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A Rigvedic Solar Calendar

mangalavara

सो ऽहम्
Premium Member
Many of you may be aware that I have a strong interest in calendars, ancient and contemporary. In this post, I will share my thoughts on some passages in the Rig Veda that concern one of the ancient calendars of the Indo-Aryans.

artillerywheel01.jpg

Image by JonRichfield. CC BY-SA 4.0.
The image above may be helpful for understanding the wheel terminology in the content below.

Seven to the one-wheeled chariot yoke the Courser; bearing seven names the single Courser draws it. / Three-naved the wheel is, sound and undecaying, whereon are resting all these worlds of being. (Rig Veda 1.164.2, translation by Griffith)

If the Courser is the sun, the seven creatures who pull his one-wheeled chariot are probably the days in a seven day week. As to the wheel having three naves or three hubs, they may represent three seasons (monsoon, winter, and summer), the three worlds, or the three sandhyas.

Formed with twelve spokes, by length of time, unweakened, rolls round the heaven this wheel of during Order. / Herein established, joined in pairs together, seven hundred Sons and twenty stand, O Agni. (Rig Veda 1.164.11, translation by Griffith)

If the wheel of continuous ('during') order is the sun, its 12 spokes that are lengths of time are obviously solar months. I don't think they are associated with the 12 zodiac houses because there are 720 sons in pairs, which very likely means 360 days and 360 nights in a year (360 x 2 = 720). If you divide 360 days by 12 months, you get months of exactly 30 days each. On the other hand, sidereal solar calendars, the months in which correspond to the 12 zodiac houses, have a different structure. For instance, in 1945 Śaka (beginning in 2023 CE), the Tamil Calendar has 366 days over a period of 12 months. Half of the months have 31 or 32 days, and the other half have 29 or 30 days.

A solar calendar that has 360 days over a span of 12 months must include an additional five or six days called epagomenal days. They occur between the 30th (last) day of the 12th month and the first day of the first month. The Ancient Egyptians and the Achaemenids used such a calendar. The Achaemenids might have only started using one after Cyrus the Great's successor Cambyses II invaded Egypt. (Personally, I wonder if the Indo-Aryans and Egyptians influenced each other perhaps through Syria. Both of them had the same type of solar calendar, and the Egyptian concept of Ma'at is very similar to the Indo-Aryan concept of Ṛta.)

They call him in the farther half of heaven the Sire five-footed, of twelve forms, wealthy in watery store. / These others say that he, God with far-seeing eyes, is mounted on the lower seven-wheeled, six-spoked car. (Rig Veda 1.164.12, translation by Griffith)

The imagery suddenly changes from a one-wheeled, 12-spoked chariot pulled by seven creatures to this. I'm not sure what the 'farther half of heaven' means. Maybe it refers to a distant country? Interestingly, the Sire, who I'm sure is the sun, has five feet and 12 forms. The 12 forms are very likely 12 solar months. The five feet could be seasons or perhaps a week of five days rather than seven. If the five feet and 12 forms indicate a five day week and 12 months, it would nicely be analogous to the seven creatures and 12 spokes that indicate a seven day week and 12 months. Further, 'These others' must be another people who had a different solar calendar. For them, the seven wheels might have been seven months while the six spokes were the weeks with an unknown number of days. Considering that this car is a lower one, each of the six weeks must consist of eight or less days. This is so that the year has less than 360 days, hence a lower car than the one originally spoken of by the Seer.

Upon this five-spoked wheel revolving ever all living creatures rest and are dependent. / Its axle, heavy-laden, is not heated: the nave from ancient time remains unbroken. / The wheel revolves, unwasting, with its felly: ten draw it, yoked to the far-stretching car-pole. / The Sun's eye moves encompassed by the region: on him dependent rest all living creatures. (Rig Veda 1.164.13-14, translation by Griffith)

Yet again, the imagery changes. A five-spoked wheel on which all beings rest and is pulled by 10 creatures appears analogous to the earlier 12-spoked wheel that is pulled by seven creatures, and all worlds rest on it. If that is the case, the five-spoked wheel represents five months and the 10 creatures that pull it are a 10 day week. If there were seven 10 day weeks in each of the five months, a year would have been 350 days. An additional 15-16 epagomenal days would have occurred before the New Year.

