understanding panchanga

Panchanga means five limbs. Most of us must have heard the term Panchanga in the context of the Indian calendar or while trying to fix an auspicious time for any important event like marriage or grihapravesha. What are these five limbs? What is their significance? How have these been derived?  Have we ever wondered about these and related issues?

Panchanga literally means five limbs or five components and these five components are: Vara, Tithi, Karana, Yoga and Nakshatra. Let us get some preliminary idea about each of these.

Vara is actually a short form of vasara. Ra means agni. Vasa means to stay or to provide a base. Vasara literally means provider of agni or fire.  There are seven vasaras or varas or weekdays. These are Ravivasara or Ravivara (Sunday), Somavara (Monday), Mangalavara (Tuesday), Buddhavara (Wednessday), Guru or Brihaspati vara (Thursday), Shukravara (Friday), Shanivara (Saturday). Lord Surya (Sun God) presides over the vasaras.

When we talk of an international weekday, it is from midnight to midnight. A new day starts immediately after the midnight. But a Vedic day starts from the sunrise. In the context of our Panchanga also the day starts from the sunrise. This has to be kept in mind while fixing muhurta for auspicious events and also for determining on which vara you were born. If you were born at 4 am in India and the international calendar shows it as Thursday, you were actually born on the Vedic day of Wednesday. For the purpose of determining anything concerned with your birth chart or for fixing muhurta based on your birth chart, Wednesday will be taken as your day of birth.

We know that there is a dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha when the moonlight goes on decreasing till Amavasya or the night of no moon. Inversely, light goes on increasing during the bright fortnight or Shukla Paksha till Poornimaor the full-moon night. Each fortnight is 13 to 15 days long. These two fortnights represent a lunar month which is the time taken by the moon to complete one revolution around the earth.

Sun is our main source of light. Moon is a secondary source. Night time light comes from Sun via the moon. Earth moves around the Sun and Moon revolves around the Earth. Sun, moon and earth share a very peculiar relationship and tithi is the representation of this peculiar relationship. To be precise, each tithirepresents a 12 degree separation between sun and moon taking earth as the base.  Thus one complete revolution of moon, which is 360 degree, is divided into thirty tithis.

But a lunar month is not 30 days. The moon takes approximately 27 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes to complete one revolution around the earth. Hence one tithi may not be equal to one solar day. The start of the tithi also does not coincide with the sunrise. During one sunrise to another sometimes there may be three tithis. For the purpose of celebrating any festival and for taking samkalpa before puja etc. the tithi prevailing at the time of sunrise is taken as the tithi for that day. But when it comes to your horoscope or natal chart, the tithi prevailing at the time of your birth is taken into account.

My mother and grandmother referred to days by their tithi names only. They never bothered what date it was as per the Gregorian calendar. But, now a days hardly any one bothers about the tithi unless it is some prominent festival like Janmastamai or Ramanavami. Ours is basically a lunar calendar.

Majority of Hindu/Buddhist/ Jain/Sikh festivals are celebrated based on tithis. Sanskrantis are exceptions because these are based on the movement of sun. Muslims also follow a lunar calendar for their festivals.

Each tithi has a distinct name. Starting from the first day after Poornami or Amavasya these are: 1-Pratipada, 2-Dwitiya, 3-Tritiya, 4-Chaturthi, 5-Panchami, 6-shasthi, 7-Saptami, 8-Ashtami, 9-Navami, 10-Dasami, 11-Ekadashi, 12- Dwadashi, 13-Trayodashi, 14-Chaturdashi, 15-Poornami or Amavasya

You might have observed that most of the tithi names have been derived from the corresponding Sanskrit names of the numbers. Goddess Durga is the presiding deity of the tithis.

One thing to be noted with regard to the tithis is that the starting tithi of a month is not uniform throughout India. In some regions the starting tithi is Shukla  pakshapratipada, which means in such cases the lunar month ends on Amavasya.  Such a month is called as Amanta or Amavasyanta month. This system is followed in Gujrat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Rest of the regions follow the Purnimatna system where in the starting tithi of a month is Krishna Pratipada.

The simple definition of a karanais that it is half a tithi. If a tithi represents a 12 degree separation between sun and moon, a karana represents a 6 degree of separation. As tithis are 30 in a lunar month, karanas are 60 in a month. However, there are only 11 types of karanas. The four karanas – Shakuni, Chatuspada, Naga and Kistugnaare known as sthirakaranas. These come only once a month, spreading over the period from the second half of Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi to first half of Shukla Pratipada. Each of the other 7 karanas, which are known as the charakaranas, is repeated 8 times a month. The charakaranas are – Bava, Balava, Kaulava, Taitilya, Garija, Vanija andVishti. Lord Ganesha is the presiding deity of the karanas.

Mathematically speaking, a tithi is the difference (viyog) between the longitudeof moon and the longitude of sun. Yoga, our fourth element of Panchanga is derived out of the yog or addition of the longitude of moon and that of sun. There are 27 yogas in a lunar month. Thus each yoga represents 13 degree 20 minutes of the movement of the moon around earth. The first yoga starts immediately after Amavasya, which represents zero degree separation between sun and moon. Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity of the Yogas.

The orbit of the moon has been divided into 27 parts and each part is known as a nakshatra. Like the yoga, a nakshatraalso represents 13 degree 20 minutes movement of the moon. But the difference lies in their starting points. The starting point of the first nakshatra is zero degree of the first zodiac sign Aries.

You might have been asked about your JanmaNakshatra on certain occasions. JanmaNakshatra represents the position of moon at the time of your birth. Nakshatra of a particular time represents the positon of moon against the backdrop of that nakshatra at that particular point of time.  Same way position of moon at the time of sunrise would represent the prevailing nakshatra of that day. Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of the nakshatras.

Each of these five elements of Panchanga is mapped with one of the five basic elements or panchabhutas. Vara is connected with fire or Agni, tithi with water or Jala, karana with earth or Bhu, Yoga with ether or Akasha and nakshata with air or Vayu.

Elements of Panchanga have been used since Vedic times for fixing auspicious time to conduct important events and rituals. Our ancient Rishis have provided important guidelines which were obtained through their immaculate yogic insights.  Apart from use in finding a proper muhurta, skilled astrologers use these elements of panchanga in delineating the horoscope or the natal chart of a person.  

2 thoughts on “understanding panchanga

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s