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Mapping time

What’s the concept behind the obvious harvest cycle of the Indian New Year? Time, in its accountability and endlessness, fascinated the ancient Indian sages and saints. Soumya Aravind Sitaraman examines.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2008 23:44 IST
Soumya Aravind Sitaraman
Soumya Aravind Sitaraman

Time, in its accountability and endlessness, fascinated the ancient Indian sages and saints: these scientists and scholars who sought union of the self with the universe, correlated the 1440 breaths we take every single cycle of night and day with the fifteen nithyas, lunar days (tithes) and incorporated them into the kalachakra, the wheel of time. The entire span, a full 21,600 human breaths, form the totality of our state of consciousness, from deep sleep to full consciousness. Drawn, the Shri Chakra (a mystic yantra or ‘magic’ diagram) is a representation of our human body and the universe, their synchronicity perfect.

The Rig Veda (Hymn 1, 55) speaks of a wheel in motion with four times ninety name (chaturbhih sakam navtim cha namabhih): a chakra or wheel with 360 divisions or degrees in the sky. It makes astounding magnitudes accessible in this poetic manner. Imagine minds that could conceive of nothing, zero, as something.

Genius that looked beyond individual destiny and calculated time in kalpas (4,320,000,000 years) and mahakalpas (1,000 times a kalpa) down to fundaments of four seconds by observing and calculating the movements of stars relative to earth.

Vedic mathematicians found that 4, 12, 24, 36,48, 60, 72, 108, 360,432 and 720 correlated to the changing sky and used the numbers to measure time.

As much as we suspect their authenticity and accuracy and relegate their math to myth, their findings are derived from scientific knowledge. Our ancients observed stellar cycles, inferred and projected the positions of these stars and mapped time in cosmic proportions. With acute perception they recognized stellar cycles and cosmic energy and its varied influences on us as a society and as individuals.

They observed astral vibrations and divined the intangible but distinct nexus between cosmic movement and influences on individual destiny. They recorded, analysed and handed the information down as a science, lyricised it in poetry in the Vedas through vyasas, literary genuiuses who were designated to arrange the verses of the Vedas into Samhitas (chapters of hymns). Of the twenty-eight vyasas born in the Dwapara Yuga, Angiras, Bhaargava and Krishna Dvaipayana (author of the Maabharata) are some of the better-remembered individuals.

The calendar

We have a lot to learn and discover about the origins of the Hindu calendar. Ancient Hindu scholars reveal knowledge that modern scientists like Carl Sagan concur with; the theory of the age of our earth being about four billion years for example. The earliest records known today date back to 3200 BCE when it is believed a group of Hindu astronomers recorded lunar cycles and correlated them to twenty seven prominent stars that rose and apparently moved across the sky in a 25,000-year cycle. These early astronomers who gave us the Hindu calendar as we know it today created a system of calculation based on the actual observable position of certain constellations and the transition of the moon through them. This is why the earliest Hindu calendar is called a lunar calendar. However, given the minutely documented knowledge the Rig Vedic scholars of pre-6500+ BCE had of the sun, it is highly probable that the ancient astronomers calculated solar-based influences too.

By our current Hindu calendar, the panchanga (the almanac), we are in the 5108th year of the Kali Yuga (Gregorian calendar 2007-8). The Kali Yuga is the last and shortest of all the four yugas which ake up one mahayuga; which in turn rolls out into ever-expanding cycles of time.

(So why panic about that stuff on the Net about the Mayan-Aztec calendar stopping short on December 24, 2012? I would respectfully say that they are a dead civilisation whereas both the Hindus and their ancient calendar are still rocking. If I had to choose, I’d stick with Hindu astrology: it’s a ticking concept that’s outlasted everybody’s worst croakings. RN).

Furthermore, the ancient rishis were aware of the changes in the earth’s tilt. They had observed that the earth ‘wobbles’ on its axis, many centuries before Europeans were debating over whether the earth was flat. The Vedic rishis figured out exactly what effect the earth’s wobble would have on the calculations of their ephemeris (an astronomical table listing the positions of the sun, moon and planets over a given period of time) and corrected it accordingly.

The original Surya Siddhanta (Principles of the Sun) is supposed to have been revealed about 2,164,962 years ago to the great astronomer Maya. We owe a lot to Aryabhatta, Varaahamihira and Bhaskara III, for leaving the human race written treatises of this universal heritage. The Surya Siddhantha is an astronomical treatise documenting their observations, mathematical calculations and observations from the fourth to seventh centuries CE. This is believed to be the last known correction made to the Indian ephemeris.