THE ASTROLOGICAL BASIS OF THE HINDU NEW YEAR
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Let me give a brief outline of the essentials. The Hndu New Year starts on Chaitra Sukla Pratipada meaning:
Pratipada: the first (lunar) day (tithi)
Sukla: the bright half (of the lunar fortnight)
Chaitra: the name of the first lunar month
What does this mean astronomically or astrologically?
Each lunar month consists of two fortnights- one bright and the other dark. Each fortnight has 15 lunar days or tithis. The Amavasya and Poornima mark the dark and full moons during these phases. The FIRST DAY of the waxing period, immediately after the Dark Moon (Sukla Pratipada), is the starting of the lunar cycle and hence the lunar month. The twelve lunar months are named after the nakshatra on the full moon day of the month. In other words the (lunar) month when the full moon is in Aswini is called Aswayuja, in Krittika is called Kartika, in Mrigasira is called Margasira and so on.
A year is known as 'Samvatsara' in Sanskrit though in the broader Upanisadic sense 'Samvatsara' means any conceivable but indeterminate unit of time . In fact 'Samvatsara' and 'Kala' are both included in the thousand names (sahasranama) of Visnu. In Saivite tradition too, Time is personified as Siva – as Mahakala, the Great (God of) Time.
The division of time is an important topic in the Puranas as well as Agamas. In its most fundamental form the division of time is based on the movement of astronomical bodies, especially the luminaries i.e. the Sun and the Moon. Astrologically speaking Hinduism recognises at least five ways of reckoning the year (Samvatsara).
As is obvious from the names, Nakshatramana is the system of reckoning based on nakshatras. Likewise Souramana (Soura: Solar) is based on the Sun's transit of the Vernal equinox (spring time). The Sun's ingress into Mesha (Aries) marks this. In certain states of India (like Tamil Nadu) this is followed as the New Year for religious/cultural purposes.
In other states like Andhra, Maharashtra etc the New Year is celebrated according to Chandramana. Astrologically speaking Chandramana is the accepted system in Hinduism. As is obvious, Chandramana is based on the Moon. But to depict it as purely lunar is wrong. In reality it is luni-solar.
As mentioned earlier the lunar month starts with the first day (of the bright half) immediately after the Dark Moon (conjunction of the Sun and Moon) and reaches its peak during the Full Moon (when the Sun and Moon are in Opposition). Thereafter the second fortnight starts till the next conjunction of the luminaries. Thus during the month of Chaitra the full moon is in Chittra nakshatra (Virgo) while the New Moon is in Pisces (since the Sun and Moon are in conjunction at this point). In other words in the month of Chaitra the Moon and Sun are in Pisces on the first day of the month (as the Moon is 180 degrees apart on the Full Moon and the Full moon occurs in Chitta nakshatra in Virgo.
But why is Chaitra selected as the first month? It is here that the SOLAR basis enters. The New Year is on the first lunar day following the new moon nearest to the Vernal (spring) equinox, thus making it a LUNI-SOLAR system. Let me digress a bit here.
Nearly every festival in Hinduism has an astronomical basis. Most ancient cultures had festivals based on astronomical events, especially the Sun or Moon. Let us take the Sun. There are four landmarks in the Sun's journey in the heavens.
For the purposes of this article I will deal with only the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes here. While the Hindus celebrate the first lunar day nearest to the Vernal equinox as New Year, the Jews celebrate the first lunar day nearest to the Autumnal equinox as New Year. Yet the Hindus celebrate the first nine lunar days nearest to both the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes. Both these times are sacred as the Navaratris. The first nine lunar days closest to the Spring equinox are celebrated as Vasanta (Spring) Navaratris (nine nights) while the first nine lunar days closest to Autumnal equinox are celebrated as the Sharad (Autumn) Navaratris (n ine nights).
Though the Autumnal Navaratris are celebrated in a major way by all hindus as the Dusshera Navaratris, ardent worshippers of Sakti fast and chant the 'Devi Mahatmyam' during the Vasanta Navaratris too. The Hindu New Year (referred to as 'Ugadi' or 'Yugadi' in Telugu) marks the beginning of the Vasanta (spring) Navaratris and 'Sri Rama Navami' marks the climax. It is not a mere coincidence that Sri Rama Navami marks the climax of the Spring Navaratris. Among the incarnations of Visnu, Parasara identifies Sri Rama with Sun.
I hope the above clarifies the LUNI-SOLAR nature of the Hindu New Year as also the astronomical basis of the Hindu New Year and some other related points too. It also illustrates partly why only Hindu astrology is a CONTINUOUS and LIVING system among the ancient schools of astrology. Astrology is a part and parcel of every day life in India even to this day whether people realise it or not. Finally it should be mentioned that in Hindu mundane astrology, though Moon is given prime importance, Sun has never been undermined or left out.