navagraha_01bFirst published on Sulekha, Mar 5 2006
My subject in this article is the panchangam, the five-limbed almanac and calendar which maps-out the functioning of sacred time for those who follow Hindu tradition. As our lives are more and more organized through the western calendar which has its roots in Roman and Christian culture, the traditional almanac may now appear mysterious, complicated and even impenetrable. But the panchangam is all-important for all spiritual and ritual activity. And a clear understanding of the how and why of its working is a basic requirement for a clear understanding of almost all Hindu theology.
But before I proceed with this introduction into the role and functioning of the Hindu calendar, I would first like to thank the Sulekha readership for its positive and appreciative reactions to my previous publications on Sulekha. And I would also like to thank once again the Sulekha editorial team for giving me the opportunity to share some of my knowledge and insights with a large international audience through Sulekha. Many reactions included encouragement to publish more. I would very much like to fulfill this request. But as my primary aim for publishing is to explain and clarify the –often hidden, concealed or lost– meaning and purpose behind the many Hindu religious, spiritual, social and other traditions to those who practice them, or have an interest for other reasons, I would like to direct my effort especially towards subjects the readers have an interest in. I would therefore like to request the readers to propose subjects on which I could write articles in future.
Everybody of Hindu origin, whether living in India or elsewhere in the world, is likely to be aware of the important role the panchangam or almanac plays in all kinds of activities that have their roots in tradition. Whenever someone wants to know when a certain festival or celebration will take place, they will turn to the almanac. Also when a date for some personal ritual, observation, or family function has to be set people consult the almanac to establish the appropriate date and time for its performance. Why is this done this way? And how does it function? These are generally the two subjects I want to discuss in this article.
Time is perhaps the most mysterious of all cosmic phenomena. We, as self-aware human beings, experience the continuous flow of time as a continuum of duration. The unique place of our earth in relationship to the other components of our solar system generates structure and divisions in the flow of time. The positions and movements of the heavenly bodies cause strong influences on life on earth. This is especially true of the lunar path. The almanac helps humanity to discover a fitting and positive time to achieve intended results for its activities. It functions as a map of the heavenly influences on human life.
From the point of view of spirituality time itself is sacred. The indistinct flow of duration receives structure because of the mentioned interaction of the earth with the other components of our solar system. On the one hand we experience pairs of opposites which generate time-sequences. Day and night; waxing and waning of the moon, and the northward and southward courses of the sun. On the other hand we have the passage of the sun, moon, and the planetary bodies against the backdrop of the fixed stars through the day and the year. These on their turn have been given meaning through the vision of the rishis of ancient time. These sages who inspired the original Vedic civilization saw meaning and purpose behind these natural phenomena. They used this understanding to design the ritual almanac. The various cosmic processes interact in such a way that it generates auspicious and inauspicious moments and periods, as well as neutral ones. Sacred time is understood as essentially cyclic.
Panchangam means ‘having five limbs’. Its five limbs are the vara or days of the week; tithi, the phases of the moon; nakshatra, the lunar mansions; yoga, which here means addition, and refers to time periods of varying lengths that relate to the movement of the sun and moon; andkarana, or half-tithis. These five components in their interaction with each other, and in interaction with the twelve solar months, are used to establish what are positive and negative time periods for the performance of all kinds of rituals as well as practical and worldly events. Mostly the terms auspicious and inauspicious time are used to indicate the positive or negative periods.
It is important to realize that the panchangam as the Hindu traditional calendar is essentially different from the western Roman-Christian Gregorian calendar in one special aspect. The Gregorian calendar has fixed the dates of the year to the solstices and equinoxes. But the position of these in relationship to the fixed stars on the ecliptic shifts over time because of a cosmological process called precession. The Gregorian calendar adjusts for this through the application of leap years, keeping the date of the spring equinox fixed on the 21st of March. Thepanchangam on the other hand follows the movement of the equinoxes and solstices through the signs of the zodiac, setting the months in correlation with the actual constellations of the zodiac.
