Opinion Article

Liberate Calendar

[TamilNet, Monday, 14 April 2008, 23:57 GMT]
A Calendar is conceived and designed by logic and astronomy rather than emotions and myths of politics. If people don’t understand the calendar they follow, educate them. If any section of the society thinks that the calendar is its prerogative, liberate the calendar, rather than mutilating it or abandoning it. If there is any problem in the calendar it has to be investigated and corrected by a forum of astronomers, climatologists and environmental scientists, sitting along with traditional astronomers historians and Tamil scholars. Any society, which doesn’t care to investigate and understand its own heritage of science, is not going to make any progress. It will always remain in slavery.

In the Tamil culture and usage of language in Sri Lanka, a date in the traditional calendar is a Tamil date; a month is a Tamil month; a year is a Tamil year. No one calls them as Saiva or Hindu date, month, year etc.

We all know that when occasions come to put both the Western calendar and the Tamil calendar, in speech and writing, we differentiate them as English and Tamil dates: ‘Thamizhukku paththaam thikathi (10th day of Tamil calendar), Thamizhukku Aava’ni maasam (August-September of the Tamil calendar), Thamizhukku Pirapava Aa’ndu (The year named Pirapava in Tamil. In old usage the reference is often in the number of years of the Salivaakana Era).

The writer is aware that some of the terms used are from Sanskrit. When not desirable, they can always be replaced by Tamil terms. But, the point here is how the Tamils who use the calendar perceive the concept, design and calculation of the calendar in terms of Tamil identity and not in terms of any religious identity.

Similarly, the same calendar is a Sinhala calendar to Sinhalese, Thai calendar to Thais and Cambodian to Cambodians. They don’t call it a Buddhist calendar. The calendar followed by Muslims is Arab calendar. The calendar universally used by every one of us today is not Christian calendar, but Roman calendar, corrected by Pope Gregory, hence, Gregorian calendar.

All calendars are secular.

If anyone doesn’t like the terminology of what is Tamil calendar to Tamils, they can very well call it a solar calendar.

* * *

A calendar is an invention of science.

It is conceived and designed by logic and astronomy to suit universal application.

It shouldn’t be looked at through emotions, myths and symbols needed for contemporary politics.

If people don’t understand the calendar they follow, educate them.

If any section of the society thinks that the calendar is its prerogative, liberate the calendar, rather than mutilating it or abandoning it.

If there is any problem in the calendar it has to be investigated and corrected by a forum of astronomers, climatologists and environmental scientists, sitting along with traditional astronomers (the almanac makers) historians and Tamil scholars (to decide the culture and terminology of the calendar).

Any society, which doesn’t care to investigate and understand its own heritage of science, is not going to make any progress. It will always remain in slavery.

* * *

A solar year can begin at anytime of the year just as a day begins differently to different cultures (sunrise in the South Asian calendars, sunset in the Arab calendar and midnight in the Gregorian calendar). Only it has to end after 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45.51 seconds.

What is needed to fix the beginning of a year is a reference point substantiated by sound logic.

There are cultures that have considered events significant to them as reference points. But, most of the South Asian cultures, including the Tamil culture, have gone for astronomical reference points.

In our calendars we consider three reference points:

Vernal equinox, the point when the sun is at equator, is a universal reference point. Even though it now occurs on March 20 / 21, the South Asian almanac makers have fixed it to April 13 / 14, to make it coincide with a celestial event of the sun’s position with a fixed star, outside of the solar system.

In the same way, Thaip-pongkal is celebrated at the reference point of winter solstice, when the sun is at the Tropic of Capricorn, and is about to turn back to the north. The event actually occurs on the 21 / 22 of December, but once again our almanac makers keep it at January 14 / 15 (the sun’s entry into ‘fixed’ Capricorn, tallying with the star Uththaraadam second quarter).

The other reference point is summer solstice (22 / 23 June), which in our calendar is July 16 / 17. This is celebrated as Aadip-pi’rappu.

We use the last two reference points to divide the year into two halves (the northern and southern moves of the sun) for the analysis of climate and produce that are essential to an agrarian society, while keeping the first reference point as the commencement of the year.