So far, the Seer speaks first about the calendar of his group and then he tells of the calendars of three other groups. (By the way, the ideas of five and 10 day weeks were known elsewhere. Months of the Egyptian solar calendar each had three weeks of 10 days. In Java and Bali, people still observe 210 day cycles of concurrent weeks of 10 days, nine days, eight days, seven days, six days, five days, four days, three days, two days, and even one day.)

I saw from far away the smoke of fuel with spires that rose on high o’er that beneath it. / The Mighty Men have dressed the spotted bullock. These were the customs in the days aforetime, / Three with long tresses show in ordered season. One of them sheareth when the year is ended. / One with his powers the universe regardeth: Of one, the sweep is seen, but his figure. (Rig Veda 1.164.43-44, translation by Griffith)

The very ancient custom involving three bullocks, with one being sheared at the end of the year, seems to indicate the idea of three seasons, probably monsoon, winter, and summer. Again, three seasons might be what the three hubs on the 12-spoked wheel represent.

Twelve are the fellies, and the wheel is single; three are the naves. What man hath understood it? / Therein are set together spokes three hundred and sixty, which in nowise can be loosened. (Rig Veda 1.164.48, translation by Griffith)

Here, the imagery is like the first one but clearer. The wheel is the solar year, its fellies are the 12 months, its naves/hubs are the three seasons, and its spokes are the 360 days.

Uniform, with the passing days, this water mounts and fails again. / The tempest-clouds give life to earth, and fires re-animate the heaven. / The Bird Celestial, vast with noble pinion, the lovely germ of plants, the germ of waters, / Him who delighteth us with rain in season, Sarasvān I invoke that he may help us. (Rig Veda 1.164.51-52, translation by Griffith)

This final passage of the sūkta is obviously about the monsoon season. The rain giving life to earth and the lightning reanimating heaven gives me the impression of annual renewal. There is a hymn that contains a mantra that seems to indicate that the culture of its Seer recognized the arrival of the monsoon as the beginning of the year. Here it is:

As Brahmans, sitting round the brimful vessel, talk at the Soma-rite of Atiratra, / So, Frogs, ye gather round the pool to honour this day of all the year, the first of Rain-time. (Rig Veda 7.103.7, translation by Griffith)

It could be that the first day of the monsoon was the New Year's Day of the time, or it might not have been but was nonetheless especially significant to the people. Interestingly, the Sanskrit vārsha as an adjective means 'annual' and 'of the rains.'
 

JustGeorge

Not As Much Fun As I Look
Staff member
Premium Member
Many of you may be aware that I have a strong interest in calendars, ancient and contemporary. In this post, I will share my thoughts on some passages in the Rig Veda that concern one of the ancient calendars of the Indo-Aryans.

View attachment 80721
Image by JonRichfield. CC BY-SA 4.0.
The image above may be helpful for understanding the wheel terminology in the content below.

Seven to the one-wheeled chariot yoke the Courser; bearing seven names the single Courser draws it. / Three-naved the wheel is, sound and undecaying, whereon are resting all these worlds of being. (Rig Veda 1.164.2, translation by Griffith)

If the Courser is the sun, the seven creatures who pull his one-wheeled chariot are probably the days in a seven day week. As to the wheel having three naves or three hubs, they may represent three seasons (monsoon, winter, and summer), the three worlds, or the three sandhyas.

