Panchanga is the astrological almanac based on the ancient Vedic system of calculation. It is known as Panchanga or ‘Five Limbs’ in Sanskrit as it considers five aspects of time: tithi(day of the lunar cycle), vara(week), nakshatra(star), yoga(quality of time) and karana(time appropriate for certain type of actions), based on the movements of the Moon. There are many types of panchangas. The one most often consulted clumps time into a 60 year cycle or samvatsara – with each year assigned a special name, for instance, this year is known as Nandana Samvatsara.
A year is typically divided into two parts: Uttarayana (When the Sun enters the Tropic of Capricorn) and Dakshinayana (When the Sun enters the Tropic of Cancer). During Uttarayana we have longer days and during Dakshinayana we have longer nights.
The year is further subdivided into Ritus or Seasons. Each Ritu falls over a period of two months. Furthermore, each month is categorized into two pakshas: Krishna Paksha and Shukla Paksha and each Paksha is made up of 15 days. Each day is called a Tithi eg.Prathama(first), Dwitiya(second), etc up to Purnima or Amavasya.
The transit of the moon in a particular constellation on a particular day or tithi is considered as the Nakshatra. We have 27 constellations in 12 zodiac signs. Each zodiac sign is divided by 30 degrees, so totally 360 degrees are there.
At any point in time the moon will be at a particular latitude and longitude by which we can know which zodiac sign and which nakshatra or constellation it is situated. For e.g., Today is Shukla paksha chaturdashi and this year is Nandana samvatsara, we are in Grishma(summer) ritu, Jyeshta masa or month and the moon is situated in vishakha nakshatra.
Every nakshatra has four feet or charanas or padas. Some feet will be in one zodiac sign, some feet in another zodiac sign. Sometimes all four feet are in the same zodiac sign. For today’s nakshatra the first three feet are in Libra and the fourth is in Scorpio. As of this moment it is transiting the fourth pada.
What is the purpose of Panchanga?
Panchanga is a ready reference manual. With the help of Panchanga astrologers calculate the sidereal movement of planets, the exact time of eclipses, the days on which people should observe fasts, the days for religious festivals and yatras (pilgrimages) and the auspicious time or muhurata for activities like commencing and closing business ventures, marriages and all the sixteen samskaras and so on, as well as for observing funeral rites and shraadh,/em>, the special ceremonies for the departed. Panchanga is based on highly precise mathematical calculations on a very minute level.
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(This article is an interview with Manakji, Art of Living’s In-House Jyotish and an Art of Living teacher at Bangalore)