What is also not generally known is that three different systems are used in different geographical areas of India for the calculation of the panchangam, mainly with regards to the determining of masa or months. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Orissa use a sidereal system, where the months are determined by the sun’s position in one of the 12 constellation of the zodiac. Other parts of South India, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Nepal use the amanta system for determining months. In this system the month is calculated from new moon till the following new moon. North India and Telengana use the purnimanta system, calculating the month from full moon to full moon. There are other differences as well between these three panchangams. This results for instance in the traditional new year being celebrated on different dates in different parts of India. On the other hand many of the great festivals are celebrated simultaneously all over India, because the basic principles applied for their calculation remain the same all over.
Auspicious and inauspicious time is different for various activities. What may be an auspicious time for planting may not be auspicious for building a house. Various days of the week, phases of the moon, as well as lunar mansions and solar zodiac signs are auspicious for specific activities, through being connected with and ruled by certain divine powers. The specifics of the establishment of what constitutes an auspicious time for what, has been designed thousands of years ago by the rishis in the early Vedic period. Some of this knowledge has come down to us through texts, but a large portion of it is part of the oral traditions. These can vary across India, across communities, temple traditions, and even between individual families.
The five limbs for the determination of sacred time as applied in the almanac are in order of importance; vara or the days of the week; tithi, the phases of the lunar cycle; nakshatra, the lunar mansions, constellations that mark the path of the moon across the ecliptic; yoga, here understood as ‘additions’ and ‘conjunctions’; and karana, or half tithis.
The days of the week are dedicated to the sun, moon and the five main planets. Have you ever wondered how it is that Sunday in the Hindu calendar is also Sunday in the Gregorian calendar? For a long time it was thought this happened because India borrowed its astronomy from the Greeks. But now it has been firmly established that Indian astronomy existed long before the Greek civilization achieved its scientific development. And that its internal consistency proves its ancient roots and independent development. For instance it uses an astronomical formula to determine the planetary dedication of the days of the week, showing its independence in this respect from outside influences.
Every weekday is positive or negative for certain activities, because of the planetary deity that rules that day and gives it its name. Days are calculated from sunrise to sunrise, and the week starts with Sunday. In certain months a particular day will be celebrated as especially sacred. For instance in the month Karttikai (mid November to mid December) devotees will pay special obeisance to Lord Shiva on Mondays.
A tithi is a lunar day, or the 30th part of a whole lunation of a little more than 27 solar days; 15tithis, during the moon’s increase, constitute the light half of the month. And the other 15 the dark half. These waxing and waning periods of the moon, called shuklapaksha andkrishnapaksha, have a different energy charge, easily understood from the essential nature of the observable phenomenon. The waxing moon is considered more auspicious and positive, and more festivals and rituals are celebrated during this half cycle, or paksha. The waning period of the moon is inauspicious for many things, but is positive for starting medication. But the caturthi or fourth tithi after the full moon is considered more important for Ganesha worship than the caturthi of the waxing half of the lunar cycle.
Nakshatras are the constellations the moon resides in on its path across the ecliptic. These lunar mansions have their origin in the Vedic period, and are important for the setting of various festivals and rituals. Two systems exist side by side, one with 27 nakshatras, the other with 28. In the Hindu tradition the lunar correlation is seen as more important than the solar. Birthdays are celebrated on the day the moon resides in the lunar mansion of birth, in the month of birth. This day is also auspicious for any individual for many activities and rituals. Each nakshatra has a ruling planet and presiding deity. These doctrinal relationships are significant for determining rituals to be performed for persons in certain circumstances or for certain purposes. And they are also important for the life-cycle rituals or samskaras.
The calculation of sacred time works with two types of yogas. The first type is interpreted as ‘addition’, and this is the period of time during which the combined motions of the sun and moon are increased by 13°20’. The second type of yoga is interpreted as ‘conjunction’. In this instance the term is used to indicate the co-occurrence of two or more phenomena, such as certain varas, nakshatras, tithis etc. The karanas are half tithis of which there are 60 in a lunar month. Yogas and karanas are considered in the setting of time and dates for consecrations, marriages, festivals, ear piercing, investiture with the holy thread, and many other ceremonies, in association with tithis and nakshatras.
