Panchanga (Panchang)

Literally 'five limbs' (pancha, 'five' and anga, 'limb'). The almanac of the Hindus, so named because it deals with the five Hindu divisions of time An 'auspicious' moment is considered very important, for starting a ceremony, a journey, a new venture or the commencement of studies. The panchanga is used to find such 'auspicious' moments when the various permutations and combinations of the five units of time are found congenial. When performing a ceremony (see Sanskara), the time must harmonise with the horoscope (see Janmapatri) of the person it is being performed for. Such calculations are therefore highly individual.

The panchanga is also useful in predicting the dates of various fasts and festivals like Janmashtami, Diwali and Holi. This is so because the Hindus follow a luni-solar, not solar calendar (see Hindu Calendar). Therefore festivals do not fall on the same date every year and have to be calculated.

There are many regional panchangas in use across India, to determine the dates of regional festivals. But some specially published panchangas, freely sold in markets, are used nationally for declaring government holidays. Such panchangas for general use are usually made in Bombay or Pune.


The positions of the stars in each area is taken into consideration while making these panchangas. However, if religious accuracy has to be preserved, there must be separate panchangas for every 10 to 15 miles because the position of the stars and the other relevant details change. The concept of different units of time dates back to the Veda. Prataha (morning), Sayam (evening), Madhayadina (midday) and other words for the times of the day are found in the Rig Vedas (see Veda). There have been many astronomers in India, who has tried to explain time concepts, of which Aryabhatta (5th century AD) is the foremost.

Panchanga The five limbs of the panchanga are:

1. Vara (solar day) 2. Tithi (lunar day) 3. Nakshatra (lunar asterism) 4. Yoga (conjunction of planets) 5. Karana (half of a lunar day) Vara (solar day), literally means a weekday. This is the time from one sunrise to the next. For official purposes, one day is reckoned from midnight to midnight. The solar day of the Hindus is divided into four parts: divas (day), ratri (night), sandhya (morning twilight), sandhyansha (evening twilight). One solar day is made of 60 ghatikas and also of 15 muhurtas. The Hindus follow a seven-day week system and each day of the week is a vara.

The seven varas of a week are Ravivara (Sunday), Somvara (Monday), Mangalavara (Tuesday), Budhvara (Wednesday), Brihaspativara (Thursday), Shukravara (Friday), and Shanivara (Saturday).

Each vara is special to a particular presiding deity. The seven varas are also associated with the seven planets of the Hindus. Ravivara is sacred to Surya hence sun worship is enjoined on this day.

Somvara is sacred to the moon. As the moon is an adornment of Shiva, it is also sacred to him. Since he is an ascetic, people observe fasts on this day to please him. By performing a vrata for 16 Mondays, it is believed that all wishes are fulfilled.

Mangalavara is sacred to Mars. It is named Mangala (auspicious) to counter its malefic nature. It is sacred to Hanuman, the monkey god who helped Rama recover his wife Sita from Ravana (see Ramayana). Hanuman is said to have also freed the nine planets from Ravana's hold. Mars and Saturn are the strongest and most malefic of the nine. Devotees therefore believe that by praying to Hanuman on Tuesday, the inauspicious effects of Mars are overcome, for, by freeing Mars, he proved that he was the stronger of the two.

