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So Many Calendars!
Jyaistha 20, 1943 (June 10, 2021): In the course of a recent lecture on the ‘Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’, yours truly realized that the normative calendar being followed by most countries and international organizations – from the UN to the World Bank – is not the calendar started by Julius Cesar when the Roman Empire was at its crest , but the Christian Calendar commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the year 1582 when the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) was at its peak .
The successor nation- states to the HRE – France , Germany, Russia and Britain – were all Christian empires and so AD and BC continued to mark the events of the world. AD or anno domini stands for the Year of the Lord – meaning the year of the birth of Christ , and not ‘After Death’ (of Christ) as our generation learnt in school. BC of course stands for ‘Before Christ’.
Around the turn of the millennium, academic institutions and multilateral organizations decided to be politically correct ,and started referring to AD as CE (Common era ) and BC as BCE (Before Common Era). Well, even though CE privileges the civilizational construct of the West , it is an improvement over AD, so let’s welcome this incremental change!
However, it’s important to share with the readers that the official calendar of India is the Saka Era calendar, chosen over the Bikrami, Kali, Bangla, Fasli and Nanak Shahi calendars which were all in vogue in different parts of the country.
The names of months – Chaitra, Vaisakha , Jyaistha, Ashad, Sravana, Bhadra, Asvina, Kartika, Agrahayana, Pausa, Magha and Phalgun – are common across most Indian calendars.
The first day of Chaitra generally corresponds to March 22 – the day of the equinox- when the duration of the day and night are equal. In many ways , this is far more scientific ,and at least in the context of the Indian sub-continent, the agricultural season corresponds to the calendar.
All government notifications, AIR announcements and calendars issued by central and state governments must include dates according to this calendar. Your columnist made it a point to ensure that the session schedule issued at LBSNAA includes the Saka era dates.
How did we decide on this calendar? Well, in 1955, the CSIR set up a seven-member Calendar reforms Committee under the Chairmanship of the noted Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha.
The task before the Committee was to prepare an accurate calendar based on a scientific study which could be adopted uniformly across the country because there was increasing pressure on state governments to adopt the calendar most commonly used in the region.
Thus, the Nanakshahi calendar was a very strong contender in PEPSU and Punjab , and the Bangla calendar in Bengal. In fact, Bengalis mark the first day of Baiskah as Poila ( first day )Baiskah, and this is the Bangla New Year.
The then PM Nehru wrote ‘The different calendars represent the past political divisions in the country. Now that we have attained Independence, it is obviously desirable that there should be a certain uniformity in the calendar for our civic, social ,and other purposes, and this should be done on a scientific approach to this issue.
The usage started officially on the first day of Chaitra, 1879, corresponding to March 22 of 1957. The Saka era calendar is also called the Shalivahana Shaka calendar ,and was used more extensively than the Bikrami calendar, especially in the four Southern states, Odisha and Saurashtra besides Nepal, Ceylon, Bali and the Philippines
.This was also to be seen in the context of ‘appeasing the south’ as the Bikrami calendar was closely aligned to the Hindi heartland!
Each calendar therefore tells a story, and the adoption of a calendar occupies the mind -space of a society so subtly that one does not even realize that there is a deep play of power politics and hegemony in this as well.
When a calendar loses its salience in the lives of a people, much more is lost than just a paper on the wall which in any case has an active shelf life of just 365 days.
How many of us know for example that the oldest extant calendar in India is the 5097 years old Saptrishi calendar of Kashmir , which is still issued every year by the Kashmiri Pandits who treat this as a well-deserved badge of honour !
(The writer is a historian, public policy analyst, and Festival Director of Valley of Words, a literature and arts festival based out of Dehradun. Till very recently, he was a member of the IAS and posted as the Director of LBS National Academy of Administration)
The views expressed by the author are personaL