Some years ago, in his consultations with religious bodies in Guyana, when former President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, brought on board a large number of Hindu organisations, I was one to congratulate him on an enlightened decision. What we are experiencing now is a continuation of the same policy of consulting the widest possible cross section of the Hindu population on matters that affect us deeply. We should congratulate minister Ramjattan for seeking to engage several Hindu organisations.
It is perhaps the first time since Divali has been made a holiday that so many groups have been consulted by the minister concerned. The best and most informed judgement on this and other issues can only be made when the views of all are examined. No single organization should entertain the ambition of dominating the entire Hindu society. None should be given de facto monopoly.
India has a national calendar system called the Shaka Samvat started in the year 78 CE used for government purposes. In addition, there are several regional Samvats – epochs or eras – started at different times in history to mark special events. In this regard, there is a Tamil, a Gujarati, a Bengali calendar. For all religious and cultural purposes the regional calendars supersede the Indian National Calendar.
The Vikram Samvat – epoch or era – was founded by the legendary Emperor Vikramaditya in the year 57 BCE is far more prevalent. This Samvat is widely used in the Hindi heartland. It is equally prevalent in the Bhojpuri areas from which our ancestors were transported, and is the source for the locally generated calendars. Whenever a Hindu priest in Guyana recites the sankalpa, the statement of intention, preceding any ritual, he makes reference to the Vikram Samvat. It is what we have been doing in Guyana since 1838.
The Hindu year has twelve lunar months of equal duration with each, including the Divali month of Kartika, being divided into two pakshas, krishna and shukla, the “dark” and the “bright” halves. Each paksha records 15 phases of the moon called in Sanskrit tithis. These are numbered 1 to 14, excepting the last tithis of the “dark” and “bright” halves which are known as amavasya (new moon) and purnima (full moon) respectively.
The public statements issued by all parties reveal four broad areas of agreement:
- Divali – the lighting of the diya to dispel the darkness of ignorance and the performance of the Divali Lakshmi Puja – has to be observed in the month of Kartika.
- Divali must be celebrated in krishna paksha, “dark half” or the waning half of the month.
- Divali must be observed during the period of amavasya.
- The duration of Divali comes to an end not later than 13.59 on Wednesday, November 11.
The Bhavani Shankar Panchang, the Kashi Vishvanath Panchang, several panchangas prepared in North America in English for the benefit of Hindus in this hemisphere, and two reputable online panchangas, drikPanchang.com and myPanchang.com, all agree on the duration of amavasya in Guyana, with minor variations, from 11.53 on Tuesday, November 10 to 13.47 on Wednesday, November 11. This being the case, it naturally follows that Divali – Lighting of Diyas and Maha Lakshmi Puja – must be observed on the evening of Tuesday, November 10.
On the contrary, to agree that amavasya comes to an end not later than 13.59 on Wednesday, November 11, as one of the organisations has done, and yet to insist that Divali be observed 4.00 hours after on the evening of November 11, is clearly incomprehensible. To do so will result in the violation of the fundamental principles of panchang and an astronomical, and from all appearances a deliberate and calculated, blunder. It will mean celebrating Divali in the shukla paksha or bright half of the month.
It is important to keep in mind that every calculation of a tithi must be done with reference to one’s location. In India, even though there is an Indian Standard Time, the tithi varies considerably depending on the location. Dwarka in the west is separated from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh by more than 3,000 kilometres. Obviously, the tithi for any event in Dwarka cannot be the same for the said event in Itanagar.
If we look at the tithi for Divali in New Delhi in 2015, we find that amavasya begins there at 21.23 on Tuesday, November 10 and extends to 23.17 on Wednesday November 11. Consequently, Divali in New Delhi must be on November 11. However, if we make allowance for the 9.5 hours of time difference between Guyana and India, we will come back to the duration of amavasya in Georgetown, Guyana at from 11.53 on Tuesday, November 10 to 13.47 on Wednesday, November 11.
What one fears may have been happening, with at least one of the locally generated calendars now invoked as the authority, is the wholesale copying of Indian calendars and uncritically applying them to Guyana. Many Hindus have known for the longest while that this copy has been consistently off by an entire day on numerous occasions.
This time around there has been a significant departure from what prevailed in the past. Minister Ramjattan invited a wide cross-section of Hindu leadership and sought their input on the matter, and made a pronouncement for the purpose of the Official Gazette. Had Divali not been a national holiday, the minister would have had no need to consult any one and we Hindus would have gone on celebrating events as usual, one day before and one day after.
In going forward, I am proposing a National Calendar Committee for Hindus, at least for the two gazetted holidays, to be convened by a person of the stature of Dr. Yesu Persaud and to be composed of learned representatives from various Hindu organisations. Since all of us claim to use the same panchangas and follow the same rules of interpretation and mathematical calculations we should be able to resolve differences well in advance.
Our prayer is that when the heat that is currently being generated subsides, the light of Divali that banishes darkness and ignorance will shine forth, and the clear stream of reason, to borrow from Tagore’s immortal Gitanjali, will resume its flow unimpeded.