Contributed by Nalini Balbir
Different types of calendars have always co-existed in India and this is still the case because each calendar is used in different parts of life. The ancient religious calendars of the many faiths found in India are widely used in the present day, particularly when calculating the dates of holy days. However, secular dating systems have also been used, mainly based on dynastic or regnal periods. Nowadays, the official national calendar of India is a civil calendar, based on the Śaka era system. Each of the 12 months in the year has 30 or 31 days and the new year begins with the month of Caitra, which starts in late March of the Western calendar. However, the Western or Gregorian calendar is also commonly used.
In Indian-language writings the dates are given in the era, year, month and day. These vary depending on the system used. Frequently, two or more dating systems are used in a single manuscript or publication.
The era may be chosen from a number of systems. The month is a lunar month, which is different from a solar month. The Gregorian or Western calendar is a solar calendar, based on the sun, whereas Indian calendars are based on the phases of the moon. A lunar month has two halves and dates are frequently described as belonging to the 'bright half' or the 'dark half' of the month. The lunar calendar has some significant differences from the solar calendar and it also varies slightly in the diverse regions of India.
The dates of Jain festivals are calculated using the traditional lunar calendar. The Jain religious calendar has its own characteristics. The year falls into two distinct parts – the rainy season and the rest of the year. The religious significance of the rainy season is underlined by the amount of discussion in Jain sacred writings devoted to this four-month period.
The complex nature of dates in Indian texts may occasionally lead to different interpretations of when an historical event happened or when a festival should take place. The intricate systems of dating are also a vital consideration when working out the equivalent date in the Western calendar.
In India, mention of a year alone is not enough to create a date. The year has to be located within an era. All through their history up to the present day, the Jains have employed the systems of eras used generally in India but they have also created their own system of eras.
The two systems of eras frequently found in Jain writings were both used in wider Indian society. The Vikrama era dating system is still very widespread today while the Śaka era system is now obsolete, though it forms the basis of the Indian national civil calendar.
Partly erased colophon
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
The Vikrama era that began in 58 BCE, or Vikrama-saṃvat is predominantly used in western and northern India. It is frequently abbreviated to vi. saṃ. or VS in transliteration.
It is very common in the dating of Jain manuscripts and inscriptions from earlier times. Examples can be seen in this manuscript at the British Library and in this manuscript colophon and the end of a manuscript, both at the Bodleian Library. Even today Jain books written in various Indian languages and published in India often use this dating system, sometimes alone, sometimes alongside another era.
Generally, the year is counted when it has finished. Therefore in order to get the equivalent year in the Common Era, one has to subtract 57 or 56. For example vi. saṃ. 1754 = 1697 CE.
The term 'Vikrama' refers to a king named Vikramāditya. Though not the founder of this era, he became associated with it, as recent historical discoveries have shown (Salomon 1998: 182).
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, third Mughal Emperor of India from 1556 to 1605. Akbar's long reign is often thought of as beginning the peak of the Mughal Empire, as it grew and became rich and powerful, witnessing a cultural and intellectual flowering, and degrees of religious tolerance.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its smallest. It is so dark it is almost invisible.
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).
Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
Widely used in Jain manuscripts and inscriptions, the dating system of the Śaka era or Śaka-saṃvat was once common in western India. Since it started in 78 CE, to get the equivalent year in the Common Era, one has to add 78 to the Śaka era date.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
Someone who copies manuscripts for a living. Scribes are common in societies where literacy is rare. In the past, however, scribes could not always read and write fluently.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
The conversion of words from one alphabet into the corresponding letters of another alphabet. The text is not necessarily translated into another language, just put into another alphabet.
A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.
A highly decorated formal letter inviting a leading monk of a certain monastic group to spend the next rainy season in a certain place. Sent by lay people, the vijñapti-patra is a speciality of the Śvetāmbara Kharatara-gaccha and Tapā-gaccha communities.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.