By Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)
As a schoolboy in a small town in UP, I remember the preparations for Holi. The family retainers dug a pit and buried an earthenware pot in it. This was at the spot where Holi fire was to be lit a few days later. Gradually, firewood and other items, such as broken cots, tables and chairs to burn on Holi night were piled up over it.
On being questioned, our oldest servant told me that Samvat 1999 (year of the Vikram era) had been buried in the pot and was to be burnt as having perished. The twenty-first century of our own Samvat would begin after the new moon about two weeks later. Till then I had not realised that Holi had a direct connection with our own New Year. I have often wondered if Holi is in fact the celebration on the last full moon of the year to welcome the new one, the mythological story of Holika trying to kill Pralhad notwithstanding. The current Vikram Samvat 2065 began on 7th April 2008 (Ugadi) for Karnataka and Andhra. But if you missed it, never mind, there are a number of new year days yet to celebrate. After all, you can calculate the year from any date, just like your own birthday!
Quite a few people believe that the Samvat starts on Diwali night. This tradition originated from Gujarat and was adopted as the start of the business accounting year by most Indian businessmen, particularly those of Bombay. For these people Samvat 2065 will begin on 28th October. You have plenty of time to get ready for revelry. Punjabis count the same Samvat 2065, but it will begin on 14th April, the day after Baisakhi which has a very special significance for the Sikhs. Two or three other states also start their new year on the same date. Most Parsis will celebrate their own new year Papeti on 23rd or 25th August. Their year 1 started when they first landed in India in Gujarat by ships and sought refuge with the Raja of Sanjan. Parsis who came to India by land have their own separate New Year’s Day a few days earlier.
Perhaps the oldest calendar still in use is the Buddhist. Its year 2552 will begin at the end of May, while Jains will welcome the year 2535 at Diwali. In this profusion of New Years, the year 1930 started off the Shaka Samvat, National Official Calendar. This is a rare purely solar calendar, and is observed almost totally by being ignored. Most other calendars are based on the lunar cycles adjusted to the seasons, and hence the position of the earth in its orbit, by adding or dropping days (tithis) and sometimes adding a whole month (mal-maas). The Hejira Muslim year counted from the emigration of the Prophet to Medina, began this year as 1184, on the first day of Muharram on January 18, 2008. This is a purely lunar calendar with no adjustments to realign it with the seasons.
Finally, a few words about the so called real New Year’s day of the westernized Indian intelligentsia. There is no clear evidence of how the Anno Domini relates to the date of birth or Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At one time even this Christian era began on 1st April. In memory of this, many financial years including ours still begin on that date.
Those who continued to wish their friends and relatives Happy New Year on 1st April, gave birth to All Fools Day. They were the fools for not knowing that the year had changed its first day. On top are other problems. Pope Gregory dropped thirteen days to re-synchronise the dates with the seasons. There were riots against his having robbed people of these thirteen days of their lives. Even today the Greek Orthodox and Coptic churches celebrate Christmas on 6th January.
So, if you did not frolic on a New Year’s Day for 2008, never mind. There are many left yet to rejoice in. Happy New Year, again, and again, and again.