New Moon Welcomes New Year and Navarātri Periods in 2020

New Moon Welcomes New Year and Navarātri Periods in 2020

New Moon of inner silence

Remnant oral history storylines surviving since the Mahābharata times in India uphold that the last day of a yuga (era) during Rigvedic times occurred when a New Moon coincided with the winter solstice. The cycle of this yuga took 19 years to complete on this day. This yuga duration of 19 years was corroborated by the calculation based on the astronomy detailed in the original version of Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa (RVJ). This extant Sanskrit literature demonstrated how the number of lunations (synodical months) were systematically parsed out in a soli-lunar cycle of years by the Vedic astronomers.

There was simplification that evolved as mentioned in the Yajur-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa with a 5 year cycle where the 6th year had to have an adjustment made. This Yajus-cycle thus used an adjustment on the 6th, 12th and 18th year to catch up with the 19 years of a Rig-cycle. Reference of this Yajus-cycle calculation is mentioned in the Shantiparva section of Mahābharata.

Solar parameters were stated for mathematical correlations, however, solar months were not used for calculation of auspicious times for festivals, ceremonies or ablutions. Both Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa and the classical texts of Ayurveda instead use soli-lunar months and seasons (r̥tucarya) for determining timing of festivals and seasonal healthful regimens, respectively.

For example, the winter solstice (solar uttarāyana) was not used as a starting point of a month or year in the Jyotiśa system that was prevalent over 5000 years ago. In this system, the months, seasons and the year did not start on 21st (say) of a solar month calibrated against the equinox or the solstice. Instead, meaningful auspicious times are calculated by the first day after the New Moon (śukla pratipāda) or the first day in the ascending cycle of the moon, considered the anchor point for start of the months and seasons.

Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa considered the first day of the ascending cycle of the Māgha (Tapas) soli-lunar month as the first day of a new year starting a 19 year yuga cycle. This is not to be directly correlated with the currently observed sidereal Māgha. This is because the corrections for the lunar months matching the number of solar months in a given yuga period were inserted differently during the Rigvedic times compared with the current practice of adding a rotating intercalary lunar month after every three solar years.

The thirteenth intercalary month, known in Sanskrit as the Adhikamāsa, used to be added at appropriate intervals just before the winter or summer solstice at the end of a six-month period. This retained synchronicity of soli-lunar months with seasonal variations. During a 19 year yuga cycle, intercalary months were inserted on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th year, thus adjusting 7 times.

Thus the Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa methods of corrections were executed to make sure that the Māgha (Tapas) soli-lunar month occurred near the actual winter solstice. Māgha is referred to as the first soli-lunar month and śiśira (late winter) in a number of Pourānic Sanskrit literatures. This determination points to the importance of seasons in timing Vedic fire ceremonies and starting point of vows during periods of important festivals.

If one accepts the integrity of these oral traditions, matches them with the correct interpretation of the Rig-vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa and correlates with the current sidereal soli-lunar month Māgha (in 2020 this is beginning with Saturday, 25th January in Western part of the USA), then the New Moon of 24th January (mounī-āmāvasyā), may be deemed as the last day of the year. In absence of a 19 year yuga cycle and with the current method of inserting the intercalary month, we would need to consider this particular new moon as the last day of every sidereal soli-lunar year.

This tradition also correlates with the practice of Chinese New Year. For example, in 2020 the Chinese New Year starts on 25th January and the New Moon of 24th January is the last day of the previous soli-lunar year. Similarly, in 2021 both the original Vedic as well as the Chinese New Year start on 12th February. The New Moon of inner silence will then be observed on 11th February 2021.

