to give importance to the day of new moon (?????) or for that matter to any other lunar date.