Nanakshahi: Questions and Answers on the Sikh calendar

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By Asia Samachar | Opinion |

When we talk about calendar today, it’s all digital. Most of us hardly use a physical calendar. We rely heavily, if not totally, on our digital calendar on our devices.

Each of the calendars have a long and colourful history. The Sikh calendar is known as the Nanakshahi Calendar. Though relatively new, it is packed with interesting stories as to how it came about. Until today, it is still bugged with controversy.

In the past, Sikhs used the Bikrami calendar. In the Bikrami calendar, some gurpurabs (the day when Sikhs commemorating certain events) came twice a year, and some gurpurabs did not come even once a year. The Bikrami calendar contains a complex set of rules to determine the dates for annual festivals and days of observance.

The inconsistencies came to the notice of Pal Singh Purewal (1933-2022), an eminent Sikh scholar and globally recognised specialist in Calendrical Science. He took the initiative to set right the situation. For nearly 15 years, he toiled hard to resolve the muddle. Finally, his efforts led to the creation of the Nanakshahi calendar. (More on Purewal: here and here)

The calendar was named after Guru Nanak, with its first year starting from 1469 CE – the birth year of the Guru. So, 14 March 2023 marked Chet 1, the first day of the new Nanakshahi calendar year 555. This calendar conformed to the length of the tropical year and fixed the dates for gurpurabs and Sikh festivals.

In 1996, Pal Singh Purewal presented his Nanakshahi Calendar to the Sikh world. A Panthic gathering in 1999 in Amritsar, to mark the 300th year of the establishment of the Khalsa, was held in front of the Akal Takhat. Representatives from the UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia who attended this huge Panthic Sarbat Khalsa meeting unanimously approved the calendar. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC), Sikh’s largest representative body which governs Sikh historical gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, adopted the Nanakshahi calendar in 2003 as its official calendar.

The SGPC rolled it back under pressure from Sant Samaj, which was in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) during the SGPC polls in 2010. SGPC replaced the original version of the calendar with a new one, which was amended considering the old Bikrami calendar, but retained the name ‘Nanaksahi calendar’.

Outside India, the Nanakshahi calendar has been adopted by various gurdwaras, with more and more gurdwaras continuing to join the ranks.

Snapshot of the Nanakshashi calendar for 2015 printed by Khalsa Diwan Malaysia – Asia Samachar Photo

QUESTION & ANSWER

  1. Before the introduction of the Nanaksahi Calendar how were dates of Gurpurbs decided and celebrated?

Guru Nanak Sahib in Barah Mahah in Raag Tukhari had established and introduced the concept of a calendar related to the natural occurring season events. In spite of that, Sikhs continued to use the then prevailing calendar – the Hindu calendar known as Bikrami Calendar.

  1. What are Bikrami calendar’s shortfalls for the Sikh faith?

First, being a lunar based calendar, it laid emphasis on the belief in sacred days and other festivals related to the Hindu faith, a philosophical base different from the universal and open ideology of Sikhi.

Second, historical dates related to Sikh faith were determined by astrological calculations by a specific group of pandits, which meant Sikhs were not independent to determine their own religious days annually.

Third, the lag in the lunar calendar when aligned to the solar calendar would over a period make the Barah Maha of Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Arjan being inaccurate in the description of the natural phenomena.

Fourth, if the Nanaksahi calendar is not de-linked from the Bikrami calendar, in 13,000 years Vaisakhi will occur in mid-October. The seasons will be opposite to those mentioned in the Barah Maha Majh and Tukhari Banis.

  1. When did Sikhs decide to have their own calendar?

Sikh researchers and intellectuals had been discussing the need for an independent Sikh Calendar for a long time. However, the main Sikh organisations were busy improving the management of the Gurdwaras and settling the faithful after the partition of the Punjab in 1947.

In the 1990s, an expert from the quam shared his work with intellectuals and the process of having a Sikh calendar began.

  1. Was there a formal process? Did it involve Sikh institutions?

I. The process began with discussions with Sikh intellectuals and leaders.

II. This was the right step forward, providing the Sikhs with an opportunity to determine independence in fixing their religious dates. A formal approach was then made to the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC).