Cycle of the Moon

Cycles of the moon. The fist image (top left) depicts the New Moon. Somchai Som/

Birth of our Sun

Traditional lineages of Jyotiṣa recite from memory the verse related to the birth of our Sun to provide a unique perspective to the fresh pupils and novices. The verse indicates that Sun was born on the seventh day of the soli-lunar month Māgha, on a Sunday posited in the constellation of Aries in the lunar asterism (naxatra) of Aśvinī. In the context of the New Moon and the New Year mentioned above, our Sun was born on the seventh day of the New Year during the ascending cycle of the moon. Even the Sanskrit name of the year corresponding to the 60 year cycle of the years is indicated by this verse. A relevant portion of the verse is presented here:

māgha-māse śukla-paxe saptamyām bhānu-vāsare prabhāvādi nāma saṃvatsare aśvinī naxatra jātaṃ

The traditionists of course rely on the antiquity and the continuity of the soli-lunar calendar, including its use as the basis of the seven day week. However, some mathematical adjustments to Indic sidereal calendar with respect to the older Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa calculation have not received the universal acceptance from mathematicians and astronomers who study Jyotiṣa.

The currently-used pancāṇgaṃ calendar published by institutions and universities in India, such as those in Varanasi, have found utility by correctly predicting the onset of seasons, including monsoon rain, heat spike, crop damage and harvest times. However, the tropical solar calendar has not encountered much success with predictions based on the transits of planets and onset of seasonal changes.

What makes the current soli-lunar new year fortuitous is the concurrent Saturn transit into its own home constellation Capricorn, which takes place on this New Moon of 24th January in 2020. Based on the five year transit of Saturn in its two home constellations, it heralds a new era, somewhat similar to the concept of time cycles in Vedāṇga-Jyotiṣa.

Holy ablutions on this New Moon

It is believed that the water of the sacred confluence of Ganga and Yamuna turns into nectar on this New Moon. The day is upheld as the important last day of the year when, through ablutions, an aspirant would be able to absolve of the demerits accrued over the entire year — a last chance, so to speak. Thus the New Moon of inner silence has been the most important day to take a holy dip. On this day pilgrims practice fasting by not uttering a word throughout the day in addition to taking cleansing ablutions.

Many pilgrims are aware of the world’s largest holy bathing congregations known as Kumbha-Melā, the most well-known of such gatherings that take place in Prayagraj. This grand event spanning over a month is the largest open-air gathering for masses of pilgrims, saints, hermits, mendicants and siddhas, attracting myriads of devotees from within India and around the world. The energy in the mela grounds is palpably intense and spiritually charged. There is the sparkle of spiritual aspiration that is the guiding light amidst the waves of rolling dust whirling in from the sand and silt at the confluence of riversides.

Monks and pontiffs take their bath through a collective procession based on their order or affiliation and pre-assigned times for their own councils and consortiums. Thereafter, the brave devotees take their much-awaited dips by plunging into the waters with deep faith while putting aside concerns about being caught in a stampede.

The unbroken tradition provides detailed guidance about these occasions when waters will be charged with the subtle blessings. However, this holy bathing has more to do with one’s own subtle vows and affirmations than just a mad rush to forsake all demerits! Bathing in this elixir is akin to a refreshing restart, a rejuvenation that symbolizes the washing away of obstacles by effecting a subtle mental purification. This contemplative new moon is the special day for those gallant souls who are brave enough to practise the tradition literally.

Kumbha Mela Bathing

Devotees congregate for holy bathing and ablutions at the Kumbha-Melā in Prayagraj, India. 2013.

Four nine-night periods of Navarātri

The Sanskrit text named Mahākāla Saṃhitā declares that four nine-night periods, based on the soli-lunar calendar, are deemed especially auspicious for the worship of the great śakti in veneration of the Divine Mother. Each of these four periods are popularly celebrated as navarātri, which is a literal translation of ‘nine-nights’. Duration of a lunar day and its overlap with the sunrise time determine the duration of each auspicious period. Thus, in rare situations, one navarātri period may span as few as eight solar days and as many as ten solar days.

These four nine-night periods, each starting the day after a New Moon, are celebrated in spiritual traditions by practicing varying degrees of contemplation, introspection, meditation, austerity, rituals, and by launching meaningful ventures. The culmination of this nine-night period ushers in daśamī or the tenth day of the ascending cycle of the Moon. It bears great significance for bringing to fruition a special personal triumph. The navarātri meditation or worship of nine days (and nights) is divided into single days of special prayers related to the splendorous aspects of the Divine Mother.

