The Bengali Calendar: A proud possession

M. Arshad Ali

[Published at : ]

Of so many gifts of the Muslim civilization the Bengali Calendar is the one that has survived the test of time. Time is inexorable, immeasurable and indivisible. Yet to identify the progress not only of the individual's works and achievements but of the humanity as a whole, units like second, minute, hours, day, week, month and year have been conceived of for convenience and practical purposes. The progress of civilization has witnessed the innovation and introduction of calendars of different denominations suiting the particular purposes of the innovators and most of them have not withstood the onslaught of the destructive forces of time.

The Bengali Calendar, we know, was introduced by Akbar the great Mughal emperor of Delhi in order particularly to suit the purpose of collecting rent (land tax) in an effective manner. Akbar's sagacity and foresight prompted him to this innovation, for he was strongly motivated to put the Bengal Suba-a part of the subcontinent that was always bent on breaking the shackles of domination and restoring independence at every opportunity-under permanent Mughal rule by creating congenial condition for, among others, clearance of rent immediately after the harvesting season so that people could not feel the burden unbearable and the resultant disaffection for the ruler. Whatever be the motive of the emperor, be it enrichment of his treasury, prolongation or permanence of the Mughal rule, we Bengali people were enriched with a calendar of permanence.

The Bengali Calendar (Bangla Sone/Sal) comes of a respectable family i.e. it is proud of a rich heritage, of a distinguished origin. The words "Sone" and "Tarikh'' are derived from Arabic meaning year or calendar, and day respectively, "Tarikh" also means history. The word "Sal" is also of foreign origin, being a Persian word meaning year. Similarly, the Bengali Calendar has its origin in the Arabic Calendar, precisely known as Hijri Calendar that is an insignia of the great event of the migration in 622 A.D. of the greatest man the world has ever produced-the holy Prophet (Sm.) from Makkah, his land of birth, to Madinah to hold aloft the banner of Islam in obedience to the command of the Creator.

A happy coincidence marks the origin of both these Bengali and Hijri years-they both are christened with antedated seniority. The Hijri year was not introduced instantly with the migration of the holy Prophet form Makkah to Madianah on July 16, 662 A.D. It was Hazrat Omar, the second Caliph of Islam, who introduced it in 638 A.D. after 16 years of the Hjirat (Migration). The Hijri year began to be counted and made effective from the first day of Muharram - the first day of the then current Arabic year, not from the exact date of the Hijrat on the 12th of Rabiul Awal i.e. it was 16 years old at its introduction. The Bengali year bears close resemblances in all its detail with the Hijri year so far as its origin is concerned. The Bengali year was introduced antedated like its progenitor the Hijri year when the later was 998 years old in 1584 A.D. after 28 years of Akber's ascent to the throne of Delhi (1556 A.D). As in the case of Hijri, the Bengali year began to be counted and made effective not from when Baishakh exactly started but the 1st of Muharram of 963 Hijri (the year of Akbor's ascent to the throne of the Mughal empire (14.02.1556) did not come into consideration, instead the year and the Hijri month were effected while introducing the Bengali year keeping the Hijri year and date in tact giving antedated seniority of 963 years i.e. the Bengali year was made 963 B.S. at the start instead of counting it as 1 (one) B.S.

It is common knowledge that the Bengali year was introduced for the purpose of collecting rent effectively and easily following harvesting season when the peasantry would be relatively sound in financial position. Whatever be the motive behind introduction of the Bengali year, whatever commercial instincts came to play in its initiation, the net profit of the Bengalis is that they could be proud of having possessed a year and Calendar of their own. In keeping as it was with the harvesting season it initially came to be known as 'Fasali Sone' (the harvesting calender). Introduced though the 'Fasali Sone' was in other Subas (provinces) during the reign of Akbar, they came to an end with the end of the mughal rule. But the Bengali year came to sustain and sustain it did though Bengla had to sustain subjugation under several dynastic and colonial rules.

