Thiruvalluvar Era Confers Thamils Their Own Unique Epoch
by V.Thangavelu, President Thamil Creative Writers Association
The Thamil Nadu government gave legal status to the observation of Thai first (January 14th) as the beginning of Thamil New Year which will be called Thiruvalluvar Aandu. The bill (Declaration Bill 2008) was introduced in the House by the Thamil Nadu Government on 29 January 2008. In an unprecedented act of solidarity, the bill was unanimously passed by the TN State legislature. The bill declared that the Thamil new year should be celebrated on the first day of Thamil month of Thai (13/14th January) coinciding with the harvest festival of Pongal. However, when Ms Jayalalithaa returned to power in May, she rescinded by a separate act of legislation in the Thamil Nadu Assembly on 23 August 2011. This move was widely expected since Ms Jayalalithaa is a well known Hindu fundamentalist though she heads the AIADMK which has Anna’s name. The AIADMK flag too displays Anna’s picture.
The 2006–2011 Government in Thamil Nadu also introduced the Thiruvalluvar era that begins with the purported birth of the Thamil literary figure Tiruvalluvar in the year 31 BCE. However, the earlier legislative enactment of the DMK government was not without controversy. The resolution was met with resistance and court challenges. The opposition AIADMK and MDMK in Thamil Nadu subsequently condemned the decision of the DMK Government and urged their supporters to continue celebrating the traditional date in mid-April.
Both the opponents and supporters of Chithirai 14th as the first day of Thamil new year cite Thamil literature for their respective stand. They also cite astronomy to back up their respective claims.
The Thamil New Year follows the Nirayanam vernal equinox and generally falls on 14 April of the Gregorian year. 14 April marks the first day of the traditional Thamil calendar and is a public holiday in both Thamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Tropical vernal equinox falls around 22 March and adding 23 degrees of trepidation or oscillation to it, we get the Hindu sidereal or Nirayana Mesha Sankranti (Sun’s transition into Nirayana Aries). So basically the festive occasion is in keeping with the Hindu solar calendar.
Way back in 1921 Thamil scholars like Maraimalai Adikal, Naavalar Somasundera Bharathiyaar, Prof. Parithimaakalaignar (Prof. Sooriya Narayana Shastri) K.Subramaniyapillai, Thiru V.Kalyanasundera Mudaliyar, Saivait scholar Sachchithanadapillai, Naavalar Na.Mu. Venkadasamy, K.R.P.Visvanatham and scores of others met at Pachchayappan College and resolved to make Thai first Thamil New year instead of Chiththirai. In order to have a continuous year count, the birthday of Thiruvalluvar was taken as falling on Thai (Suravam) first.
This lead Thamil Scholars to reckon the New Year from the year of birth of Poet Thiruvalluvar which has been determined by them as in the year B.C.31. Hence the Christian era of 2012 becomes as an equivalent of the Thamil Valluvar era 2043. It is a great and a welcome decision to reckon the Thamil era in terms of Thiruvalluvar Aandu, as long as we know the equivalent Christian era of the Thamil Thiruvalluvar Aandu in order to be on track with the universal timeline adopted by all countries of the world which is essential for political, commercial, social dealings of the Thamil Nadu with these countries in the modern times.
The new reckoning was given effect by the TN government in 1971 in official calendars, from 1972 in gazettes and from 1981 in all departments. Later it was extended to non-governmental departments as well.
In the Indian civil calendar, the initial epoch is the Saka Era, a traditional era of Indian chronology that is said to have begun with King Saalivaahana’s accession to the throne and is also the reference for most astronomical works in Sanskrit literature written after 500 AD. In the Saka calendar, the year 2002 AD is 1925.
The other popular epoch is the Vikram era that is believed to have begun with the coronation of King Vikramaditya. The year 2002 AD corresponds to 2060 in this system.
The Calendar Reform Committee set up India’s present day national calendar in 1957. It is a luni-solar calendar, which has leap years coinciding with the leap years of the Gregorian calendar. The months in the calendar have been named after the conventional Indian months. This calendar came into effect with the Saka Era in Chaitra 1, 1879 (March 22, 1957).
Although we don’t have direct evidence of Thiruvalluvar’s birthday, this day has been chosen with reference to available (indirect data) from Sangam and post-Sangam Thamil literature.
The opposition to the change in the Thamil New Year from Chiththirai to Thai mostly emanates due to a lack of proper understanding of astronomy. Added is the natural tendency to resist change.
