Are Hindu Calendars Faulty?

Based on Hindu calendars Makara Sankranti is celebrated in January 14 or 15 now. But the day the sun shines overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn (Makara) is on December 22 (the winter solstice). Biman Nath, an astronomer and writer, in an article in the Frontline titled ‘the story of India’s faulty calendars’ asserts that the Indian regional calendars are faulty and they are actually 24 days ahead of the correct Indian National Calendar or Saka calendar.

To be frank I am always confused with the regional calendars in India. Indian states in the north and the east use a solar calendar in which months are either 30 or 31 days long. Kerala and Tamil Nadu also use a solar calendar. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat use lunar calendars in which months are 29.5 days long. But I don’t know whether they are faulty simply because the explanations that we get on Indian calendars are confusing. It is hard for a common man to understand Indian regional calendars.

The article ‘the story of India’s faulty calendars’ of Biman Nath is well researched but scholarly in nature.

According to Biman Nath the main faults with Hindu calendars are

  • The regional Hindu calendars jump ahead by a whole day in roughly 60 years.
  • A year in the Gregorian or English calendar is around 365.2422 days, or roughly 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes but in the Indian traditional regional calendars it is 365.2564. This means that the Hindu calendars are ahead by 20 minutes.

Bimal Nath clearly explains the astronomy behind the correct calendar and what is wrong with Hindu calendars. Finally, Bimal Nath points out the Government of India reform committee’s report

The Government of India set up a committee to reform our calendars in 1955 with the renowned physicist Meghnad Saha as its chairman. It surveyed the existing calendars and the methods of corrections adopted in each, and concluded that “the Hindu calendar... is a most bewildering production of the human mind and incorporates all the superstitions and half-truths of medieval times.... In spite of these errors, very few have the courage to talk of reform... the beginning of the year is now wrong by nearly twenty-three days, the result of accumulated error of nearly 1,400 years.”

According to the Indian National Calendar or Saka calendar the year should begin on March 22 and the first month should be called Chaitra instead of Vaishakh. In most Hindu regional calendars the year now begins in the middle of April.

Interestingly, no one follows the Indian National Calendar or Saka calendar.

This article has the potential to create hot debate among astrologers. Only a well-learned astronomer can give a reply to the questions raised in the article.

But regional Hindu calendars are no longer mere calendars they have strong regional identities. They are part of the Hindu culture and are based on numerous legends. Stories associated with Hindu gods and goddesses are part of these calendars. In fact, the regional Hindu calendars are part of the way of life of Hindus especially spiritual life.

And Hindus use these calendars only for fasts, rituals and festivals. Otherwise they follow the general English calendar. In fact nowadays most regional calendars mark the corresponding English dates to avoid any sort of confusion.