The Sikh Nanakshahi Calendar
Nanakshahi Calendar: Sense & Sensibility
* Former Professor & Head, Punjab Historical Studies Deptt. ,Punjabi University, Patiala. Address: 1288, Sector 15B, Chandigarh. 160015
In India there haS been well established tradition to start a new calendar from an event considered significant. A new calendar was initiated whenever a new monarch ascended the throne during the Muslim rule in India. The new reckoning of date was started from the day of coronation and that was known as San-i-Jalus. The monarch’s San-i-Jalus had been used in the book written during the rule of that monarch. Some of the books written with coronation calendar are deemed of considerable importance for the study of the history of those times. Some of these books are – Akbar Namah, Tuzake-Jahangiri, Muasir-i-Alamgiri, etc. etc.
In the field of religion, the new era was counted either from the birth of the Prophet or from some important event of his life. The Christian calendar was started from the date of birth of Christ. Muslim calendar dates back to the Prophet Mohammad’s exodus from Mecca to Madina. It is called Hijri calendar. In the North, Vikrami calendar had been popular and it dates back the times of Raja Bikarmajit of Kannauj, now in Madhya Pradesh. In the South of India, Saka calendar has been in vogue. In some regions Fazli calendar was used. In the North West, Nanakshahi calendar had been in vogue among the Sikhs. Recently, there has been started a controversy regarding Nanakshahi calendar because some reforms are needed keeping in view of the changed circumstances. Calendar reform does not involve violation of any religious tenets nor is it in clash with any other calendar.
British Bid for Unification of Calendars
The British found that there wereseveral calendars current in India and people normally use their local calendar which had no link with other calendars. It was considered advisable to link with other calendars. It was considered advisable to link all the calendars with the common calendar, viz. Christian calendar which was used by the British. For this purpose the government was able to locate one person, namely, L.D. Swamikanu Pillay Diwan Bahadur. He was well qualified and had advanced education in England. In 1911 A.D. he compiled "Indian Chronology" in which some fundamental type of work almanac had been done. The Madras government patronised him to prepare the Indian Ephemeris. This work was published by the Mardas Government in 1922 in six volumes, the first volume having two parts, thus totaling seven volumes. Ever since its publication, it has been considered a monumental work by astronomers historian and almanac makers. It will not be out of place to give its brief contents.
The first two volumes give in detail the method of calculations, the various systems on which calendar makers mostly depended have been discussed, beginning from surya siddhant etc. The author has himself explained in the preface of Volume I, Part First – "The work, as originally designed, was to have been issued in seven volumes, including the volume for A.D. 1800 to A.D. 2000, but addition of present introductory volume has resulted in division of the volume I in two parts – second (part) is the Ephemeris for A.D. 700 to A.D. 1999 to which are prefixed (i) an explanation of process used in compilation of Ephemeris, and (ii) a set of illustrative dates from South Indian inscriptions. The entire work is, therefore, actually issued in eight volumes. Every volume consists of 400 to 500 pages, foolscap size, bigger than royal octavo size.
Without delving deep into the technicalities of movements of sun and moon, tithis or nakshatras, lunar month in relation to solar month, etc. which have been discussed in detail in the introductory volume, it will be sufficient to give here the particulars of information recorded in these volumes in various tables. Years are given in the top of every page of the Ephemeri and the following eras recorded:
1. Kaljuga, Vikarma, Hijri, Christian etc.
2. Cyclic sidereal, year, month and date.
3. Weekdays, English month and date.
4. Tithi ending movements
5. Nakshatra ending movements Lunar
6. Mohammadan year, month and date.
This work is very useful for conversion of dates. We often find Persian writers usually give Hijri dates, or Punjabi histographers mention only Vikrami or Bikrami dates. We can at once find out the day and month of the Christian era which is now known as common era. All the dates from 700 A.D. to 1799 A.D. have all the particulars referred above.
Rationale of Nanakshahi Calendar
The Sikhs have been celebrating the important days of the Gurus, as Bhai Gurdas – 17th century exponent of the Sikhism – has stated " Balhar tina Gursikhan bhav bhagat Gurpurb Karande (I am sacrifice to those Sikhs who celebrate the days of Guru with devotion). The Sikhs have therefore, been in constant quest to find the actual date relating to birth, succession and death of the Gurus. The literature of Gurparnalis is the result of this quest. Bhai Randhir Singh has compiled these Gurparnalis which were published by the S.G.P.C., and had tried to find out correct dates with the help of newly discovered Bhatt Vahis. But more scientific work was of Karam Singh who first wrote "Katak Ke Vaisakh" to find out the correct date of birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Later on, he wrote "Gurpurb Nirnay" in which he has discussed and worked out the birth dates, succession dates and death dates, of the Gurus. His findings are mostly considered correct. He has correlated these dates to the common calendar.
Some people allege say that following his whims one N.R.I. has converted Guru’s dates to solar reckoning. This is not correct. The late Karam Singh, who has done pioneering work in Sikh history research, wrote in his monograph Gurpurb Nirnay (published by Patiala state in 1912 A.D.) that the dates fixed by lunar calculation are variable every year. They cannot be fixed once for all. Moreover, if we celebrate Guru’s dates by lunar calculation we shall be celebrating the day before or after the actual date. We can find the exact date by solar calculation only. Similarly, late Prof. Sahib Singh, the great theologian wrote in 1948: "Having lunar calculation the Sikhs had started believing in tithis, which is against the Sikhs way of life (Gurmat). We should delink Gurus from lunar calendar".
Recently, laud able attempt has been made in preparing the new Sikh Almanac, popularly known as Nanakshahi Jantri, by making two fold reforms. The Bikarmi dates relating to the Gurus has been converted to the common calculator Christian calendar prevalent in all the countries. Secondly, uniformity in the length of months has been brought. Though Amavas and Puranmashis have been shown in the Nanakshahi Jantri but the Gurpurb dates have been linked with the solar calculation, and delinked from lunar calculation.
It may be noted here that calendar reform is not in violation of any religious principles. The Christians have twice reformed their calendar: once on 5th October 1582 and, for second time, on 2nd September 1752. Pope Gregory reformed the calendar. It is unfortunate that the Sikhs who have been spearheading reform in every field are now bogged down with needless controversy over the calendar reforms which have been overdue for long.