Spring season is a time of new beginnings, rejuvenation, and growth, as nature wakes up from its long winter slumber. As an inquisitive learner of geography and mathematics combined into marine navigation, I find this season particularly inspiring, as it encourages us to reflect on our own personal and professional journeys. Come explore the Spring Equinox, its connection to the Sun's Northern Declination, and the various cultural festivals that celebrate this transformative period. The connections to calendar systems would be apt as I relish my new campus abode.
Spring Equinox and the Sun in Northern Celestial Sphere
The Spring Equinox, also known as the Vernal Equinox, is an astronomical event that occurs when the plane of Earth's equator (Celestial equator) intersects with the apparent path of the Sun (Ecliptic). This results in nearly equal hours of daylight and darkness, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The Spring Equinox generally occurs on or around March 21st, and indicates the Sun's Northern Declination, which is the angular distance of the Sun north of the celestial equator. As the Earth continues to orbit the Sun, the Northern Declination increases, leading to longer days and warmer temperatures that are characteristic of the spring season.
Cultural Festivities and New Beginnings
The Vernal Equinox is also the rough date of a host of festivities in India and beyond. Let us look at a few of these and inspire a new beginning for ourselves.
Navroz: Reflection & Growth in a New Year
Navroz is a festival celebrated on or around the Spring Equinox by various communities, including Persian, Kurdish, Afghan, and Zoroastrian populations. The date of Navroz can vary based on the astronomical observations of the new moon, but it typically falls around March 21st in the Gregorian calendar. Navroz symbolizes renewal, purification, and new beginnings. Festivities involve spring cleaning, wearing new clothes, and preparing special foods to share with loved ones. The Haft Seen, a ceremonial table adorned with seven symbolic items, is also a significant component of the celebration. Navroz is not only a time for joyous gatherings, but also for spiritual reflection and growth.
Navroz as we would have heard occurs on two distinct dates. The first, known as Shahenshahi Navroz, does not account for the additional leap years and thus has gradually shifted away from the Spring Equinox over time. Consequently, Shahenshahi Navroz currently falls around August. The second dates of celebration this season, called Fasli Navroz or Kadmi Navroz, is aligned with the Spring Equinox and is celebrated around March 21st. Both versions of Navroz share similar customs and significance, emphasising renewal, purification, and new beginnings.
Gudi Padwa: Celebration of Newness and Prosperity
For people living in Maharashtra and some parts of southern India, Gudi Padwa is a festival that marks the beginning of the new year. It is celebrated on the first day of the Chaitra month of the Hindu Calendar, which usually falls in March or April. Gudi Padwa is believed to be the day Lord Brahma created the universe, and is thus considered an auspicious time for starting new ventures. Festivities include the decoration of homes with colourful rangolis and torans, the hoisting of a Gudi (a flag-like structure made of a bamboo stick, silk cloth, and a copper or silver vessel), and the preparation of traditional dishes like Puran Poli, Shrikhand, and Aamras. Gudi Padwa is a time to come together with family and friends, exchange greetings, and seek blessings for the year ahead.
Ugadi: Beginning of a New Cycle
Ugadi is a festival celebrated in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, marking the beginning of the new year according to the lunisolar calendar. Like Gudi Padwa, it falls on the first day of the Chaitra month, typically in March or April. The word 'Ugadi' is derived from the Sanskrit words 'Yuga' (age) and 'Adi' (beginning), signifying the commencement of a new age or cycle.
Ugadi is celebrated with various customs and rituals, including the cleaning and decoration of homes with mango leaves and floral designs, the preparation of traditional dishes, and the offering of prayers at temples. A significant aspect of the Ugadi celebrations is the preparation of a special dish called Ugadi Pachadi, which is made from six ingredients, each representing a different taste and emotion: sweet (jaggery), sour (tamarind), salty (salt), bitter (neem flowers), spicy (green chili), and tangy (unripe mango). This dish symbolizes the acceptance of life's diverse experiences and the importance of maintaining a balance in our emotions.
Ugadi serves as a reminder to embrace the cyclical nature of life, encouraging personal reflection, growth, and the setting of new goals for the year ahead.
Cheti Chand: Embracing New Beginnings and Hope
The Sindhi community celebrates Cheti Chand as a New Year festival. It falls on the second day of the Chaitra month, typically in March or April according to the Gregorian calendar. Cheti Chand symbolises new beginnings, hope, and prosperity. People celebrate by decorating their homes, wearing new clothes, offering prayers at temples, preparing special feasts, and organising cultural programs. It is a time to reflect on the past year and set new goals for the future.
Calendars and the Calendar System
With a flurry of New Year Greetings on Social Media and texts, a few would have wondered as to when really is New Year? To demystify that it behoves us to look at different calendar systems in the Indian context.
