Varśa means “that which is being showered.” It is a masculine term. In its feminine form it is Varśá (the feminine suffix “á” is added). The second meaning is “a large island”. In the Vedic age the world was divided into several vast islands or continents – Jambudviipa, Ságardviipa, Kraonoadviipa, etc. The name of ancient India was Jambudviipa. This island extended from Central Asia to the frontiers of Burma. One of the regions of Jambudviipa was Bhárata Varśa. Another name of Burma was Suvarńadviipa. All the areas of the vast Jambudviipa were not equally fertile, nor equally rich in mineral resources. The particular portion of Jambudviipa which was fit for human habitation, with an abundance of food and water, was called Bhárata Varśa. Ancient Tibet was called Kiḿpuruśa Varśa. Of course, in the nomenclature of Kiḿpuruśa Varśa there is some humour. Tibetan males have hardly any beard or moustache and from a distance, people may wrongly think they are women. From their appearance, at least for outsiders, it was difficult to distinguish between men and women. That is why outsiders used to joke, “Are they males or females?” or “Kiḿ Puruśah?” in Saḿskrta. Varśa means “land”. Thus, Tibet came to be known as Kiḿpuruśa Varśa.
The Saḿskrta verb bhr means “to feed” (bharańa). So the government food department is called “Janasmbharańa Vibhág”. A husband’s duty is to support his wife, that is, to provide food and drink. So a husband is called Bharttá in Saḿskrta. Bháráta means the land where there is an abundance of food and drink, and ample scope for all-round development. India has not been named after King Bharata, who lived and ruled long afterwards. In the Indian constitution, India or Bharata is mentioned, but in actual fact the name of the land is not Bharata but Bharatá Varsa. Bharata + suffix śńa = Bharatá + Varsa = Bharata Varsa, a compound word. So, at the end of this compound word, the term Varsa or Desh should also be used; otherwise it will be grammatically incorrect.
Instead of dwelling upon the ancient history of India, I would rather concentrate on the Bengali New Year’s day. Here, we will have to use the term Varsa in a special sense. Bengal is situated on the eastern part of Jambudviipa or Bharatá Varsa. The boundary line between two countries is called pratyanta or common boundary, which two countries lying on either side of the boundary can claim as their own. For example, Srinagar district is on the north of India, but Baramulla district is the northern most extremity of India because it borders on Pakistan. Bengal is the easternmost area between Jambhudviipa and Suvarńadviipa.
You might have already heard from me that civilization advances along river banks and river valleys. If one moves even 500 miles along a river bank, one will encounter a similar type of civilization. But if one travels 40 miles away from the river bank, the outward expression of the civilization will be quite different. For example, the river Ganges has its source at Gaungottari [[(Some people wrongly say Gaungotrii, but this is incorrect.) Gaungottari is the place where the River Ganges originates. The River Ganges ends at Gangásagar.]] On either side of the Gangetic valley the same type of civilization can be easily discerned. The civilization at Varanasi is quite similar to the civilization found at Patna, because the entire area is situated within the Gangetic valley. But if one moves only 40 miles southward from Varanasi, one will notice a different culture and civilization, since that area does not come within the Gangetic valley civilization. If we study the various expressions of civilization along the river valleys, we find a certain blended civilization in Bengal.
Take the case of Old Gondwanaland. In the distant past, some areas of India did not exist: There was neither northern India, nor D́abák nor Samatat́ areas of Bengal, but there was Old Gondwana. That was about 300 million years ago. At that time, the major parts of Sind, the Punjab, UP, Bihar and Bengal did not exist. They were all submerged under the vast oceans. The Himalayas also did not exist. But the Vindhya mountain range and its sister ranges, Sátpurá, Sahyádri, Rajmahal and Rámgáŕh did exist. These mountains were very high, and always snow-covered. Because of these snow-packed mountains, the rivers filled with the water of the melted snow; They never dried up. The Suvarńarekhá, the Kaḿsávatii, the Keleghái, the Haldiá, the Rúpaháráyańa, the Dvárakeshvara, the Shilávatii, the Jayapáńd́á, the Gandheshvarii, the Dámodara, the Ajaya and the Mayárakśii – these are the rivers of Gondwanaland. The lithospherical order is from the west to the east, so the rivers also flow from the west to east.