During the reign of Akbar, Bengal came under the mughal rule. Complications were however, noticed in rent administration. In those days crops were paid as rent and as such particular month need to be fixed for collection of rent in keeping with the harvesting season. But the Hijri 'Sone' then effective being lunar year, the same month did not occur in the harvesting seasons, for a lunar year consists of 354 days whereas a solar one of 365 days. For example, we had to observe the Edul Azha in February this year (2002) but in March in 1999. The remedy to the problem necessitated the evolving of a solar calendar out of the lunar one then in currency.

Akbar entrusted the royal astrologer Amir Fatehullah Seraji to do the job. With the arduous exercise of his intellect, scholarship and acumen he could innovate the 'Fasali Sone' in keeping with the harvesting season to facilitate effective collection of land tax. This 'Fasali Sone' was christened as 'Bangla Sone' accordingly as it was introduced in Suba-e-Bangla (the province of Bengal).

Originated though it was in the Hijri year, the Bangla Sone (the Bengali year) is a remarkable departure from the parent Hijra, for the Hijra is a lunar year while the 'Bangla Sone' is a solar year. This departure, basic and preponderating, has caused a difference in the peace of movement of the two types of years. The result is that the Hijra has outstripped the solar year by 14 years i.e. the 'Bangli Sone' is now 1409 and the Hijra 1423, though they both began their journey form the same point of time, i.e. July 16, 622 A.D. The solar year, we know, consists of 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 46 seconds while the lunar year spans over 354 days 8 hours 53 seconds. This shortage of nearly 11 days in the lunar years has hastened the movement of the Hijri by 14 more years than the Bangla Sone. Thus it is established that the Bengali Calendar is a conglomerate of the lunar and solar years the Hijri and Gregorian Calendars reaping the harvest of both the systems to our benefit.

The Bengali Calendar was further modified and deflawed by a Committee headed by the celebrated scholar Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah under the auspices of the Bangla Academy in 1967 AP. The Committee made the following recommendations in consideration of the different problems and their solutions with reference to our culture and tradition in the context of the involvement of rural life due to changes of months and seasons.

(a) The first five months of the year from Baishakh to Bhadra will be of 31 one days' duration each.

(b) The remaining seven months of the year with effect from Aswin to Chaitra will consists of 30 days each.

(c) The 366th days after each fourth year will constitute what is known as a leap year which shall occur in the month of Falgaun corresponding to the month of February of the leap year in the Gregorian Calendar called as the English Calendar in popular parlance. Falgun will, therefore, have 31 days in the leap-year.

These recommendations voiced the need of the hour and of life and having been implemented they have brought in adjustment and correspondence of the different important dates of the Bengali Calendar with those of the Gregorian one that is in vogue in the country. Now the Bengali New Year (the 1st of Baishakh) correspondences with April 14, the Shahid Day (Martrys, Day on 21st February) with 9th Falgun, the Independence Day (26th March) with 12th Chairtra and the Victory Day (16th December) with 2nd Paush.

As has been told before the BS (Bangabda) was made effective since 1556 A.D., the year Akber ascended the throne of the Mughal empire. The various calendars like Lakshmanabda, Bikramabda, Jalali Sone, Sekender Sone, Shakabda, Guptabda etc. were then in use in the subcontinent. These different calendars were used in different parts of the empire making it necessary for a uniform calendar in all parts of the sub-continent and to cater to this necessity the 'Fasali Sone' came into being but they were not uniformly practiced in the vast territories of the empire. The calendar that was innovated at Akber's instance is, indeed, a unique conglomerate of the three partners in the calculation of the year in the sub-continent-the Bengali months, the Hijri Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar. This found general and spontaneous acceptance in Bengla but not so in other parts of the empire leaving it out of use there as many of the calendars mentioned above and practiced earlier in Bengal went out of vogue and ceased to exist. The different calendars that were used in Bengal clearly appeared to have been named after particular area, ruler, dynasty etc; but the 'Bangabda' is named after the whole land and relates with the entire populace. It is our own. It is inextricably weaned with our culture and life, its acceptance and continuity pointing to the essential democratic ideal that our people cherish so ardently in their mind they accept and give currency to what serves the interest of the entire nation, not the parochial interest. We cannot but take pride in the facility of this democratic ideal. A legacy of the rich Bengali, Roman, British civilizations and at the top of all the Islamic civilization, the Bengali Calendar is, no doubt, our proud possession. The 'Bangla Sone' (BS) is proudly adorned with Shakespearean beauty, rather it is creditably crowned with Shakespearean success as having derived from different sources it has been wholly and solely our own in the way the greatest dramatist of the world has done by the skillful handling of his source materials.


