Vani’s Musings

Archive for the ‘Astrology and Vedic Sciences’ Category

According to the Hindu calendar, the year is divided into two halves, Uttarayana and Dakshinayana. Uttarayana commences from Makara Sankranthi and Dakshinayana from Karka Sankranthi.

Uttarayana begins in January and ends in July. Dakshinayana begins in July and ends in December.

Shastras prohibit the celebration of events like marriage or Upanayanams during Dakshinayana. Climactically speaking, this period is the time of heavy rains.

 In the olden days, heavy rains rendered people immobile. The Parivrajakas or missionaries who went around the whole country, as part of their religious propagation activities would stay put in one place for the duration of this period. As such, they spent this time in austerities and devoting their time to God.

The weather reflected on the food they ate, giving rise to a wholly different cuisine to be followed during Chaaturmaasa. The practice is still continued by our religious missionaries and conservative families to this day.

 The Vrathas commence on the Shuddha Ekadashi of every month and go on till the Shuddha Ekadashi of the next month.

 In the first month, the ShaaKha Vratha is followed, wherein the usage of vegetables and dicot plant produce is prohibited.

In the second month, the usage of curd and buttermilk and buttermilk extracts is not allowed.

In the third month, usage of milk products is avoided.

In the fourth month, there is a restriction again on the usage of dicots.

Sounds tough and hard to digest, doesn’t it? But the varieties that can be prepared without the use of the above food products are simply amazing.

I have sampled a few of the special dishes that are prepared during Chaaturmaasa and found them heavenly.

Want to try some at home? Wait for my coming posts.


Continuing the series on time division based on Vedic astrology, here is a brief explanation on the concept of Adhika Maasa.

Solar Month

A solar month is the time taken for the sun to pass through one of the twelve segments. The time when the sun crosses from one sign to the next is called a Sankranti and marks the beginning of the solar month. Two well-known sankrantis are Makara Sankranti or Pongal around January 14 and Mesha Sankranti on April 14. Mesha Sankranti marks the beginning of the New Year in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Orissa and Tamil Nadu — these states follow a purely solar calendar for fixing the length of the year.

Lunar Month

The lunar months are defined with respect to the solar months — in fact, they have the same names as the solar months. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, the lunar month begins and ends with the new moon (amavasya). In most of North India, the month runs from full moon to full moon (purnima). The first lunar month of the year in Chaitra. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, Chaitra begins with the last amavasya before Mesha Sankranti (April 14). The next lunar month is Vaisakha beginning with the first amavasya during the solar month Vaisakha. Similarly each amavasya falling between two sankrantis marks the beginning of the lunar month.

The lunar month inherits the same name as the solar month during which amavasya falls. A solar month is normally 30 to 31 days in length whereas the lunar month is only 29.5 days long. Thus, as the year goes by, each lunar month starts a little earlier within the corresponding solar month.

Eventually, an entire lunar month will lie within a solar month — in other words, there will be two amavasyas between a pair of sankrantis. In such a case we get an extra-intercalated month, called an adhika masaa.

 For instance, consider a year when there are two amavasyas within the solar month of Bhadrapada. The first amavasya begins an extra month called Adhika Bhadrapada while the second one begins the “real” month Nija Bhadrapada.

A year with an adhika maasa occurs around 7 times in 19 years. The adhika maasa could come at almost any time during the year, depending on which solar month happens to have a double amavasya.

Occasionally, a very peculiar situation occurs — a lunar month spans two sankrantis. This, for example, is what happened in 1991-92. There was no amavasya during the solar month Maagha. As a result, the lunar month Maagha was “lost” and became a kshaya maasa.

 It so happens that a solar month is normally 30 to 31 days long. However, since the earth moves at varying speeds around the sun, the sun’s apparent motion through the ecliptic is not uniform. If the earth is moving exceptionally fast, the sun may pass through a sign of the zodiac in less than a lunar month. Some years have two. This is always the case — a year with a kshaya maasa will have two adhika maasas.

Though it seems fairly complicated, the luni-solar system does manage to cope with the tedious problem of reconciling the solar and lunar calendars rather well. However because of the complication involving the earth’s rotation called precession, the Indian solar calendar does not keep track of the seasons accurately. 

 Many different societies have developed their own calendars — for instance, the Jews and the Chinese. Ancient civilizations, which came up with reasonably sophisticated calendars, include the Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, and Mayans. All of these were luni-solar, although each had a different way of reconciling the lunar month with the solar year.