The Story of December

December is the last month in the Gregorian calendar. This is also the commonly used calendar of the world. It is a twelve month calendar as we all know.

The word December, is phonetically similar to decimal. The word decimal and its equivalent dashamlav comes from the same root dasam or dus, whichis used to express 10 in Hindi, Samskrt and a few other Indian languages.This is so because the decimals are in units of ten.

The English word December which indicates the number 10, suggests that it was the tenth month of the year. Similarly, September comes from Latin Septa or the root Sapta in Samskrt meaning 7. This indicates September must have been the seventhmonth,

October again comes from Octa, which has the same root as Ashta in Samskrt standing for 8. This means October must have been the eighth month.

Look at November. The root word Nava in Samskrt means 9. And November must have stood for the 9th month. And December as we have seen, from Dus, decimal, must have been the tenth month.

If this is so, then how is it that these months moved by two places and December came to occupy the place of the 12th month in the calendar, instead of the tenth month?

Right from the times of Julius Caesar, the great emperor of Rome who lived around 40 CE and brought in the Julian Calendar system, in use till the year 1582 CE, when Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian calendar system, there has been much confusion in the west regarding calendars.

The length of the year kept changing. The beginning of the calendar year and the order of the months kept undergoing changes too. The number of days in a month also varied.

With time, the calendar, the very time keeper of the civilization, kept changing at the whims and fancies of the ruler of the civilization.

Julius Caesar wanted to make his name not just popular but eternal.

For this purpose, he included his name Julius as a month in the calendar and thus came July, bearing his name. He also ensured that the month with his name had the maximum days and hence July has thirty-one days.

1 Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

His successor Augustus Caesar, not wanting to be left behind, wanted his name also in the prints of history and added his name to the month following Julius’s July. Hence we have the month called August. As he did not want to be inferior to Julius in any way, he ensured that his month too had thirty-one days.

 2 Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar

The month of February was anyway there, for them to pluck out the days from and add to their months.

Therefore what we see from this is that the Julian, Gregorian, English calendar has evolved to what it is today, more based on twists and turn of history, the quirk and whims of certain kings and heads.

In stark contrast, while India has many calendars, there has been a clear distinction between the era based calendars, named after some of the popular kings of India, more for recording recent history and the more commonly used astronomical calendars used mainly to conduct daily activities and routine, celebrate festivals, etc., more popularly called the Panchanga.

The Panchanga form of Indian calendarical system takes into cognisance and consideration, the movements of the sun, moon, planets, stars and earth as well as the ebb and flow of seasons or the laws of nature which form an intrinsic part of it.

The Panchanga has been supported all through these thousands of years by the traditional mathematics which was equally evolved. It was called the Panchanga, Pancha meaning 5 and Anga meaning parts, as 5 key components went into making this calendar, the science of which is still documented, available and practiced today.

In the Indian Calendarical system, the sun in its annual movement in the sky, as it moves across successive star constellations, the twelve Zodiacs, marks the month and each of these 12 months are named based on the star and the Zodiac through which the Sun is transiting.

The earth is round. The sun is also round. The revolutionary path or the orbit of the earth around the sun is also a circle. The circle is after all 360 degrees. So mathematically, 1 degree on an average for a day and a year of 12 equal months gives 360 days for a year and 30 days for a month.

But in reality, the time taken for earth to complete one full revolution, i.e a year is 365 ¼ days. So there is a need for some adjustments.

Also the time taken by the moon to go round the earth, is only 28 days as against 30 days needed to divide the 360 degrees equally by 12.

The ancients Indians, aware of the role the moon plays in controlling the tides on earth and mental state and fertility of life on earth, had also factored the movement of the moon into the Panchanga.

This gave rise to various Panchanga styles – namely solar, luni solar, sidereal etc. and Jovian too, which accounted for movement of Jupiter.

The difference between 360 and 365 ¼ days as well as the cycle of the moon were then taken into account in the form of adjustments at the end i.e around February – March, so that the new year starts in sync with the Vernal Equinox.

We have already discussed in our article in Rishimukh in the month of April 2010, as to how the New Year, not just in the Indian calendar but also in many of the traditional calendars of the world started with the sun crossing the equinox, currently on March 21st during its annual journey between the two tropics.

Adjustments are constantly needed to bring back a manually calibrated year in sync with the real astronomical drama in the skies.

Calendars were meant to be in sync with the skies, to guide us to conduct our lives in tune with the design of nature that starts with the design of the movement of heavenly bodies and comes down into our lives in the form of seasons, climate, animal and plant life around us as well as our own state of physical and mental health.

The complex design of nature and its variations cannot be reduced to a standard constant form.

In the process of all the standardization and engineering, to define a calendar of fixed number of days every year, we have now ended up, globally following a calendar where a calendar or a day  just means numbers on the wall, diary, cell phone or computer.

3 Calander

Untitled 5

Calendar has ceased to reflect t he skies for us. It has lost its connection with the motions of the heavenly bodies.

No wonder we feel lost! Because mankind as a whole has also lost his connect with the skies, the seasons and the rhythm of nature.

In contrast, Sankalpa, the oral calendar of ancient times, where every individual had to keep track the position of the sun, moon and the stars, every dawn and dusk, along with his geographical bearings, kept drawing his mind to the size and scale of the Universe and his position in it. It kept reinforcing the largeness of the Universe while reminding man continuously of how he is just a small part of this large complex design. This brought in humility in man and respect for nature.

This December, let the story of December being decimated and relegated to the last month of the year, remind us that the January to December calendar that we use today, is only a commercial calendar.

Time is nothing but a measure of the motion of cosmic bodies as they sweep through space. Time is everything as it is this motion that defines not only the length of our lives but also the quality of our lives.

Hence if we are to become more scientific in our ways and thinking, we need to ensure that the real calendar we follow and the clock we keep, are in tune with the cosmos. In short, we need to reconnect with nature.


3 thoughts on “The Story of December

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