Whether the reference points have to be modified to tally with actual solar transit is a valid question, but it should be left to modern and traditional astronomers and scientists.

* * *

The move of the Tamil Nadu government has shifted the commencement of the year from one reference point to the other, i.e., from Chiththiraip-puththaa’ndu to Thaip-pongkal.

There is nothing wrong in shifting the commencement of the year from one reference point to the other.

But the question is why.

What is wrong with the existing reference point?

Both the points are equally secular. They represent the two major secular festivals of Tamils. Both reflect the culture and contribution of Tamils.

In fact a Sinhala gentlemen has sent us a touching feedback to say how the Tamils have introduced the solar New Year (the April New Year) to Sinhalese. He also tells us about the Pallavas introducing this calendar and the New Year to Southeast Asian Cultures.

Thaip-pongkal and Chiththiraip-puththaa’ndu are equally religious if any want to colour them with religion. For that matter, Thaip-pongkal is more religious since it is associated with the ritual of offering new rice to the Sun God. Some may say it is part of Vedic Hinduism called Saura. There can also be views that Thaip-pongkal reflects only the agrarian side of the Tamil culture, neglecting its great maritime traditions.

Chiththiraip-puththaa’ndu (the April New Year) is not connected to any myth.

Why should the Tamils lose a calendar of their culture and a fervent major festival of theirs?

Thaip-pongkal has already gained the Tamil image internationally, even though it is Thaip-poosam in Malaysia and Singapore. There is no need to add the tag of New Year to make Thaip-pongkal a Tamil National Day.

There is no reference in the Changkam literature for taking Thaip-pongkal as the commencement of a year.

* * *

Kalaignar Karunanidhi has reportedly termed the existing calendar as Sanskrit calendar.

By shifting the commencement of New Year, has the Tamil Nadu government could able to change any of the fundamentals of the solar calendar, as the critics of Pagnchaangkas (almanacs) are boasting about?

How are they going to fix the Thaip-pongkal without almanacs? How are they going to fix the beginnings and endings of the Tamil months?

Are they going to depend on the Gregorian calendar to fix these dates? Can a Tamil calendar exist without its own concepts, principles, methodology and calculations?

All have to once again turn back to the traditional almanacs.

As said earlier, names and terms do not matter, but the concepts matter.

The central government of India has long back established an institution for correctly fixing the almanacs. It brings out a standard almanac called Rashtreeya Panchang.

It is high time the Tamil Nadu government should consider rendering the traditional almanac terms and astronomical principles in Tamil.

Some may ask why the technical terms used in traditional astronomy and in the Pagnchaangkams in Tamil are of Sanskrit origins.

Being a Tamil, this writer has to write in English not only to see that it reaches international readership, but also to get the attention of our own social elite.

Sanskrit had a similar function in the past. Books of knowledge were written in Sanskrit even by Tamil scholars. Finding something in Sanskrit need not necessarily mean non-Dravidian ideas, innovation or authorship.

Many Tamils think that Pagnchaangka is alien to them. A host of ‘pure’ Tamil technical terms and names can be found if one can skip through the pages of the Tamil Nika'ndus and literature. Again it is not merely the terms, but the Tamils understanding them.

If the Tamil Nadu government wants to liberate the knowledge from a narrow section of the society, it has to engage itself in producing learned people in such matters from a broad spectrum of the society. Such efforts are more important than the symbolic shift of the commencement of the year.

* * *

Calendars are associated with Eras.

Eras can be religious or secular. For instance Hijri (Arab calendar) and Anno Domini (Gregorian calendar) are religious in origin.

To make Anno Domini secular, nowadays it is referred to as Common Era (CE instead of AD).

Kaliyuga Era (5010 years now), Salivaahana-saka Era (1931 years now) and Kollam Era (1183 years now) are secular. They are based on events or rulers.

The quest is to find a Tamil Era for the Tamil calendar.

The Tamil Nadu government is associating the New Tamil reckoning of year with the birth of Thiruva’l’luvar and with Thiruva’l’luvar Era, which it has already created.