This was the original homeland of the Bengali civilization. The soil of Ráŕhá is 300 million years old. Later on, the Himalayan mountain range was formed as a result of a tremendous earthquake resulting from a volcanic eruption. Many rivers started to flow down the Himalayas – the Ganges, Yamuna, Gharghará, Táptii, Koshii, etc. With the sand and alluvium carried by these rivers, the vast plains of northern India came into being. With the same alluvium, Bengal was also formed. Ultimately, a huge land mass was formed between the Himalayas and Ráŕha. According to history, the eastern part of Ráŕha, that is Tamkul Subdivision of Midnapur district, Howrah district, Hooghly district, the eastern part of Burdwan and the western part of Murshidabad district – these areas were formed out of the alluvium carried by the rivers of Ráŕha. These areas do not have the same soil as the original areas of the 300 million-year-old Ráŕha. The oldest soil is in Mamánbhúm, Bankura, the major part of Midnapur district, the western part of Burdwan district and Birbhum. The soil of this part of Bengal is the most ancient.
The oldest manuscripts of Bengali literature are being found in this western part. The script which was discovered written on a rock on Shushunia Hill is the oldest Bengali script. At Beletoŕ village or Baŕjoŕa police station of Bankwa district, the oldest manuscript of the Bengali language was discovered. Shrii Krśńa Kiirttana, written by Baŕu Cańd́iidasa, was composed in Ráŕha. In the village Jaydá of Chandil police station of the former Mánbhum district (now in Bihar, even though it is a Bengali-speaking area) the oldest Bengali script has been discovered. All these should be carefully preserved.
However, let us come to the original topic.
[The following section was also printed separately as part of “Tantra in Bengal” in Discourses on Tantra Volume 1. This is the Discourses on Tantra Volume 1, 2nd edition, version.]
Bengal is situated on the boundary line between Jambudviipa and Suvarńadviipa [ancient names of India and Burma]. The civilization that grew along the banks of the Mayárákśii, Ajaya and Damodara later blended with the civilization which developed in the areas of Páond́ravardhana Bhukti, Samatat, and D́abák. A new civilization was born in Bengal – a blending between the Ráŕh civilization of Gańd́oyána(1) and the Gangetic civilization. That is why the people of Bengal are not exactly the same as those of northern India. The modes of worship and the priesthood systemare different from those of northern India. Bengali script and intonation are also different, as, indeed, is the physical appearance of the Bengalees. From their facial lineaments, one can conclude that these people are of the Bengalee stock. These are the especial characteristics of a blended civilization.
Not only that, even the type of thought varies between the different communities. The blending of the dark-complexioned people of Ráŕh with the fair-complexioned Aryans led to the formation of the Bengalee race. But this is not the end of the story. The River Brahmaputra flowed from the interior of Tibet, where its name was Sang Po (Son of a God), into India. In other words, it came from within a Mongolian(2) country. The people of Tibet are Mongolian of the Indo-Tibetan group. The Mongolians are divided into a few branches, one of them being the Indo-Tibetan group. The Brahmaputra, or Sang Po, River carries that Mongolian civilization and not the Gangetic civilization.
That Mongolian civilization was criticized by the Aryans in the Dúrma Purána:
Sarve sáḿgsaratáh múŕháh mleccháh gobrahmaghátakah;
Kuvacakáh pare múrháh ete kút́ayonayáh;
Teśáḿ paeshácikii bháśá lokácáro na vidyate.
“They do not protect cows and Brahmans. They eat fish and meat. When they eat fish, what sort of Aryans are they? By these acts of theirs they have degraded themselves even more. Their style of pronunciation is full of defects.”
