The tragedy of Vikram Samvat

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The tragedy of Vikram Samvat

Friday, 30 March 2018 | Priyadarshi Dutta

Demand to declare Samvat as India’s national calendar is actuated by ideology and isn’t pragmatic. Cultural hype cannot be a substitute for computational aspects

Recently, the commencement of the Vikram Samvat, 2075 led to a torrent of good wishes in the social media space. Its northern variant began on March 18, whereas the Gujarat variant would begin on November 8. Some people project it as Hindu New Year though India has more than two dozens of calendars that are no less Hindu.

I have noticed, over the years, how the only thing people care about Vikram Samvat is its beginning. Thereafter, even those who are most ardent in wishing it, tend to forget everything about it.

They are content to follow the Gregorian calendar. They would draw a blank if one were to ask them, in June or July, what date or even month it was according to Vikram Samvat. The demand to declare Vikram Samvat India’s national calendar is actuated by ideology than by pragmatism.

Vikram Samvat, a lunisolar calendar, has actually no dates (1,2,3..30,31) but only lunar days like Pratipada, Dwitiya, Tritiya..Purnima/Amavasya. This makes it inconvenient for civil use. As per Vikram Samvat, we would not be celebrating Independence Day every year on August 15 but on Shravan Krishna Chaturdashi (as it was on August 15, 1947) whenever that comes. We would not be watching Republic Day parade on January 26 but on Magha Shukla Ashtami (as it was on January 26, 1950) whenever that occurs. But it would be highly taxing to remember the upcoming events in this format.  Even religious festivals, which are determined as per lunar calendar, are best remembered by dates. The distance or proximity of an event is best calculated by that metric.

India had around 30 panchangam or almanacs (calendars/date reckoners) at the time of Independence. Even today different States follow different calendar solar or lunisolar. “It is rather strange,” exclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru, “to find that while most of Christendom follows one single calendar and all Islamic countries follow a single calendar, the different States and provinces of India have followed or are following not less than 30 different calendars differing in the era of beginning, the initial date of the year, and to some extent in the methods of calculation.”

With India attaining Independence, an integration of national life was called for. One of the important spheres was a calendar. A Calendar Reform Committee was appointed in November 1952 by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Committee was chaired by eminent astrophysicist Dr Meghnad Saha, then a Member of Parliament. Its mandate was — “to examine all the existing calendars which are being followed in the country at present and after a scientific study of the subject, submit proposals for an accurate and uniform calendar for the whole of India”.

But a calendar is not merely a computational document but also a cultural statement. The committee collected 60 Panchangs published across India in various languages as specimens. The committee sent a 14-point questionnaire to their publishers; and received back answers from 51 publications. In addition, the committee received suggestions from 48 persons and institutions. They included Dr Sampurnanand, an expert in Sanskrit and Jyotisha, who later became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Dr Saha pointed out that Vikram era was never used by astronomers and in different States, there were different beginnings for the Vikram Samvat era. For all calculations, the Indian astronomers have used Saka era. It might be recalled that Saka Samvat era (instituted in AD 78) is a solar calendar. It is fit to be used in daily life independent of the Gregorian calendar. The committee resolved to use Saka era as the reformed Indian calendar but with a modification. The Saka (national) would begin on March 22, the morrow of vernal equinox, as against Saka (traditional) from April 15.

The committee noted that the origin of Vikram Samvat, historically speaking, was shrouded in mystery. There is no contemporary archaeological or numismatic evidence to prove the existence of King Vikramaditya who had repulsed the Sakas in AD 57. The earliest mention of this era comes from the inscription of King Jaikadeva, who ruled near Okhamandal in Kathiawar State (now Gujarat). The inscription mentions 794 Vikram Samvat corresponding to AD 737 as the date of its installation.

In the 20th century, Pt Surya Narayan Vyas (1902-1976), the illustrious astrologer and polymath of Ujjain, spent a lifetime to establish the historicity of Vikramaditya. He started the magazine Vikram'(1942), organised two thousand years of Vikramaditya in 1944 and established the Vikram Kirti Mandir museum in 1965 in Ujjain. The annual Kalidasa Festival in Ujjain is his enduring legacy. He was of the view that Vikramaditya of Ujjain was separate from Samudragupta and Chandragupta II who adopted such the honorific. But Pt Vyas’ exclusion and non-participation in Calendar Reform Committee even by way of suggestion remain an enigma to me. He could have been the fittest person to defend the Vikram Samvat.

BN luniya in his paper Historicity of King Vikramaditya (Vikram Mandir Smarika, 1972) has tried to establish that Vikramaditya was head of a republic of Malwas who actually repulsed the Sakas in 57 BC. The Vikram Samvat, luniya says, was originally called Kruta era. The earliest inscription in support of Kruta era was Nadasa Sacrificial Pillar in erstwhile Udaipur state in Kruta Era 282. He also cites numismatic evidence — coins inscribed “Malaviya-Ganasya Jay” (victory to people of Malwa) apparently struck after the victory against Saka. 

Nehru, in a rare moment of candour, admitted that Muslim invasion (foreign invaders) at around AD 1200 destroyed indigenous centres of astronomical studies like those in Ujjain.

This led to a disappearance of the tradition of direct calculations from the heavenly bodies. Indian calendar makers thus remained desk-bound and time-warped over the following 800 years (Calendar Reform Committee Report, 1955)

India adopted a solar calendar viz Rashtriya Panchang or National Calendar since March 22, 1957. It was meant for civil usage incorporating dates of religious events. It is published every year in multiple Indian languages by Positional Astronomy Centre, Kolkata, under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences.

(The writer is an independent researcher. Views expressed  are personal)

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