Hindu Panchanga: What is it and Why is it Important in Hinduism

In this article, I will try to analyze what exactly is Panchanga, or Panchangam, as it is called in Sanskrit, why it is important in Hinduism, and what roles it plays in Vedic Astrology.

Panchanga in Vedic Astrology

Christmas is always on December 25, however, Dashain is not always on the fixed date. Last year, it was on Asoj 21 (October 8), and this year it is on Kartik 10 (October 26). Christmas is always on 25th December because the Christian calendar is based on solar months and date for Dashain varies because Hindu festivals uses lunar months. Christian calendar, also called Western calendar or Gregorian calendar, is basically a solar calendar. Not just by the Hindus, lunar calendar is also popular in other cultures as well, for example Islamic calendar called Hijri is also a lunar calendar. Even though, most of the Hindu festivals are based on lunar calendar, Hindu calendar also incorporates solar calendar and some Hindu festivals are based on solar calendar, for instance, Karkat Sankrinti, Makar Sankrinti etc.  Hindu calendar is called Panchanga, which incorporates solar calendar as well as lunar calendar.

Panchangam or Panchanga is a Hindu calendar and almanac based on Hindu Astrology or Vedic Astrology. Panchanga is a system of timekeeping that not only tracks, days, weeks, months, and years, but also celestial movements (movements of planets) and celestial incidents like solar and lunar eclipses, as well as forecasting weather. Hindu use Panchanga not only to determine date and time but also to find about their festivals, learn about auspicious time for important events like weddings, buying properties etc. Panchangas are widely used in India and Nepal to determine horoscope, auspicious time, as well as to make astrological calculations. In these countries, Panchangas are published by astrologers, societies, academies, and universities. Nepal Government even has a governing body for Panchanga, called Panchanga Nirnayak samiti, and every publisher of Panchanga has to get approval from the body in order to publish Panchanga.

Panchanga is so accurate and scientific that it can calculate the exact date and time of celestial phenomena like solar eclipse 100 years advance. Making of Panchnga requires mathematical calculations, geometry as well as astronomy. Calculations and tabulations are based on the formulas written by ancient sages of Vedic Astrology.

In the beginning, Panchanga was generated by using the theories and formulas mentioned in Grahalaghava and Surya Siddhanta. Calculations in Panchanga provide the positions of planets (popularly called grahas) and constellations (nakshatras) as they are observed in the sky. The principles of Panchanga are based on the 5000 years old Vedic tradition.

Features of Panchanga: The Hindu Almanac

The word Panchanga is made from two Sanskrit words Pancha (which means five) and Anga (which means limbs). Thus, Panchanga includes 5 major attributes viz.: Tithi, Nakshatra, Rasi, Yoga, and Karana. These attributes are based on the movement of the moon. Panchanga is so comprehensive that you can find everything from English date, Vikram date, lunar day, to planetary position, planetary movements, celestial phenomena like eclipse, zodiac, horoscope, etc.

Tithi: Tithi is the lunar day (elongation of the moon), or the angular relationship between Sun and Moon. One Tithi is 12 degree difference between the Moon and Sun.

Nakshatra: Nakshatra is the constellation where the moon is located for an observer on the earth. There are 27 Nakshatra, one Nakshatra is 13 degrees and 20 minutes, the 27 Nakshatra is 360 degrees.

Rashi: Rashis are the Zodaic symbols, there are 12 Rashis. Some Hindu astrologer includes “var” (solar days, of 7 days of the week) instead of Rashis as one of the attributes of Panchanga.

Yoga: Yoga, which is different from Yoga as in Patanjali Yoga, literally means the sum of two or more things. Thus, Yoga is the angular relationship between the Sun and the Moon. There are 27 Yogas in 360 degree and one Yoga is 13 degrees and 20 minutes.

Karana: Karana is half of a Tithi, where one Karana is 6 degree difference between the Moon and the Sun.Apart from these five attributes, Panchanga also includes Samvatsara (the cycle of 60 years), Varsha (year), and Masa (month). Varsha begins when the sun enters Aries and ends when the Sun is in Pisces. Thus, Vasha in Hindu Panchanga is based on the solar calendar of year and months.

Tithi is a very important aspect of Panchanga, which means that Panchanga also uses a lunar calendar (as explained above, the tithi is a lunar day). There are 30 tithis, where the bright half has 15 tithis and dark half has 15 tithis. An auspicious time or muhurtha is also very important aspect of Panchanga, muhurtha is based on tithi, karana and yoga. The basic purpose of Panchanga is to give exact details of time (auspicious time or muhurtha), day (tithi, karan), festivals, celestial phenomena, and weather.