Formed with twelve spokes, by length of time, unweakened, rolls round the heaven this wheel of during Order. / Herein established, joined in pairs together, seven hundred Sons and twenty stand, O Agni. (Rig Veda 1.164.11, translation by Griffith)

If the wheel of continuous ('during') order is the sun, its 12 spokes that are lengths of time are obviously solar months. I don't think they are associated with the 12 zodiac houses because there are 720 sons in pairs, which very likely means 360 days and 360 nights in a year (360 x 2 = 720). If you divide 360 days by 12 months, you get months of exactly 30 days each. On the other hand, sidereal solar calendars, the months in which correspond to the 12 zodiac houses, have a different structure. For instance, in 1945 Śaka (beginning in 2023 CE), the Tamil Calendar has 366 days over a period of 12 months. Half of the months have 31 or 32 days, and the other half have 29 or 30 days.

A solar calendar that has 360 days over a span of 12 months must include an additional five or six days called epagomenal days. They occur between the 30th (last) day of the 12th month and the first day of the first month. The Ancient Egyptians and the Achaemenids used such a calendar. The Achaemenids might have only started using one after Cyrus the Great's successor Cambyses II invaded Egypt. (Personally, I wonder if the Indo-Aryans and Egyptians influenced each other perhaps through Syria. Both of them had the same type of solar calendar, and the Egyptian concept of Ma'at is very similar to the Indo-Aryan concept of Ṛta.)

They call him in the farther half of heaven the Sire five-footed, of twelve forms, wealthy in watery store. / These others say that he, God with far-seeing eyes, is mounted on the lower seven-wheeled, six-spoked car. (Rig Veda 1.164.12, translation by Griffith)

The imagery suddenly changes from a one-wheeled, 12-spoked chariot pulled by seven creatures to this. I'm not sure what the 'farther half of heaven' means. Maybe it refers to a distant country? Interestingly, the Sire, who I'm sure is the sun, has five feet and 12 forms. The 12 forms are very likely 12 solar months. The five feet could be seasons or perhaps a week of five days rather than seven. If the five feet and 12 forms indicate a five day week and 12 months, it would nicely be analogous to the seven creatures and 12 spokes that indicate a seven day week and 12 months. Further, 'These others' must be another people who had a different solar calendar. For them, the seven wheels might have been seven months while the six spokes were the weeks with an unknown number of days. Considering that this car is a lower one, each of the six weeks must consist of eight or less days. This is so that the year has less than 360 days, hence a lower car than the one originally spoken of by the Seer.

Upon this five-spoked wheel revolving ever all living creatures rest and are dependent. / Its axle, heavy-laden, is not heated: the nave from ancient time remains unbroken. / The wheel revolves, unwasting, with its felly: ten draw it, yoked to the far-stretching car-pole. / The Sun's eye moves encompassed by the region: on him dependent rest all living creatures. (Rig Veda 1.164.13-14, translation by Griffith)

Yet again, the imagery changes. A five-spoked wheel on which all beings rest and is pulled by 10 creatures appears analogous to the earlier 12-spoked wheel that is pulled by seven creatures, and all worlds rest on it. If that is the case, the five-spoked wheel represents five months and the 10 creatures that pull it are a 10 day week. If there were seven 10 day weeks in each of the five months, a year would have been 350 days. An additional 15-16 epagomenal days would have occurred before the New Year.

So far, the Seer speaks first about the calendar of his group and then he tells of the calendars of three other groups. (By the way, the ideas of five and 10 day weeks were known elsewhere. Months of the Egyptian solar calendar each had three weeks of 10 days. In Java and Bali, people still observe 210 day cycles of concurrent weeks of 10 days, nine days, eight days, seven days, six days, five days, four days, three days, two days, and even one day.)

