Baha'i News -- A nostalgia of old calendars

A nostalgia of old calendars

Khaled Ahmed


A n a l y s i s



Old calendars become superseded. Sometimes they just die and form no part of human memory. Some calendars cling to human memory and resonate from folklore. The Islamic calendar is observed in parallel to the Gregorian one because our religious festivals are observed according to it. Strangely, violence is at times used to suppress the memory of old calendars, but the nostalgia for them persists. In Afghanistan, the Persian parallel calendar could not be abolished by the Taliban

n April this year, the people of Bangladesh, celebrating the beginning of the year as Pehla Vaishakha, were attacked by groups of religious fanatics, much in the same way as their brothers in Pakistan attack the New Year celebrations on 31st December. In Pakistan, Vaishakha or Baisakh is kept alive by the Sikhs who visit Pakistan on their New Year. Guru Gobind Singh set up the khalsa army in the month of Vaishakha, and the great Sikh gathering, Sarbat Khalsa, decided to celebrate the day with the festival of Baisakhi, climaxed by a congregation of all Sikhs at Panja Sahib located today in Pakistan. The Punjabi Naujawan Mahaz in Lahore issued their own calendar in the same month this year beginning with Vaishakha (April-May). The Punjabi calendar is more or less forgotten in the Punjabi cities, although the rural man still refers to Punjabi months when discussing his crops. Punjabi folklore refers to the old months but the urban Punjabi can hardly make out what that means. Urdu songs sometimes contain reference to the seasons by naming the old months simply because poetry will not always accept English months.

The Punjabi Calendar:The Punjabi pronunciation of the Hindu month was given as Vasakh. The Hindu lunar calendar begins with Chaitra called Chait (March-April) in Punjabi, but it appears that the people of Punjab and Bangladesh think that it begins with Vaishakha which, like the names of other months, is the name of a group of stars. While the first month Vaishakha is of 31 days, the next Jyeshtha (in Punjabi Jetth) is of 32 days and falls in May-June. Jyeshtha also means ‘big’. Asharha (June-July) of 31 days is simply pronounced Haar in Punjabi and is named after a constellation, but is associated with flooding in agricultural Punjab, and the word har is used for flood. Hindi Sharavana (July-August) called Savan and sometimes Saun in Punjabi is associated with rains. Bhadrapada of 31 days should mean ‘pretty-footed’ is named after a group of stars and is called Bhadron or Bhadon in Punjabi. Ashivina of 31 days is clearly named after a group of stars meaning ‘horses’. It is called Assu in Punjabi. Karttika (October-November) is of 29 days and called Ketar or Katta in Punjabi. Margashirsha (November-December) is of 30 days and is called Maghar is Punjabi. Pausha (December-January) of 29 days is named after a group of stars Pushya which means ‘plenty of food’ and is called Poh or Pos in Punjabi. Magha (January-February) also of 29 days means ‘gift’ and is called Maagh in Punjabi. Phalguna (February-March) of 30 days is called Phagan in Punjabi. And Chaitra after constellation Chitra (March-April) is of 31 days and is called Chetar or simply Chet in Punjabi. Six months are of 31 days, while one Jyeshtha alone is of 32 days. The lunar calendar is adjusted through complicated calculations to remain true to seasons. In Urdu and Punjabi poetry reference is sometimes made to the months to denote seasonal moods. For instance, Savan evokes rain and the romance associated with it. In the Punjabi countryside, the lunar calendar is used even today to refer to seasons.

The Roman Calendar:King Romulus (735 BC), the founder of Rome, was obsessed with number ten. Poet Ovid (d. 17 AD) loved the figure ten and thought that Roman numerals were derived from the ten fingers of the human hand. Romulus organised everything in Rome on the basis of number ten. He also invented a calendar of ten months. He also named the months but was very uninventive: the year began with three months called Martius, the god of war; April was derived from the raising of hogs; Maius from a local Roman goddess; and Junius after the queen of the Latin gods. King Numa after him in 700 BC, named the first two months Januarius and Februarius, and made the calendar of 12 months, although from September (seven) to December (ten) the year reminded of the time when there were only 10 months to a year. Julius Caesar took Egypt in 48 BC and became acquainted with a more exact Egyptian calendar. He gave his name Julius to the month called Quintilis and made it July. Later Agustus Caesar did the same thing in 8 AD to the month called Sextilis and made it August. That took away the two Martius months and settled the months as we see them now. The Julian calendar was given its final correction in 1582 under Pope Gregory and is known as the Gregorian Calendar.

The Islamic Calendar:After coming to power, the Taliban government set aside the Afghan calendar, already divided into Tajik and Pakhtun versions, and proclaimed the Islamic calendar as the official one. Since the Islamic lunar months are not adjusted to seasons, there is a ‘shortfall’ of about 11 days every year. Yet the names of the Islamic months denote seasons. For instance Rabi means ‘spring’, but the two months of Rabi could fall in December-January. There is a verse in the Quran indicating that Allah actually abolished the Arab calendar seasonally adjusted to the lunar one of the Jews as contained in Torah. The pre-Islamic calendar was lunar but was adjusted the same way as the Jewish calendar to get the months to fall according to seasons. The Arabs used to drop one month after every third year so that the ritual of Haj could fall in the same season. The method of ‘dropping’ a month they had borrowed from the Jews to offset the difference of about 11 days between the lunar and solar system of months. The names of the Islamic months indicate that they were once season-based. Rabi means ‘spring’ and Jamadi means ‘hard’. Ramadhan is from root ramdh meaning ‘very hot’. The Quran (6:26) decreed that there would be 12 months in a year, thus disallowing the practice of dropping a month after every three years. But the Quran (6:97; 10:5; and 17:12) allowed a choice between solar and lunar calendars. Among the pre-Islamic tribes four months had to be sacred: Rajab, Ziqaad, Zilhaj and Muharram, which means there could be no war and looting during these months. The pre-Islamic names of the months were retained. Ramadhan became sacred for the Muslims because the Quran began to be revealed in this month. Muharram began the year and was sacred because it was the month of fasting. Safar was considered inauspicious by the pre-Islamic tribes and its root meant ‘yellow’. It remained inauspicious because of the later tragic events in Islamic history. Sha’aban had the root of ‘splitting’ because in this month the pre-Islamic tribes used to ‘split’ and go out for loot and plunder. The months begin when the moon is sighted and can be of 30 or 29 days.