Currently, numerous individuals and institutions publish Panchanga in Nepal. Some of the popular Panchangas in Nepal are Surya Panchanga, Toyanath Panchanga, Akashdarshan Panchanga etc.

The modern-day Panchanga in India is based on the Indian National Calendar published in 1957. Since the actual astronomical events did not tally with the principles in these scriptures, the Government of India formed a committee to make Panchanga calculations based on actual astronomical events. The currently used western calendar was revised in 1582 by Pope Gregory to tally with the actual seasons. In the last couple of years, astrologers in Nepal are also discussing about revising the Panchanga so that it incorporates actual celestial phenomena.

Ancient Vedic Scholars Who Shaped Hindu Astrology

English word Astrology comes from Greek language. Astrology in Greek is “Astra” and “Logos,” where Astra refers to the star and logos means logic or reason. Thus, Astrology, according to Western language is the study of celestial bodies (planets and stars).

Even though astrology is the logic of starts, science rejects the logic of astrology. Still, there is an overwhelming presence of astrology in various cultures. Some of the popular astrological belief systems are Western Astrology, Vedic Astrology (also called Hindu Astrology or Indian Astrology), Chinese Astrology etc.

Hindu Astrology has roots in Vedas, therefore, it is called Vedic Astrology. However, Vedas alone do not shape Vedic Astrology. Hindu astrology has burrowed substantially from Hellenist astrology, mostly from Greek sources. For example, Varaha Mihira, one of the important scholars of Vedic Astrology, was heavily influenced by Greek Astrology. Most of his astrological theories are based on Greeks. Even though current Hindu Astrology has been heavily influenced by western astrology, Hindu astrology itself is a very old tradition. The current Hindu Astrology was developed from the Vedanga Jyotish, or Vedanga branch of the Vedas. The Vedas used Vedanga Jyotish mainly as Astronomy, however, later was also used as astrology.

Hindu Astrology is believed to be about 5000 years old. Numerous scholars have contributed to Vedic Astrology. Sages like Vashistha, Bhrigu, Garga, Jaimini, Parashar etc. were the pioneers of Vedic astrology. However, it is impossible to date when these Vedic scholars lived and when they wrote these treaties. Furthermore, the same scholar is mentioned on various Vedic and post Vedic literature belonging to the different eras. For instance, Vashistha is mentioned as the first Vedic composer who is credited with numerous verses in Rig Veda and also as Lord Rama’s guru. There is a wide gap between these two periods. Perhaps, these were different Vashisthas. Likewise, Parashara is the name of Vashistha’s grandson and father of Vayasa, the compiler and editor of the Vedas; however, Parashara who wrote Brhad Parasara Hora Sastra is believed to have lived in 600 CE.

Even though there is a difficulty in placing ancient Hindu scholars in the exact time frame, we must agree that there were men by these names who created great works. One such name is Bhrigu, who is considered to be the son of Brahma, the creator himself.

Bhrigu Samhita by Maharshi Bhrigu is probably the first complete treatise on Vedic Astrology. Before Bhrigu wrote Bhrigu Samhita, treaties on Astrology written by various sages appeared on Rig Veda and Yajur Veda. However, Bhrigu wrote and compiled astrology theories in one complete book. Since Bhrigu wrote the first complete book on Vedic Predictive Astrology, he is symbolized as the father figure in Hindu Astrology. In the early days, books were not written on paper, they were memorized as scripts were not developed. Later, when the script was developed people copied books on tree barks. Therefore, a lot of Hindu books were lost completely or survived in portion. Even though Bhrigu compiled 500,000 horoscopes on Bhrigu Samhita only some fragments are available. It is said and about 45 million horoscope charts could be drawn from the 500,000 horoscopes written by Bhrigu. Had the complete work of Bhrigu Samhita survived, it could have been an encyclopedia of past, present, and future events.

Maharshi Parashara is another important figure in Vedic Astrology. He composed Brihad Parasara Hora Sastra, which is one of the most important treaties in Vedic Astrology, mainly Predictive Astrology. Brihad Parasara Hora Sastra is still studied and referred to in the Vedic Astrology readings.

Garga is considered another important figure in Vedic Astrology. Garga Samhita an astrological treatise is credited to Garga. However, the complete text of Garga Samhita has not been found, some fragments of Garga Samhita have been discovered in two chapters of the Yuga Purana.

