Vishu – Kerala New Year

The Hindu calculation of time depended on the movement of the planets. Using the most accurate of clocks — the planets, the calculations of the rishis were infallible. Our internal clocks also work according to the movement of the planets especially the moon, hence the moon is known as the presiding deity of the mind.

The Kerala New Year starts on April 14th or sometimes on the 15th. It is known as Vishu. This comes from the word “vishuvath”. In North Bharat this is known as Vaisakhi. Most of the states of Bharat have dates which approximate this. What is so special about this date?

One reason is that this is the spring season and we would think that New Year should always start in Spring rather than Winter. But there is also a scientific reason. The rishis knew that the earth’s revolution around the sun starts from a fixed point known as “mesha sankranti rekha”, which is known as the Alpha Aries point in western terminology. The revolution of the earth around the sun comes to this line every year on April 14th or 15th. In Sanskrit this is also known as “mesha vishuvath”, hence the Kerala New Year is known as Vishu. The fact that our New Year starts with the starting of the earth’s revolution around the earth naturally makes a lot of sense. January 1st is just an arbitrary date fixed by people who obviously had not much knowledge of the movements of the planets.

Vedic astrology has always been sidereal or based on stellar configurations. It determines the positions of the signs of the zodiac relative to the observable fixed stars. The old western method employed a topical zodiac which determines the signs of the zodiac in relation to the equinoxes and solstices. The sidereal zodiac takes the point of precession into consideration whereas the topical ignores it. The precessional changes are caused by the wobble of the earth which was obviously not known to the western scientists who made the Gregorian calendars which are commonly used.

While such precessional changes are not noticeable in an ordinary human lifetime, they become most obvious in cultures that have endured over the millennia. From this we can gauge that the Vedic culture stretches well back into the hoary past of the universe. Hindu calendars go back to three thousand and six thousand years.

A sidereal month is measured according to the moon’s return to the same place amongst the fixed stars; hence it has twenty-seven days. The sidereal year is decided by the time the sun returns to the same position in the fixed stars. A sidereal day is four minutes shorter than a topical day so there are three hundred and sixty- six of them in a year. This orientation to a specific point in the sky caused the calendar to gradually slip backwards with the precession of the zodiac.

This falling back is calculated and built into the Hindu calendar. A culture which employs sidereal time will find the position of the equinoxes to move back a week or so every five hundred years, which is about seven degrees on the zodiac. This is why the Hindus celebrate the sun entering the sign of Capricorn on January 14th instead of December 21st as is done in the topical calendar.

As usual Hindu Dharma connects spirituality with science. All the so-called superstitions found in Hindu Dharma are based on hard core science. The time of the change from the sign “meena” (the fish) to “mesha” (the bull), is known as “mesha sankranti” or “punya kalam” which means an auspicious time, hence it is said that spiritual practices done on this day have special power since our bodies are adjusted to the universal clock.

Instead of celebrating the New Year with drinks and parties, the Hindus are told to meditate and think of God and practice some type of evolving activity during this special time. Hence, on the morning of the 14th April, Kerala households arrange a beautiful shrine in which all the different types of vegetables and fruits are kept along with the idol of our personal deity. All these things are arranged in a most charming manner.

Early morning at the auspicious time of sankranti (which is the time when the earth slips from one sign of the zodiac to another, in this case from Aries to Taurus) the mother of the household will get up early and light the oil lamps. She then brings all the members of the family one by one, starting with the eldest, with closed eyes to the shrine and make them sit facing the shrine. When they open their eyes they see their beloved deity and all the wonderful produce of the earth. One by one all the members of the family are made to sit and meditate on all these things and realise what a beautiful world we live in.

If something has to be really spiritual it has to follow the laws of nature. Something which goes against the laws of nature can hardly be called spiritual since it would be going against the very laws according to which our bodies have been constructed. When people continuously go against these natural laws our whole nature will change — the health of our bodies and the health of our minds will deteriorate and this is what is happening to us now.

It is high time that the world realises that Hindu astronomy is a specialised system that requires precise astronomical observations and shows an ongoing knowledge of the exact placement of the planets and equinoxes relative to the fixed stars and relative to our own bodies and minds. This article has only touched the tip of the iceberg. The wisdom of the rishis was endless; their knowledge of Space and Time is yet to be discovered by western science!

April 14th is coming when our earth is going to start its circumambulation (circling round), of the sun, so let me wish all our readers a very Happy New Year which is in consonance with the movement of our planet.

Hari Aum Tat Sat

(This article was first published on author’s blog on 13 April, 2020 and is being reproduced after minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide)

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