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Language of Panchangam or Hindu Almanac – Do Stars Decide Our Fate?

Panchangam is one of the most popular annual books published in India. Panchangam is a handy
book that helps observant Hindus to determine the most auspicious times for their rituals, festivals,
celebrations, and pursuits of various sorts including marriage, undertaking travels, etc. Muslims,
Christians, Sikhs, and Jains also use Panchangams or contents of Panchangams, to a certain extent.
Farmers may seek the help of Panchangam for their sowing and harvesting activities. In every
stage of life, Panchangam has been the first source for an observant Hindu to take important
decisions in his daily life. It is a sort of ready-reckoner, or the first source, before one approaches a
priest (purohit) or an astrologer to decide on the details.

A DESCRIPTION OF PANCHANGAM

A popular description of Panchangam is as follows:

(http://www.mypurohith.com/Panchangam_Page.asp):
In Hindu Society, all important functions or rituals will be conducted only after choosing a proper
time for them This is done with the help of Almanac or Panchanga(m), an important booklet
possessed by every house-hold in Hindu families throughout the world. It is common even amongst
some Muslim or Christian families to consult an almanac before finalizing the timing of any
auspicious event.

The Sanskrit word "Panchanga" means five segments or limbs, namely, Thithi (lunar day), Vara
(week day), Nakshatra (constellation), Yoga (luni-solar day) and Karana (half of a lunar day). The
five limbs of the Panchanga represent the five sources of energy, visible as well as invisible, as
denoted by these segments in a day.

It is believed by the followers of the Panchanga that a proper balance of these energies is
necessary for health, wealth and prosperity of mankind. The almanac provides guidelines for a
person to undertake various activities in accordance with the best possible and most beneficial
combination of these five elements signified by the five limbs. The combination varies depending
on the nature of activity undertaken. The time so chosen for these activities, religious, social or
otherwise, is called a "Muhurtha(m)". In a Hindu family or Society, no religious or social activity,
which is compared important, is undertaken without fixing a proper muhurtha(m). Thus, apart from
individual’s activities, dates for the festivals, sowing of plants and other agricultural activities and
common religious functions are also chosen or determined on the basis of auspicious time indicated
in Panchangam.

Almanac will furnish the user with the details like duration of Thidhis, Nakshatras (stars), moments
of Grahas, auspicious occasions, Muhurats, Festivals, Subh & Asubh, Sunset, Varjyam (dur-
Muhurat), etc. for all the days. Info about Nakshatras, Rasi (Zodiac signs), daily / weekly / monthly /
yearly predictions, remedies for astrological doshas, etc. will be furnished in a way that enables
even a layman to understand it at a glance.

ASTROLOGY AND PANCHANGAM

Panchangam may be said to be a product of astrology, defined as “the divination of the supposed
influence of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and
aspects.” Farmer’s Almanac is a very popular book among American farmers, claiming to give them
every day advice on farming, weather, and family and community-related activities.

Astrology deals with the past, present, and future of an individual or a country. People are always
interested in these matters. The future life and station of an individual is revealed through a
reading of the basic natal chart prepared on the basis of the date, time and place of birth of that
individual. A nation’s future is predicted based on the date of birth of the nation, or some such
similar events and the zodiac. The interaction between two cosmic forces - the human being, on the
one hand, and the planets and stars, on the other, forms the very basis of such interpretation.

Observant Hindus believe that astrology, as a system of knowledge or as practical arts, has certain
postulations, rules and norms, which are crucial to the accurate readings of a horoscope and
therefore, to predictions. A misinterpretation or wrong understanding by the general public, can
lead to unfortunate results in the lives of individuals. People who have good training in astrology
tend to work on the assumption that the stars, zodiacs, and planets, have over-riding effect on the
lives of individuals, and that a proper study of the effect of the stars and planets in one’s life will
result in predicting the future awaiting an individual. If this future is not good, then the astrologer
may suggest ways to propitiate appropriate gods or goddesses or other forces in a manner that
some remedy to the situation created by the stars and planet could be obtained. Strong positions
have been taken in favor or against astrology and the use of Panchangam in the day-to-day life.

PANCHANGAM OR ALMANAC

The Pancangam is calculated annually in different parts of India in several cities with varying
longitudes and latitudes. Some are based on lunar movements and some on solar movements.

