Since the time of the earliest Saraswati valley (known to the Europeans and their Asian camp followers as Harappan or Indus valley) civilization, the Indians have followed the Lunar calendar for their festivals. In fact it was the practice in most parts of the world and is preserved to this day by the Arabs (and the Muslims) without the corrections stated below.
However the Indians were aware of the fact that 12 lunar months (354.366 days) were about 11 days shorter than the solar year (365.2587 days). By the time of the Kurukshetra battle of Mahabharat, the Nakshatra drashtas (Star gazers) and Jyotirvids (Astronomers) had laid down that when the accumulated difference exceeds 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.865 seconds, an adjustment is made with an extra month (Adhika Maas), which carries the name of the previous or the next month, depending on the proximity of the month. Normally, about seven extra months occur in 19 years.
The end of the year is reckoned as the new Moon day of Chaitra, as it is usually the New Moon day closest to Vernal Equinox or Maha Vishuva Sankranti, i.e. the day on which the Sun reaches the equator (Vishuva Kranti) on its Northward journey. The day after the new Moon day, i.e. Chaitra Shukla Pratipada had been fixed as the first day of the year, i.e. Varsha Pratipada. The coronation of any new king was expected to be on this date.
Coronation of King Parikshit (36 years after the battle of Kurukshetra) was marked as the on set of a new era known as Kaliyuga. The date was marked as the first day of the Yuga, still celebrated in many parts of India as Yugadi. Varsh Pratipada (falling on 16th March 2010 AD of the Gregorian calendar) is the beginning of Kaliyugabda 5112.
Here it is interesting (and amusing) to recall the history leading to the observation of the New Year day on First of January. Influenced by the Surya Vansi rulers of Egypt who called themselves the descendants of the Sun God and followed only the solar calendar, the Greeks and Romans had adopted a solar calendar starting with March and the months numbered 1 to 10. Though most of the names were later changed and 2 more months (January and February) were added, 4 names according to their numbers are still in use (Saptam-bar, Ashtam-bar, Navam-bar and Dasham-bar). Though January was the first month most Europeans continued to observe New Year day in March (some on 1st and some on 23rd or 25th).
By the end of the 15th Century AD, the scholars of Rome had realized the erroneous nature of the Julian calendar in vogue. In 1582 Pope Gregory X111 promulgated a new, more accurate calendar to replace that introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. Pope Gregory X111 issued a Papal Bull dated March 1, 1582 annulling 10 days so that what would have been reckoned October 5, 1582, was to be reckoned October 15, 1582.
Many of the major countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland), skipped from October 4, 1582 to October 15, 1582, which we now take, for simplicity’s sake, to be the canonical point of switch. Some, like France, by the end of 1582, others, like the Catholic parts of Switzerland (and, interestingly, the Spanish colonies in America—probably due to delays in communication—waited until 1584.
• The New Year day was fixed on 1st January in stead of a day in March though the Papal Bull did not specifically direct it.
• The Christmas day was to be celebrated on 25th December in stead of the earlier practice of 6th January in some places. At present there is a move in Bulgaria to shift the celebration back to 6th January
• For some reason the Spanish Netherlands switched over at the very end of 1582 (from December 21 to January 1), which meant they skipped Christmas that year.
• The Gregorian calendar was adopted in Britain (and in the British colonies) in 1752, with (Wednesday) September 2, 1752, being followed immediately by (Thursday) September 14, 1752.
• With this reform and the shift of the New Year Day from March 25 to January 1, the year of birth of George Washington (first President of USA) changed from 1731 to 1732. In the Julian calendar his birth day is 1731-02-11 but in the Gregorian calendar it is 1732-02-22
Readers who want to find more interesting information should see
1. “The Western Calendar and Calendar Reforms” in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
2. Web site: http://www.the-kingdom.ie/news/story/?trs=cwaumh
3. Web site: http://www.christmas-time.com/cp-old.html
4. Web site:
5. Web site: http: http://www.salagram.net/Calendar-glossary.htm