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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh



Nanakshahi Samvat

Dr Kharak Singh

Calendars are indispensable for measuring time and recording of history and practically all of them were introduced to perpetuate the memory of some important event. For example, the Christian world replaced the earlier Julian Calendar with the Christian Calendar to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bikrami and Saka Samvat originated in India, a little earlier. Muslims adopted the Higeri Calendar from the year Prophet Mohammed had to quit the holy city of Mecca. Similarly, the two Sikh calendars, viz., the Nanakshahi Samvat and the Khalsa Samvat began with the birth of Guru Nanak Dev and the creation of the Khalsa, respectively. The oldest calendar, however, is the Hebrew Calendar, which, according to tradition, was supposed to have started with Creation at a moment, 3,760 years and 3 months before the beginning of the Christian era.

The calendars currently in vogue fall under three categories — solar, lunar and sidereal. While the ones followed in the West, mostly by Christians, are solar, the Muslim calendar is lunar. The Indian calendars are luni-solar or sidereal. Since the sun, the moon and the heavenly bodies follow their own cycles independent of one another, the length of the year varies. The solar year measures 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. The lunar year, as in Higeri Calendar, is shorter than the solar year by about 11 days, so that in a cycle of 33 solar years, the former yields an additional year. In a lunar year, the position of months relative to seasons, constantly changes. As a result, the holy month of Ramzan, during which Muslims observe fast, may fall at the height of hot summer or in the middle of severe cold winter. The Bikrami Samvat is sidereal, slightly longer than a solar year by a few minutes. It is obvious that any calendar, which deviates from the exact length of the solar cycle, will lose its relationship with seasons over a period of time.

Earlier Christian Calendar which was expressed as A.D. (Anno Domini or the ‘year of the Lord’) and B.C. (Before Christ) did not follow the solar year accurately. As a result, an error of 10 days had accumulated by 1585 A.D. This was corrected by a decree of Pope Gregory XIII, so that 5th October was declared as 15th October, to bring it in line with solar year, in all the Roman Catholic countries. Great Britain and U.S.A. introduced the correction as late as 1752, by which time, the error had gained another day. So, they skipped 11 days. Since then all the western countries and practically the entire world community with the exception of the Muslim countries and India, have adopted this system, which is now called the Common Era (C.E.). In India and the Muslim world also, it is used side by side with the indigenous calendars. In this system, the deviation from solar year can be no more than one day in 3,300 years, and provision has been made for this correction.

The Bikrami Samvat is longer than solar year by a few minutes, so that it deviates by one day in a period of approximately seventy years. We, in the present generation, know that Vaisakhi which used to fall on the 12th April in the beginning of the present century, moved to 13th April in the middle of the century and is now moving to 14th April. At this rate, it will move into May over a few centuries, and unless corrections are made in the calendar, we can have Vaisakhi in winter. This will upset the relationship between the seasons and the months as currently known. We all know our great Gurus, following the practice in vogue during their times, wrote Gurbani based on this relationship. With drastic shifts in the position of months relative to seasons, references in Gurbani will not correspond to reality. This should be avoided at all costs.

Fortunately, the realisation has dawned. Sardar Pal Singh Purewal has played a very important role in bringing about this awareness among the Sikh intelligentsia. He is a leading world authority on astronomy, and his contribution to world almanac is internationally recognised. He has authored a 500-year almanac, which is very helpful to historians in converting dates of historical events in different calendar systems. The need for reforms in the Nanakshahi Samvat was recognised in the Sikh Studies Conference held at Chandigarh in the memory of late Sardar Daljeet Singh in September, 1995. This was followed up with a meeting of Sikh scholars representing major Sikh organisations and institutions on the 14th November, 1995, in which the need for reforms was stressed and some concrete recommendations were made, so that the Nanakshahi Samvat may adopt the international standard and harmonize with the international community.

Another issue that needs review, is the incidence of gurpurbs. Some of these are celebrated on fixed dates of calendar months. For example, the martyrdom of 40 muktas is fixed on 1st Magh. So also is the martyrdom of the two elder Sahibzadas at Chamkaur Sahib on 8th Poh. Most of the other gurpurbs are linked with tithis of the lunar month, leading to wide variations over calendar months. Apart from the attendant confusion, the system leads to situations difficult to appreciate for a common man. An extreme case is the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh which sometimes comes twice in a year, as in 1995, and not at all in some others. This could be avoided by adopting a uniform system of dates. The days on which certain events actually occurred in the lives of the great Gurus are sacred. Their celebrations should, therefore, be done on original dates. Trying to fit those events into lunar positions, ignoring the actual dates would appear to be violation of their sanctity, as well as the spirit of Gurbani, besides reflection of Brahmanism. It is high time that the Panth switches over to a system of fixed dates for all gurpurbs and events in Sikh history.

Chronology of Sikh events has not received adequate attention in the past, with the result that there are some confusion over the dates of certain events. It is heartening, however, that leading Sikh historians got together, and examined the entire available data, and have unanimously approved a chronology of gurpurbs.

The Institute of Sikh Studies heartily welcomes these developments and commends the initiative and efforts of scholars. We have been receiving letters from our readers, strongly advocating a switch over to fixed dates for gurpurbs.

We have now reached a stage when the required reforms can be undertaken. Our scholars have given us concrete proposals which are reproduced elsewhere in this issue. It is hoped that these will receive serious, consideration of all quarters concerned.

The authority to adopt a reform rests with the Panth.  However, responsibility to educate the masses lies with the various accredited Panthic organisations and institutions. The one for taking the initiative lies on the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. It is hoped that it will not be found wanting in introducing such a progressive reform. The proposal should be given as wide a publicity as possible through the press and special meetings. It would be necessary to constitute a special cell in the SGPC for monitoring purposes. Sardar Pal Singh Purewal, who has devoted over 20 precious years of his life to this problem and is completely committed to the cause, should be asked to help as advisor.

Other major organisations of the Sikh Panth should lend their support to the reforms. The SGPC should enlist their co-operation, particularly of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Management Committee, the Damdami Taksal, the Sant Samaj, etc. There are indications that Sikh Foundations and other academic bodies will bless the efforts. The Institute of Sikh Studies has already offered its fullest co-operation to the SGPC, so that the reforms are put into effective use by the Vaisakhi of 1999, the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa.




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