Solar, Lunar and Local
By Shoaib Hashmi


The full name of the current month is 'Asvaj' but being lazy we shorten it to 'Assu', which fits better into the little doggerel, "Assu maanh siyalay, dinnay dhuppan raatee palay". And roughly translated it means, "Assu is the mother of winter, with hot sunny days and cold winter nights"! Which is a bit of native wisdom that will save you from the usual change-of-season sniffles and whimpering.
Or perhaps you are one of those 'modern' types who haven't a clue to what I am going on about, in which case I must tell you that the reference is to the 'Bikrami Calendar' which was well known a few decades ago, along with the Western calendar and the Muslim Hijri Calendar, which went out of normal use as the British moved in, and was retained only marginally to keep track of our religious occasions and festivals.
The first is a solar calendar which means the year measures the time it takes the earth to circle the sun, but the earth is uncooperative and does not accomplish it in a round number of days. That meant that after it was established at 365 days it actually slid backwards and by the Middle Ages it was eleven days behind. Pope Gregory remedied this by decreeing that the third of September that year would be the fourteenth. There were riots all over Europe. People thought they had been robbed of eleven days. They had a point!
Our own calendar is a lunar calendar which is about ten days shorter than the solar, so our festivals slide all across the seasons going the whole gamut in thirty years. We have never rioted about it though we come close every year when the people of the north try to add another day to it by pretending to see a new moon when even a blind man can tell there isn't one!
What most forget, and some don't even know is that the local people had their own calendar before the other two, established by Raja Bikramjit and so called the 'Bikrami' calendar. People in the countryside still go by it. It is also a solar calendar, but for some obscure reason having to do with the sidereal year, it is about twenty seconds shorter than the other solar year. Don't ask me where Raja Bikramjit got the stop watch to time it, or how he managed to start a new year's day twenty seconds early. There are titterings now that in a thousand years it will be all out of kilter, and I say let whoever is Pope then sort it out.
The thing is that the people accepted it and they tied it instead to the seasons and it became a part of culture and a repository of wisdom. It was much in use about fifty years ago, and you used to be able to get a 'Jantaree' as easily as a calendar, and it was a riot because the months had cute and picturesque names, which were part of verbal culture and the stuff of poetry and song. You must know that 'Savan' and 'Bhadon' are the months of the rains, though 'Katak' and 'Maghar' may be less familiar.
'Jeth' and 'Haar' are the months of the high summer and the songs sing of the burning sun "Pal pal suraj aag lagayay", though quite naturally more of them sing of the cooling rains than the heat. And 'Poh' and 'Magh', shortened to 'Po-mah' are the months of the chilliest winter and folk wisdom advises, "Aagya Poh, tey bachan gay oh jeray saun gay do"! It is the month of Poh and only those will survive who sleep two by two! Now that is advice that people were eager to follow even in the months of 'Jeth' and 'Haar', not to mention 'Phagun'; and it explains why the calendar was so popular for centuries.
Perhaps deep in the countryside children still sit at their grandmother's knee and learn the names of the Bikrami months because they are the only ones she knows. But certainly in the towns and cities it would be easy to count the number of people who remember them -- after all who remembers any more which day of the week 'Shukarvaar' is! That is the way of all flesh.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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