The Earth has three types of motions: motion around its axis, motion around the Sun, and motion of its axis due to wobbling of Earth. The Earth rotates around its axis in 24 hours, which causes day and night. In the Northern Hemisphere, we see that all but one of the stars and planets rise in the east and set in the west. The one star that does not rise or set is the polar star (Dhruv Nadchchathiram or Polaris), which is located directly above the Earth’s North Pole. The Earth is tilted 23.5 degrees on the plane of orbit around the Sun. This causes changes in seasons during the year. The seasonal changes have nothing to do with star or planets as widely believed by Astrologers and Almanac casters.
The second type of motion is the rotation of the Earth around the Sun in 365 days to complete one revolution in an elliptical orbit. Using modern instruments for exact observations of the universe, the Earth takes 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 9.50 seconds to complete one revolution with respect to the stars (sidereal year). With respect to the orbit, it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45.50 seconds to complete one revolution (tropical year). The difference in time is 20 minutes and 24.00 seconds as follows:
Solar year, 365d. 5 h. 48 m.45.50 s.
Sidereal year, 365d. 6h. 9m. 9.50 s.
Difference – m. 24.00 s. In other words, theSidereal year is longer than the Solar year.
This difference is caused by the third type of motion of Earth, the wobbling of its axis, which astronomers call processional movement (precession of equinoxes) of the pole or axis of the Earth.
The ancient Thamils lived in close touch with nature. Astronomy and astrology very much influenced their lives. With regard to the year, the Thamils started it with the Vernal Equinox. Astronomers have determined the sun transiting Aries at 0 degree as the Vernal Equinox, that is the day when the sun rose exactly in the east, coincided. This was about the year 285AD. With the lapse of centuries, the New Year falls now, about three weeks after the Vernal Equinox. The Hindu solar year is sidereal, and since it is in excess of the tropical year by 20 minutes and 24.00 seconds, it does not keep step with the seasons.
Seasons result from the yearly revolution of the Earth around the Sun and the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the plane of revolution. In temperate and polar regions, the seasons are marked by changes in the intensity of sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface, variations of which may cause animals to go into hibernation or to migrate, and plants to be dormant.
By way of explanation the earth spins on its axis, once every 23 hr. 56 min. This causes day and night and makes most extraterrestrial objects (sun, moon, planets, stars…) seem to move around the sky in about one day. Those on the surface of the earth, move with the earth. A person at the equator moves about a thousand miles per hour (about 1600 km/hr) toward the East. Those in temperate latitudes move slower. The spin of the earth is slowing down, because of the pull of the tides. The spin also speeds up and slows down very slightly because of changes in large weather patterns.
During May, June and July, the northern hemisphere is exposed to more direct sunlight because the hemisphere faces the sun. The same is true of the southern hemisphere in November, December and January. It is the tilt of the Earth that causes the Sun to be higher in the sky during the summer months which increases the solar flux. However, due to seasonal lag, June, July and August are the hottest months in the northern hemisphere and December, January and February are the hottest months in the southern hemisphere.
Seasons are determined by the tilting of the earth, not by stars or planets. The seasons fall back one and half-days for every hundred years or one day every 71.6 years.
It is not correct to say that Chiththirai has always been the beginning of Thamil New Year. Nachchinarkiniyar who wrote a commentary to Tholkaappiyam says Thamil New Year started in August (Aavani) and ended in July (Aadi). This demonstrates the fact that Aeries (Mesham) is not the start of the reference point in the Zodiac during Tholkappiyar’s time.
The Thamils/Hindus divided the year into “Uttarayanam” the first six months after the winter solstice and “Dhadshanyam” the second six months after the summer solstice. The former was considered health-giving, bright period for man and animals for during that period the days became longer and longer. Thus “Uttarayanam” was celebrated by Thaipongal and Paddippongal (the cattle festival). Most of the temple festivals in the Thamil country were also fixed for this bright period. The beginning of the “Dhadshanayam” was marked by “Adipirapoo” (July 1-Hindu calendar). These six months were considered not a very bright period for men and animals because the days became shorter and shorter.
One of the major drawbacks in counting Chiththirai is that it is not a continuous year. Its cycle consists of 60 years. This cycle of years is unhelpful to record historical events. And their (so are some of the months) names are not Thamil. They are in Sanskrit. The mythological story attached to the birth of the years is extremely vulgar and obscene. As usual with Hindu mythologies perverted mind must have invented the story.
A close look at the six seasons given in Thamil literature reveals that they are out of sync with the actual seasons experienced at the equator because of the precession of equinoxes.