I have called the panchangam a roadmap for sacred time. We can ask how this roadmap can be used to direct us on our life-path. On the one hand it is used to determine the dates for the great Hindu religious festivals such as Rama Jayanthi and Vijaya Dasami. It is also used to establish the dates for the yearly festivals and the time of the daily rituals celebrated in individual temples. Such festivals are always determined by both solar and lunar considerations. For instance Rama Jayanti is celebrated in Mina masa, the solar month when the sun resides in the zodiac constellation of Mina or Pisces, on the ninth tithi of the waxing moon. Some festivals are connected to weekdays, others to tithis, and still others to specificnakshatras, or to combinations of these three elements.
When we want to determine the best time for the performance of a ritual with a specific purpose for a person, we follow the order of vara, tithi, and nakshatra to establish the best moment. We keep in mind the person’s birth nakshatra, the deity to be addressed, and the purpose to be achieved.
In the same way as the compass directs us on voyages, the almanac shows humanity the directions for the life journey. Through it we may come to know what would be the right path towards a positive outcome. I have called the almanac a roadmap to sacred time, but it could also be called a life-compass to a successful journey across the ocean of existence.
The auspicious activities given below for the days of the week, the phases of the moon, and thenakshatra days are not exhaustive, and only intended as an illustration.

APPENDIX 1, VARA, the days of the week.
Suryavara, Sunday, governed by the sun, the heavenly body that stands for courage, valor and royalty. It generates positive energy for new projects and the start of business.
Somavara, Monday, ruled by the Moon and mythically connected with Shiva. The moon governs emotions, agriculture and the mental state. This day one can perform vows that address Shiva. And it is fitting for almost all auspicious performance.
Mangalavara, Tuesday, ruled by Mars and therefore connected with Karttikeya as the deity that governs war and conflict. Good for paying debts and for negotiations about real estate. But it is otherwise considered inauspicious.
Budhavara, Wednesday, ruled by Mercury, whose field of influence is trade, communication, as well as the intellect. It is auspicious for all aspects of education.
Brihaspativara, Thursday, ruled by Jupiter, the power who governs knowledge and education. It is a good day for buying jewelry and other property. And it is also a very good day for starting literary activities and education.
Shukravara, Friday, ruled by Venus, the planet that presides over all family affairs and women’s matters. It is a good day for planning marriages and for visiting family.
Shanishcaravara, Saturday, ruled by Saturn. This day is good for things related to metal. But it is inauspicious for other things.

APPENDIX 2, TITHI, the phases of the moon.
New moon is dedicated to the worship of the ancestors in general and one’s immediate ancestors that have passed away in particular. But it is also considered auspicious for new beginnings. And for starting any medical treatment.
Prathama, the first tithi, is generally inauspicious for new ventures, but it is alright to do artwork.
Dvitiya, the second tithi is good for marriage and for traveling.
Tritiya, the third tithi is good for the inauguration of a new house.
Caturthi, the fourth tithi is particularly auspicious and dedicated to the worship of Ganesha. The caturthi during the waning half of the moon cycle is especially sacred. This day is considered very positive for starting education, learning art and shastras.
Panchami, the fifth tithi is favorable for marriage and for the consecration of murtis of devatas (statue) and temples consecration.
Shasti , the sixth tithi is positive for buying a house and for buying cattle.
Saptami, seventh tithi: marriage, moving into a new home.
Asthami, the eighth tithi is dedicated to Devi. The shukla ashtami (8th day of the waxing moon) to Durga, krishna ashtami ( the 8th day of the waning moon) to Kali. For most human activities it is considered as unfavorable. This day there will be no teaching of Vedas. But it is positive for all activities connected to vastu, or the establishment and building of houses and temples.
Navami, the ninth tithi is favorable for destroying evil things, but is otherwise considered inauspicious.
Dasami, the tenth tithi is positive for all auspicious activities.
Ekadasi, the eleventh tithi is generally considered to be auspicious, and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is also favorable for making jewelry.
Dvadasi, the twelfth tithi is good for harvest, and for establishing a charity.
Tryodasi, the thirteenth tithi is auspicious for beginning to learn dance.
Chaturdasi, the fourteenth tithi is good to start learning horse riding and for voyaging.
Full moon is auspicious for performing a yajna (a Vedic fire sacrifice), and for everything to do with houses, like the beginning of construction, inauguration, etc.

