Today is 14 March 2021. 14 represents the fourteenth day. March represents the month named after Mars, a Roman god of war. In ancient Rome, Martius was the first month of the year, and it was the season of warfare. 2021 represents the year referencing Julius Caesar of the Roman Empire.
What do we know about the calendars? And how are they related to the Sikhs? And why do we need one of our own?
The nature of the sun and the moon brought with them calendars in world history. People throughout the ages understood the sun to be a loyal and steady “truth” year after year. Many people also noticed that the moon changes its shape at the same time about every thirty days. Some people also observed the stars move across the sky and return to their original positions after about 365 days.
So, few people have been trying to predict and measure all these movements to predict the weather changes. Ancient cultures knew when summer came and days were longer; when to plant crops or hunt for animals; when domestic animals were likely to give birth; and when to give thanks to the gods; and so on.
History of Calendars
I grew up learning that the Babylonian and the Egyptian empires incorporated the earliest calendars, about 6,000 years ago. The latest research discovered the oldest known calendar mechanism is about 10,000 years old in Warren Field, Scotland. There were solar, lunar, and solar-lunar calendars based on how to mark time by the time Julius Caesar headed the Roman Empire about 2,148 years ago. Influenced by earlier calendars and the Greek calendar, the Julian calendar was based on science and math, their gods, and politics, but the priests made the call when things weren’t clear or exact.
On average, the Julian calendar had 365.25 days in a year. Scientists observed that the Earth took 365.2422 days to revolve around the sun; 0.0078 days becomes 11 minutes and 14 seconds a year, which adds up to about three days every 400 years.
In the mid-1500s, the church said, let us fix this because the equinox fell about ten days earlier, disrupting their Easter celebration. Monks, doctors, mathematicians, astronomers came up with a solution that would have an error of one day every 3,030 years instead of 128 years. The new solar calendar was adopted on 15 October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. European Catholics accepted the new Gregorian calendar within a couple of years; eventually, the Protestants accepted in the 1600s. The Church of England (Britain) didn’t accept it till 1752, Eastern Orthodoxy (Greece and Turkey) in the 1920s.
So, politics laced with religion marked the advent of calendars. They are associated with either a religious belief or an event, an establishment of the empire, or a combination thereof. Terms B.C. used to be “Before Christ” and A.D. “Anne Domini” (in the year of the Lord), but year zero is not the advent of Jesus; year 4 was. The current nomenclature of BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) are very twenty-first-century phenomena after the “vulgar era” debates of the last four centuries.
A Roman calendar became the Christian calendar which became the Common Era calendar.
Calendars in 5,000 years
5781: The Hebrew calendar is the Jewish calendar; it is lunisolar based on the Babylonian calendar. In Israel, the Gregorian and the Jewish calendars are used for secular and religious activities, respectively.
5123: The Tamil calendar is based on the old Indic calendar; it is solar with a 60-year cycle. In India, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, it is used by Tamil people and farmers.
5021: The Persian calendars are Iranian calendars; they include solar, lunar, and lunisolar calendars. The earliest ones were 360-day solar calendars from the Zoroastrian influence. Many other calendars followed based on religion and conquests such as Armenian, Bahai, Lunar Hijri, Rumi, and Solar Hijri.
4658: The Chinese calendar is a zodiac calendar based on twelve animals, not constellations; it is lunisolar with year-names that are repeated every 60 years. In China, it is used for determining festivals.
2621: The Mesoamerican calendars are Mayan and Aztec calendars; they range from 260-days to 365-days and repeat the cycle every 52-years. In parts of Guatemala and Mexico, they are still used for religious observations and social rituals.
2564: The Buddhist calendar is not an official calendar of any country; it is a lunisolar calendar. Its variations are used by Buddhists in Southeast Asian countries for Theravada Buddhist festivals.
2078: The Vikrami (Bikrami) Samvat is the Hindu calendar; it is a lunisolar calendar. Its variations are used in India and Nepal.
1943: The Shalivahana Shaka calendar is the Indian national calendar; it is a lunisolar calendar. In India, it is used by the Government of India, The Gazette of India, and All India Radio.
1442: The Hijri calendar is the Islamic calendar; it is a lunar calendar, which drifts by about ten days every year. That is why Ramadan takes place in the summer or winter. Most Islamic countries use the Islamic calendar for religious holidays only except Iran and Afghanistan.
553: The Nanakshahi calendar is the Sikh calendar; it is a lunisolar calendar. It was devised based on Sikh ethos in the 1990s; Vikrami Samvat remains very important for historical ties. Its variations and adoption remain a discontent.
Today, we use calendars to organize our time: year, months, and day. We use Google calendars to schedule and plan meetings, events, vacations.
The Sikh calendar is called the Nanakshahi calendar. It is named after Guru “Nanak” Sahib, the founder of Sikhi, the faith, and its adherents. Its Year 1 is 1469. Shah is a Persian word that means king; in Iran, it was used as a title for princes, lords, kings, and emperors. People from Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia called “Nanak” their Shah for the Guru ruled their hearts. Guru is for those who adopted “Nanak” as their “Perfect-Guide,” and “Sahib” is for those who only take orders from their “Sovereign.” Thus, Nanakshah-i is anything that belongs to the Nanak, the Ruler. I prefer to term it ‘Era of Nanak the Sovereign.’
