January is the first month in our calendar. This calendar that the world is following today is the Gregorian calendar, that has been established by Pope Gregory in the year 1582.
Pope Gregory – a Painting
This word “January” comes from the old Roman divinity, Janus. “Janus” is a divinity that was venerated in Rome in the Pre-Christian days. This divinity has two faces, one that looks back at the past and one that looks forward to the future.
Janus with 2 heads
It is for this reason that the divinity, Janus, which has the capacity to look forward to the future, keeping in mind the past, that it adorned the doorways in ancient Rome. It was looked to, as the divinity for auspicious beginnings.
Now, let us look at the root of this word “Janus”. It is phonetically similar to the Samskrt word “Gnana” which means Knowledge.
In India, the divinity attributed to Gnana, Knowledege, is Ganesha. In the word “Ganesha”, the word “Gana” stands for numbers, heaviness and knowledge.
Ganesha too has two faces, one the popular elephant face that we all know of and the face of a young, stubborn child that he originally had borne, before he got the elephant head. In India and in most of South-East Asia, Ganesha is to this day, venerated first, as the divinity that removes obstacles. Ganesha, is venerated as the divinity of auspicious beginnings. In houses, in temples, in palaces, in street corners, Ganesha is looked up to, as the divinity of beginnings.
Ganesha, with elephant head
We see an interesting similarity here, between the thought of India, for auspicious beginnings with Ganesha, the divinity for knowledge and Janus, the divinity of Rome for auspicious beginnings in Rome, 2000 years back.
When Pope Gregory formed the new calendar with a Papal order, he retained the memory of Janus for January, the first month of the New Year. This shows how prevalent the concept was in Europe then.
With this knowledge, let us celebrate the coming year with the knowledge, that we need to look back on our deeds of the past and with that wisdom, look forward to our life in the coming year.
Ganesha as a divinity of beginnings, is not only venerated in India but also venerated in Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, China and as well in ancient Persia. It is interesting to note that in some of the paintings and sculptures, there is a subtle display of an elephant trunk.
Ganesha like depiction in Japan
Kangiten, Enmeiin, Iwai City, Japan
It is interesting how ideas and concepts in the ancient world, travelled across lands, continents and got imbibed in the local legends and minds of the peoples, uniting them by practices and customs.
May January, in this New Year, herald an auspicious beginning for reviving the ancient concept of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, One World Family. A global togetherness, where the knowledge of the ancient world and that of the modern world live in sync and harmony with each other and with Nature.