Time: Its Significance And Our Perception

Dr. A.P.Rao 




Time is one of the most commonly used and fundamental terms in human lexicon. It is used with many different perceptions and meanings in our daily life; however, it is still an enigma that eludes the common human. It is the most difficult term to understand  and comprehend both in scientific and religious terminology. It is used in everyday life with different meanings depending on the situation - like when we say that time has elapsed between two events ( Vyavadhi) - kaalam  teerindi meaning  Aayussh  is over. In religious terminology, it is often used as a synonym for knowledge- kaala jnaanam meaning Brahma jnaanam. Right from Brahmam gaari kala jnaanam to knowledge of upanishads , kaalam means different things like fate , karma, knowledge of Cosmos , Brahman  etc.

In modern science, it is one of the toughest terms to understand and has a whole subject dedicated to understanding it: Relativity. In the following article, I will explain how to understand its various aspects, as well as how it is applied in our daily lives. 



From the early 1960’s, when we were still using the FPS system for the unit of measurement (manams), till the advent of the SI system, time has been defined  in relation  to  the  most  important astronomical event of our life: the rotation of earth around the sun . The basic unit of time, seconds,  was defined based on the earth’s rotation around the sun - of 365.242199 days.


But  with  the  advent of the Atomic clocks, the definition of  time  is  no longer related to earth’s rotation. This is because it has been proven that astronomical events are not absolute or static, and are instead constantly moving or dynamic. So now the unit of time, the second, is defined based on the phenomenon of the transition of an electron in a Cesium atom - movement of a still fundamental unit electron.



Historically man even from cave life was accustomed to using astronomical phenomena to lead his way in daily life. He was accustomed to use day and night based on the sun’s appearance and dark and bright nights of moon cycles and seasons based on the sun's position in relation to the position of cosmos or BHACHAKRA .


As civilization developed, man used these astronomical phenomena to guide his interaction with nature like cultivation and defined festivals based on these astronomical phenomenons.

This was the case for all religions like Hindu's Pongal, Christian's Easter, Islma’s Ramzan. 

In our daily life we use the "Gregorian Calendar". We can call it popularly as the Christian calendar  because of the contributions made by Christians in resolving the discrepancies in its definition.

It has a very amusing history too. By common understanding, the rotational year is also known as the Julian. The calendar has 365 days and another leap year every 4 years. These dates are based on the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. 

As a first approximation, it was assumed as 365 days and hence the general usage of year having 365 days. But actual time of rotation is 365.242199....  days.  Julius Caesar who died in BCE 44, made this approximate calendar of 365 days for an year with leap years and named it after himself as the Julian calendar. 



But in reality, this difference of 365.25 - 364.242199 amounts to about 11 minutes and 14 seconds per year . It accumulates and becomes one full day in 128 years. This difference became quite significant by CE 1263 for Roman Catholics who were using the Julian calendar for calculating the Easter. Easter was calculated based on the VERNAL EQUINOX which is known as the entry of the Sun into Aries which occurs on 21 St. March. By CE 1263, this difference has become as large as 8 days and the vernal equinox falls on March 13Th. This concerned the officials of the church who knew that if this continued, then Easter would fall on December 25 and coincide with Christmas. One of the leading figures in these theological discussions  Roger Bacon, brought this to the notice of Pope Urban IV. However, these theological deliberations continued for nearly two centuries and by 1582 these differences increased to 10 days. Pope Gregory XII  took a bold decision of dropping these excess 10 days and made October 5, 1595 the 15th of October. This made the vernal equinox on March 21st. as scheduled. A new rule was also made: three excess leap days are to be dropped once in 400 years to make way for an accurate calendar.  Thus this new rule was initiated for leap year for century figures. If the century figure was divisible by 4 only it becomes a leap year otherwise it is not. It is this great rationalization that made the present popular calendar: the Gregorian calendar, named after the Pope.  Despite the leap year rule, there is still a difference of about 3 hours every 400 years. This may force us to have another reformed leap year in 50000 CE. 