Both are fictitious.

Like many exceptional philosophers of humanity, Thriva’l’luvar was anonymous. Even the components of the name, known to us Thiru and Va’l’luvar, are titles and not his name.

Those who have studied his work Thirukku’ra’l and the Changkam Tamil literature can easily see that Thirukku’ra’l is a post-Changkam work and its date cannot be fixed to the beginning of the Christian era.

An imaginary date and an imaginary era are not going to bring in any fame to the Tamil calendar.

* * *

A calendar comes to use by consensus and not by legislations.

Legislation comes only when people already practice something and demand for it.

When Pope Gregory corrected the Roman calendar in the 16th century, to perfect it astronomically, the Protestant countries and Orthodox Greek Church countries of Europe didn’t accept it. It took centuries for them to accept. It was not the political power of the Pope. As we know the Catholic countries lost their pre-eminence later. It was the sound logic behind the corrections that made it acceptable.

Today nobody considers the Gregorian calendar as Catholic calendar. A Vast number of Tamil Hindus goes to temples on the 1st of January to commence with the New Year. One has to see those who flock in at Thiruppathi on that day.

It is secularity, logic, universal application and culture behind a calendar that makes it acceptable. Those who ask how a Tamil calendar acceptable to Christians and Muslims should note this.

* * *

It is unfortunate that the Tamil Nadu government has embarked upon this venture of changing the New Year Day, without proper consensus.

The April New Year may not be an important festival for the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. But, the date and the festival are of utmost importance to others.

In Sri Lanka it is one of the main symbols for maintaining the Tamil – Sinhala equlibrium.

Mr. Ki.Pi. Aravindan in France, in a feedback tells us how it affects the Tamils of Mauritius.

The Tamils of Mauritius struggled for a long time to get government recognition for the Tamil New Year Day on par with Yugaadi of the Hindus of Mauritius.

The nature of identity is peculiar in Mauritius, where Hindu means North Indian and Tamil means South Indian, including all South Indians. A Hindu temple is a North Indian temple, which is different from the Tamil temple. Even deities and iconography are differentiated on this basis. While the Yugaadi (Lunar New Year) of the majority Hindus was long recognized by the Mauritius government, the Tamil New Year (Solar New Year) had to wait for long for this accreditation.

Aravindan also has aptly pointed out how the governments of Tamil Nadu offended the global Tamils by not consulting them on important cultural issues.

He wrote: "Tamil Nadu unilaterally enacting laws on universally significant matters related to Tamil language and culture is a denial of the global existence of Tamils. Even when the Tamil script was reformed, Tamils outside of India were not consulted. Now the declaration on the commencement of the Tamil New Year is also unilateral. On this question, one has to convene an international conference of Tamil representatives to come to a consensus. Omissions should not continue is the yearning of people like me."

Meanwhile, reports say that all New Year celebrations went on as usual, all over the world, on Sunday.

The only difference was that some have to observe it in a camouflaged way, avoiding the word New Year, as was the case with Sun TV, which was celebrating its anniversary.

The Tamil best sellers even today are the Pagnchaangkams.

* * *

The concern is that the Tamil Nation of global perspective, aiming for cultural awakening, social emancipation, international recognition and aiming to be free from superstitions, shouldn’t be shallow to be carried away by shallow myths.

The writer refrains from discussing the politics behind the move as intelligent readers and Tamil Nadu watchers can understand the internal dynamics, social polarizations, needs and counter needs for myths and symbols and the politics of timing.

As all of us follow the Gregorian calendar for all practical purposes, there is no official compulsion to use the Tamil Nadu government’s calendar. People can ignore it.

Almanac makers are independent of the government. Tamil almanacs are made independently in different parts of the world today. Eezham has its own independent schools of almanacs and literature on calculating almanacs for centuries, beginning from Charasoathimaalai of the13th century.

The Eezham almanac makers defied even Sri Lankan government’s play with the standard time.

The writer thanks all feedbacks on the previous column.

13.04.08  Tamil New Year


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