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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 - Main Features

Bhai Ashok Singh

The Universe is the most mysterious part of our everyday experience. Plants and animals grow and die, rivers flow, rain falls, earthquake, snowfall etc also take place. We understand that the universe created by an invisible supreme power, is beyond comprehension. Two great objects, i.e., sun and moon, travel according to His wish, one hot and constant, the other cool and changeable. It provides blazing sun, racing clouds, darkness followed by thunder and lightning and a glimpse of clear night, groups of twinkling stars moving in a slow but reliable manner. Astronomy is the scientific study of sun, moon and stars. A Calendar is significant discovery of the Astronomy. It is based on calculation of the movement of moon, sun and earth. The calendar plays a significant role in planning our festivals, celebrations, the sowing season, the harvest season, recording of dates and events, and planning for the future.

Calendar is a very important part of any community or religious group which reminds one of the important days, happenings of the past that help develop its, culture and keep it together. All major religious communities of the world have their own Calendars which are symbolic of their independent identity like Hindus have Bikrami, and Saka calendars, the Christians have Gregorian Calendar (which these days is called Common Era) and the Muslims have Hijri Calendar. It is also worth noting that the smallest and the most recent faith of the world called Bahais, with population only around 5 lakh, too have their own Calendar.

The Sikhs followed the Bikrami calendar for all intents and purposes till early 20th century. Nanakshahi Samvat that had been in use was nothing but the changed name of the Bikrami Samvat. Its tithis (sudis / vadis - lunar dates), sankrantis (sangrands - beginning of the solar months) were the same.

The Bikrami Calendar is luni-solar, which means its one part is solar based according to which all Sangrands (sankrantis), the first day of the month, are decided; and the other part is lunar based which determines tithis (sudis and vadis) according to which dates of all gurpurbs are determined. The problem  with the solar part is that Vaisakhi keeps on shifting in relation to seasons. According to Surya Siddhantic calculations Vaisakhi occurred on the day of the Spring Equinox in 532 CE .

Now a days the Spring Equinox occurs on 20 / 21 March, but Vaisakhi on 13 / 14 April. In another thousand years it will start occurring in May.  

The Vaisakhi dates for certain past epochs were as follows:

Current Era (CE) Year     Vaisakhi date
1000                                22 March 
1469                                27 March 
1699                                29 March
1752                                29 March
1753                              9 April (due to change from Julian to Gregorian Calendar)
1799                                10 April
1899                                12 April

In 1902 for the first time it occurred on April 13. The cycle of April 12/13 continued until 1940.

In 1940 it occurred on April 12 for the last time.

In 1971 it happened on April 14 for the first time. The cycle of 13/14 April, according to the Bikrami calendar, will continue well into the 21st century, when in the later part it will change again. In 2080 it will fall on 13th April for the last time, and  in 2100 on 15th April for the first time.

In the lunar Bikrami Calendar dates of tithis, according to which gurpurbs are celebrated, change from year to year in relation to the solar calendar, sometimes occurring 10 or 11 days earlier, and sometimes 18 to 19 days later.

The mean length of the solar year of the Bikrami Samvat is 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9.8 seconds, and that of the tropical year, from spring equinox to next spring equinox is 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 45.2 seconds1  The Bikrami year currently is longer than the tropical year by about 20 minutes. The Surya Siddhantic solar year was in use until sixties. Its length is 365 days 6 hours 12 minutes and 36 seconds2 , which is about 23 minutes longer than that of the tropical year. If the months of any given Era are to recur consistently in the same seasons, then the year length has to be that of the tropical year.

Over a period of time this difference builds up, and shows in those calendars which are not based on the tropical year. The seasons in relation to the months begin shifting. This is the reason why Vaisakhi has shifted by 8 / 9 days from 1469 CE to the present times. If Nanakshahi Calendar had not been de-linked from the Bikrami calendar, this shift would have continued and in 13000 years Vaisakhi would have occurred in the middle of October. The seasons of those months would be opposite to those which are mentioned in the  Baramaha Majh , and Baramaha Tukhari Bani . (for more information see Jantri 500 Years (From 1469 to 2000 CE by Pal Singh Purewal, 1994, Punjab School Education Board, Chandigarh (India).)

