Article 1: Gudhi Padwa : An Astronomical Perspective

by: Radhika Auti, April 13, 2021.

Living in a culturally diverse country such as India,Gudhi Padwa has special significance in various states. People of Telangana,Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka celebrate this day as Ugadi; in Maharashtra and Goa, it is celebrated as Gudhi Padwa while, Sindhis celebrate it as Cheti Chand. It is a festival of charm and delight all over the country.However,there is a fascinating reason why it is celebrated as the beginning of the New Year according to the luni-solar Hindu Calendar.Here it goes: The festivals that we celebrate in India are closely related to the astronomical phenomenon.

The calendar that we follow,Gregorian Calendar,is essentially based on Christian tradition.The Gregorian calendar is a derivative of the Julian calendar and Julian calendar is a derivative of the ancient Roman Lunar Calendar. The year began on the moon before the spring equinox when it comes to the ancient Roman calendar. One of the four cardinal positions of the Earth in its orbit around the sun is the vernal equinox [spring equinox]. Interestingly,the duration of the day and the night on the day of an equinox is virtually equal,that’s why ‘nox’[means night] in the term ‘equinox’.

The ancient Roman Calendar[which was originally based on a lunar calendar based on lunations]was under-corrected because it measured just 10 months,from March to December.Later,Emperor Numa modified this calendar in 753 BCE where he added two more months [11th and 12th months] as Januarius and Februarius along with a provision of intercalary months to keep it in sync with the seasons.In 49 BCE,Julius Caesar dumped the lunar calendar and installed a Solar calendar.When he created the Julian Calendar,he made January 1 the first day of the year thinking that it would be appropriate for January,Janus’s namesake month to be the flag bearer of the new year.

Janus is the god of beginnings,gates,transitions,time,duality,doorways, passages,frames and endings in ancient Roman religion and myth.In his depiction,he has two faces where one looks back in the past and the other looks to the future.Pope Gregory’s Papal Bull[1582] Inter Gravissimas introduced the Gregorian Calendar which we use today.In India,the Hindu calendar refers to various luni-solar calendars that are used in Indian subcontinent and South-east Asia for social and religious purposes.

The most studied and known Hindu calendars are Shalivahana Shaka[found in Deccan region of Southern India]; Vikram Samvat[found in Nepal,North and central regions of India] and the Tamil calendar[used in Tamil Nadu]. Their new year starts in Spring.However,the Malayalam calendar[in the regions of Kerala] starts in autumn where the solar cycle is emphasized.Astronomically speaking,the duration of the month depends on the lunations in the lun-isolar calendar.The two types of luni-solar calendars are the Purnimanta and the Amavastyanta.In the latter system,a month is measured between successive new moons. It means there is one full moon in between two successive New moons.So in this system,the Nakshatra in which the full moon of that month appears is used for naming that month.For example,the month in which the full moon occurs in Chitra Nakshatra was named Chaitra; if the full moon occurs in Magha Nakshatra then it is called Maagh.Chaitra is the first month of the Hindu calendar which is predominantly followed in India.And since the full moon occurs in Chitra,the preceding New moon will occur about 180 degrees opposite this Nakshatra and it is the Phalguni Amavasya[the last day of the year because Phalgun is the last month].

There is an astronomical reason for why Chaitra is treated as the first month. The transition of the Sun into the first point of Aries or Mesha had significance in the past because this point once coincided with the Vernal equinox point or Vasant Sampat Bindu which denoted the start of spring season.This transition of the Sun into Aries also called Mesha Sankranti was considered as the end of winter andthe beginning of spring and also the beginning of the new year.When the sun enters the first point of the Aries[Mesha Rashi],the corresponding full moon will be in Chitra Nakshatra i.e. 180 degree opposite the first point of Aries.When the full moon of Chaitra will be in Chitra,the first day of that month occurs when the Moon enters Ashwini Nakshatra in Mesha Rashi.But our calendar is based on the moon and the sun,we don’t consider the entry of the sun but the entry of the moon in Mesha Rashi.And that is why,Gudi Padwa is celebrated as the new year on the Pratipada of the Shukla Paksha of Chaitra.