APPENDIX 3, NAKSHATRAS, the 27 lunar mansions.
Ashvini: 00°00`-13º20′ Aries; β, γ, Arietis with 3 stars. Its shape is like a horse’s face. Its presiding deities are the Ashvins, the divine twins of the Veda, who are described as charioteers. They drive a golden chariot and bring treasures to men. And are called upon and worshipped to avert misfortunes and sickness. This asterism is considered a good time for the purchase of new transport and for traveling.
Bharani: 13°20′ – 26°40′ Aries; 35, 39, 41, Arietis with 3 stars. Its shape is given as representing a yoni, the female sexual organ. Its presiding deity is Yama. He presides over thePitris or ancestors, and rules over the spirits of the dead. The name of this nakshatra literally means bearer, bearing in the womb and nourishing.
This star is positive for beginning to learn martial arts; traveling is not suggested.
Krittika: 26°40′ Arietis -10°00′ Taurus; the 6 stars of the Pleiades. Its shape is described as a flame, a raiser, or a knife. Its presiding deity is Agni, Fire as divine energy.
In the Veda the Krittikas are the seven wives of the seven Rishis or Seers with the seven Rishisidentified as the seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major. In later mythology these Rishiwives become the six nurses of the god Karttikeya, the second son of Lord Shiva, brought into being to destroy evil in the cosmos.
This nakshatra is beneficial for making medicines, and for the preparation of scientific experiments, especially those of chemistry.
Rohini: 10°00′ Taurus – 23°20′ Taurus; the 5 stars of the constellation Hyades. α, β, γ, δ, εTauri, especially the red star Aldebaran. Its shape is described as a wheeled vehicle or chariot, or sometimes as a temple. Its presiding deity is Prajapati, the Lord of Creation. Thisnakshatra’s name means ‘The Red One’, after the red star Aldebaran. In Vedic myth she is the Red Cow, Mother of all Cattle. She is also the mother of Kama Dhenu, the cow of plenty.
When the moon is in this star it is a good day for coronations and weddings, and for the planting of crops.
Mriga sirsha: 23°20′ Taurus – 06°40′ Gemini; 3 stars or 14 stars; λ and φ Orionis. Its shape is given as the head of a dear. Its presiding deity is Soma, which is the name of the moon in the Veda. The name means juice, extract, and refers to the juice of the soma plant, which played an important role in the Vedic ritual.
When the Moon resides in this asterism we can begin and perform all auspicious things.
Ardra: 06°40′ – 20°00′ Gemini; 1 star; α Orionis, the star Betelgeuse. This star is described as having the shape of a human head. Its presiding deity is Rudra which is the Vedic name for Shiva. The word Ardra means wet, fresh, green.
This star is the appropriate time for destroying any negative force and to start learning the use of weapons.
Punarvasu: 20°00′ Gemini – 03°20′ Cancer, 4 or 6 stars. Its two main stars are Castor and Pollux. It is described as a bow. Its presiding deity is Aditi, the Vedic goddess of the infinite expanse and mother of all the gods. Its name may mean ‘again brilliant’, or ‘commencement of wealth’.
Under this asterism one may make a beginning with all health promoting activities.
Pusya: 03°20′ -16°40′ Cancer; 3 stars, θ, γ, δ Canceri. It is described as a flower. Its presiding deity is Brihaspati, Lord of prayer and devotion. God of wisdom and eloquence, who in the mythology is the guru or teacher and priest of the gods, Brihaspati is identified with the planet Jupiter.
Pushya means nourishment, blossom or flower; the best part of anything. This star is sometimes also called Tishya, which is the name of a heavenly archer.
This star is auspicious for learning Vedas; and generally for the beginning of learning things.
Ashlesha: 16°40′-30°00′ Cancer; 5 or 6 stars, ε Hydrae. It is described as a snake. Its presiding deity is Sarpa. This name means crawling, snake and serpent. It is the name of a great serpent demon that plays a role in the Veda. The name of this nakshatra means ’embracer’, intimate connection, contact.
It is a good star to start using mantras, but it is generally not very auspicious.