The Mongolian civilization that flourished in the Brahmaputra Valley blended with the Ráŕhii civilization and the Gangetic civilization, resulting in a new blended civilization, the Gaod́iiya or Bengal civilization. Tantra had its origin in such a blended civilization. The Ganges and the Brahmaputra meet at Goyalanda in Bengal [Bangladesh]. Thus we see that the Bengal civilization is a mixed civilization, a blending of the Gańd́oyána civilization of Ráŕh, the Gangetic civilization of northern India, and the Mongolian civilization of Tibet and China [whose access was via the Brahmaputra Valley]. That is why it is said that this Bengal civilization flourished in the border areas between Jambudviipa and Suvarńadviipa.
In the Bengalee race the blood of these different civilizations is mixed. Because of the blending in of Australoid and Dravidoid blood, the people of Bankura, Midnapore and Purulia are mostly dark-complexioned. A certain amount of Mongolian blood is also present. The Bengalee farmers, the Rájvanshiis and Chakmas, have come from the Brahmaputra Valley. They are flat-nosed. As a result of the permutation and combination of these various small groups, the various castes and sub-castes of West Bengal emerged – the Brahmans, the Káyasthas, the Vaedyas, and a host of sub-castes. But the source of all these castes and sub-castes is one and the same – the blended culture of the Ráŕh, Gangetic and Brahmaputra valleys. If we take Bengal as a distinct land, it has a speciality of its own. This is due to the influence of the river valleys.
[end of section that was printed separately as part of “Tantra in Bengal”]
[The following section was also printed separately as the “Matriarchal Influence Persists in Bengal” section of the “Women of Bengal” chapter of The Awakening of Women. This is the Awakening of Women, 1st edition, version.]
The geographical environment influences human expressions. Consequently, different schools of music and dance arose in various parts of Bengal. The same thing is taking place even today and will do so in the future as well. The topography which has resulted from the meeting of the three rivers has exerted a great influence on the Bengali mentality. By temperament the Bengalees are a sentimental people. Sometimes they tolerate injustice for a long period without any murmur, without even a whimper. Suddenly they decide not to tolerate injustice any longer, and they rise in revolt. In a few days they get involved in a bloody rebellion. But prior to that they were subjected to endless torture, insult and humiliation: they tolerated all the wrongs and injustices like a nation of lifeless corpses. These are the symptoms of a sentimental race. The people of Bengal, particularly the people of the lower stratum of society, had to undergo tremendous torture and humiliation in the past. Suddenly they revolted and embraced Islam in large numbers. They are also Bengalees – in bone, flesh and blood. They became Muslims as a reaction to the exploitation by the contemporary society. The Jains of Bengal, particularly those of Bankura, Midnapur and Purulia, discarded the Jain religion and accepted the Vaeśńava religion [Vaishnavism] of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in large numbers. Even today the Jain temples are there, but there are no Jain worshippers.
This typical sentimentality is one of the specialities of the Bengali character. The Bengalees, by struggling against the original culture of ancient Gondwanaland,(4) the original cultural trend of the Gangetic valley and also the pure Mongolian(5) culture of the Brahmaputra valley, have built a new, integrated Bengali culture of their own. This typical Bengali culture emerged about three thousand years ago. That is, about 3500 years ago, the Bengali language had its very old structure. That old structure of the Bengali language, through successive changes, has taken the form of the modern Bengali language. Modern Bengali is about eight hundred to one thousand years old. Thus, after the Bengalees distinguished themselves in so many ways, they thought that the ups and downs of their social life also should be directed in a particular flow, which is neither wholly in conformity with the full-fledged matriarchal system of Gondwanaland, nor the full-fledged patriarchal system of the Gangetic valley nor the Mongolian, female-dominated system of the Brahmaputra valley.
In the ancient social system of Bengal, the women had a preponderant role. Members of that society would introduce themselves by the name of their mothers. As a rule, people would ask a person, “What’s your name? What’s your mother’s name? What’s your grandmother’s name?” to find out the identity of a person. Among the Kháshiyas of Meghalaya, this system is still in vogue. Bengal has long discarded the system, because it was not conducive to the growth of the Bengalees. The Bengalees built a diverse social system which contained certain characteristics of both the matriarchal and patriarchal societies, according to necessity.
