Saga of Indian Calendar and IST

It is that time of the year when one makes new resolutions for the new year and leaves the old ones behind, sometimes even wishing to forget an year gone by, like 2020. The new year also marks the turning of the new calendar and January 1 is observed as New Year day as per the Gregorian Calendar. Gregorian calendar was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and the calendar is followed worldwide. Apart from January 1st, India also celebrates New Year on different days such as Vaisakhi, Vishu, Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Tamil Puthandu, and so on depending on the region. The Indian festivals and religious events are observed based on various Indian calendars.

The Gregorian Calendar came to India in 1752, the same year it was adopted in Great Britain. However, the Indian calendars called panchangas also continued to be used widely. By the time of India's independence, the Gregorian Calendar was already in use in Government and for many other public purposes. However, many different calendars continued to be used. For a newly independent country, a one-nation, one-calendar was the need of the hour. Even before independence, many in India including Prof. Meghnad Saha felt the need for reforming the Calendar. Prof. Meghnad Saha, in 1939, wrote an article on the "Need to Reform the Indian Calendar" in Science & Culture.

In 1952, when India decided to reform its Calendar, the Government naturally turned to CSIR. CSIR had come into being in 1942 and CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (NPL) was founded in 1947 with Sir Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar as its first Director General of CSIR. The Government turned to CSIR to address many of the country's scientific and technological challenges. The challenge of developing the indelible ink which then was being imported was given to NPL. We know that CSIR-NPL did develop the ink and continues to do quality checks of the ink for Election Commission which sources it from Mysore Paints to whom the technology was licensed.

Coming back to the harmonization of calendar, CSIR appointed a Calendar Reform Committee under the chairmanship of Prof. Meghnad Saha in November 1952. The Committee had leading mathematicians and astrophysicists, including Prof. A.C. Banerjee, Dr. K.L. Daftari, and Dr. Gorakh Prasad, Prof. R.V. Vaidya, Shri J.S. Karandikar and Shri N.C. Lahiri as members. The terms of reference for the committee was to examine all the existing calendars which were being followed in the country and after a scientific study of the subject, submit proposals for an accurate and uniform calendar for• the whole of India. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru issued a message on February 18, 1953, "Now that we have attained independence, it is obviously desirable that there should be a certain uniformity in the calendar for our civic, social and other purposes and that this should be based on a scientific approach to the problem."

The task before the Committee was an elaborate one. India had 30 different systems for fixing up the same holidays in different parts of the country and frequently, two rival schools of panchanga makers in the same city fixed up different dates for the same festival. For the next three years, the Committee studied 30 Indian calendars and a few other calendars. Based on a scientific approach, it came up with the unified Indian Calendar. The Committee submitted its report to CSIR in 1955 and the Government of India accepted the Committee's recommendations, and the unified National Calendar came into use with effect from 21st March, 1956. Interestingly, in the report submitted to CSIR, it states that ‘Calendars are based partly on SCIENCE which nobody is permitted to violate and partly on CONVENTIONS which are man-made and vary from place to place’. Even today the Indian national calendar, called the Shaka calendar is used, alongside the Gregorian calendar, by The Gazette of India, in news broadcasts by All India Radio etc.

When one talks of calendar and new year, time cannot be far behind. Without the concept of time, there is no year nor calendar. CSIR has not only played a role in harmonisation of calendar but it is also the timekeeper of the nation. CSIR’s National Physical Laboratory which is also the nation’s metrology (science of measurement) institute maintains various standards of measurement such as kilogram, meter, seconds etc. In fact, the Indian Standard Time is maintained by CSIR-NPL. From the days of measuring time by sun dials, it is now measured by atomic clock and CSIR-NPL maintains the atomic clocks to 2.8 nano-seconds accuracy that governs the time of every clock in India. The Indian Standard Time (IST) matches the International Standard Time with the accuracy range of fewer than three nanoseconds. This helps organizations like ISRO and sectors like banking, railways, defence, health, telecom, weather forecast, disaster management, etc. A day, week, month or year on a calendar represents a unit of time. And when it comes to time, CSIR keeps the nation ticking, scientifically speaking.


Dr G.Mahesh and Dr Geetha Vani Rayasam
(Science Communication and Dissemination, CSIR)