Magha: 00°00′- 13º20′ Leo: 5 Stars; the star Regulus. It is described as a swing. Its presiding divine power is the Pitris, the Fathers or ancestors. The name means a gift, reward, wealth, power.
This asterism is positive for gambling and for worshipping the ancestors.
Purva Phalguni: 13°20 ‘ – 26°40’ Leo, 2 stars. δ, θ Leonis; together with the two stars of Uttara Phalguni this nakshatra is said to form the four legs of a cradle. Its presiding deity is Bhaga. This is one of the Adityas or primordial solar powers.
The word Purva means ‘being in front or before’. This is one of six asterisms that form pairs, being called ‘first’, and ‘subsequent’. Phalgu means ‘ reddish’, but also small, minute, unsubstantial.
This star is auspicious for the preparation of medicines. It constitutes a special day for the Garuda mantra. It is generally considered an auspicious day.
Uttara Phalguni: 26°40′ Leo -10°00′ Virgo, 2 stars. β Leonis. It forms the four legs of a cradle together with the two stars of the previous nakshatra. Its presiding deity is Aryaman. This name means ‘bosom friend’, ‘companion’. He is one of the Adityas, or primordial solar powers. He is usually the companion of Vedic deities like Varuna and Mitra. The Milky Way is called his path. Uttara means upper, superior, also following and subsequent. Phalgu means ‘reddish’, but also ‘small, minute, unsubstantial’.
This star is auspicious to initiate the work for digging wells, ponds and water tanks.
Hasta: 10°00′-23°20’Virgo, 5 stars. α, β, γ, δ, ε, Corvi . It is described as having a shape like the palm of the hand. Its presiding deity is Savitar. This is the name of the divine influence and vivifying power of the Sun. He is one of the Adityas, the primordial so1ar powers. The name of this nakshatra means ‘hand’.
This star is good for all auspicious things; for coronations; for the beginning of the construction of houses, temples and palaces.
Chitra: 23°20′ Virgo – 06°40′ Libra, 1 star, Spica Virginis. This star is shaped like a pearl. Its presiding deity is Tvastar. This divine power is the heavenly builder, the creator of all living beings. He is one of the forms of the Divine Sun. His name 1iterally means carpenter, maker of carriages. He is the maker of many divine implements, 1ike Indra’s Thunderbolt. Chitra means excellent, bright, and wonderful.
This nakshatra is auspicious for the art of painting and generally for the start of learning music and dance; the best star.
Svati: 06°40′ – 20°00’ Libra, 1 star, α Bootis, the star Arcturis. This is a red star, like a sapphire. Its presiding deity is Vayu, the Vedic god of the wind. It is associated with Indra who is said to be moving in a shining car drawn by a pair of red or purple horses. Vayu is associated with one of the five Elements, and also with the vital breath of the body, the prana.The name of this mansion means ‘a sword’.
This is a star auspicious for plantation and gardening; auspicious for the beginning of all forms of education.
Vishaka: 20°00’ Libra – 03°20′ Scorpio; 3 stars; α, β, γ, Librae; with the shape of a potter’s wheel. Its presiding deity is Indragni, Indra and Agni. lndra is the divine power of the atmosphere and the sky. He slays the demon Vritra, releasing the Heavenly Waters. Agni is Fire as divine power, especially the fire of the sacrifice, which carries all that is offered directly to the gods. Its name signifies ‘branched’, ‘forked’.
This star is auspicious for the preparation of metal and chemical things.
Anuradha: 03°20′- 16°40′ Scorpio; 3 or 4 stars; ζ, δ Scorpii. Said to be like a flower, but also described as a ‘line of oblations’. Its presiding deity is Mitra, one of the Adityas or primordial solar powers. His name means friend, companion. He calls men into activity, sustains earth and sky, and beholds all creatures with unblinking eye.
Its name signifies ‘causing welfare, happiness, success’.
This star is considered good for starting the application and use of any medicine; for all health related things.
Jyestha: 16°40′ – 30°00′ Scorpio; 3 stars, the middle one red, the star Antares. Shaped like a screen. Its presiding deity is Indra, the Vedic power who reigns over sky and atmosphere. With his thunderbolt he releases the Heavenly Waters from a dark restraining evil force. The name means eldest.
