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Kāla-cakra – the Wheel of Time

Continuing where we left off previously, in this article we explore the concept of time, personified as Kāla Puruṣa or Kāla cakra, from the Parama Samhita.

Divisions of Time

It says that Time is the Creator and Destoyor of all elements (bhūtāni). Time is divided in to twelve sub-parts:

Name Approx translation Parama Sam. defn. Jyotiṣa defn.
Ayana (half-year) 6 months
Ṛtu (season) 2 months
Māsa 1 month
Pakṣa fortnight
Tithi / ahōrātra day 24 hours 24 hours
Sāvana 1/3 of day 8 hours 8 hours
Yāma 1/6 or 1/8 of day 4 hours 3 hours
Muhūrta 1/16 of daytime or 1/30 of ahōrātra 45 min 48 min
Nāḍī 1/2 muhūrta or 1/60 of day 22.5 min 24 min
Kalā 1 min or 48 sec (1/30 nāḍī) 45 sec 48 sec
Vināḍī 1/60 of nāḍī 22.5 sec 24 sec
Prāṇa time for a single breath (1/6 vināḍī) 3.75 sec 4 sec

Samvatsara (1 year) is said to be the Lord of these twelve divisions. The three seasons (in each ayana) are described as the hubs. The months constitute the spokes; the fortnights, the elements. Ṛtus are six in number like the six organs of action beginning feet, etc. The Muhūrtas are stated to constitute the fingers and the toes. The Nāḍis are said to be blood vessels; and Kalās constitute the hair; Vināḍis form the roots of hair on the body; prāṇas are the breath. In this manner, the universe of moving and unmoving creation, rises and sets as do the planets and stars; The Supreme Being (Puruṣa), O, Brahman! having become Kāla, sits and turns the wheel of time perpetually.

Note that the English translation (column 3 above) in verse 70–71 is mostly incorrect. The Jyotiṣa definition results in whole numbers and aligns with the definitions given in Ṡatapatha Brāhmaṇa and Yajur Veda. The number of breaths taken by an adult human is roughly 15 to 18 per minute.

Ayana means a path taken by the Sun. The period of six months from winter solstice to summer soltice is called Uttarāyaṇa. And vice verse is Dakṣiṇāyana. In the tropical calendar (sāyana), Uttarayana usually spans from Dec 22 – Jun 21 and Dakshinayana from June 22 – Dec 21. It does not depend on the path of the moon or lunar considerations.

Each ayana consists of three Ṛtu:s or seasons normally. See below.

Tithi is measured w.r.t the moon whereas ahōrātra is w.r.t the sun. An ahōrātra is always 24 hours, though the solar month can span from ~29.5 days to ~31.5 days.

Each lunar month consists of two fortnights, each corresponding to the waxing moon (ṡukla-pakṣa) and the waning moon (kṛṣṇa-pakṣa).

Rulers of the months

The twelve Ṡaktis (powers) sprang in regular order from those twelve forms which are described to be His. These, having come to the earth, remain there forever. From these Ṡaktis again sprang the twelve Mūrtipālas; they are known in the world here by their respective Śaktis.

Ṡakti Mūrtipāla Par. Sam. Month Today’s name Solar month
1 Yōgēṡvarī Viṣṇu Madhu Caitra Mīna
2 Sukhā Madhusūdana Mādhava Vaiṡākha Mēṣa
3 Prajn̄a Trivikrama Ṡukra Jyaiṣṭha Vṛṣabha
4 Puṣṭi Vāmana Ṡuci Āṣāḍha Mithuna
5 Smṛti Ṡrīdhara Nabhas Ṡrāvaṇa Karkāṭa
6 Dīptī Hṛṣīkēṡa Nābhasya Bhādrapada Siṃha
7 Rāgā Padmanābha Iṣa Āṡvina Kanyā
8 Vāk Dāmōdara Ūrja Kārttika Tulā
9 Nīti Kēṡava Sahas Mārgaṡira Vṛṡcika
10 Kānti Nārāyaṇa Sahasi (Sahasya) Puṣya Dhanus
11 Amṛtā Mādhava Tapas Māgha Makara
12 Ṡakti Gōvinda Tapasya Phālguna Kumbha

We’re not sure whether they (column 4) are Amānta or Pūrṇimānta months, most likely the former. We know that these are lunar months because the names of the months (Madhu … Tapasya) coincide with Vedic Jyōtiṡa where an intercalary month “aṃhasaspati” (adhika-māsa) is also mentioned. The concept of Adhika māsa doesn’t occur in a solar calendar. The Mūrtipāla of this leap month is Puruṣōttama (Ṡakti is Ānandā). However, the Rashtriya Panchang considers the months in column 4 as solar months, whose zodiacal names are in the “Solar month” column (column 6).

Some Vaishnavas such as ISKCON, continue to use the names of “Mūrtipāla”s as synonymous with lunar months.