Re: The Bengali Calendar: A proud possession

Ernesto Guevara

[Published at :]

Apparent from the names of months the calendar is not just a "gift" of the "Muslim civilization". It was the Indian calendar that Akbar used and maybe made a few alterations here and there. He apparently also just designated the start point. Also note the Sri Lankan new years is right before the Bengali (13th) the Nepali just before that 12th. Did the Muslims give the gift of the Nepali and Sri Lankan calendar aswell?

Rather the calendar is reformed from the old calendar


Indian calendar

    As a result of a calendar reform in 1957 C.E., the National Calendar of India is a formalized lunisolar calendar in which leap years coincide with those of the Gregorian calendar (Calendar Reform Committee, 1957). However, the initial epoch is the Saka Era, a traditional epoch of Indian chronology. Months are named after the traditional Indian months and are offset from the beginning of Gregorian months (see the table below).

    In addition to establishing a civil calendar, the Calendar Reform Committee set guidelines for religious calendars, which require calculations of the motions of the Sun and Moon. Tabulations of the religious holidays are prepared by the India Meteorological Department and published annually in The Indian Astronomical Ephemeris.

    Despite the attempt to establish a unified calendar for all of India, many local variations exist. The Gregorian calendar continues in use for administrative purposes, and holidays are still determined according to regional, religious, and ethnic traditions.

    Rules for civil use

    Years are counted from the Saka Era; 1 Saka is considered to begin with the vernal equinox of C.E. 79. The reformed Indian calendar began with Saka Era 1879, Caitra 1, which corresponds to C.E. 1957 March 22. Normal years have 365 days; leap years have 366. In a leap year, an intercalary day is added to the end of Caitra. To determine leap years, first add 78 to the Saka year. If this sum is evenly divisible by 4, the year is a leap year, unless the sum is a multiple of 100. In the latter case, the year is not a leap year unless the sum is also a multiple of 400. Table 5.1.1 gives the sequence of months and their correlation with the months of the Gregorian calendar.


    Months of the Indian Civil Calendar
      Days Correlation of Indian/Gregorian  
    1. Caitra 30* Caitra 1 March 22*
    2. Vaisakha 31 Vaisakha 1 April 21
    3. Jyaistha 31 Jyaistha 1 May 22
    4. Asadha 31 Asadha 1 June 22
    5. Sravana 31 Sravana 1 July 23
    6. Bhadra 31 Bhadra 1 August 23
    7. Asvina 30 Asvina 1 September 23
    8. Kartika 30 Kartika 1 October 23
    9. Agrahayana 30 Agrahayana 1 November 22
    10. Pausa 30 Pausa 1 December 22
    11. Magha 30 Magha 1 January 21
    12. Phalguna 30 Phalguna 1 February 20

    * In a leap year, Caitra has 31 days and Caitra 1 coincides with March 21.

    Principles of the religious calendar

    Religious holidays are determined by a lunisolar calendar that is based on calculations of the actual postions of the Sun and Moon. Most holidays occur on specified lunar dates (tithis), as is explained later; a few occur on specified solar dates. The calendrical methods presented here are those recommended by the Calendar Reform Committee (1957). They serve as the basis for the calendar published in The Indian Astronomical Ephemeris. However, many local calendar makers continue to use traditional astronomical concepts and formulas, some of which date back 1500 years.

    The Calendar Reform Committee attempted to reconcile traditional calendrical practices with modern astronomical concepts. According to their proposals, precession is accounted for and calculations of solar and lunar position are based on accurate modern methods. All astronomical calculations are performed with respect to a Central Station at longitude 8230' East, latitude 2311' North. For religious purposes solar days are reckoned from sunrise to sunrise.

    A solar month is defined as the interval required for the Sun's apparent longitude to increase by 30o, corresponding to the passage of the Sun through a zodiacal sign (rasi). The initial month of the year, Vaisakha, begins when the true longitude of the Sun is 23 15' (see Table below). Because the Earth's orbit is elliptical, the lengths of the months vary from 29.2 to 31.2 days. The short months all occur in the second half of the year around the time of the Earth's perihelion passage.