The Babi Calendar:Pakistan’s nuclear scientist Dr Bashiruddin Mahmood’s book Quran-e-Pak kay saensi mujazaat says that 19 was a figure denoting protection of the Quran and had become the ‘lock’ which secured the Book against alteration. The founder of the Babi faith Muhammad Ali Bab was mystified by the figure 19 and gave his followers a calendar of 19 months, each month containing 19 days. What was the status of ‘19’ in the belief system of the Bab and his followers? One must be clear that the Bahai faith is no longer based on the Bab but on the writings of Bahaullah. Bab set up a completely new social order for his followers and somehow chose the figure ‘19’ as a signature of his creed. The writings of the Bab were put together in a book called Bayan. It was to have 19 chapters but the Bab could complete only 11, leaving the rest to be completed by his designated heir, Subh-e-Ezel. He claimed divinity for himself and his 18 companions, thus making up the number 19 which he proclaimed was the total gematrical number of the word Wahid, an attribute of God. Since the number 19 expressed the Divine Nature, Bab thought that the universe too must be based on number 19. The Bab divided the year into 19 months, each month being of 19 days. All weights and measures were based by him on this number. The Babi month of fasting became 19 days. Babi families were to entertain 19 guests every 19 days, even if they were to be entertained with just water. Every male was to serve the Bab 19 days each year. After death, each person’s grave must be visited by his family for 19 days.

The Calendar of Reason:The French Revolution was the climax of The Age of Reason. The Calendar of Reason was launched by the Jacobins in 1792 after throwing out the Gregorian one. It contained 12 months uniformly of 30 days. At the end of the year, the shortfall of five or six days was made up by holidays named Virtue, Genius, Labour, Opinion, Recompense, etc, when the calendar was put on hold. The Calendar of Reason was quietly abandoned by Napoleon in 1806 and the Gregorian one restored. The Calendar of Reason also abandoned the old Babylonian measure of 60. The day was declared decimal, of ten hours, and each hour of 100 minutes. There were only three weeks in the month, each week being of ten days. The months were named, not after gods and kings, but after the seasons: (Autumn) Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire; (Winter) Nivose, Pluviose, Ventose; (Spring) Germinal, Florial, Prairial; (Summer) Messior, Thermidor, Fructidor. The months pointed to weather conditions: Pluviose (rain), Thermidor (heat), Brumaire (fog), etc.

The Tajik-Pushtun Calendar:Under the Taliban, Afghanistan had effectively three calendars: the official Islamic one, the Tajik one and the Pakhtun one. The two later ones are based on the Iranian solar calendar and correspond to the signs of the Zodiac in use in the West too. The one issued from Mazar-e-Sharif in 2000 began with three months of Spring or Bahar or Pasarli in Pushto. Hamal (Aries, Wari in Pushto) falling in March-April is of 31 days and is called Farwardin in Persian. Thaur (Taurus, Ghubai) falling in March-April is called Ardibahisht in Persian and has 31 days. The Revolution against Zahir Shah fell in this month and was Thaur Revolution. (Note Arabic thaur and Latin taurus). Jauza (Gemini, Ghabargolai in Pushto) is called Khurdad in Persian and has 31 days. The months of summer or Tabistan (Orai in Pushto) begin with Sartan (Cancer, Changakh in Pushto) falling in June-July, has 31 days and is called Nayyar. Asad (Leo, Zamarai in Pushto) is 31 days falls in July-August. Sumbla (Virgo, Warai in Pushto) is Sheherpur in Persian. The season of autumn or Khizan (Manai in Pushto) begins with Mizan (Libra, Tala in Pushto) is Meher in Persian and has 30 days, falling in September-October. The month of Aqrab (Scorpio, Laram in Pushto) is called Aban in Persian and has 30 days, falling in October-November. Qaus (Sagittarius, Laindi in Pushto) falls in November-December and is called Azer in Persian and has 30 days. The season of winter Zimistan (Zhamai in Pushto) begins with Jaddi (Capricorn, Marghumai in Pushto) is called Dee in Persian, falling in December-January, has 30 days. Dalw (Aquarius, Salvaghai in Pushto) is called Behman in Persian, falling in January-February, contains 30 days. Hut (Pisces, Kab in Pushto) is called Asfand in Persian, has 30 days and falls in February-March. The first six months in this system are of 31 days while the other six are of 30 days. A separate Ghilzai calendar is also said to be in existence.

©Copyright 2002, Friday Times Vol. XIV, No. 13 (Pakistan)

Page last updated/revised 020525
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page