A commonly accepted Pancangam in India is kalivarsa pancanga which is claimed to have started
from B.C.3102. This pancanga system has influenced many astrologers and scholars. Here, time is
calculated in accordance with the solar movements. Another solar pancanga is kollavarsam which is
popular only in Kerala, and in the southern districts of Tamilnadu. It is started from Kollam district
of Kerala by the king of Travancore Udaya Marthanda Varma. In this pancanga year will start from
Chingam, the first Malayalam month (in English calendar this will be August or September). This
pancangam is influenced by the Persian pancanga system. India’s officially accepted pancangam is
šakavarşam which is started in A.D.78 by ša:liva:han. For the present analysis four Panchangams of
the year 2003 (Malayalam year 1178) namely jyo:tişabhu:şaNam, jyo:tişakaustubham,
sambu:RNapancha:ngam and vidya:rambham pancha:ngam were selected.

LANGUAGE OF PANCHANGAM

Almanacs are having their own language. This language is entirely different from the language of
communication. The peculiarities of this language include abundance of Sanskrit terms and
absence of English usage. Most of the lexical terms are in Sanskrit and because of this only a
person having mastery over Sanskrit can fully understand this language.

The style of the language used in almanac is that of early 19th century, where the use of very long
sentence is treated as a prestige symbol. Some pages of panchanga contain paragraphs with single
sentences which will run up to 13 to 15 lines. The language style of most of the panchangas are
same except the content. The content may vary according to the publishers’ choice.

For instance, Jyo:tişa kaustubham, the panchangam published by the Travancore Devaswom Board
contains additional information about different temples of that particular region. The rest of the
contents in most of the panchangas include the predictions based on the position of different
planets. The language used in these descriptions is also crowded with Sanskrit terms. The titles
under which these predictions are given remain the same in all the books and will remain same in
all the editions including the new ones. For example the titles like vişu bhalam, ku:RubhalaηηaL,
me:şa saηkRama bhalaηηaL etc., can be seen in all the panchagas irrespective of the publisher or
the year.

All the panchangas contain numerical charts depicting the time of sunrise and sunset, movements
of sun and other planets each day, and the calendar of that particular year. They also contain
pages showing the sacred or auspicious time (muhurtham) for ritual functions like marriage,
naming ceremony, ear piercing ceremony, house warming ceremony, etc. These charts show the
movement of stars and planets, and also divide and indicate the timings for such movements.
People rely on the information to choose the apt timings for their purposes.

Linguistic analysis of the language used in these panchangas shows deviations from standard
language in the morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. The variations are listed below. Note
that our discussion here is based on Panchangam published in Malayalam.

MORPHOLOGICAL VARIATIONS

The purposive marker –a:n is used with the link morph -pp- instead of –ykk-

vitaykka:n > vitappa:n ‘to sow’

niRaykka:n > niRappa:n ‘to fill’


ta:masiykka:n > ta:masippa:n ‘to delay’

siddhiykka:n > siddhippa:n ‘to get’

In most of the panchangams the negative marker illa is replaced with arutu when it occurs with koL-
koLLilla > koLLarutu ‘not suitable’

The common locative marker –il of standard Malayalam is replaced with the olden forms
–iηkal ka:lattil > ka:lattiηkal ‘during the time’

ra:ja:vil > ra:ja:viηkal ‘in the king’

In Malayalam, the accusative case marker -e is usually used along with animate nouns. But
Panchangams deviate from this rule, as in the usage apara:dhatte ceyyunnavan instead of
apara:dham ceyyunnavan, ‘one who is committing a crime.’

The morphological variations listed above shows that the Panchangams in Malayalam are adopt the
early language style, not currently in use. The reason for this may be that the composers and the
publishers are trying to retain an aroma or auro of its originality through the olden language
usages.

LEXICAL VARIATIONS

The language of Panchangam differs from the ordinary language because of its astrological terms
and Sanskrit usages. Astrological terms, which are the soul of Panchangam, can be understood only
by a person trained in or acquainted with astrology. Thus, even though Panchangams are intended
for family use, a correct understanding and interpretation of most of the contents require some
help from others acquainted with astrological terms. Most people get to understand the words and
sentences used by years of using Panchangams or by listening to people adept in reading them.

The variations which I highlight here are concerned only with the language, ignoring the actual
astrological technical terms.

In Panchangams the term i:tiba:dha is used for a public calamity like drought, flood, or war. This
term is replaced with duritaba:dha in the current vocabulary in Malayalam. In the same manner the
usages like itukaL for mutala:yava ‘etc.,’ atukaL for ava ‘those’ also show deviation from the
current vocabulary.

The term used in Panchangams for vi:TupaNiya:n ‘for constructing a house’ is purapaNiya:n. This
also shows a deviation from the current usage. In the past, the houses of ordinary people were
referred to as pura or ma:Tam whereas those that belong to the higher social category group were
given separate names. For example, the house of higher castes groups like the Brahmins or
Nampoodiris were referred to as illam.