For instance, in the rest of India, the property of the maternal uncle, if he dies without an heir, goes to the relations on his father’s side. The property of Mr. Sukla will be inherited by his nephews, though they might be his distant relations: Mr. Sukla’s own sisters’ sons will not be entitled to the property. But Bengal’s social system is different. If a maternal uncle dies without any heir his property will be inherited by his sisters’ sons and not the more distant relations. This is the law of inheritance of Bengal, which is quite different from that of the rest of India. In the rest of India, property is not inherited by members of different lineages. If the maternal uncle’s property goes to the sister’s son, it means it goes to a different lineage. If the maternal uncle is one Mr. Banerjee, and the sister’s son is a Mr. Chatterjee, and Mr. Banerjee belongs to Sáńd́ilya lineage and Mr. Chatterjee to Káshyapa lineage, the property of the Sáńd́ilyas cannot be inherited by the Káshyapas. So it is seen that the property of the maternal uncle in northern India does not go to other lineages, which it may do in Bengal.
There is yet another speciality of the Bengali social system. In the rest of India, a daughter, after marriage, loses the identity of her father’s family. But in Bengal this is not the case. According to social law in Bengal, a girl, after marriage, becomes a member of a new lineage no doubt. Suppose a girl of the Bose family marries into the Mitra family, she still keeps her old blood; this fact cannot be ignored. She may marry into the Mitra family but she still carries the blood of the Bose family. That is why a system was introduced whereby a girl, even after marriage, will have to observe ashaoca [a purificatory period of mourning] for at least three nights after the death of any of her parent’s family. But in the rest of India this period of mourning is not required for a married woman because now she is a member of a different lineage. Bengal adopted a system of its own because its culture is not the unmixed Gangetic culture, but a blended culture of Gangetic, Ráŕhii and Brahmaputra valley cultures. This is how the things of practical necessity have been inculcated in the social system.
Next comes the question of the law of inheritance. The rest of India is governed by the Mitákśará law of inheritance, which is based on the Manu Saḿhitá(6) [as interpreted] by Vyasadeva. Bengal is governed by the Dáyabhága system,(7) which is the interpretation of the Manu Saḿhitá by Jiimútabáhana. In northern India, sons are entitled to ancestral property even during the lifetime of their fathers. In fact, the children, even when they are in their mothers’ wombs, acquire the right to property. When they are grown up, they can get their share by filing lawsuits against their fathers. But this is not permissible in Dáyabhága laws. As long as the fathers are alive, only they can inherit the ancestral property. And if a father so likes, he can deprive his sons of their ancestral property: he may disown his son, or he may transfer the property right to other persons outside his own family. In the rest of India, there is no law to disown one’s son. Only Bengal follows that system, the Dáyabhága system of inheritance.
Not only this, there is proof that girls have a particular type of legal relationship with their parents in Bengal. One hundred years ago there was a rule. Suppose a girl’s name is Máyá and she was born into the Basu family and married into the Mitra family. How will she maintain a relationship with her parents? Before marriage she writes her name as Máyá Basu Duhitá [daughter], whereas after marriage she writes her name as Máyá Mitra Jáyá [daughter-in-law]. Even after marriage, if she so wished she could write her name as Máyá Basu Duhitá. After all, she was a daughter of the Basu family. This proves the fact that even after a girl’s marriage, her relationship with her parents is not permanently severed.
Bengal’s culture and civilization emerged from its own soil, whereas the culture and civilization of the rest of India is a product of its environment. There is some difference between the two. The Bengali civilization is indigenous, as Bengal is predominantly a land of water. People have to remain constantly vigilant as to whether there is solid ground under their feet or not. There are some places in east Bengal where the land remains under water for seven months during a year. As long as there is sufficient water in lakes and rivers, the girls can easily go to see their parents. But the rest of the year they cannot, as there is no land route.
Phiirá áisyá bandhu ámár guyápáń kháio
Náo laiyá sháon másere bandhu náiyor laiyá yáio.
[Return, O friend, and taste betel nut and betel leaves. Come back in the month of Shrávańa and take back the daughter to her father-in-law.]
This poem shows that the month of Shrávańa [August-September] was a good time for married girls to visit their parents.