This problem has been partially solved by International conferences by adding or dropping leap time when required. Thus, in the beginning of 1996 at the mid night of 31-12-95 and  1-1-1996,the last minute of 1995 had an extra second to correct for  the clock discrepancies.

There is also a humorous side to these reforms on the Gregorian calendar. By the 17th century, Christianity like many other religions developed subdivisions and one prominent group known as the Protestants came into existence in quite good numbers. While Germany, Denmark, and Holland followed these reforms irrespective of their religion, colonists in the British North American colonies refused to follow these terms until 1752  during the Catholic Papal Bull. By this time the difference had grown to become 11 days and they adapted the Gregorian Calendar by changing 2-9-1752 as 13-9-1752. This late independence of colonial thought has the funny side too. While George Washington was born on 2-2-1732 as for Gregorian Calendar, his birth date was shown in the records as 11-2-1732. After the late reforms, George Washington nonchalantly changed his birth date to the Gregorian equivalent.  While the reforms took nearly two centuries in America, in the Bolshevik Russia it took even longer. In 1918, the difference grew to become 13 days and so during the Bolshevik Revolution, rulers dropped the 13 extra days at the time  of  the October revolution. Thus the October revolution is now celebrated  on 7 Th. November.



Almost every ruler had a habit of starting their own calendar based around their birth date. That’s the reason why we have numerous calendars. The Greeks based their calendar off of the Olympics and often recorded the years as such: second year after the seventh Olympic. The Romans used their own calendar which began on the day that the city of Rome was established- called AUC Anno Urbis Candidate. Jews used the year of creation - thus in their era 1996 becomes 5757. Thus by different authors different calendars are in existence. All these are related with 1996 as the following number of years elapsed.


  1. Hijary Saka 1416
  2. Kaliyuga          5096
  3. Yudhistara Saka  3080
  4. Vikramaarka Saka      2052
  5. Saalivaahana Saka     1917
  6. Sankaraachaarya Saka  2067 
  7. Ramanujachaarya Saka     978
  8. Madvaacharya Saka           878
  9. Christ Saka                      1995
  10. Indian Independence  Saka 48 



 Conditioned by the use of astronomical events as the basis of calendar, it is but natural that the duration of the astronomical events vary and thus change the duration of the year. Thus the solar year has 365.242199.days. The lunar year, consisting of 12 times the moon rotational month, contains about 354 days. For many astrological calculations  the  year for example, Manvantaras and Yugas  have 12 times 30 days a month that is  360  days. Based on Nakshatra, the year of 12 nakshatra masas has about 324 days. Based on the movement of Guru in one rasi which is about a year also known as BARHASPATYA, has about 361 days. Ancient Babylonians used the Luni-Solar year of 12 lunar months. But because there will be a difference with seasons, it had 13 months when required. The Muslim calendar of Hijary, is also lunar based and has 354 days. The Mayan calendar had 18 months of twenty days each totaling 365 days. The original Roman calendar had 10 months and only 304 days.  Later, the Roman King Numa Pompilius added the two months of January and February. The Julian calendar of 365.25 days with leap year was created by  Julius  Caesar based on the advice of great Greek astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria.



Compared to the evolutionary nature of many other calendars, the Hindu System is from the Vedic Origin. The Vedas have no origin nor an end and are simply pure knowledge. The knowledge is deciphered from time to time by the proper person called Vedavyasa. Vedavyasa is not technically a person but a designated avatar of the lord Vishnu. The present Vedavyasa who  classified  the  knowledge by rewriting the  Vedas as Vedangas, Upanishads, Puranas, Upapuranas, and  Itihasas, is known as the son of Satyavati daughter of Dasaraja referred in Mahabharata.  The knowledge as for Vedic system is defined in two parts: SRUTI and SMRUTI. Sruti is information that is obtained by our sensory organs -  Jnanendriyas.  Smruti in contrast, is of divine origin and is only remembered and comes from within. Thus the Vedic knowledge is not external but only pure shining internal and intuitive and divine given.

