How many calendars does one country need? There is the globally-accepted Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar, solar and lunar calendars.
But Sri Lanka is probably the only country that makes use of three calendars.
- We work by the Gregorian calendar,
- observe the lunar calendar for religious purposes, there is that added advantage of poya holiday and
- we observe the solar calendar just so we could celebrate the Sinhala, recently christened ‘Sinhala and Hindu New Year’.
The New Year marks the sun’s transits from Pisces to Aries. In fact most Sri Lankan festivals have an astronomical significance. The exact timings of neketh are determined by astrological calculations. The movements of celestial bodies are monitored in order to calculate the various auspicious times for customary rites and rituals such as lighting of the hearth, cooking and partaking of milk-rice, transactions and anointing of oil.
Sinhala New Year is associated with fertility of the harvest and consequently originated as a form of thanks-giving, for the bountiful harvest to the Sun God, hence the name Surya Mangalyaya. In fact sun worship was predominant in many ancient cultures. In Egyptians earliest deities associated with the sun are all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. The Romans referred to the Sun God as Ra. However it is no longer associated with the religion that was sun-worshipping.
The advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC caused a rethinking of New Year customs based on sun worship.
Hinduism alluded to a Prince of Peace, Indradeva, who descends upon earth to ensure peace and happiness.
Nalin de Silva in his article titled Buddhism betrayed, which appeared in The Island on April 15, 2014 explained Sinhala and astrological systems thus:
“The precession is called poorvayanaya in Sinhala and astrological systems that consider precession are called sayana and those that do their calculations without precession are called nirayana. The ancient astrologers knew of both calculations and they knew the system that has to be adopted in a particular calculation. The ancients were aware of this knowledge and they knew all these without the telescopes, probably with their improved spiritual minds…”
Nalin de Silva goes on to explain that the Vasanthasenekilya of the ancients had been mixed with Shaka new year after the fourteenth century and this mixed new year was retained even after shedding the practice of ShakaVarsha after the introduction of the Christian year.
In her thesis titled ‘Heavenly Mathematics: Highlights Of Cultural Astronomy’, Viduranga Waisundara explains that the Sinhalese who were venerating the sun god faced a problem when Buddhism was introduced to the island. Alluding to historical evidence she points out that the Sinhala people found the perfect solution for this conflict, “By making the sun god pay homage to Lord Buddha – the superior of all men, the worship of the sun god would be peacefully assimilated.”
Waisundara quotes J.B. Disanayake, in explaining that although Sinhala terms such as Tappara (seconds), Vinadi (minutes), Paeya (hours), Davas (days) and Sati (weeks) have their corresponding English definitions, the meanings were used in a totally reversed manner in ancient times.
“At present, an hour has 60 minutes and a day has 24 hours. Yet, in ancient Sri Lanka the day was considered to have 60 paeya (hours) and 24 vinadi (minutes). The reason behind this usage is lost in history.
In concurrence with Nalin de Silva’s view, Waisundara explains that ancient Sri Lankans displayed precision in calculating time with respect to heavenly bodies.
While admitting that the traditional Sinhalese calendar is a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon, Waisundara explains that the Buddhist calendar differs in that it is based on the Parinibbhana of the Buddha. In fact all full moon poya days are significant for some event in the history of Buddhism of Sri Lanka.
The first month of the ancient Sri Lankan lunar calendar is named Bak derived from the Indian word ‘Bagya’ meaning prosperity and fortune.
A lunar month consists of an average of 29.53 days divided into two equal halves with respect to the moon’s waxing phase and waning phase.
Waisundara explains, “Therefore, the traditional Sinhalese new year begins on the first day of the waxing phase of the month Bak. This day falls in the English month of April, and is not celebrated by the present Sinhalese.”
All in all, it seems that after the introduction to the Gregorian calendar we have still managed to revert to solar calendar for celebration of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year and, while also observing the lunar calendar for religious purposes.