[end of section that was printed separately as “Matriarchal Influence Persists in Bengal”]
Now let us consider the influence of kings on the social system. In the rest of India, kings came to power through hereditary rights. But in the history of Bengal, in a number of cases, the situation was different. You should remember that 99% of Bengalees are the indigenous population – they are the children of the soil. There are only a few communities who are the original Bengalees, the forefathers of the Bengalee race: the rest of the castes and sub-castes have descended from them. Those who are regarded as the so-called upper castes – like delicacies placed on top of a pile of offerings – are also born from these original Bengalees. They are (1) Kaevartta, (2) Máháto, (3) Goap, (4) Namashúdra, (5) Rájovaḿshii and (6) Cákmá. The Cákmas are the original Bengalees. Today, unfortunately, the same Cákmas are treated as tribal people of the hills. These six communities comprised the original Bengalees. Due to the intermixture of these different groups, the so-called upper castes evolved, and they later became the social parasites. These six ethnic groups are the pillars of the Bengali society: they support the Bengali social structure. They can be likened to the lamp stand, whereas the so-called upper castes are the lamp, sitting on the ethnic Bengalees. The oil trickles down the lamp stand. When only the five categories of Gaoŕiiya Brahmans and the five categories of Dravidian Brahmans were recognized (not only the Brahmans of Bengal but also the other upper castes of Bengal were unrecognized), it was decided according to the Raghunandan social system of Bengal that the Brahmans who were not recognized by northern India would be treated as the Brahmans of Bengal, because they were the persons who had to conduct the religious worship. The remaining non-Brahmans were declared as Shudras.
According to the Vedic system, there are four classes (catur varna) in the society – Vaeshya, Vipra, Kśatriya and Shúdra. But in Bengal there were only two classes – Vipra and Shúdra. Kśatriyas and Vaeshyas were conspicuously lacking in the society of Bengal.
In the rest of India one of the main sources of livelihood for the Brahmans was the culture of Ayurveda. But as the Brahmans of Bengal were not recognized by north India, so those Brahmans who continued the practice of Ayurveda in Bengal were also unrecognized. They were considered as a separate caste, Vaedya, whereas in fact they are also Brahmans. So, since there is a difference from the scriptural point of view, there is also a difference regarding the system of worship.
Kings ascended to the throne through the hereditary system in the north of India. Only recently in India, A certain queen wanted to install her son as king. This is possible in northern India but not in Bengal. In Bengal the monarchy was not a hereditary institution. That is, whenever a king was found to be not properly discharging his royal duties, then those six ethnic Bengali communities would revolt against him. The Kaevarttas of Midnapur created tremendous problems for the kings of Orissa and the nababs of Bengal, and Kaevarttas of central Bengal organized a rebellion during the reign of Devapála II during the Buddhist period. That is why when the kings of Bengal installed their heirs on the throne as crown princes, they requested their subjects to extend support to their (the kings) decision. The kings of northern India, however, when installing their princely heirs on the throne, used to request their subjects to accept them as the new kings, and to ratify the new directives. Actually this was not a request, but a virtual order. This is how the social system evolved, as a result of which many discrepancies occurred during the historical battles.
During the war between the Kaoravas and the Pandavas, the kings of Bengal did not take part. “The war will do no good to Bengal,” they thought, and hence they did not want to engage themselves in unnecessary spilling of blood. “Why should thousands of soldiers die for nothing,” they argued. So they remained neutral. Due to this psychology, the kings of Bengal have always fought against the emperors of Delhi, from the Hindu era through the Moghul and Pathan eras. They have always waged war against Delhi. There has been a constant ideological conflict between Delhi and Bengal.
