The reason why the people in India compute the Indian year from this month when the sun enters Aries -- the ram in the signs of the Zodiac -- is said to be one philosophically derived from the science of cosmo-genesis. The Sanskrit word for 'ram' is aja which means 'that which is not born.' Therefore the sign of the Zodiac under reference stands for the ultimate cause of everything, and consequently the month in which the sun enters this sign is rightly considered to be the first month of the year. From time immemorial, the Hindu conception of an ideal life has been one of sacrifices and religious observances. Thus the information regarding the appropriate time for the observance of particular rites or ceremonies becomes important. This information is furnished by the Hindu astrologers and astronomers in the form of a calender called panchangams.
In ancient times books were very rare and even cudjan leaf manuscripts were not easily available to the vast majority of the people of a village; only the chief priest of the village held a copy of the precious manuscript and it was his duty to apprise the people in his village of the date of observance of a particular festival or Vrata. But in the beginning of the year the people desire to know the position of the various planets with reference to the sun and its effects on men, animals and plants. They also want to know whether the position of the planets would bring them rains in the proper seasons. So the custom of calculating and predicting the planetary influence over the earth through such astrological studies came in vogue.
The days are generally hot and sultry in the month of Chithirai. When a large number of people assemble at a particular place in hot weather, something must be done to counter it. Thus arose the custom of presenting people with cool drinks and fans. On this festive day people eat margosa flowers, fried or rather charred and mixed with sugar. Apart from the medicinal effect which this preparation has, we may say that this flower belongs to this season and is thus recognised as the harbinger of the coming season.
Tamilians of southen India arrive at their new year day in accordance with the movement of the sun and it is the astronomical year which marks the vernal equinox. The Telugu and the Kannada-speaking people follow the lunar or the luni-solar systems, which precedes the Tamil new year. The Malayalis of the west coast follow an agricultural year which is known as Kollam Andu, commencing in September when the sun enters the autumnal equinox. It is in this part of the west coast of southern India that very heavy rains fall for nearly nine months in the year.
Though the day commencing each month is considered to be auspicious yet special importance is attached to the occasions, Chaitra Vishu, Tula Ravi, Uttarayana and Dakshinayana. The solar year commences from the sun's entrance into aries -- the ram. The beginnings of the solar months are determined by the entry of the sun into the other zodiacal signs.
The solar years are recorded in the era of the Kaliyuga. Its years are converted into those of the Christian era by subtracting 3101, from the number of complete years that have lapsed since the beginning of the Kaliyuga. Similarly, the corresponding complete year of the Kaliyuga passed, is arrived at by adding 3101 to the Christian year. Further, by adding 3044 to the year in the Vikrama era and 3179 to the year in the Saka era the corresponding Kaliyuga year is arrived at. The lunar month Chandrayanam as opposed to the solar one Sourayanam is reckoned from the full moon to the full moon. It is invariably determined by the beginning of the bright fortnight of the month, but takes the name of the solar month in which the full moon occurs. Each month consists of two halves called 'pakshas' and each half is a fortnight in the month. The Sukla paksha or the bright fortnight is the period of the waxing moon while Krishna paksha or the dark fortnight is that of the waning moon. Each of these pakshas again consists of fifteen tithis. A tithi is the time required by the moon to increase its distance from the sun westward by twelve degrees of the zodiac.
As the true motions of the sun and the moon vary with their positions in their orbits the length or duration of a tithi is also variable. There are names given to these tithis of the fortnight and the fifteenth tithi of the bright fortnight is called the Purnamlisi tithi or the full moon, while the fifteenth tithi of the dark fortnight goes by the name Amavasya tithi or the new moon. In fact, the full moon and the new moon mark the end bright and dark fortnights of the month respectively.
It is also said that the Chaitra Vishu day or the opening day of the first fortnight of the waxing moon was the occasion chosen by Brahma to create this world. Hence this day is also known as yugadhi or the beginning of a yuga. This festive day is said to have acquired further importance by the fact that Sri Ramachandra, the hero of the epic Ramayana, had his triumphal entry into Ayodhya after the destruction of the rakshasas, and was crowned there on this day. There is also an allegorical myth regarding the origin of the Hindu cycle of sixty years and it is in brief as follows:
The sage Narada once betrayed a desire for worldly pleasures and in consequence had to take birth in this mortal world as a woman. He is said to have given birth to sixty children and the Hindu cycle of sixty years is said to have had its origin from those children. The Hindus believe that the twelve signs of the Zodiac represent twelve planets in the solar system. These planets and centres of consciousness are in the mighty cosmic deity or intelligence called Kalapurusha. In fact, the planets are said to be his head, face, breast, belly, navel, abdomen, genitals, teeth, eyes, knees, ankles and feet.
