long live the gregorian

(photo credits – DailyFunStuff.net)

One of the things that has always happened with me, almost every time without fail, is that whenever I look at the night sky, and find a full moon, I ask my mother or father if the day is a full-moon day (termed Poornima in Sanskrit and other daughter languages of it). Invariably, Poornima would either be the day before I asked that query or the day after I had asked the question. Tonight, as my dad and I were returning home, the sky was bereft of anything other than the imposing full-moon (or as luck would have it, almost-full moon) and a few scattered stars. I made my query and – not to my surprise – Poornima was yesterday.

This got me thinking, not about the strange Providence which never lets me ask “is it Poornima?” on the day it really is, but about the whole system of dates, days, weeks, months and years we have. There have been many calendars in the world – many still being followed in their respective regions and few reaching prominent utility in more places than one and at least one calendar reigning supreme throughout the world – the Gregorian Calendar, that is said to have come into effect on some day in February, 1582. This calendar is what many of us call, the Christian Calendar, and this is what almost every household follows.

But as with most things the world follows – blindly or not – there is a superficial level of intelligence and a core level of stupidity in the calendar which we have come to accept as an international standard. Before I embark on a journey of saying what’s so impressively not-so-impressive about the Gregorian, first, let us undertake a simple journey through the components of calendars, and the utility of the same.

The basic calculation for the calendars can be broadly said to be of two types – lunar: this is based on the moon’s revolution around the earth and sidereal: this is based on the earth’s revolution around the sun. One complete revolution of the moon around the earth takes about 29 days and some more hours (which I am too lazy to access and quote here) and one complete revolution of the earth around the sun takes 365 days and some hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds, microseconds, nanoseconds and others (of which, again, I am too lazy to access and quote).

 

So, a month, more or less becomes a lunar calculation and an year, more or less again, becomes a sidereal calculation. This is the superficial intelligence of the Gregorian Calendar. There are months and there is an year. And things do seem to happen in a routine, cyclical, annual fashion.

But here’s the plum that draws our attention:

  • The “apparently, initially, historically, lunar-based” months of the Gregorian Calendar are not equally distributed. January has 31, June has 30 and February has 28 or 29. This did not come up randomly – this was done after due consideration; which means to say that, after much deliberation, a bearded astronomer, who got quite bored looking at the empty sky (apparently, it was Amavaasya, new-moon) decided that nothing can be done here. If the moon began revolving the earth randomly – like our months – I am sure earth’s seas would get pissed off.
  • The concept of leap year is as simple as it can be – ninety-seven leap years every four hundred years and no leap year if the year is divisible by 100 – except when it is also divisible by 400. If this statement looks even a wee-bit complicated, you should stop looking at this post and look at the calendar – one day at a time.
  • Septa, in Greek or Latin, means seven, but September is the ninth month. Octa is eight, but the tenth month. Same applies to November and December where each is an equivalent of nine and ten but come out as the eleventh and twelfth month every year. I have heard words transforming their meaning into something related or unrelated over a period of time due to misinterpretation, but people doing this even when they knew the meaning is simply stupendous and deserves a pat on the back.
  • The above point comes actually because Julius Caesar and his nephew Augustus decided to take their reign of supremacy and prowess to the then existing calendar with due consultations and considerations from expert astronomers and astrologers (probably) – who were again bearded. They added the month of July and August, in order to get a collection of lunar months to coincide seamlessly with the solar year without causing much trouble – at least in their lifetime – but adding two to Septum (and making it ninth), two to Octa (and making it tenth) and so on.
  • The Gregorian tries to achieve a higher sense of accuracy in matching its sidereal year (annual year) with the exact time period of earth’s revolution. In the process, however, the lunar concept is thrown out into the space, no damned pun intended, and that is how you end up having a February that has no clue as to why it suddenly bulges once every four years – expect the one divisible by 100 and not by 400, mind you.
  • Interestingly, these “days”, the typical day starts at 00:00, when Sun’s in deep sleep (for the part of the world where it’s 00:00) and the typical night, should, therefore start at 12:00 (afternoon) when you can make omelets on bald heads. This means day is not a day in the typical sense, nor is night a night. Never get confused there.
  • And finally, the greatest thing about Gregorian is that, very impressively, Einstein popped up suddenly and said that the paths of the planet were not constant and static either – but that the very elliptical path was moving around the sun. This means, if you draw the ellipse of revolution around the sun (denoting the path of the earth around the sun), besides the earth, the ellipse itself would seem to be revolving around the sun, although at a snail’s pace. How much fluctuation this might cause – is something I am not ready to even think of. Gregorian has caused enough confusions as of now.

Despite all its seemingly idiosyncratic behaviour, the Gregorian is the one we will follow, till a calendar system with more weekends comes up. The other calendar systems of the bygone era – most notably, the Indus-Aryan Calendar and the Chinese Calendar, which are lunisolar in nature (having lunar months and solar years) – have attained prominence during their times and have a very sound and solid reasoning, scientific application and logic. At least there has not yet been a Chief Minister or a Premier who added a whole month in his name. Not yet, that is.

Anyway, I sign off saying only one thing. I might have been making fun of Gregorian. But this is what I will be using, at least for some more “sidereal” years and “lunar” months. Till then, I will happily say, Long Live Gregorian. Long live, till some heads figure out a better calendar system, and the rest of us are herded again towards a new dawn.

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