This is the underlying astronomical aspect in the celebration of Gudi Padwa which we should be aware of.Keep reading and Keep exploring!

References & Further Reading:

1]Modern Surya Siddhanta translated by Ebenezer Burgess and edited by Phanindralal Gangooly.

2]William D. Crump[2014].Encyclopedia of New Year’s Holidays Worldwide. McFarland.[p.114. ISBN 978-0-7864-9545-0]

3]Anne Feldhaus[2003].Connected Places:Region,Pilgrimage and Geographical Imagination in India.Palgrave Macmillan. [Pp 48-57. ISBN 978-1-4039-8134-9]

4]H.H. Scullard,Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic [Cornell University Press,1981] p 51.

Article 2 : Vardhamaan Mahavir

by: Anushree Bodhale, April 25, 2021.

“Smile and we smile, the lords of many lands;

Frown and we smile, the lords of our own hands;

For man is man and master of his fate.” (Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enid’s Song)

These lines by Alfred Lord Tennyson from his poem Enid’s song, have become the go to quote for anyone who wants to highlight that it is man, who himself makes his destiny. Long before Tennyson, a lord in his own rights, in India there lived a man who proposed the same philosophy. Today he is known as the 24th Tirthankara in Jainism. He propagated feminism and gender equality back in 599 BC. This was none other than Vardhamaan Mahavir.

In the modern day Muzzafarpur district in Bihar, which was then called Vaisali, had a village named Kundagram, which was the birthplace of this great man whose preachings are followed by 6 million people today. Born to Siddhartha, the head of a Kshatriyadan named Jantrikas, and the Trisala whose brother, Chetak was the ruler of Vaisali, Vardhamaan, by birth was related to the royal family of Magadha. Chetak’s daughter, Chellana, was married to the King of Magadha. Born into a family of this stature, Vardhamaan was able to gain knowledge about varied disciplines. He lived the life of a common man, with his wife Jamali until his father’s death. After this, at the age of 30, his journey towards spiritual awakening began.

Vardhamaan left his life of comfort and worldly goods in the pursuit of truth. For 12 years he travelled from one place to another, never staying at a place for more than 5 days. Perhaps the most heard way for spiritual awakening, as seen in history and mythology, is by performing penance and only a few are capable of performing a rigorous penance. Vardhamaan, too, practiced penance for 12 years. After these 12 long years of penance, as he sat under a sal tree on the banks of river Rijjupalika, Vardhamaan gained perfect knowledge or “Kaivalya.” He got free from the bonds of pleasure and pain, for which he came to be known as Mahavir (the great hero) and Jina (the conqueror). Through his preaching, came Jainism. Vardhmaan, also known as Kevalin, gained many followers who were better known as Nigranthas (free from bonds). His wife became his first disciple and became the leader of the first schism of the Jaina Church. The saint, Gosala Makkhaliputta from Nalanda, was also a follower of Vardhamaan Mahavir. However, he left to form his own religion called Ajivikas, as he differed with Vardhaman’s doctrines on rejuvenation.

Mahavira then preached Jainism in India. Mahavira’s first sermon was held at Vipulachala near Rajagriha where he gained 11 Brahmins as his followers. For years he preached Jainism in places like Champa, Vaisali, Rajagriha, Mithila, and Sravasti.

Mahavira’s philosophy, though propounded years ago, remains relevant even today. The striking features of his philosophy are the ideas of feminism and vegetarianism. His idea of non-theism is quite iconoclastic to the other world religions. To understand his theory, we need to understand his six moral teachings-

  1. Belief in soul and karma-

Mahavir believed that every element consists of both material and spiritual factors. While the material may cease to exist, the spiritual aspect, external to the material, keeps evolving. The soul is intertwined in the bonds of karma. Only when one disengages from the pursuit of passion, one’s soul gets free from the bonds of the karmic force. Once the soul is free from the bonds, the soul radiates in its magnificent glow. A pure soul, which has reached the peak of greatness and is enriched with boundless knowledge, power and bliss is what he called the 'Paramatma'.