I saw from far away the smoke of fuel with spires that rose on high o’er that beneath it. / The Mighty Men have dressed the spotted bullock. These were the customs in the days aforetime, / Three with long tresses show in ordered season. One of them sheareth when the year is ended. / One with his powers the universe regardeth: Of one, the sweep is seen, but his figure. (Rig Veda 1.164.43-44, translation by Griffith)

The very ancient custom involving three bullocks, with one being sheared at the end of the year, seems to indicate the idea of three seasons, probably monsoon, winter, and summer. Again, three seasons might be what the three hubs on the 12-spoked wheel represent.

Twelve are the fellies, and the wheel is single; three are the naves. What man hath understood it? / Therein are set together spokes three hundred and sixty, which in nowise can be loosened. (Rig Veda 1.164.48, translation by Griffith)

Here, the imagery is like the first one but clearer. The wheel is the solar year, its fellies are the 12 months, its naves/hubs are the three seasons, and its spokes are the 360 days.

Uniform, with the passing days, this water mounts and fails again. / The tempest-clouds give life to earth, and fires re-animate the heaven. / The Bird Celestial, vast with noble pinion, the lovely germ of plants, the germ of waters, / Him who delighteth us with rain in season, Sarasvān I invoke that he may help us. (Rig Veda 1.164.51-52, translation by Griffith)

This final passage of the sūkta is obviously about the monsoon season. The rain giving life to earth and the lightning reanimating heaven gives me the impression of annual renewal. There is a hymn that contains a mantra that seems to indicate that the culture of its Seer recognized the arrival of the monsoon as the beginning of the year. Here it is:

As Brahmans, sitting round the brimful vessel, talk at the Soma-rite of Atiratra, / So, Frogs, ye gather round the pool to honour this day of all the year, the first of Rain-time. (Rig Veda 7.103.7, translation by Griffith)

It could be that the first day of the monsoon was the New Year's Day of the time, or it might not have been but was nonetheless especially significant to the people. Interestingly, the Sanskrit vārsha as an adjective means 'annual' and 'of the rains.'
Impressive work!

There's a bit in the Mahabharata about the calendar that I went over the other day... I wonder how it compares with this.
 

mangalavara

सो ऽहम्
Premium Member
Impressive work!

There's a bit in the Mahabharata about the calendar that I went over the other day... I wonder how it compares with this.

Thank you. Could you perhaps point me to the section in the Mahābhārata concerning the calendar?
 

JustGeorge

Not As Much Fun As I Look
Staff member
Premium Member
Thank you. Could you perhaps point me to the section in the Mahābhārata concerning the calendar?
Adi Parva, somewhere in the first hundred pages... :D

I'll try to leaf through it soon and see if I can find it again.
 

JustGeorge

Not As Much Fun As I Look
Staff member
Premium Member
Adi Parva, Canto 3:
"... I had to go to Nagaloka, where I saw two women at a loom, weaving a fabulous cloth with black and white threads. What was it? I also saw a wheel with twelve spokes turned endlessly by six boys..."

The response Utanka gets from his Guru is:

"The two young women you saw are Dhata and Vidhata; the black and white threads are nights and days; the wheel of twelve spokes wa the year and the boys that turned it, the six seasons...."

I'd love to hear more on Dhata and Vidhata, if anyone knows.
 

mangalavara

सो ऽहम्
Premium Member
Adi Parva, somewhere in the first hundred pages... :D

I'll try to leaf through it soon and see if I can find it again.

Thanks. Before you replied, I was scanning through Adi Parva and I found something about the 27 Nakshatras, in relation to the moon, being used for the ‘courses,’ if that was the word that I saw. What both of us have found about calendars in Adi Parva came from the Vedic culture.
 

JustGeorge

Not As Much Fun As I Look
Staff member
Premium Member
Thanks. Before you replied, I was scanning through Adi Parva and I found something about the 27 Nakshatras, in relation to the moon, being used for the ‘courses,’ if that was the word that I saw. What both of us have found about calendars in Adi Parva came from the Vedic culture.
I haven't come to that part yet. :) (I've decided I'm going to read the whole thing.)
 
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