The Vedaangas also contain the Jyotisha,  another important division.  The main purpose of the Jyotisha is to elevate an individual from his/her basal state of existence to a superior state of divinity - to reach the pure state of existence  of AHAM BRAHMASMI. The Jyotisha has  three  parts - Siddhanta, Phalita and Muhurta. The Siddhanta is pure and simple astronomical knowledge obtained by Vedic intuitional powers of great rishis. Some of the simplest calculations in Vedic Astrology are yet to be comprehended by some of today's most advanced mathematicians.  Great  observers  and  thinkers have been able to further this knowledge. For example  Arya  Bhataa Varahamihira . They were all great thinkers , seekers of knowledge and great astronomical observers besides being great mathematicians.



In the Vedic system, knowledge is total and complete. Thus knowledge of time is  used to mean the knowledge of Brahman and Cosmos. It  defines very accurately  and  in detail the structure and properties of Cosmos. This knowledge is defined both at micro and macro cosmic levels. In Vedic knowledge, space and time are interrelated.  

The  unit of measuring Spatial time as geometrical angles is  given  as follows


60 viparalu = 1 para  

60 paralu  = 1  vikala

60 vikalalu = 1 kala or lipta       

60 liptalu = 1  degree

30 degrees  = 1  rasi                    

12 rasulu  = one Bhachakram.


 The time as a measure between events is defined by the following scale

100 pranamulu or Asuvulu =  1 vighatika

( Pranam or Asuvu is defined as the fundamental unit of time equivalent to one cycle of opening and  closing of eye lids )


60 vighatikalu = ghatika             

60 ghatikalu = 1 day

7 days = week ,

15 days = paksham ,

30 days = 1 maasam ( Month)

2 Months = 1 rutuvu ,

6 Months or 3 rutuvulu = 1 Aayanam

2 Ayanamulu = 1 year  ,

60 years = one cycle ( Prabhava to Akshaya )


On the macro scale, the measurement of time is equally clear and explicit. The creation started with Brahman infinite - sadguna roopa - as Naraayana. During creation HE is supposed  to  be  in  his  own consciousness - and in MAHAPRALAYA he is supposed to be in Yoga nidra without  consciousness. From him Brahma is  born.  Brahma  has a longevity of 100 years of his own scale. So far since CREATION in this Cycle  of SRI MAHAVISHNU ( or NARAYANA )  6 brahma are born and dead.


The  first  Brahma is created from the mind of  Naraayan, the second from his eyes, third from mukham , fourth from ears , fifth from nose, and sixth from  ANDAM.  The present seventh: four faced Brahma is born out of naabhi.


The  longevity of  Brahma is 100 years in his own  scale.  Each  year consist  of  360  days. Each 24 hour cycle has day and night.  During the day, the SRUSHTI  creation is done while in night - in his sleep material world is supposed to merge in him. The night is called pralaya. In contrast when brahmas aayuss is over mahapralaya occurs when everything merges in  supreme brahman. Each day of Brahma consists of 14  manvantaras. The manvantara consists of 71 mahayugas. Each maha yuga - consists of  four yugas given below. The night of Brahma is of the same duration as day but there  is  a sandhi period between day and night. Each of these are having the following number of human years as defined in the micro cosmos.


Kruta yugam  = 17 28 000                

Treta Yugam = 12 96 000

Dvaapara Yugam = 8 64 000                

Kali Yugam  = 4 23 000

Mahayugam =  sum of above four yugas = 43 20 000

                      One Manvantara = 30 67 20 000 years

Brahmas day = 429 40 80 000 +

Sandhi period of 2 59 20 000 years

= 432 00 00 000 = Brahmas night


Thus brahmas day is 864 00 00 000 human years.