However, there are two problems with the Bikrami calendar. Firstly, because it is based on the movement of moon, its months wander in seasons - the relation of the months with seasons as given in Gurbani is changing.  According to Bara Mahas of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Arjan Dev in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, with Chet as the first month and Phagun as the 12th or the last month and Nanakshahi Calendar should also follow the sequence of months adopted in Gurbani. 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.  Following Bikarami lunar Calendar the Parkash Gurpurb of  Guru Gobind Singh Sahib was celebrated at Patna Sahib on 13th January, and in Punjab on 14th January by opponents of Nanakshahi calendar, both asserting that the Gurpurb should be celebrated on Poh Sudi 7. If in Punjab as well as in Bihar the Gurpurb was celebrated on Poh Sudi 7, then why different dates of 13th and 14th January? Two different days for one Gurpurb happened only in the Bikarami calendar. Both these problems have been resolved in Nanakshahi Jantri 2003.  Its year is based on the length of the tropical year.  Therefore, its months will always maintain the present relationship with seasons, and will stay fixed according to Gurbani. 

Because of lack of deep understanding of calendars, it is said that the dates in the Nankshahi Jantri have been arbitrarily fixed. This is not true. All dates have been fixed according to well established principles of calendar making. The original Gurpurb dates have been used, except that in stead of using the lunar dates (sudis and vadis), Parvishtas (solar dates) have been used and then converted to the dates in the Gregorian Calendar.

The Calendar submitted by Sardar Pal Singh Purewal was approved by SGPC after due consideration and inviting suggestions and objections and was announced as adopted by Jathedar Sahib in 2003. The Calendar was based on solar chart. This Calendar approved by Sikh Sangat and implemented by SGPC in the same year was once again distorted/amended in 2009 by the SGPC in understanding with the Sant Samaj. It seems that under the pressure of Sant Samaj and BJP, Sikh clerics had given their approval to make changes in the Nanakshahi calendar adopted in 2003 which has caused a lot confusion among the Singh Sangat. As we all know that majority of Sikhs living abroad still observe Sikh religious days according to the original Nanakshahi calendar and don't accept changes made thereafter.

Most of the Sikh organisations and individuals are in favour of the un-amended original version (2003) of Nanakshahi Calendar. Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee too have decided to stick to the original Nanakshahi Calendar adopted in 2003. It is due to the calendar row that Pakistan had denied visas to the members of an SGPC Jatha for observing the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev in 2011 and 2012. But under the pressure of the Sant Samaj, the original Nanakshahi Calender of fixed dates, was discarded by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in 2009 and unscientific changes were made. While the Pakistan Gurdwara management Committee, and the majority of Western Sikhs, following the original (solar based) Nanakshahi Calender of fixed dates, while more traditional factions in India, and other parts of the East, follow yearly updates of the amended Nanakshahi Calender. This has caused serious division in the community at globel level.

Any major decisions regarding issues involving the entire Sikh community, such as amendments to the Nanakshahi calendar, should only be made through an open and transparent process. This is an issue of scientific approach and cannot be decided by vote politics. A meeting called by SGPC in last February for discussing and listening to the point of view of scholars, individuals, organisations was a welcome step.

Unfortunately, the present form the Nanakshahi Calender has been manipulated by the vested interests which is misleading and has caused confusion in the minds of ordinary Sikhs. Sikhism has a unique place amongst the major religions of the world like Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam  and it is extremely important that like all other communities, Sikhs too should have a Calendar of their own.

The controversy of Nanakshahi Calender is considered as one of the most sensitive of Panthik issues as it creates division in the world wide society of Sikhs.  It is felt that decisions taken by the SGPC in haste and without proper process and procedure led to serious divides in the community. This decision affecting the entire Sikh community must involve the input of experts as well as consultations with the wider Sikh community.

Sikhs microscopic community, are spread well over 120 countries. They live there under the influence of locals. One thing that can keep them together and connected there with their past is their own calendar.  In Article 25 of Indian Constitution, Sikhism is being clubbed with Hinduism.  To maintain the independent identity of Guru Nanak’s religion it has become imperative that we have our own Calendar.

This is a very crucial time when a case of our independent identity alongwith the identity of Jainism is already before the Supreme Court. And, Nanakshahi Calendar would be a strong point to decide in favour of our independent religious existence.

Institute of Sikh Studies has played an important role in preparing this Calendar and has repeatedly sent requests to Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib and SGPC President not to discard the original Calendar which was implemented in 2003 with the due approval of Sikh Sangat.   SGPC should once again revert to the original Nanakshahi Calendar. Let us not undo what has been done most diligently to consolidate the distinctive identity of Sikhism as a religion.

 

 

 

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