Jaimini, who wrote Purva Mimamsa Sutras, is also a great Hindu scholar who wrote treatises on astrology. Purva Mimamsa Sutras that contains 3,000 verses was composed in around 4th century BCE.

Hindu Astrology is an ancient tradition with its roots in the Vedas. The astrology branch of the Vedas is called Vedanga Jyotish. Some of the earliest texts on Vedanga Jyotish are Surya Siddhanta and Bhrigu Samhita, which are believed to be composed 3500 BCE. Vedic Astrology is the study of the planets and the stars and how these celestial bodies influence human beings.

Vedic Astrology has two branches, predictive astrology, and mathematical astrology. The Predictive astrology states that the nine planets guide human being’s life. The placement of planets at the time of the birth, planetary cycles, etc. determine whether planets make people suffer or cherish. In fact, Vedic Astrology tells us that the way we are, the way we act, the way we think, the way we achieve or lose, everything is determined by the planets. The mathematical part of Hindu astrology is basically Hindu astronomy that not only examines celestial happenings like eclipses, but also forecasts weather etc. This is the most interesting thing about Hindu astrology which is missing in other types of astrology.

Contribution of Varahamihira in Vedic Astrology

Varahamihira also called Varaha Mihira is one of the influential figures in India whose works range from astrology, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, engineering etc. In fact, he was a polymath who wrote books like  Pancha-Siddhantika, Brihat-Samhita, Brihat Jataka etc. Varaha Mihira lived in the early 6th-century in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Indian legends call Varaha Mihira as one of the 9 Jewels in the court of Hindu King Vikramaditya (who is believed to have founded Hindu calendar called Vikram Sambat). However, this claim does not seem valid as Varahamihira is believed to have born around 500 Common Era and dies late 6th century, whereas the Vikramaditya is believed to have lived 102 Before Common Era.

Varaha Mihira has propounded theories on various topics and subjects, however, in this article we are focusing on Varahamihira’s contribution to astronomy and astrology. Varaha Mihira’s texts on astronomy and astrology are still believed as authoritative texts in Hindu Astrology, or Vedic astrology to be precise.

Pancha-Siddhantika by Varahamihira is one of the notable books on Hindu Astronomy. It is dated 575 Common Era. The book is mainly a summary of ancient texts on astronomy by various Hindu sages, which are now lost. Thanks to Varahamihira that we can still learn about the contribution of Hindu sages on Astronomy theories. Pancha-Siddhantika, literally Commentary on Five Treatise, is Varaha Mihira’s interpretation and summery on Five Astronomical Canons.

In Pancha-Siddhantika, Varahamihira has summarized and interpreted astronomical and astrological treatises like Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta. These five treaties are important texts on Vedanga Jyotisha, namely Vedic Astrology. Interestingly, these five treaties also include Greek, Egyptian and Roman astronomy and astrology.  The original texts of Surya Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishtha Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta are no longer available, however, thanks to Varahamihira, we can learn about these astrology and astronomy canon in Pancha-Siddhantika.

While Pancha-Siddhantika is summary and intrepation of earlier texts, Brihat-Samhita is Varahamihira original texts. Brihat Samhita, Varahamihira’s most notable work is an encyclopaedia on architecture, astrology, astronomy, weather, gemology, perfumes, mathematics etc. The book contains treaties on temple architecture, planetary motions, celestial phenomena like eclipses, weather forecasting like seasons, cloud formation, rainfall; timekeeping, astrology agriculture, trigonometry, optics, and many other topics.

Even though Varahamihira has included the topic of astrology in Brihat Samhita, Brihat Jataka is his most authoritative book on Astrology. Varahamihira’s Brihat Jataka is a text on predictive astrology.

Varahamihira’s contribution to Vedic astrology is immense, however, he also seem to have been influenced by Western astrology, or Greek astrology to be precise.  In Brihat-Samhita, he went on saying that the Greeks should be appreciated because they have honored our science.

Pancha-Siddhantika is a seminal work on Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Indian astronomy. Romaka Siddhanta (literally, Doctrine of the Romans) and the Paulisa Siddhanta (treaties of Paul of Alexandria) are two major books among the Five Treaties as explained in the Pancha-Siddhantika by Varahamihira. These two books, which are basically based on Hellenic Astronomy and Astrology, had tremendous influence on Varahamihira

Varaha Mihira’s was not only expert in Vedic Astrology, but also on Western Astrology. The mathematical charts and tables created by Varaha Mihira’s are heavily influenced by Greek astronomy.