III. The SGPC accepted the proposal and established a sub-committee to work with the expert Sardar Pal Singh Purewal.

IV. The mammoth task of consulting with all groups, knowledgeable people, intellectuals, Sikh leaders from various countries ensured wide acceptance of the need for a Sikh Calendar.

  1. Did anyone oppose the idea of a Sikh Calendar?

Opposition came from outside the Sikh religion and it was from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian Hindu right-wing with an outsize influence on national policy. It then influenced the Sant Samaj to raise objections within the Sikh Panth.

  1. When was the work completed and presented for approval?

I. The work was completed in 1996 and a detailed report was presented to the SCPC for approval.

II. However, to appease the Sant Samaj it was agreed that the Birthday of Guru Nanak Sahib would continue to be on Katak di Puranmashi (mid-November).

III. The SGPC also appointed a committee of experts and intellectuals from Punjabi University to review the work from historical, astronomical, and other related matters. The Pandits family recognized as the experts in Bikrami Calendar were invited to the review and they agreed that the principles applied in the preparation of the Calendar were correct and scientific.

  1. Did the calendar then receive the formal acceptance of the SGPC?

I. The final report to the SGPC full house recommended that the Sikh Calendar, prepared with the compromised date of Guru Nanak’s birth, was scientifically prepared and the historical dates were verified to be correct.

II. The Calendar was given the official recognition and named as the Nanaksahi Calendar.

III. It was also agreed an international conference of all Sikh representatives be organised to receive the approval of the Panth Khalsa worldwide.

  1. Was such a Panthic gathering held and if so, what transpired?

A Panthic gathering was held in 1999 in Amritsar in front of the Akal Takhat. Representatives from the UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia attended this huge Panthic Sarbat Khalsa meeting. The Nanaksahi Calendar was approved unanimously. The Panj Pyare then did an Ardas and thanked the Creator for his gift of a Khalsa Calendar and issued a hukumnama for the acceptance of the Calendar by the Panth.

  1. When was Nanaksahi Calendar adopted globally and what was the effect?

The Calendar was started from March 2003. The standardised and fixed dates of all Gurpurubs make it easy for the Sikhs world over to arrange for leave from work and prepare for Sikh-related celebrations.

  1. What happened? Who changed the decision?

Akal Takht later declared that the Nanaksahi Calendar was to be discontinued from 2013 to revert to the Bikrami Calendar.

  1. How did the change come about? Did they adopt a formal process as had been done earlier? Did they engage experts who prepared the report advocating such a major change?

I. The RSS and the Sant Samaj had been against the independence gained by the Sikhs in determining their own religious affairs.

II. They applied political pressure on the SGPC to scrap the calendar and reverting to the old system.

III. A two man committee was appointed and both did not even have formal education leave aside the complexities of calendar calculations.

IV. No report was prepared or presented till today.

V. A meeting of the SGPC subcommittee approved the change without a report, both verbal and written.

  1. Then why does the SGPC still refer to this calendar as Nanaksahi?

It is a diplomatic way to hoodwink the innocent Sikhs.

  1. What is the correct thing to do?

I. Bring back the Mool Nanaksahi Calendar without any compromises and celebrate all Sikh religious day annually as determined scientifically and in accordance with Gurbani which is our Guru.

II. Guru Nanak Sahib’s birth falls on 1st Visakh (14 April) each year and should be celebrated on that day.

III. All historical janamsakhis, except the Bala Janamsakhi, state that Guru Nanak Sahib was born on Vasakhi.

IV. All senior researchers and historians and professors accept that Guru Nanak Sahib’s birth was on Vasakhi.

V. Guru Gobind Singh Ji choose Guru Nanak Sahib’s birthday to introduce the an external identity signifying the qualities of a Gursikh in 1699.

VI. Guru Nanak Sahib’s birthday was celebrated on Vasakhi and was only changed by a Nirmala Sant Singh during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

(Mark this page. We will update this document with more questions as we receive them form readers)

RELATED STORY:

14 March is Sikh New Year. Really? (Asia Samachar, 15 March 2023)

Nanakshahi Calendar’s Architect – Pal Singh Purewal Reminisced (Asia Samachar, 2 Oct 2022)

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