From 1469, the Sikhs named their calendar, coins, and bricks Nanakshahi. The term Nanakshahi proclaims this era in the name of Guru; it is invoked to mark milestones. For example, when Banda Singh Bahadar established the Khalsa Raj in May 1710, he was the first to issue the Nanakshahi Sikka (coin). The first available Sikh coin that explicitly marked the Nanakshahi era was in 1786 (316 Nanakshahi or 1843 Vikrami samvat). It was a silver coin of Sri Amritsar Jiu mint, weighing about 11 grams, issued during the reign of Bhangi Misl of the Sikh Commonwealth. My friend Davinder Pal Singh and I named our first nonprofit “The Nanakshahi Trust''; it was a predecessor to the Panjab Digital Library.
From 1469 to the late 1990s, the term Nanakshahi was invoked, but Vikrami Samvat was a de-facto calendar among the Sikhs. The very first citation of Nanakshahi as a calendar year was in a voluminous book Twarikh Guru Khalsa by Giani Gian Singh (1822-1921); its first three parts were published in 1891. The first part of “Janam Sakhi Dasari Guruari'' details the Ten Sahibs’ biographies (Nanak I-X) and the emergence of the Sikhs into the nation. Giani Gian Singh was a granthi (reader of Guru Granth Sahib) for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was known for reciting “Sukhmani” (literally ‘Jewel-Comfort,’ a bani-composition) for Ranjit Singh every morning from 1841-1849. He was a revenue officer in Patiala and Jind, and then a Granthi again. In 1849, he became a pilgrim after Panjab’s annexation; in 1867, he started pursuing Sikh studies in indigenous systems. In “Katha Sri Guru Ramdas Sahib Ji (P:4)”, he writes:
This Guru ji, on 20 Kattak 2 Vadi Bikrami Sammat 1591, and 1536 CE, and 67 Nanakshahi, on Thursday after 4 gharis of the day, in the reign of Emperor Humayun, in the house of Hardas Mal Sodhi Khatri, from the womb of mother Daya Kaur, revealed himself in the Chuna Mandi, Lahore.
There is complete consensus on the calendar name and the era of Nanakshahi among the Sikhs.
There are no perfect calendars in the world.
The Nanakshahi calendar task started about 30 years ago involves asking and resolving some fundamental questions. There are no right or wrong answers. It requires making thoughtful decisions by subject matter experts and adoption by the Sikhs worldwide.
I have conversed with Pal Singh Purewal, an Edmonton-based Sikh who drafted the “Nanakshahi” calendar. It was adopted, implemented, revoked. I have also conversed with Anurag Singh, a Ludhiana-based Sikh. He opposed the original draft and then supported the revised draft, which kept the exact name of Nanakshahi but is actually based on Vikrami Samvat methodology. Both do agree on one thing: we need a Sikh calendar. Rest are games Sikhs, Indians, and Panjabis play via Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Jathedars, Akalis, Sant Samaj, Akal Takhat, Hukamname, etc.
What are the options for the year? The term for the year is “Sammat”; it is Panjabi for Samvat. In Nanakshahi, what ought to be the basis for time for the year: tropical (365d 5h 48m 45s) or sidereal year (365d 6h 9m 10s)? Let’s leave this one for scientists and mathematicians; it gets very nerdy. Regardless, rules are needed for a leap year and how many days in which month. Which month will have an extra day, and after how many years (leap year)? And how many days will each month have, 29 or 32?
The names of the months are clearly written in two “Bara Maha'' (12 months¹) banis-compositions in Guru Granth Sahib; there is a slight variation in spellings between the Guru Nanak Sahib’s one (110-7-10) and Guru Arjan Sahib’s one (133-6). They also both begin with the month of Cet (or Chet), not Vaisakh (or Baisakh).
The names of the days are clearly written in two “Var Sat” (7 days²) banis-compositions in Guru Granth Sahib; there is a slight variation in spellings between the Bhagat Kabir ji one (344-45) and the Guru Amardas Sahib one (841-42). They also both begin with Aditvar (now popularly aitvar), Sunday.
The names of months and days are inscribed in Gurmukhi script in the Guru Granth Sahib. So are the numerals 0-9³. That provides the complete base to form a date in Nanakshahi format.
What relationship do we want between months and seasons? Do we want them fixed to the CE calendar, or a 1-day shift every 70 years acceptable? Do we want fixed dates for Sangrand and Puranmashi every month? Sangrand is the first day of the month, whereas Puranmashi is the full moon.
Here, we must not reduce any month or day to be more auspicious than the other. Many cultures and religions do interventions to turn “bad” time to favorable; Sikhi does not. Here are few citations from the Guru Granth Sahib:
O Nanak, that day is beautiful when 1-Divine enters consciousness.