Thus on the macro cosmos scale in the creation with Sadguna  Maha Vishnu’s  period , so far 6 brahmas are born and dead. The seventh  one born out of nabhi of mahavishnu called Padmaja ( born from padma  lotus which  came from nabhi of maha vishnu ) has completed 50 years and in his  51 St. year 6 manvantaras are over  - they are 1.  Svayambhuva  2. Svarochistha 3. Uttama 4. Tammas 5. Raivata 6. Cakshusa . In the seventh manvantara  named  Vaivasvata  the fourth yuga  called  kali  yuga has completed 5096 years in Gregorian 1996 . This is equivalent to present Brahma  running 51 St. year and completing 6 * 4 + 3  = 27 -  yugas  are over and kali yuga the 28 th is running.


Thus the age of Cosmos upto the beginning of this brahmas day is  86400 00 000 * 50 = 43 200 000 000


(Some calculations give a figure of 4.32 billion years for this - but it  is  important  to note that the age of universe from  big  bang is estimated  at  about  15  billion  yeras  by  most  recent   scientific estimates. Noting the difference between creation of matter involved in big  bang and birth of Brahma who created the universe  the  scientific estimate reaches roughly the vedic reckoning.)





In Vedic practices, it is expected that an individual performs certain function or rituals which help him on his journey towards Mokhsam. The electional or Muhurta part of astrology deals with what to do when  selecting a good muhurta. Also for the daily puja and  other aagam  karma’s  in temples, the specification of time and  space  are very important - this is called Samkalpam in puja. For these daily practices, it is important to use an easy scale of time. Thus the Panchangam  came  into existence.As the name indicates,  it  has  five angas  or  portions. They are Tithi, Vara, Nakshatra,Yoga,  and Karana. Besides these indicators Ayana Rutuvu and Paksha also become essential to define time explicitly. The cycle consists of 60 years  from  Prabhava  to Akshaya. The Ayanas  are  two  Uttarayana and Dakshinaayana indicating the northerly or southerly movement of sun in the  BHACHAKRA. There are 6 Rurtuvus  starting  with  Vasanta  Rutuvu indicating the seasonal properties of summer , spring , winter, and autumn . There are  two  Pakshas: the Sukkla and Krushna Pakshas indicate the bright and dark cycles of the movement of the moon. 


In the Panchangas there are 15 Tithis which start with Pradhama and end with either Poornima or Amavasya (depends on the Paksha). This can be derived  by dividing  the difference between the Sun’s longitude and Moon’s longitude by 15 along with the  appropriate correction for the place and time of year.  Vara is the week day and like many other civilizations, the week days are named after the planets - considering sun and moon also as planets. Nakshatra is the absolute position of moon in the celestial cycle (Bhachakra).


The  360 degrees of the Earth’s orbit is divided into 27 Nakshatras. Thus, each Nakshatra is 13.333 degrees. The longitude of the position of the moon in  these 27 Nakshatras from Asvani to Revati, is the star of that day. Yoga  is very similar to Thithi and is related to the differences in longitudes of the Sun and Moon. There are 27 in Yogas starting with Vishkhabham and ending with Vaidhruti. Karanam is related to Tithi in the sense that each Tithi is divided into two parts  and each one of the 11 Karanams are assigned to it. There are 11 Karanams: Bava to Kimstughnam.  Calculating each one of these requires great knowledge and the ability to perform intricate calculations. The effect of each planet's position on  the other , each planet's geometrical coordinates, the time of year, the motions of the sun and moon, and many more are used in these calculations.  For example, the Earth rotates around its own axis once in  a day. It rotates around the Sun in an elliptical orbit once in  365.24. The whole solar system is moving in Bhachakra with an immense velocity. The Earth rotates on its axis at about 23.5 degrees and its relation to its revolution  around the sun  makes the Bhachakra also move with time. This slow but steady motion  is exemplified by the astronomical phenomenon of the North and South axis of earth to different points in Bhachakra - while the North and South axis are now pointing to the  Pole star (called Dhruva nakshatra) the axis will point to the Vega star ( Alpha in Lyra constellation of astronomy ). This movement is represented by the word precession . This cycle takes about 39000  years.  It is this  fixed and movable zodiac that gives  to  two systems  of astrological calculations - Sayana as it exists  today  and Nirayana   which reckons a fixed zodiac when creation started. It is this  difference  of  Ayanamsa which accounts for the  differences in various panchangams.