Ilavenil Kaalam : mild sunny period : Chithirai, Vahasi – Thingal
(mid-April to mid- June)
Muthuvenil Kaalam : intense sunny period : Aani, Aadi – Thingal
(mid-June to mid-August)
Kaar Kaalam : cloudy rainy Period : Aavani, Purataasi – Thingal
(mid August to mid October)
Kuthir-Kaalam – cold period: Iyppassi, Kaarthihai – Thingal
(mid-October to mid-December)
Munpani Kaalam – early misty period (evening dew): Maarkali, Thai Thingal
(mid-December to mid-February)
Pinpani Kaalam – late misty period (morning dew): Maasi, Panguni Thingal
(mid-February to mid-April)
Definitely Mid June to mid-August is not the rainy season in Northeast of Ceylon or Thamil Nadu. They are in fact hot and humid months. The rainy season is from October to November (Iyppasi to Kaarthikai) and not from mid-August to mid-October.
The coolest months are December – January (Maarkali – Thai). It is in January (Thai) the farmer harvest the first sheaves of harvest. They are grinded and mixed with old rice and used for Pongal. The actual harvest season does not take place in January. It takes place in February and March. This is due to the change in seasons due to precession.
Both April 14th (Vernal Equinox) Janu
ary 14th to has astronomical significance. On April 14th the sun transits from Meena Rasi (Pisces) to Mesha Rasi (Aeries). This is the day the sun crosses the equator on its northward journey. On January 14, the sun leaves Thanu Rasi (Sagittarius) and enters Mahara Rasi (Capricorn) and it commences its Northerly transit as seen from earth.
In fact, there are four- transits of significance by the Sun in its journey from south to north and north to south. They are:
Winter Equinox-March 20/21
Summer Solstice-June 21
Autumn Equinox-December 22
Spring Equinox – March 20/21
This is true only in regard to the Northern hemisphere. It will be the exact opposite to those living in the Southern hemisphere. When it is summer in the Northern hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern hemisphere. So in regard to spring and autumn.
As already mentioned, the arrivals of the seasons have been changing at the rate of 1 degree per 71.6 years. Westerners found spring coming earlier (March 10) than the Julian calendar showed viz March 21. To adjust the extra days Pope Gregory ordered the deletion of 10 days i.e. October 5th was followed up with October 15th. The Gregorian calendar still has a few seconds difference. But the calendar can hold good fairly accurately for the next 1000 years!
Due to the precession of the equinox, the Sun will be at the 1st degree of Libra at the spring equinox in 11,232 years! Those who think that almanacs and calendars are cast in iron should mark their calendars! The zodiac of the two systems (Tropical and Sidereal) will be exactly opposite one another! Ayanamsha will be 180 degrees 0 minutes!! It would be interesting to those who oppose Thamil New Year shifted to Thai first to incarnate at that time just to join in the debate!
In Vedic or Sidereal astrology the calculation of the Sun passing through the 1st degree of Aries is marked by the Sun actually passing through the observable fixed stars making up the constellation Aries and has nothing to do with the seasons. Because of the precession of equinoxes at a rate of 50.26 seconds per year, difference between the tropical zodiac and sidereal zodiac increases every 10 years by 8 minutes 22 arc seconds.
The Thamil/Hindu calendar has gone awry and no correction was made for precession of equinoxes. This is the reason why the real seasons are not synchronizing with months mentioned above. Poet Subramanian Bharathiyar has pointed out this discrepancy in one of his essays.
Those who claim that Chiththirai New Year ushers in Spring (Venil) has to re-think. It really falls on March 21st! A good 24 days earlier. So are all the Hindu auspices festival and ceremonial days.
Now 1 every 71.6 years doesn’t sound like too much, but it certainly adds up over 2,000 years or so, and this is where we get into the different Zodiac systems.
The determination of Thai first as Thamil New Year helps Thamils to have a secular New Year. A New Year in which Thamils of differenct faiths or no faiths can participate. In addition, the Thiruvalluvar era which coincides with Thai 01 fulfills the historical need for a unique Thamil era like Saalivaahana era, Buddhist era, Christian era, Islamic era, Chinese era, etc. It will help in reckoning the years in line with the Thamil traditions.
The change of Thamil New Year has not altered or modified the Panchangam or Thamil Almanac as some mistakenly think or argue. What has changed is the reference point (in a circle any point could be considered the reference point) in the Zodiac. Instead of Aeries 0 degree being considered the birth of Thamil New Year, the reference point has been shifted to Makaram 0 degree the birth of Thamil New Year!
Despite Ms Jayalalithaa’s diktat Thamils should observe January 14 as Thamil New Year, Thai Pongal Day and Poet Thiruvalluvar’s Birth Day. The shifting of Thamil New Year from Chiththirai first to Thai first is keeping with Thamil traditions.