Based on this Sanskrit verse,

caitre āśvine tathāṣāḍhe māghe kāryo-mahotsavaḥ
navarātre mahārāja pūjā kāryā viśeṣataḥ

the calculation of the following four auspicious time periods for Pacific Time Zone in the USA are as follows:

24 January New Moon of silence mounī-āmāvasyā
25 Jan – 03 Feb 9 lunar nights span 10 solar days māgha-navarātri
04 February observed 10th lunar day daśamī
23 March New Moon chaitra-āmāvasyā
24 Mar – 02 Apr 9 lunar nights span 10 solar days vasanta-navarātri
03 April observed 10th day lunar day daśamī

Note: even though in the Pacific Time Zone nine lunar nights span ten solar days for the above two Navarātri periods, this may not apply elsewhere outside of the western USA, in which case those seekers should not add a day but rather conclude their ten days of spiritual practice as per local soli-lunar coordinates.

20 June New Moon āṣāḍha-āmāvasyā
21 – 29 Jun 9 lunar nights spanning 9 solar days āṣāḍha-navarātri
30 June 10th lunar day daśamī
16 October New Moon āświn-āmāvasyā
17 Oct – 24 Oct 9 lunar nights spanning 8 solar days śāradiyā-navarātri
25 October 10th lunar day on 9th solar day vijayādaśamī

Note: even though in Pacific Time Zone nine lunar nights span only eight solar days in October 2020, this may not apply elsewhere outside of the western USA, in which case those seekers should not skip a day but rather conclude their 10 days of spiritual practice only on 26th October.

A typical nine-night period may last an extra day or lose a day thereby making the time period either span 10 solar days or 8 solar days, respectively. If lunar nine-night navarātri spans 10 solar days, one needs to practice the spiritual routine for 11 days and conclude the entire practice on the 11th day. Conversely, if the nine-night navarātri spans only 8 solar days instead of the typical 9 solar days, one needs to add two extra days and conclude the practice on the 10th solar day.

Those adhering to a daily routine of spiritual practices (or vows), such as meditation, sublime recitations or community service (sevā) can structure their time equally into ten days of steady participation. One tenth of all spiritual practices is deemed a correction. Therefore, nine consecutive days of practices must be followed by a tenth portion, which is the correction, in addition to any corrective measures taken during any individual practice session. While evening time or even midnight time meditation is acceptable for the nine nights, the tenth concluding session can be finished before noon.

If you wish to further study the transition of dates for your own area (local latitude and longitude), feel free to explore these links at your own risk. Even though the original Vedic or Sanskrit significance might not be detailed, the calculations are fairly reliable. Please remember to use your local city for correct results on applicable daybreaks or transitions.

Please scroll down to the list of four Navarātri time periods:

A reliable website that is a good resource for relevant celestial events and is also worth studying:

Goddess Saraswati, patron of the arts and learning. Navarātri is an auspicious time for the worship of the great śakti in veneration of the Divine Mother.

Affirmations based on the calendar

The history of the modern calendar is complex, comprised of several past simplifications and periodic adaptations. There are many pitfalls and the Julian/Gregorian calendars have been mired with errors and corrections. The current Nirayaṇa sidereal system of a soli-lunar calendar, even though deviated from the corrective calculations of Vedaṇga-Jyotiṣa, invokes the timing of auspicious transitions. This calculation yields a dynamic calendar with some checkpoints for adjustments already built in (through intricacies of the Ayanāmśa calculations). Modern astronomy confirms the validity and accuracy of this dynamic calendar, wherein every soli-lunar month ends on a New Moon (Āmanta).

On a new moon, the Sun and the Moon are overlapping and aligned with respect to the Earth, signifying the imbuing of light in the emptiness of the mind. The meditator is now ready for the perception of the light of consciousness in the heart, having conquered not only the emotional and physical disturbances but also the remaining subtle desires.