An interesting thing about north India is that the year is calculated according to the lunar calendar. It was supposed that the earth is fixed and the moon revolves around it. Of course, in actual fact the earth is not fixed but revolves around the sun. The moon also rotates, and it takes anywhere from 28 to 31 days for the moon to complete one rotation (lunar month). If we multiply the lunar month by 12 we get a lunar year of 354 or 355 days. In northern India this system of calculation is prevalent. The 11th or 12th day of the fortnight is determined according to the zodiac. In northern India Ekádashii means the 11th day of the month and dvadashi means the 12th day of the month and trayodashi means the 13th day. On the 11th day, if there is tryáhasparsha (the meeting of three tithis or lunar days in one 24-hour span) – that is, if the moon touches the three constellations, then the eleventh day will be followed by the thirteenth day in North India. So the dvádashii or twelfth day will not occur. Obviously there are many disadvantages in this calculation. You might have noticed on many occasions during the Durga Puja festival, the seventh day (saptamii) is followed by the ninth day (navamii). This happens due to this very reason. This is highly disadvantageous because people will not be able to utilize the intervening day. The astrologers of Bengal pondered deeply on this problem. The viḿshottariiya system of astrological calculation, followed by the Varanasi astrologers, is different from that of the calculations of the astrologers of Bengal. Let me state this fact more concisely. Let us suppose that if a person lives an average of 120 years, and if the calculation is made accordingly, the system is called viḿshottariiya, and if a person lives for an average of 108 years, the system is called aśt́ottariiya.
Now the question is, whether human beings can survive for 120 years or not: usually they do not. Whatever that may be, their system of calculation is different. The authorities of Ayurveda in northern India act according to the Ayurveda of the Vedas, and the Vaedyas (physicians) of Bengal follow the Vaedyakshástra. There is a vast difference between the two. In Vaedyakshástra there is a provision for the dissection of dead bodies; but in northern India, there is no such permission. Anyone doing so will risk becoming an outcast. And so there is a standing rule in northern India that the Vaedyas of Bengal are not recognized as Brahmans, although according to the liberal social system of Bengal, the Vaedyas should be recognized as Brahmans. I do not believe in casteism; I am just trying to point out the facts.
So it is seen that the systems of astrological calculation are different in Bengal and northern India. There is a clear difference in the systems of lunar calendar and solar calendar. I will try now to explain briefly the system of the solar calendar. Let us suppose that the earth is fixed and the sun is moving around the earth. Of course the reality is different: the sun is fixed, and the earth is moving around the sun. In actuality, the sun is also not fixed. The sun, together with the planets, satellites, etc. is moving in orbit in the galaxy.
A father, mother and their children sit close together in a railway compartment, talking among themselves and eating dainties and delicacies. Are they motionless or static? They are not motionless: they are also moving along with the train, and they also reach Delhi from Calcutta. In the same manner, the sun, together with the planets and satellites, is also moving, although the mutual distance between them appears to always be the same. It seems that the sun is fixed, but actually the sun is moving.
Now, if the earth is taken to be fixed, the sun takes about 365 or 366 days to complete one round of movement around the earth: this is one solar year. In the case of the moon, there is the month, and if those months are multiplied by 12, this is the lunar year. In case of the sun, first there is the year. By dividing the number of days in the year by 12, we get the months. How do we divide? The void containing the sun and the moon is a 360 degree void. In this path of movement lie the different stellar constellations, each one of which resembles a certain figure. There is one constellation that looks like a goat (Aries, or Meśa in Saḿskrta); another looks like a bull (Taurus, or Vrśa in Saḿskrta). Thus we get the 12 signs of the zodiac covering 360 degrees – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. These are the Roman names. The corresponding Arabic names are Barak, Torá, Dopáttar, Kalaktor, Shushak, Karaduḿ Garadum, Nimak, Bahim, Dul, Mahak, etc. Each one forms an angle of 30 degrees at the centre. So the 12 signs make 360 degrees. The time taken by the sun to cross a particular arc opposite the 30 degree angle comprises one solar month. So, if we divide the year by 12 we also get one month. According to the Bengali calendar, the first part of the arc does not enter the calculation, only the last part. The first part of an arc is added to the previous arc; this is the system of reckoning in Bengal. But in Punjab or Kashmir the first part of the arc and not the last part is taken into the calculation. That is why yesterday [the day before the Bengali New Year’s day] was New Year’s day in the Punjab, because they calculate on the basis of the first part of the arc. The Bengali month thus ends one day after the Punjabi month. And what has the Punjab done? They have calculated the time according to the last part of the arc. This is the system of the solar calendar.
