India is a country with rich cultural values. It is said that Hindu culture had a rich knowledge about the planetary positions and astronomy long before the westerners discovered it. These were the times when astrology and astronomy were considered as one entity. In this experimental project, I have tried to understand the Panchang(The Hindu almanac) and attempted to deconstruct it to the millennials which might be a window for them to understand the rich Hindu culture.
While my family believes in the concepts of astrology i was always under disbelief. This was the condition prevailing in most of the houses hinting the cultural disconnect between generations.
The Design Project idea
This was a project made in the second semester of my course in NID ( National Institute of Design) as a part of the Design Project-1 under the theme culture & communication. I had an immense opportunity to experiment on many topics. This topic was decided after brainstorming for days on multiple social and cultural issues. The concept of astrology, horoscopes, auspicious & inauspicious time, myths, etc, has always intrigued me. While my family believes in the concepts of astrology I was always under disbelief. This was the condition prevailing in most of the houses hinting the cultural disconnect between generations. The same was validated using an online survey with a sample space of a hundred. It was understood that people lacked knowledge about this subject and they were interested to know about the topic if given a proper platform with reasons.
The most important point which made me believe in these topics was the connection between science and religion.
The research to understand the concept of Vedic astrology took me a while considering the depth and complexity of the subject. The facts and the knowledge were fascinating but the subject was a vast universe in itself. So, I found a need to simplify this knowledge to an audience who would be curious as I was.
After considering the various aspects of Vedic astrology, I decided to focus on Panchang- the Hindu daily calendar which is fundamental for understanding Vedic astrology. This daily calendar acts as a guide that predicts the planetary movements related to earth.
‘The Origin and Growth of Astronomy in Indian Context’ written by M N Vahia, Nisha Yadav, Srikumar Menon is an insightful paper about how astrology evolved with time in the Indian context. I have tried to summarise the context in the below doodle.
The history tells us something very valuable where the humans started predicting the future for their own good. We started comparing the good days and bad days with the position of sun, moon and other planetary positions. Doing this for generations, we started building a database for the future to predict the patterns over time. The kings & possessive owners started safeguarding their wealth for their offsprings with an obsession to pass on their next generations. In earlier times the concept of astrology & astronomy were single entities. The obsession to predict future forced an ideology to drive studies towards astrology and hence astronomy grew in our system. Myths and stories were rumored to keep the people tied to the order in the system. But with time & technology, the meaning of the myths changed and scientific reasons behind them were found.
What is Panchang?
Hindu calendar and almanac that follows traditional units of Hindu timekeeping(rahu kaal, yama gandam) and presents important dates and their calculations & derivations in a tabulated form.
It is based on Sunrise on Earth, Moon’s position and Time.
The study of Panchang involves understanding Rasi phala, the impact of zodiac signs on the individual.
Panchang = Panch (Five)+ Ang (Limbs)
The detailed combinations of these 5 elements on any particular time, date & place decide the auspicious & inauspicious moment.
The following concepts are important in understanding how Panchang works:
- Zodiac Band
- Luni-Solar calendar
The Nakshatra-Rashi chart together with planetary positions including sun and moon generates these 5 elements of Panchang. (Read below to understand how Nakshatra — Rashi chart is formed).
1. The geo-centric system
Vedic astrology is the study of planetary influence on human life on earth. Hence earth is taken as the point of observation as we live on it. Earth is considered the center of observation, and all other celestials orbit around it. This model is called a Geo-centric system. The stars, sun, and planets appear to revolve around the Earth each day at their own speed.
2. Zodiac band
As viewed from the Earth, all planets (except Sun) are located within a spread of 80° North of the Equator and 80° South of Equator — totally within 160° spread. This band is called Zodiac. Nakshatra mandalas are also located in this band. Sun alone moves outside this band.
Zodiac is elliptical and Earth is located at its center. If this is depicted on a paper (ignoring the angular width of the zodiac), planets can be depicted within this ellipse at different angular positions. For convenience, the zodiac has been divided into twelve equal (angular) parts and each is called a Rashi or signs of the zodiac. Each division is named after the constellations lying in the area.
3. Luni-solar calendar
Hindu panchang follows a mix of the solar and lunar calendar. It is called a luni-solar calendar.
The time taken by the sun to pass completely through one zodiac sign is called a Soura masa or Solar month.
The period of time between two successive Amavasyas(No moon day) or Pournamis(Full moon day) is a Chandra masa or Lunar month. It is the time of the moon’s synodic revolution.
- Krishna month (Amantha masa) ends or starts with the moment of Amavasya
- Sukla month (Pournamantha masa) ends or starts with the moment of Pournami.
The moment of a new moon or that point of time when the longitudes of the sun and the moon are equal is called Amavasya.
A thithi is the time occupied by the moon in increasing its distance from the sun by 12° degrees.
4. Nakshatra (Lunar constellations)
Nakshatra is one of the five elements of Panchang. The position of the moon in the zodiac (counted in intervals of 13°20') is indicated by the name of the Constellation / Nakshatra it occupies. The time in which the moon (whose motion continuously varies in speed) requires to travel over the Ecliptic is also called the duration of the Nakshatra.
Each Nakshatra is divided into four equal parts and each of them is called a Pada. There are 27 Nakshatras to be related to 12 Rashis. By considering 27 Nakshatras as 108 Padas, 9 Padas account for 1 Rashi. A piece of detailed information about the iconography of the Nakshatras has been given in this link. The Nakshatra is rich in symbolism and meaning and provides a framework for seeing the relationship of human life to the cosmos.
The Nakshatra-Rashi chart together with planetary positions including sun and moon generate these 5 elements of Panchang.
Now that we have understood the basics concepts, here is how my visualisation for the dashboard has been designed. The dashboard design has been derived from the concept of the ‘Universe’ and super-imposing the positions of planets on the corresponding places in the Zodiac band in a 2D visual manner.
How does visualisation work?
- The planetary positions of each planet including Sun and Moon for a particular Gregorian date were collected from here. I translated this information on to a map with the earth as the center.
- Zodiac band (Nakshatra and Rashi) is superimposed over the planetary positions. You will find that each planet is placed in a distinct zodiac band division.
- A line drawn from Earth to moon extended further in the same direction aligns with (faces) a Nakshatra and Rashi that is attributed to that particular date & time.
- The dashboard further allows the user to explore the various aspects of Panchang. The users with first-hand information could explore the different models of the astrology chart.
- The dashboard allows the user to get detailed information about Panchang (all 4 elements) and also educated them if there is a need.
My other article ‘Elements of Panchang’ will explain in detail all the 5 elements of Panchang which helped me in the research to formulate the design.
The video below will demonstrate the working of the dashboard.
This visualisation is just the first attempt that stands as a starting point to understand Panchang.