A deep meditator who becomes completely absorbed (samādhi) and attains higher realization is known in Sanskrit as muni. This word transforms into mouni, or the great silence of deep meditation. When appended with āmāvasyā, denoting the new moon, this word mouni-āmāvasyā implies the silence of the great void — a silence attained through deep meditation whereby all remaining internal chatter and imagery are conquered. In other words, the limit of perception is reached after overcoming all thought waves from subtle impressions in the heart. Herein the metaphor of darkness is aptly connected with the mystery of the new moon.

Seekers of truth continually search for higher wisdom in an effort to establish deeper spiritual practices that in turn greatly enrich their lives. Though every moment is momentous for such a seeker, special time periods within our daily calendar are recognized to be especially conducive to our practices and participation. As our biorhythms and diurnal cycles are in synergy with and related to the soli-lunar calendar, so too are the relationships manifested between us and higher worlds during specific time periods.

These transitions are based on the rhythms of nature and cycles of time as they relate to the relative movement of celestial bodies, including lunar asterisms and the constellations. The synergy effects make it pertinent that we synchronize our affirmations and routines based on the cosmic time calendar given to us by the extant Sanskrit literature and its calculations. The spiritual resolutions and the attendant disciplines are closely connected with the energy coordinates within our bodies and around us. The soli-lunar calendar maps the diurnal rhythms with respect to luminaries and planets in deep space while the movement of these heavenly bodies retains a relationship with our breath. During one regular breath by a human being, the heavenly bodies move in space by one minute of arc, notably related to the rotation of earth.

In other words, the soli-lunar calendar is based on a continuous mapping of the relative positions of celestial bodies within our solar system and with reference to the lunar mansions farther out into space from Earth. Here on Earth, according to the geographic coordinates where we are located, this daily prāna (life-force energy) calendar maps the biorhythms influencing us through the cosmic motion of luminaries and planets. Equipped with an understanding of these transitions of key space-time coordinates, we can make affirmations at these auspicious times that become more meaningful.

Relevant time cycles

The Sanskrit conception of elapsed time is an elaborate framework that cyclically connects past efforts with future momentum via the momentous ‘present’ and as the inevitable kāla, or the eater of all. The space-time concepts are further amplified by the nuances of the soli-lunar calendar wherein complicated rhythms of the heavenly bodies are mapped, with respect to both the Sun and the Moon, onto our biorhythms and daily routines. The traditional following of the ‘auspiciousness’ of periods and days is captured in a unit of ‘proper time’ known as a muhurta or two units of 24 minutes, totalling 48 minutes. Sometimes an entire day is considered favourable depending upon the chores and ceremonies that define the range of activities.

While personal meditation practices or mental affirmations are rarely constricted by the dynamic components of the calendar, professional and ceremonial activities related to work and service are brought under a purview of the ‘right time’ for starting in order to gain momentum. There are also the special days based on immensely significant events deemed as divine and awe-inspiring thereby evoking reverence and enumeration by devotees who adore such happenings.

The Sanskrit-based calculation and ethos is based on a cycle of 60 as per the sexagesimal system. Our resting heartbeat of one beat per second is considered to be the rhythm at the root of this system. The number 60 has 12 factors (the total number of constellations in the zodiac that the Sun traverses in a year) and is the smallest number divisible by every number from 1 to 6. Whereas an average of 6 breaths span 24 seconds, 360 breaths usually take 24 minutes or 1/60th of a day, and 21,600 human breaths take 24 hours or a full day. 360° of sky-arc pass over the horizon in one day. 1/60 of 360° = 6° = 360 minutes of arc. Thus 360 breaths cover 360 minutes of arc in space. Therefore, during one breath, the heavenly bodies move in space by one minute of arc. Thus our breathing patterns and heartbeat rhythms are mapped and connected to the macrocosm through the process of evolution.