Regarding the solar calendar, I would like to add something more here, because there is only this similarity between north India and Bengal. Ancient Bengal rejected the north Indian system of calculating time a long time ago – about 3500 years ago. So we see that the Bengali culture is at least 3500 years old, perhaps even older. The northern system of calculation is the lunar system, which centers around the full moons. The full moon has to take place in the moon of that particular planet. So, the moon has to move along a similar orbit.
So a Bengali month is named after the Zodiac sign within which the full moon takes place. For instance, to cross the area of Aries (Meśa) it takes 31 days (this Zodiac sign is not very big). There are Zodiac signs which are even larger, and it takes 32 days for the Sun to cross them. The Bengali months Áśáŕh and Shrávańa are as long as 32 days. Of the two calendars, Bengali and English, the Bengali calendar is more scientific. The Bengali calendar mentions the exact number of days which a planet takes to cross the area of the Zodiac concerned, but ordinary people do not realize exactly how many days takes – 30, 31 or 32. So although the English is unscientific, still it has one practical advantage: the number of days of each month is fixed. The sun exists in a thirty degree arc-centre for the whole Bengali month. The full moon takes place within the constellation of Vishákhá; so the name of the Bengali month is Vaeshákh (son of Vishákhá) [[– Vishákhár puttrah ityarthe]]. In the next month, the full moon takes place within the Jyaeśt́ha constellation; so the name of the month has become Jyaeśt́ha. But in Kerala, this month is called Meśa because it is in the Zodiac sign of Mes’a.
The people of Bengal noted that if 354 days make up a year according to the lunar calendar, then the year will advance by twelve or thirteen days in three years. The year will advance by more than one month so while people harvest in the month of Agraháyan this year; after three years the time of harvesting will fall in the Mágha month. But that is not actually the time for harvesting; so harvesting time would have to be adjusted with the months. However, if we follow the solar calendar, then sowing, harvesting etc. will maintain adjustment with the seasons. So the lunar calendar is impractical and we should not follow it; rather we should follow the solar calendar. Only the religious worship of deities, shráddha ceremonies, marriage ceremonies etc. may be conducted according the lunar calendar in the North Indian style, for these social ceremonies must be performed within a particular auspicious period and this cannot be determined by the solar calendar.
Now while adjusting with the people of North India, some practical difficulties may arise. The people of northern India suggested “All right, every three years, one month will have to be increased.” But how to adjust that extra month? One solution may be that every third year should comprise 13 months; then there may be some sort of adjustment with North India. Since then North India has declared that every third year consists of 13 months. Suppose that the additional month comes after the month of Kárttik (because that additional month will come after 30 days); the people of northern India will call it Adhik Kártiik. After this Adhik Kárttik comes the Agráhayań month. This is additional Kárttik is called Malmas.
This system of astrological calculation was first introduced in Bengal by King Shalibahan of southern Bengal. Here southern Bengal means the area from the point where the Suvarnarekha River flows in to the Bay of Bengal – i.e., Ramnagar Police Station, Bhocrai Kaksai, Bhograi, and Baleswar to the point where the Naef River in the west of Bengal flows into the Bay of Bengal up to the Chittagong-Arakan border. This was the area of southern Bengal which was once part of the Sundarban Forest. Now the Sundarban Forest has been cleared in many districts; only some forest is left, about 4000 square miles. Out of this total area 3400 square miles of forest are in Khulna and 600 square miles are in 24 Parganas. Formerly it was a vast forest area.
In olden days southern Bengal was known as Samatat. Later on, the Samatat area meant Murshidabad, Nadia, Jessore, Khulna, 24 Parganas and Calcutta. The area lying on the west of the Bhagirathi was called Rarh. The area on the north of the river Padma was called Barindi (in Saḿskrta it was called Barendra) and the area east of Padma was called Vauṋga, Mymensing, Dhaka, Faridpur, Barishal, and the eastern part which was known as Chattal or Shriibhúmi, Sylhet or Shriihatta.
