Kerala Calendar Tutorial
By BN Kartha and Jennifer Kumar
Reading, understanding and using a Malayalam calendar is a skill and a dying art. Not all Kerala families use it, preferring to refer to Western calendars with the Indian holy-days calculated in before printing. The Kerala calendar is dynamic as day and date combinations change based on the position of the heavenly bodies (stars). Even families who do follow the Malayalam calendar may consult with their astrologer or family priest (pujari) for corresponding Western dates rather than directly consulting the calendar on their own. In modern times, Western calendars are available in India in English, rather than the local languages, with the Hindu and other interfaith spiritual holidays already listed, making reference of holidays effortless. Regardless of this, many do want to consult the Malayalam calendar for various important dates, including events, holidays and birthdays, while other ethnic groups in India, such as some communities in Tamil Nadu refer to the Tamil calendar for help in naming newborns.*
There are a few calendars giving details of Kerala events and holidays. The popular calendar is the one published by Mathrubhumi Newspaper (pictured to the right). The Mathrubhumi Calendar covers both the English calendar as main and the Malayalam calendar in addition, along with important details of the Tamil calendar, Saka (North Indian) Calendar and Islamic calendar. Given here is the comparative details of English and Malayalam calendars and how to read various details therein. (See a web rendition of Mathrubhumi calendar.)
How to Figure Out the Structure of the Calendar
The first column of the calendar indicates the English Month/year in the center; Malayalam Month/year on the left and Tamil/SakaIslamic year/month on the right side.
The second column shows the days of the week (Sunday, Monday, etc). The third columns onwards gives the dates under each corresponding day. The dates are indicated in the following order :- The English date in big bold print in the center of each box in red or black; Malayalam date followed by Malayalam Nakshatra** of the day and its duration, and under it the Dasakalam and its duration under it are mentioned in the bottom left-hand corner; and the Tamil date at the top right-hand corner; the Saka date in the bottom right-hand corner with the Islamic date under it.
Similarly, the auspicious times (Muhurthams), as observed by Keralites; Muslim niskara times on different dates of corresponding English months and the Rahukalams, Gulikakalams, Yamakandakakalams (inauspicious times which are fixed for each weekday); are also indicated in various columns where permitted.
The calendar also indicates various auspicious days and holy/ceremonial/festival days
Every month on the left and right sides respectively of the calendar.
Finding your Malayalam Birthday
One of the perks of being born or married into a Hindu or Indian family that follows their respective regional calendar is that you will be celebrating two birthdays most years! You will celebrate your Western birthday, which falls on the same date (ex. July 3) every year, and your respective calendar (ex. Malayalam) birthday. The Malayalam calendar birthday is calculated based on your Nakshatra, or your birth star. This birth star is calculated by taking your birth details- birthdate, birthday, exact time of birth, and time zone to an astrologer. Based on detailed mathematical calculations, your Malayalam (Indian spiritual) birthday will be calculated. Because this calendar is recalculated every year, the Indian calendar birthdays fall on different times in the Western calendar, before or after your Western birthday. Very occasionally, the Western birthday and Malayalam (or Indian/Hindu) calendar birthday will fall on the same day.
It is only recently in India’s culture that birthdays are taking on a western flavor, with large parties. Generally, in India, when a birthday is celebrated the birthday boy or girl will give treats (usually cake) to his or her friends, opposite of the American or Western ways. Asking some older people, you will come to know that celebration of birthdays was never done, and they do not care to celebrate or honor their own birthdays. Some villagers I met in Tamil Nadu do not know their birthday. These villagers most likely do not follow any Western calendar, though they can tell you I was born in this star that passed this long ago.
If you want a ‘quick and dirty’ way of calculating your Malayalam birthday star (nakshatra), check out this site at Prokerala.com.
*Some communities in Tamil Nadu provide birth information to a pujari who calculates a birthstar for a newborn. Based on this prediction, an auspicious syllable or a few syllables are chosen. Names beginning with these syllables are researched and a suitable name is chosen in this method.
**Malayalam nakshatras are as follows: Ashwathi, Bharaṇi, Kārttika, Rōhiṇi, Makayiram, Tiruvātira (Ātira), Puṇartam, Pūyam, Āyilyam, Makam, Pūram, Utram, Attam, Chittira, Chōti, Vishākham, Anizham, Kēṭṭa (Trikkēṭṭa), Mūlam, Pūrāṭam, Utrāṭam, Tiruvōnam, Aviṭṭam, Chatayam, Pūruruṭṭāti, Uttṛṭṭāti, Rēvati. For more on Nakshatras in Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, Gujurati, Marathi, Tamil and Malayalam with corresponding baby name syllable recommendations see panchang.com.
India- America Interfaith and Secular Calendar focusing on Tamil, Kerala and select North Indian celebrations
Nakshatra – Wikipedia
Nakshatra finder at prokerala.com
Nakshatras listed in Various Indian Languages with Baby Name Recommendations
Vedic Calendar- Brief comparison of Tamil, Malayalam, North Indian and Western Calendars with translations of days of the week
Web rendition of Mathrubhumi calendar
synopsis: Many Malayalee families continue to consult the family priest or astrologer to calculate special days. Many holy-days are now transcribed into a Western calendar format for easier reference, though these dates change yearly in the Western calendar. Many who want to follow the Malayalee calendar more closely for the appearance of certian stars (nakshatras) would be curious on the basics on how to read a Kerala calendar.Others may be intrigued to follow the Malayalam calender to celebrate not one, but two birthdays a year! Click inside to find out more!
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Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural coach; an American living in India married to a Keralite. See her life coaching website here.