The Indian calendar is named panchangam since it is comprised of five limbs, and they are (1) the tithi, (2) the varam, (3) the nakshatram, (4) the yogam and (5) the karanam. A man desiring prosperity pays attention to the tithi. One desirous of long life understands everything about varam or the days of the week. The nakshatrams are resorted to, for expiating sin and the yogam for obtaining immunity from diseases. The karanam is said to secure success for the observer in all his undertakings. Thus, a proper understanding of planetary influences is essential for controlling them. Hence has arisen the proverb 'wise Inen rule the stars’.
The story is that once upon a time saint Narada, the celestial celebate, saw a pair of fish in conjugal happiness, while bathing in the sacred Ganges. His passions were excited and he felt a desire to lead a married life. The happiness of a family and the pleasure of children playing about, and a thousand and one things which make life enjoyable, templed even this citadel of celibacy, this ever-youthful ascetic. He made up his mind to give up his brahmacharya and lead the life of a householder. But, he thought, who would give him a wife, and, besides, he had no money to expend on the costly ceremony. What should he do? The best course was to go to Krishna, the king of Dwaraka, and the husband of sixteen thousand one hundred and eight wives! The Lord of Dwaraka could easily spare one, and would not miss her! And he was so fabulously rich that he could easily pay all the expenses! This unholy thought affected the sanctity of the great saint to a certain extent. God, however, felt himself bound to satisfy every desire of his devotees, and Narada stood at the top of them all! All-pervading Vishnu, therefore, organised a counterplot. He took no offence even at so insulting a proposal. Noticing that Narada laid much stress on the large number of his wives and hinted at the impossibility of one man meeting them every day, he asked the saint to go round his houses and to pick up that woman with whom he was not living. Poor Narada! He was not in his senses.
He took the bait, and actually went round the whole city, but in every house that Narada visited he found Krishna there, either playing with the children or enjoying the company of his wife in a thousand and one ways. Always happy, always jolly, always in the enjoyment of the highest blessing, possible a married man! That sight still more excited the passions of. Narada. He was still thinking how to get a wife when his time for prayer came. As he always bathed and repeated his prayers very punctually, he involuntarily went to the Ganges to bathe. Narada was thinking of going again to Krishna for a wife when he rook another dip, and on coming up to the surface of the water was astonished to see that he was turned into a woman! she got out of the stream and was going to change her wet clothes, when, lo! a big, tall, stout, manly, good-looking sanyasi accosted her. He caught her (Naradi as she must hence be called) by the hand, took her to a cottage and a marriage-by-capture followed. She gave birth to sixty sons one after another, every year! Worried, exhausted, fatigued, bored to death by these numerous sons, at the end of the sixtieth year she involuntarily prayed to Lord Vishnu to relieve her of this worldly misery! Repentance did not come too late for the 1ong, eternal (free from death) life of Narada ! The sanyasi disappeared and there appeared in his place the glorious Lord of the Universe, god Vishnu, with four hands, holding sankha, chakra,gada and padma and said: 'What are your wishes, O eminent woman? They shall be granted!' Naradi looked aghast, looked at the lord again, wiped her eyes and said: 'You know it, my lord. Fool that I was, I thought married life was a bed of roses, full of. happiness and pleasures. Save me, my lord!'
'Rise, dear Narada, rise!' was the response. He was transformed into a fully equipped young ascetic in every detail! The god Vishnu embraced him as a friend and asked him to name any other desire, but by this time the sixty sons had gathered round their mother clamouring for food! Narada appealed to Vishnu to silence them. Vishnu gave them the Raj of the world to be enjoyed by turns for oneyear at a time. This is how each Hindu year has a separate name for a cycle of sixty years. At the end of this cycle falls the Kapila Shasthi, the sacred day on which Naradi was re-transformed into saint Narada !
Here is the list of the sixty sons of Naradi, after whom the lunar years in the cycle are still being called.
Prabhav, Vibhav, Shukla, Paramoda, Prajapati, Angira, Shrimukha, Bhava, Yuva, Dhatu, Ishwar, Bahudanya, Pramathi, Vikrama, Vrisha, Chitrabhanu, Subhanu, Taran, Prartiva, Vyaya, Sarvajit, Sarvadhari, Virodhi, Vikriti, Khara, Nandana, Vijaya, Jaya, Marmath, Durmikha, Hemalambi, Vilambi, Vikari, Sharvar, Plava, Shubakrit, Shobhana, Krodhi, Vishvavasu, Parabhava, Plavanga, Kilaka, Saumya, Sadharana, Virodhikrita, Paridhavi, Pramadi, Ananda, Rakshasa, Nala, Pingala. Kalayukta, Sitdharti, Raudri, Durmati, Dundubhi, Rudhirodgari, Raktakshi, Krodhana, and Akshaya.