The Moon covers the same 360° of the sky in one synodic lunar month (the time it takes the moon to go from one new moon to the next) that the Sun covers during one sidereal year (the time it takes the sun to pass through all 12 constellations of the zodiac). The Sun’s 360° cycle is divided into 12 months of 30° each whereas the Moon’s cycle is divided into 30 days of 12° each. A lunar month is thus a mirror image of the solar year. An average soli-lunar year (based on a mean of 365.26 days of the solar sidereal year and 354.37 days of the lunar synodic year) is also about 360 days consisting of 40 nine-day/night periods (navarātri) and 9 forty-day periods (each such 40 day period is a mandala).

Transcending rhythms and cycles

Wisdom teachings from the Sanskrit heritage guide the seeker towards a daily meditation practice that transcends the barriers of emotional remnants from performing prescribed duties. Herein, meditation mends the mind by overcoming emotional and physical disturbances. However, the greater virtue of meditation lies in the continuous purification of the chitta (mind, ego and intellect) in the subtle heart. Sanskrit texts define this subtle heart as the soul, which can be seen in deep meditation (seeing without the use of subtle sense organs).

Practising daily mindfulness with breath awareness brings about an understanding of the entrapments from expanding the experience of the world. Anchoring oneself in one’s own daily meditation practices defined by structured techniques manifests the highest purification of internal tendencies and latent impressions lodged in the mind (chitta-suddhi). Thereafter, a pure-hearted mind beholds the ultimate knowledge or realization of being that transcends subtle feelings and the thoughtless void. While the journey is outlined clearly in extant Sanskrit philosophical literature, it is helpful to know that our affirmations towards the goal become more meaningful when we synchronize them closely with a certain cosmic time-space coordinate based on a proven dynamic calendar from our ancient heritage.

The affirmations, spiritual vows and daily meditation based on this greater synchronization are necessary until living liberation is attained. Those joining the path of inner awakening or just starting on this journey of mindfulness often wonder how the liberated souls or enlightened beings can remain silent for so long or do not get bored without doing something or other. Most who cannot relate to the validity of spiritual discipline and the transcendental states of being attained thereafter may even conceive of God as being occupied with puny activities.

A liberated being has no sense of time to feel bored and moreover by anchoring in the inner silence they become mighty performers and a noble wish in such a case fructifies easily. Such free beings do not cultivate ‘wishful thinking’ or get unnecessarily busy with the world. Virtues cling to them on account of their tranquil mind. If voluntary action (purushakāra) is guided towards a profound meditation practice, a seeker may obtain liberation in a single birth. Such is the promise of Sanskrit wisdom.

Healing mother Earth

A famous Vedanta verse proclaims that our immortal essence or the consciousness cannot be introspected by those who are physically weak (nāyāmātmā balahinena labhya). Thus a mindful seeker considers the gift of a healthy body as the most important support for introspection. Such a seeker serves to heal the earth by understanding that the body is like wet earth (or soil) in subtle balance with oxygen. The oxygenated breath and vibrant cruelty-free food is very much dependent on a clean environment and sustainable living. Thus navarātri is an ideal time to participate in healing the earth through the meditation and worship of the Divine Mother.

Priests make offerings to the fire for purification of the environment in Varanasi, India. 2018.

A Vedic fire ceremony or Homa as an offering by devotees and aspirants beholds an immense promise of reciprocation. Meditation mass and fellowship services invoking the Divine Mother with her attributes are a good addition to one’s personal meditation routine. An ardent seeker is not focused on personal gains from giving charity and spiritual offerings at temple altars, but is more inclined to share resources through spiritual practices and meditation that is compassionately healing to the earth.

Those who sacrifice for the greater cause have truly understood the core principles and spiritual values that guide our service. It is not enough to seek personal benevolence for oneself from the Divine Mother, but better still to undertake genuine spiritual practices of honouring and serving that elevate our minds and fulfil our hearts without wanting anything in return. After all, a mother wants hardly anything from the child!