I’m assuming it has already been established, at least to the readers of this blog, that calendars have deep astronomical roots, and that their origins can be traced back to the dawn of civilization…
Having said that, and before diving head first on the rich (but biased) history of our own calendar, let’s explore different venues and some parallel paths. Since we just celebrate Diwali this week (and that is a metaphorical “we”, I know…), let’s talk about this rich Hindu tradition and how it relates to astronomy.
Diwali’s literal translation might be lost through transliteration, but it is accepted, nowadays, to be “series of lights”. Its most famous feature might be the rows of lanterns shining on housetops, windows, doors and, basically, everywhere, wherever it’s celebrated.
But what it is celebrating, after all? Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, or knowledge over ignorance, of light over darkness. And how astronomical is that? It is very astronomical, since Diwali is celebrated during the New Moon, officially the beginning of the lunar month Kartik, of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. Originally, it was a celebration after the summer harvest, and also a preparation for the harsh winter to come.
Jains and Sikhs also celebrate Diwali, under different names and meanings. The Marwaris from Rajhastan consider it to be the beginning of their New Year. Diwali is one of the happiest holidays in India, and is also known as “The Festival of Peace”. Happy Deepavali! ■