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Gur Panth Parkash

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

 

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Nanakshahi Calendar

Dr Kharak Singh

Few subjects have been discussed so thoroughly as the need for reforms in the Nanakshahi Calendar during the recent past.  The discussion entered an active phase in 1994 when a meeting was convened by the Institute of Sikh Studies which was attended by representatives of almost all major Panthic organisations, including the SGPC, DSGMC, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Damdami Taksal, Sant Samaj, Universities in the Punjab, Sikh Missionary Colleges, etc., besides a large number of scholars, historians, representatives of gurdwaras and heads of Sikh institutions.  The meeting, which was held on the campus of Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh, noted that the Bikrami months with which the Nanakshahi Calendar was linked, were slowly moving away from the seasons, for the simple reason that Bikrami Samvat followed a sidereal year which is longer than a solar year by about 20 minutes.  This difference accumulates to almost one full day in a 70-year period.  As a result, the Vaisakhi which fell on the  29th March in 1699, has shifted to 14th April in the year 1999.  This slide of 16 days is, of course, partly due to the correction of 10 days applied  by Pope Gregory in the year 1582 for alignment of the Christian Calendar  with the solar year.  However, the gradual slide of Vaisakhi on the solar scale is clearly visible.  We have celebrated Vaisakhi on the 13th April during most part of the 20th Century.  For the next few years, it will fall on the 14th April.  By the end of the next millennium it will move into May.  This movement will continue so that in a few millennia, the relationship between seasons and the months described by the Gurus in their sacred bani will hold no more.  If the month of Chet shifts to June, as it surely will, reference to Basant (spring) in the Barah Maha, will appear rather odd and difficult to understand for our future generations.

The above situation clearly demands a review of the calendar followed by Nanakshahi Samvat.  As referred  to above, such anomaly was discovered and pointed out to Pope Gregory in the 16th Century, who, following the advice of experts, skipped 10 days in 1582 and brought the Christian Calendar to its original correct position.  Even Britain and America, who originally defied the Pope, had to follow suit later and make an adjustment of 11 days.

The demand for reforms in the Nanakshahi Samvat, by linking it with the universally accepted solar year, is irresistible.  It will have to be done sooner or later.  Realising this, the SGPC, recognised as the parliament of Sikhs, unanimously adopted the reforms proposed by experts on the subject, and decided to introduce the reformed calendar with effect from the sacred tercentenary year of birth of the Khalsa, viz., the year 1999.  New Jantri was published by the SGPC in large numbers (over two lakhs) and widely distributed.  The decision was widely welcomed and hailed as a great reform, particularly in countries abroad.

As is usual with all progressive steps, a voice rose from a few orthodox sections against the proposed reforms in early 1999.  Since the Panth was celebrating tercentenary of the Khalsa on the 14th April, the SGPC, in its wisdom, decided to hold the implementation of the reforms until after the Vaisakhi, in order to avoid even a shadow of a controversy over the sacred occasion.  After the celebrations were over, the matter was again taken up in May 1999 in the committee specially constituted for the purpose and chaired by Bibi Jagir Kaur, President of the SGPC.  Fortunately, the committee had the benefit of the advice of Singh Sahib Giani Puran Singh, Jathedar, Sri Akal Takht Sahib, who attended the meeting for some time.  He pointed out that some objections had been raised in some quarters, which should be considered, failing which there could be some resistance.  After the Singh Sahib left, the committee considered all the objections raised in the previous meeting which had led to the postponement of the reform.  These were:

  1.   Guru Nanak’s birthday should continue to be celebrated on Katak Puranmasi as before.
  2.   Hola Mohalla should continue to be linked with Holi.
  3.   Bandi Chhod Divas of Guru Hargobind Sahib should continue to be celebrated on Diwali as before.

For the sake of compromise, the committee decided to accept the above, and the President of the SGPC announced the introduction of the reforms which had been held in abeyance.  It was also decided to educate the masses on the need for and validity of the reforms.  Unfortunately, this has not been done on the desired scale.  As a result, opposition from a few vested interests continues.  It is spearheaded by the Sant Samaj, which is known for its opposition to the Sikh Rahit Maryada.  They persuaded the Singh Sahib Giani Puran Singh ji to convene a meeting at Sri Akal Takht Sahib on the 4th of November, 1999, to which mostly those persons who were known for their opposition to the reforms were invited.  Their intention was to elicit a hukamnama from the Akal Takht Sahib rejecting the proposed reforms.  Neither the SGPC, nor anybody who had worked hard at the reforms and who understood the subject were invited.  In fact they were carefully kept out.  Even Sardar Pal Singh Purewal, a recognised international authority on calendar, who had played a key role in formulating the reforms, was ignored initially.  Only after a good deal of pressure was he issued a belated notice for the meeting, which he received on 29th October, in Canada, asking him to travel at his own expense.  A committed Sikh that he is, Sardar Pal Singh made frantic efforts, but could not find a seat on any airline to reach Amritsar in time for the meeting.  Thus, the field was clear for the opponents of the reforms.  I wanted to attend this meeting and plead for the reform, but sudden illness prevented me.  The meeting was thinly attended with participants not exceeding fifty in number.  However, a few knowledgeable persons, notably, Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, Giani Gurdit Singh, Dr Gurbakhsh Singh, and (now late) Dr Sher Singh Sher, managed to join and explain the importance of the reforms.  As a result, the opponents failed to get the desired hukamnama rejecting the reforms.  Instead they had to be content with a recommendation to retain the restriction on its implementation for the present. 

This has created an anomalous situation.  The SGPC adopted the reforms based on expert technical advice and supported by overwhelming majority of Sikhs in India and abroad unanimously.  Respecting the demand from a tiny section, the implementation was stayed until Vaisakhi 1999.  The stay was later vacated, so that the reforms should now be in force.  However, some vested interests still want the restriction to continue with the support of Singh Sahib Giani Puran Singh.  Every Sikh bows his head to Sri Akal Takht Sahib and holds its Jathedar in the highest esteem.  Decisions at Sri Akal Takht, however, are not supposed to be taken arbitrarily by an individual or under the influence of a particular group.  The Jathedar is supposed to reflect the views of the Panth as its spokesman, and certainly not the views of an individual or a group.  The SGPC for all practical purposes represents the Panth.  Its decisions must, therefore, be respected.  Any confrontation with it is unfortunate and the Jathedar Sahib is expected to work for a harmonious relationship.

After having explained the situation above, we wish to appeal to Sikh intelligentsia to assert their views.  A technical matter should not be decided at layman's level.  We also appeal to the SGPC to start a vigorous campaign of mass-education on the calendar issue, and implement the reforms in right earnest, which should not be delayed beyond the sacred tercentenary year of the Khalsa.

The Nanakshahi Calendar is sacred to us as it was introduced by the Guru’s devotees to perpetuate his memory.  We must remember that it was not started by Guru Nanak himself.  If he had himself linked it with Bikrami Samvat, nobody would think of changing it.  But it was done by Sikhs at a time when Bikrami Samvat was the last word on calendar in India.  Now that we know more accurately the movement of the earth and the sun, and when the entire civilised world has switched over to solar year in the Common Era (CE), it would be sheer obstinacy to stick to an outdated and unscientific system of calendar.  Guru Nanak himself emphasized the relationship between the solar year and the incidence of seasons, when he said, ;{oi J/e' o[s nB/e, One sun, many seasons.

Let us then, accept the spirit of the Guru’s teachings.  We appeal to Singh Sahib Giani Puran Singh ji to give his blessings to and lead the reforms in Nanakshahi Samvat.

 

 

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