Even though the difference in the social hierarchy is minimized in the present situation in Kerala,
Panchangams retain the old tradition through their language. This attitude of Panchangams is
visible in the title illam niRappa:n ‘to fill the illam (the Nampoodiri house)’. Here this title is
mentioned a good number of times for filling the house with the harvested crops. In olden days the
landlords were the upper caste people and the workers were from the lower castes. Therefore, after
harvesting, the crops should be transferred to the house of the owner, and, for this purpose, they
should wait for a proper time, as mentioned in Panchangam. Even though this tradition has
completely disappeared from the present day society, where there is no class or caste restriction
for land ownership and cultivation, Panchangam still retains the old vocabulary and perhaps the old
concept.

In the earlier period, Panchangam composers or writers showed off their scholarship by using more
Sanskrit words in their writings. In Panchangams, one can observe this trend. There are many
instances where the authors preferred to use Sanskrit terms for commonly occurring and easily
comprehended Malayalam words.

The table below lists some of the lexical items which Panchangams preferred to use from the
Sanskrit language instead of the commonly occurring Malayalam equivalents..
Sanskrit terms used in Panchangam
Malayalam equivalents and meanings

praNati
namaska:ram ‘salutation’

ku:pam
kiNaR ‘well’

bi:ja:va:pam
vittu vitaykkuka ‘sowing of seeds’

coranma:R
kaLLanma:R ‘theives’

dantadha:vanam
pallute:ypp∂ ‘cleaning the teeth’

This shows that Panchangams try to retain the old concept of the people, to keep aloof from the
lowly trends followed among common men. It is also possible that the composers think that a high-
culture subject portrayed in Panchangams require a “high” language in some sense to keep its
distinct features and even sanctity. Above all, adherence to tradition appears to be the most
important reason for this trend to continue.

SYNTACTIC VARIATIONS

In Panchangams, the sentences are written at a stretch without any break, using the conjunctive
markers. Subject deletion is noticed in some instances. For example, the descriptions given under
the title upanayanattin∂ ‘for the sacred thread adorning ceremony,’ vidya:rambhattin ’for starting
education’, kaRNave:dhattin∂ ‘for piercing the ear,’ etc., (where the auspicious or proper times for
these customs are given), are devoid of subject. These peculiarities coupled with the Sanskrit
influence make the language of Panchangam a separate entity beyond the reach of common man.

Many Panchangams retain the old traditions in the present social situation also. This is evident in
the titles like ra:ja daRsanattin∂ ‘for seeing the king’, ra:jaka:ryannaLkku nalladivasam ‘good time
for the matters related to the king.’ These titles are irrelevant in the present situation due to the
change in the governance model. Some Panchangams like jyotişabhu:şaNam wanted to stay with
the changing society by writing the title mantRi darsanattinum maRRum ‘to see the ministers etc.,’
in parantheses along with the above mentioned titles. This, in one way, shows the changing trend
of the writers or composers of Panchangams to stay current.

DIMINISHING CURRENCY AND SURVIVAL OF PANCHANGAMS

At the present situation the popularity of Panchangam is diminishing for various reasons. Social and
atheistic reform movements spearheaded by leaders like Periyar Ramasamy and Annadurai in
south India, overall secularization brought forth by the independence movement in the country, the
growth of socialist movements in Kerala, widespread literacy that engendered cynicism on matters
relating to astrology, and also the popularity of a variety of calendars that present the information
in some clear and straightforward manner have reduced the importance and readership of
Panchangams. These calendars clearly mention the auspicious timings in simple language for
different occasions besides the dates and months of that particular year. Other reason for the
reduced popularity of Panchangam may be the developments in the field of Science and
Technology. In olden days, people had to rely on Panchangams or any other predictions for getting
an idea about the rain, or change of weather, or finding a proper place for digging a well, etc. Now
all these are taken care of by technology. But the importance of Panchangam still continues mainly
because while technology may locate the ground water, the observant Hindus’ desire to find the
most auspicious time to dig the ground is still fulfilled by Panchangams.

Even though the developments in the field of Science and Technology may have reached sky-high,
the domains related to astrology and Panchangams survive irrespective of their archaic and hard-
to-comprehend technical language. The developments in the fields of science and technology may
reduce the popularity of Panchangams and astrology, but these do not do away with Panchangams
and astrology, since ways of life still demand seeking auspicious times for events such as marriage,
house-warming, house-construction, etc.

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V. Geetha Kumary, Ph.D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Manasagangothri
Mysore-570006, India
E-mail: geethakumary@hotmail.com