The Gregorian Calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, is the most widely used civil calendar system in the world today. It is a solar calendar with 12 months and is based on the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Although the Gregorian Calendar does not have a direct connection with the Spring Equinox or the aforementioned cultural festivals, it serves as a common point of reference for people around the world, helping to synchronise the celebration of these events across different cultures and communities. In the Gregorian System obviously January 1st is the date for New Year and most commonly recognised.
The Islamic or Hijri Calendar is a lunar calendar used by Muslims worldwide to determine religious observances, such as Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. It consists of 12 lunar months, totaling approximately 354 or 355 days, which is shorter than the solar year. The Hijri Calendar began in 622 CE, marking the year of the Prophet Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijra. Since the Islamic Calendar is purely lunar, it does not incorporate intercalary months to realign with the solar year. As a result, Islamic festivals and events gradually shift through the seasons over time, cycling through the entire Gregorian Calendar every 32 or 33 years.
The Vikram Samvat is a calendar system that numerically begins in 57 BCE, marking the foundation of the Vikram Era. This calendar is primarily used in India, Nepal, and among the Hindu community worldwide. It consists of 12 lunar months, with each year being named after one of the 60 Samvatsara. The new year in the Vikram Samvat usually starts around the first day of Chaitra month, which coincides with Gudi Padwa and Cheti Chand.
As a post script I ought to add that "Hindu" communities refer to a collective of wide range of regional communities and each of them have distinctive calendar contexts. Therefore within the larger Indian context there are different dates for local New Year festivities.
The Saka Era, on the other hand, is a historical calendar system that numerically began in 78 CE. It is used as the basis for the Indian National Calendar, which is the official civil calendar of India. The Saka Era also comprises 12 lunar months, but the new year commences on the first day of the Chaitra month, which is usually around March 22nd in the Gregorian calendar. This date corresponds with the Spring Equinox and the festival of Navroz.
Days (Tithi), Fortnights (Paksha), Months (Maasa) and Year (Varsha)
The Indian Calendar System is unique in that it combines both lunar and solar cycles. This approach results in a luni-solar calendar, where months are based on the lunar cycle while the years are based on the solar cycle. In this system, time is divided into various units to mark days, months, and years. The system is based on lunar and solar cycles, which give rise to specific terminologies such as Tithi, Paksha, Maasa, and Varsha. Here's a brief explanation of these terms:
A Tithi is the lunar day in the Hindu calendar. It is the time taken for the Moon to move 12 degrees longitudinally relative to the Sun. There are 30 Tithis in a lunar month, each varying in duration from approximately 21 to 26 hours. Tithis play a significant role in determining auspicious and inauspicious days for various activities in Hindu culture.
A Paksha is a lunar fortnight, consisting of 15 Tithis. There are two Pakshas in a lunar month: Shukla Paksha (bright fortnight) and Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight). The Shukla Paksha starts with the New Moon (Amavasya) and ends with the Full Moon (Purnima), while the Krishna Paksha begins with the Full Moon and concludes with the New Moon. Each Paksha comprises 15 Tithis, totaling 30 Tithis for the entire lunar month.
A Maasa is the lunar month in the Hindu calendar, which consists of 29.5 solar days. Each Maasa begins with the New Moon and ends with the next New Moon, encompassing both the Shukla and Krishna Pakshas. There are 12 Maasas in a lunar year, named Chaitra, Vaishakha, Jyeshtha, Ashadha, Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashwin, Kartik, Margashirsha, Pausha, Magha, and Phalguna.
Varsha refers to the lunar year in the Indian Calendar System. A lunar year consists of 12 lunar months (approximately 354 days), which is shorter than the solar year (approximately 365.24 days). To reconcile the difference between lunar and solar years, the Indian Calendar System employs an Adhik Maas (intercalary month) approximately every 32.5 months. This additional month helps to maintain accuracy and alignment with the solar year.
These units of time form the basis of the Indian Calendar System, which is used to determine religious observances, cultural events, and auspicious days for various activities in Hindu culture.
In 2023, the Vikram Samvat New Year (2080) and in the Saka Era Calendar, the New Year (1945) both start on March 22nd, 2023, aligning with the first day of the Chaitra month according to the Indian National Calendar.
Embracing New Beginnings through Academics
With all that knowledge (gnyana) it is with gratitude I find myself in the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar in a wonderful campus setting. It was indeed an honour to be included as Principal Faculty for Naval Operations Law that commenced on March 20th, 2023 almost at Spring Equinox.
I am reminded of the significance of new beginnings, both in nature and in our lives. The Spring Equinox, coupled with the rich tapestry of cultural festivals like Navroz, Gudi Padwa, and Cheti Chand, serve as powerful reminders of the transformative power of renewal, growth, and hope. Just as nature undergoes a period of rejuvenation each spring, we too can embrace new opportunities and challenges in our personal and professional lives. I am excited to begin this new chapter at the University, surrounded by experienced peers and learners who share a passion for learning. I look forward to the wonderful voyage of discovery that lies ahead over the coming three months.