King Shalibahan was the king of this Samatat. He said that the lunar system would not suit Bengal. These days the Persian word sal is used in the sense of year; the adjective form is salána, but actually that is a Bengali term. Shálibahan introduced the system of solar year. The calculations of the solar year were performed in ancient India according to the reckoner (ephemeris) called Sáranii in Bengali. This gave the idea of táká (rupee), ánná (1/16 of a rupee) and pái (1/192 of a rupee). The astrologers used to calculate the degree of angular position of the sun in detail with the help of the reckoner. Even today, the reckoner is used.
The sun is changing its course, and the stars and planets are also changing their courses; and the solar and lunar calendars are being prepared according to the changing course of the stars and planets. The sidereal calendar may also be adjusted. So the reckoner system will not suffice at all times. Suppose it is indicated in the almanac that a lunar eclipse will take place at 6:30. Now, if you follow the almanac, i.e. the reckoner, you will not see the lunar eclipse, for the eclipse will take place 100 minutes later. So almanacs are now outdated and incorrect. This defect in the system of calculation will be easily discovered only by referring to a single case in the almanac. It may be in the almanac that an eclipse will be at 6:40 P.M., but actually it takes place at 7:40; then people blame the astrologer. Just to avoid that mistake, astrologers consult the marine almanac and follow the course of the flow-tide and ebb-tide.
About 600 years ago, a great scholar was born at Vikrampur, who with much effort prepared a new reckoner. He was very young – about twenty or twenty-three years old – but he was very intelligent and active. He showed his new reckoner to the scholars of Navadwip. It gave the exact calculations, avoiding all mistakes. The Brahman scholars of Navadwip grew extremely jealous of him. That evening at 7:00 o’clock, an eclipse was to take place; but according to that young man the eclipse would be seen at 7:30. He challenged the Navadwip astrologers to verify whose calculation was correct. That night at 7:00 sharp, the young man [[took a jug of water(8) and squatted down]] to urinate. The elderly scholars objected, saying, “What a [sacrilege]! You dare to [take a jug of water and urinate] at the time of an eclipse!”
The young man replied, [[“No, no, I am not doing as you say.” Then he said, “Ámi Nader mate muti.” This latter utterance may be interpreted in two ways: (1) “I am urinating [at the eclipse time] according to the Nadia system of calculation;”(9) (2) “The Nadia system of calculation is so defective that I am urinating on that system.”]] According to some people, the young astrologer was murdered. If that brilliant man had been allowed to survive, he could have introduced remarkable changes in the system of astrological calculation.
Another great scholar, Jayanta Párigsahii, was born at Kanthii area in Midnapure. As a result of his great effort, he also introduced a new reckoner. His views on astrological calculation remain true even today. But many more changes have since occurred, so the present reckoner should also be revised. Perhaps you know that the same Bengali calendar is prevalent in a vast area – Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Bangladesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Chotanagpur, Santhal Pargana and Purulia.
In Orissa, another great scholar was born, whose name was Satish Chandra Samanta. He prepared a new almanac with great pains. Generally speaking, that almanac is still popular, but that, too, has to be revised. The Siddhana Painjika is trying to submit a correct calculation. I cannot say which one is perfect; but surely we will have to calculate accurately.
Thus in the path of movement through various changes, we now enter the year 1386. The Sun enters the Zodiac Aries. As long as the Sun is in Aries, the month of Vaeshákha will last. Thus time moves on: it knows no end.
I have given you a brief survey of Bengal’s history. The scholars who used to do astrological calculations in Bengal were called Ácharya Brahma. They had a powerful centre at Bali. Prior to that, they used to live at Calcutta. But following the execution of Maharaj Nandakumar, the reputed Brahmans deserted Calcutta, thinking that an extremely heinous act – the killing of a Brahman – had been committed on the soil of Calcutta. Most of them settled at Bali, for Calcutta was then considered an unholy land. The pundits of Bali do calculations even today as do the Navadwip and Bhatpara Scholars.
Thus I have given you at least a brief summary of Bengal’s history.
15 April 1979, Calcutta