Panchanga Budhvara is sacred to Mercury, the lovechild of the Moon, and Brihaspativara or Guruvara to Jupiter, the preceptor of the gods. Shukravara, in turn, is special to Venus, the puissant and wise guru of the asuras, while Shanivara is the dreaded day that belongs to Shani (Saturn), whose baleful glare causes untold harm (see also Janmapatri). Tithi (lunar day) Position of moonis defined as the time taken by the moon to gain 12 degrees on the sun. The moon takes about 30 days (one lunar month) to go around the earth's ecliptic. In each tithi, the moon travels 12 degrees ahead of the sun (i.e. if the sun and the moon are present in a specific position relating to the earth, after one tithi, the moon would be ahead of the sun by 12 degrees) hence completing 360 (12 degrees x 30 days) degrees in a terrestrial month. In one month, there are 28 tithis, one poornima or full moon and one amavasya or new moon. The first tithi begins after the amavasya. There are 14 tithis in the shukla paksha (light half) and 14 in the Krishna paksha (dark half) of a month (see also Hindu Calendar). The names of the 14 tithis are Prathma (first), Dvitiya (second), Tritiya (third), Chaturthi (fourth), Panchami (fifth), Shashti (sixth), Saptami (seventh), Ashtami (eight), Navami (ninth), Dashmi (tenth), Ekadashi (eleventh), Dvadashi (twelfth), Triodashi (thirteenth), and Chaturdashi (fourteenth). Because the movement of the moon is irregular, a tithi ranges from 54 to 65 ghatikas. Hence when a tithi begins at sunrise and stretches to 60 ghatikas, it is equal to a solar day. But at times there are two or sometimes three tithis in one day and conversely one tithi might extend to three days. The former case is considered to be auspicious while the latter is not good for occasions like marriages or marching on an invasion. This concept of an auspicious tithi for all occasions is about 3000 years old, while the word tithi itself first came into use around 300 BC.

A full moon night of any month is considered especially auspicious. Various fasts and ceremonies are hence performed on this day. Amavasya on the other hand is not particularly beneficial, though both the new moon and the full moon are favoured motifs in classical poetry and the lives of saints. While Jyeshtha poornima is celebrated as Buddha poornima, the birth anniversary of the Buddha, Gurparb or Guru poornima in Kartik is the birthday of Guru Nanakdeva, the founder of Sikhism. And in Krishna lore, the Bhagavata Purana has it that it was on the night of Sharad poornima (the autumn moon), that Krishna invented the ras-lila, the mystic dance in which he magically partnered all the gopis (milkmaids) of his adopted clan at once, which is still an inspiring subject in dance, music and painting, and is ritually re-enacted on Janmashtami. Nakshatra (lunar asterism) is a cluster of stars lying in the path of the moon. Just as the ecliptic is divided into 12 solar mansions (zodiacs), so is it divided into 27 'lunar mansions or asterisms', called nakshatras. The moon travels through all of these clusters in about a month. It takes a little more than a lunar day to travel into each nakshatra and so it becomes full in a different nakshatra every month. The sun travels in about two and a quarter nakshatras every month. The nakshatras have been named according to which nakshatra the moon was full in, in the month and year the present luni-solar calendar was instituted. The first 14 are called Devanakshatra and the next 14 are Yamanakshatra. They too have presiding deities, and the Vedas say that these nakshatras are the heavenly abodes of pious people and great devotees. Yoga is defined as the time taken by the sun and moon together to accomplish 13 degrees 20 minutes of space. It is calculated from the sum of the longitudes of the sun and the moon and has no astronomical backing.

The first yoga occurs at 13 degrees 20 minutes, the second at 26 degrees 40 minutes and so on. There are 27 yogas in all, in a month (making a total of 360 degrees). These are called the nityayoga (ever occurring) and yield good or bad results according to their names. They too have deities presiding over them. Besides the 27 nitya yogas, there are special conjunctions of week days (vara) with certain tithis, nakshatras or planets, and rashis (see Janmapatri), which are also termed yoga and are auspicious or inauspicious according to various factors.

It is important to note here that this unit of time has no connection with yoga, the system by which the mind and body unite to integrate with the cosmic soul.

Karana is half of a lunar day or tithi. Therefore there are two karanas in one tithi and 60 in a lunar month. There are 11 names for karanas, of which seven are termed as moving or chara and four are stationary or sthira. The seven moving karanas occur eight times a month here as the four stationary ones occur only once a month. Both karanas of a tithi are not shown in a panchanga, only that one whose end does not coincide with the end of the tithi. Like the other limbs, the karanas are also presided over by the various deities and are good or bad accordingly.

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