It is important to note that some major and dynamic astronomical events  like that  of  a Comet coming very close to a planet  or the  striking  of large asteroids or meteors, might have affected modifications in the rate,position, and movement of different planets.Thus, the first portion of Astrology, Siddhanta requires  dynamic   astronomical observations. 

For these varying theological positions, the Government of India appointed  a high  power  Panchangam reform committee in late  fifties  which made recommendations  for druck ganitam to be  followed. However, for very accurate and reliable calculations it is preferred to follow accurate astronomical equations using the power of computers. These computer calculations, if properly done, will produce accurate  Sayana planetary positions. This would allow an individual to use his/her own preferred Ayanamsa to get Nirayana longitudes.




As  pointed out already, the basis of reckoning is most important depending on the   the calendar being followed. While all the five panchangas of Tithi, Vara, Yoga,  Nakshatra, and Karanas are equally important ,  traditional  practices vary  from  place to place. While Tamilnadu, Kerala, Bengal, and Punjab follow what is called Saurya mana (Solar based ) other parts of the country follow Chandramana (Solar  - Lunar  based) . These give rise to different months - Saurya  masa  or Chandra masa . To account for the astronomical differences, each  system has  its  own methods. In  Saurya  masa, the  solar ingress or Sankranti ( entry of sun to each nirayana rasi ) is taken as the beginning of the month. Thus, as for this Saurya mana new  year  is the entry  of the sun into Mesha - which always occurs around 14 th of April  as for the Gregorian calendar. The movement of sun to each other  rasi  gives the corresponding month. In Kerala the months are named after the  rasi of  suns entry - as Mesha masa vrushabha etc. In this  system  for the  discrepancy of solar - lunar motion the correction is  applied  by having more than one Sukla Padyami or Vidiya etc. in a month . Obviously the compromise in this is by having more than 30 tithis in a month.  In Andhra  (and  in other parts like  karnataka )  chandramana  is followed. In this the month is defined by the star occupied by the moon  on Poornima day.


Thus  when the moon is in citta nakshatra on poornima it is Chaitra masa, for  Visakha it is Vaisakha masa etc. till Paushya masa when moon is  in Pushyami. The compromise in this system of chandra mana is a little bit more complicated as the lunar year is only 354 days. thus depending  on necessity  additional  or  adhika masas are added or  some  months are removed ( Kshaya masa) as and when necessary to make rutuvus and other angas of panchanga synchronize with seasons. Thus in the year of Dhata – corresponding to 1996 Jyeshta  masa  has adhika masa disturbing the ruthuvu cycle by  about  a month.  Both  systems  of  Saurya  and  chandra  mana  have  their  own advantages and disadvantages . As many functions are based on tithis in Andhra  it is but appropriate to follow chandra mana as in a month  two tithis  can  not occur in a paksha. Thus in Andhra the birth  days  are observed  based  on  tithi  while in Tamilnadu  they  are  followed by Nakshatra.   Similarly  for the predictive  part   different   astrologers use different  systems  of  Sayana  or  Nirayana  based  on  their  training experience guru parampara etc.


In giving the final verdict in these conflicting and confusing versions of  time  and  its  measurement, the Hindus have again excelled. Irrespective of the religious  subsystem one  follows, the common platform of Hinduism  is based on Sanatana Dharma and  DHARMA  is defined  as  a function of desa , mana , kala and  paristhiti.  So  the final  verdict  when  in  doubt is to follow the  guru  or  learned  or Malugurito Patu Narayana( follow the mass or be a Roman while in Rome).


Sarva Jano Sukhino Bhavantu.