This is a good star for valiant deeds; for rituals to remove enemies.
Mula: 00°00′ – 13°20′ Sagitarius; 6 stars; ζ, η, θ, ι, κ and λ Scorpii; shaped like an ankhusha, the elephant driver’s hook. Its presiding deity is Nirriti. The word mula means root, origin.
When the moon is passing through this lunar mansion it is a beneficent time beginning planting of various types of plants, especially trees and grains.
Purva Ashada: 13°20′ – 26°40′ Sagitarius; 4 stars, δ, ε, Sagitarii. With the shape like a square. Its presiding deity is Apas, the Celestial Waters. Their name means work, action, especially sacred act. The name of the mansion means ‘the former invincible’.
This star is auspicious for commencing the digging of a tank, a well, a pond, and for any work involving rivers; and for ancestor worship.
Uttara Ashada; 26°40′ Sagitarius – 10°00′ Capricorn, 4 stars, ζ, σ Sagitarii. Shaped like a square. Its presiding deities are the Vishve-devatas, a group of Vedic deities whose name signifies their all-pervading or omnipresent quality. The name means the following or the subsequent invincible.
This star is especially positive for the initiation and beginning of any long standing or long term projects, and for commencing temple construction.
Shravana; 10°00′ – 23°20′ Capricorn; 3 stars, α, β, γ, Aquila, with the form of an arrow. Its presiding deity is Vishnu. This deity’s name indicates all-pervader or worker. In the Veda he is considered the personification of light and the Sun. In more recent times he is being worshipped as the Preserver, one of the Trimurti or Triad. Its three stars are supposed to represent the three foot-steps of Vishnu, who strides through the whole universe with three steps. The name Shravana means ‘limping’, ‘lame’.
‘This star is auspicious for the consecration of all Vaisnava deities, for all full moon vows, for traveling.
Shravishta, Dhanishta: 23°20′ Capricorn – 06°40′ Aquarius; 4 or 5 stars, α, β, γ, δ, Delphinii. It is said to be shaped like a drum. Its presiding deities are the Vasus, the ‘good or bright ones’. One of several groups of Vedic deities especially connected to fire and light. They are 8 in number.
The name Dhanishta means ‘very swift’ or ‘very rich’. Shravishta means ‘most famous’.
This asterism is auspicious for all learning; for holy thread ceremonies; and for all festivals.
Shatabhisaj: 06°40′- 20°00’Aquarius; 100 stars; one of which is λ Aquarii. It has the form of a 100 stars like a flower. Its presiding deity is Varuna; His name means ‘the all enveloping sky’. This deity is one of the Adityas, primordial solar powers, and the highest heavenly power. He is the Upholder of heaven and earth, possessor of extraordinary power and wisdom.
This star is auspicious for the construction of any water place; for gardening and planting; for collecting coral and pearls.
Purva Bhadrapada: 20°00′ Aquarius – 03°20’ Pisces; 2 stars. With the two stars of the nextnakshatra it forms the four legs of a cradle. Its presiding deity is Aja Ekapada, an ancient Vedic divine power. The name means ‘the former beautiful foot’.
This star is auspicious for the commencement of all learning and for alchemy.
Uttara Bhadrapada: 03°20′ – 16°40’ Pisces; 2 stars; γ Pegasi and α Andromeda. With the two stars of the previous nakshatra it forms the four legs of a cradle. Its presiding deity is Ahir Budhnya. A Vedic power described as the serpent of the deep, one of the deities of the middle region. Who is living in the abyss which is the region of mist.
The name means ‘the subsequent beautiful foot’.
This star is good for the beginning of all auspicious long term projects; all health related things; for traveling in all kinds of transport for the first time.
Revati: 16°40′ – 30°00′ Pisces; 3 stars, ζ Piscium. Shaped like a fish. Its presiding deity is Pushan, the Nourisher. A Vedic deity connected with the sun and is the surveyor of all things, and the conductor on journeys and on the way to the next world. The name means ‘ the wealthy ones’ or ‘ ‘the shining ones’.
This star is good for all peaceful and auspicious things; for marriages; for naming a baby; for traveling.

© 2006, Raja Deekshithar M.A.

© Raja Deekshithar., all rights reserved.