    Solar Months of the Indian Religious Calendar
      Sun's Longitude Approx. Duration Approx. Greg. Date
      deg min d  
    1. Vaisakha 23 15 30.9 Apr. 13
    2. Jyestha 53 15 31.3 May 14
    3. Asadha 83 15 31.5 June 14
    4. Sravana 113 15 31.4 July 16
    5. Bhadrapada 143 15 31.0 Aug. 16
    6. Asvina 173 15 30.5 Sept. 16
    7. Kartika 203 15 30.0 Oct. 17
    8. Margasirsa 233 15 29.6 Nov. 16
    9. Pausa 263 15 29.4 Dec. 15
    10. Magha 293 15 29.5 Jan. 14
    11. Phalgura 323 15 29.9 Feb. 12
    12. Caitra 353 15 30.3 Mar. 14

    At right, Rajputs are leading a camel herd to Pushkar, India. Each year during Kartik Purnima, which is the full moon in the Indian calendar month of Kartika, thousands of Rajputs lead their camels across the desert to the town of Pushkar for the annual camel fair. They come to sell, buy, and trade animals.

    Lunar months are measures from one New Moon to the next (although some groups reckon from the Full Moon). Each lunar month is given the name of the solar month in which the lunar month begins. Because most lunations are shorter than a solar month, there is occasionally a solar month in which two New Moons occur. In this case, both lunar months bear the same name, but the first month is described with the prefix adhika, or intercalary. Such a year has thirteen lunar months. Adhika months occur every two or three years following patterns described by the Metonic cycle or more complex lunar phase cycles.

    More rarely, a year will occur in which a short solar month will pass without having a New Moon. In that case, the name of the solar month does not occur in the calendar for that year. Such a decayed (ksaya) month can occur only in the months near the Earth's perihelion passage. In compensation, a month in the first half of the year will have had two New Moons, so the year will still have twelve lunar months. Ksaya months are separated by as few as nineteen years and as many as 141 years.

    Lunations are divided into 30 tithis, or lunar days. Each tithi is defined by the time required for the longitude of the Moon to increase by 12o over the longitude of the Sun. Thus the length of a tithi may vary from about 20 hours to nearly 27 hours. During the waxing phases, tithis are counted from 1 to 15 with the designation Sukla. Tithis for the waning phases are designated Krsna and are again counted from 1 to 15. Each day is assigned the number of the tithi in effect at sunrise. Occasionally a short tithi will begin after sunrise and be completed before the next sunrise. Similarly a long tithi may span two sunrises. In the former case, a number is omitted from the day count. In the latter, a day number is carried over to a second day.

    History of the Indian calendar

    The history of calendars in India is a remarkably complex subject owing to the continuity of Indian civilization and to the diversity of cultural influences. In the mid-1950s, when the Calendar Reform Committee made its survey, there were about 30 calendars in use for setting religious festivals for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jainists. Some of these were also used for civil dating. These calendars were based on common principles, though they had local characteristics determined by long-established customs and the astronomical practices of local calendar makers. In addition, Muslims in India used the Islamic calendar, and the Indian government used the Gregorian calendar for administrative purposes.

    Early allusions to a lunisolar calendar with intercalated months are found in the hymns from the Rig Veda, dating from the second millennium B.C.E. Literature from 1300 B.C.E. to C.E. 300, provides information of a more specific nature. A five-year lunisolar calendar coordinated solar years with synodic and sidereal lunar months.

    Indian astronomy underwent a general reform in the first few centuries C.E., as advances in Babylonian and Greek astronomy became known. New astronomical constants and models for the motion of the Moon and Sun were adapted to traditional calendric practices. This was conveyed in astronomical treatises of this period known as Siddhantas, many of which have not survived. The Surya Siddhanta, which originated in the fourth century but was updated over the following centuries, influenced Indian calendrics up to and even after the calendar reform of C.E. 1957.

    The author Pingree provides a survey of the development of mathematical astronomy in India. Although he does not deal explicitly with calendrics, this material is necessary for a full understanding of the history of India's calendars.