Consider the day to be damned even in pleasant seasons when Supreme Being is forgotten. (318)⁴
Let us sing Praise to become fortunate! Let me feel the grace, O 1-Adorable, dearest-revered!
Those seasons, months, mahurats, and gharis become praiseworthy when one utters the 1-virtues, dearest-revered. (927)⁵
Here, mahurat (or murati) and ghari (or ghati) are units of Indic time measurements where a mahurat is 48 min (30 mahurats in a day) and a ghari is 24 min (60 gharis in a day).
All months, days, and mahurats are pleasant for those who feel 1-Grace.
Nanak asks for the gift of connection, let me feel 1-Grace, O Fear-Eliminator! (133)⁶
All twelve months, seasons, thitis, days, gharis, mahurats, and pals are pleasant when 1-Eternal comes and meets naturally. (1109)⁷
Here, thiti and pal are units of Indic time measurements where a thiti is a lunar day and pal is 24 seconds.
No unit of time is auspicious because of its referenced solar, lunar, or lunisolar classification. What makes any moment auspicious is the genuine connection with 1Force.
Do we establish a Nanakshahi calendar in reference to the Gregorian Common Era or Vikrami Samvat calendar? Do we want fixed dates for Gurpurabs and major Sikh historical events in both Nanakshahi and Common Era calendars? Do we want them to appear only once in both Nanakshahi and Common Era calendars? Do we want them fixed per lunar or solar calendar? This is where the major debate is.The answer(s) lie between history and utility.
On 10 November 2015, the Sarbat Khalsa declared thirteen resolutions, instead of the five originally agreed upon ones. Without discussion, one of the later additions was about the calendar. After convincing the organizers’ representatives to not get into solving the calendar controversy via resolution because it will further divisiveness, I crafted the following resolution number 10: “Recognizes the Sikh nation must establish a unifying independent Sikh calendar.”
Here in lies the agreements among the Sikhs. We are sovereign faith and people. We want our calendar that marks the Guru’s advent, the Guru’s message, and the Guru’s legacy. And we will figure out the details in coming years when the adversaries are almost completely free from the influences of the Hindu doctrine as well as the Indian, Panjab, and Sikh electoral politics.
In the meantime, let us commemorate 1 Chet (14 March) as the Sikh New Year. I ask my fellow Sikhs, take the day to reflect on and make others aware of the Sikh paradigm of the IkOankar declaration that sees 1Ness via 1Force. Personally, become the political-spiritual of Guru Nanak Sahib who “commenced the Nanak Raj” in 1 Nanakshahi. Collectively, build alliances in the Sikh commonwealth to revive the Khalsa Raj’s “Degh-Tegh-Fatih” (Economic-Political-Victory) ideals established in 241 Nanakshahi.
For those who want to commemorate historical events on fixed dates, 1 Cet (14 Mar) is also Hola Mahalla as well as Gurgaddi-Coronation of Guru Harirai Sahib, Sovereign NVII (Mahala 7 or Patshahi 7). Otherwise, this year Hola Mahalla is on 16 Cet (29 Mar) and Gurgaddi NVII is on 27 Cet (29 Apr).
May the 1Force be even stronger in Nanakshahi 553!
¹ ਚੇਤ, ਵੈਸਾਖ, ਜੇਠ, ਹਾੜ, ਸਾਵਣ, ਭਾਦੋਂ, ਅਸੂ, ਕਤਕ, ਮਘਰ, ਪੋਹ, ਮਾਘ, ਫਗਣ
² ਆਦਿਤ, ਸੋਮ, ਮੰਗਲਿ, ਬੁਧ, ਵੀਰ, ਸੁਕ੍ਰ, ਛਨਿਛਰ
³ ੦,੧, ੨, ੩, ੪, ੫, ੬, ੭, ੮, ੯
⁴ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੋਈ ਦਿਨਸੁ ਸੁਹਾਵੜਾ ਜਿਤੁ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਆਵੈ ਚਿਤਿ ॥ ਜਿਤੁ ਦਿਨਿ ਵਿਸਰੈ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਫਿਟੁ ਭਲੇਰੀ ਰੁਤਿ ॥੧॥
⁵ ਜਸੁ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਵਡਭਾਗੀਹੋ ਕਰਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਭਗਵੰਤ ਜੀਉ ॥ ਰੁਤੀ ਮਾਹ ਮੂਰਤ ਘੜੀ ਗੁਣ ਉਚਰਤ ਸੋਭਾਵੰਤ ਜੀਉ ॥
⁶ ਮਾਹ ਦਿਵਸ ਮੂਰਤ ਭਲੇ ਜਿਸ ਕਉ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰੇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮੰਗੈ ਦਰਸ ਦਾਨੁ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਕਰਹੁ ਹਰੇ ॥੧੪॥੧॥
⁷ ਬੇ ਦਸ ਮਾਹ ਰੁਤੀ ਥਿਤੀ ਵਾਰ ਭਲੇ ॥ ਘੜੀ ਮੂਰਤ ਪਲ ਸਾਚੇ ਆਏ ਸਹਜਿ ਮਿਲੇ ॥