  1. Nirvana-

Nirvana, a concept also well-known in Buddhism and in Hinduism as Moksha, where one reaches an ultimate state devoid of sense of self, devoid of pain and suffering, innate desires, and free from the bonds of karma. According to Mahavir, Nirvana can be attained by following five key principles viz- Ahimsa (non- injury), Satya (being truthful), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (non-adultery) and Aparigraha (non-possession). Additionally, one must not get carried away by either suffering or pain and treat them equally. One must have faith in Jinas and lastly, one must have the right knowledge to gain liberation.

  1. Non-belief in a creator

Mahavira did not believe in the concept of a creator. For him, the world in its current form won’t cease to exist but simply change its form. As God did not create the world, he is not in control of what is happening in this world.

  1. Rejection of Vedas (Nastika)

In line with modern science, Mahavira believed that the world is made up of different types of matter which changes form; a principle influenced by the Samkhya philosophy. As Mahavira did not believe in God, he believed that it is man who creates his own future and his destiny. Living a life of austerity, he can overcome his sorrows. Thus, Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas and falls into the Nastika or non-theist school of Hindu philosophy.

  1. Ahimsa (Non- Injury)

Ahimsa has been mentioned in other philosophical lines of thoughts as well, but it is through Jainism that the concept of ahimsa spread across the globe. Mahavira believed that everything, animate or in-animate, had life in it and therefore should not be harmed. This concept effectively put an end to sacrifices that were practiced in different areas.

  1. Freedom to Women

Mahavira’s most striking principle is imparting freedom to women. Following the idea of his predecessor, Parsva Nath, Mahavira believed that women had all the right to attain Nirvana. Women were allowed in the Jain Sangha and many women became Sarmini and Sravikas, similar to Hrishinis in Hinduism.

Today, Jainism has been regarded as the most peaceful religion or sect. Each of Mahavira’s principles are relevant and didactic, even to this day. His teachings encourage one to follow the pursuit of gaining knowledge. Today, in a world where the influx of information is at a humongous pace, one can follow this quest of getting knowledge without the boundaries of geographical limitations and selective access. He was a revolutionary, a pioneer, to talk about feminism and egalitarianism through his philosophy. He preached two important concepts that are appreciated even today- agnosticism and rational thinking. He also states that atheism without investigation is ignorance and faith without rectification is folly. To follow his principle of ahimsa, to be compassionate and kind to one and all, is the need of the hour. By adhering to the principle that we are the ones who are in charge of our destiny, we learn to exert control on our actions and our behaviour. So, on this day let us remember Vardhamaan Mahavira and let us try to be compassionate in our lives by following his doctrine of Ahimsa. Let us be truthful, and let us be humble for gaining knowledge! Always believe in yourself, as only you are in charge of your own life!

On this note, this article is brought to an end with a beautiful shloka encompassing Mahavira’s teachings-

अधीत्य चतुरो वेदान्सर्वशास्त्राण्यनेकश: |

ब्रह्मतत्त्वं जानाति दर्वी सूपरसं यथा ||

(Only reading the vedas and shastras multiple times to get real knowledge of Brahman (Realisation of the supreme being) is not sufficient. A serving spoon does not obtain the taste of the food that is being served from the pot. To get realisation of the highest principle, it is essential that one listens to the shastras, let's the knowledge sink in by meditating on what was read, and keeps studying it constantly while understanding its limitations and restrictions.)

References & Further Reading:

[1] Jains in the world: Religious values and ideologies in India. Oxford University Press.

[2] Britannica encyclopedia

Article 3 : Origin and Evolution of Indian Astronomy

by: Bhargav Joshi, May 1, 2021.