Kolla Varsham: An Unrevealed Heritage

Many cultures celebrated the first day of the year, as New Year’s Day, cutting across time. Intersections of the solar year such as the vernal / autumnal equinox, the summer / winter solstice, all moments of standstill, of turning round, offered occasions of making a new start for the beginning of the year, among ancient peoples.

The New Year festival of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, began with the autumn equinox (September 21). The ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks began the year at the winter solstice (December 21): the former, until the Julian calendar transferred it to the first day of January, and the latter, until the 5th century BCE. The beginning of the year among the Greeks until 432 BC was at the winter solstice; later, at the date mentioned, they made the summer solstice, June 21, their New Year's Day.

The Roman republican calendar began with the first of March as the New Year Day, “because the beginning of a month was the most suitable day on which to open the official year, that the original celebrations of the turn of the year took place around the ides of March (vernal equinox); another celebration of New Year’s Eve may be recognised in the Saturnalia of December (winter solstice), and the later official year began on January 1; all of them are illustrations of the phenomenon also observed in Mesopotamia: that of celebrating several New Year festivals within one calendrical year.”

The most ancient and universal institutions of New Year celebrations “have the same underlying theme – what is old, exhausted, weakened, inferior, and harmful is to be eliminated, and what is new, fresh, powerful, good and healthy is to be introduced and ensured.”

Phenomonology of the akitu festival

Celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox in mid-March, Mesopotamian New Year’s festival is believed to have had the earliest recording of its kind. The Encarta Encyclopedia has traced back astrology “to the earliest literate urban civilization in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) before 2000 BC, although its origins may date from earlier attempts to create calendars in order to regulate civil and religious life or to divine the future.

The Akkadian word akitu, for 'barley,' contained seasonal renewal motifs. Akitu means the ‘head of the year,’ and marked two festivals celebrated in the beginning of each of the two half years of the Sumerian calendar, such as the ‘cutting of barley’ (spring) and the other ‘sowing of barley’ (autumn). As agrarian rites performed at harvest and sowing time, akiti-festivals were observed semi-annually. In cities like Ur and Erech, two akitu festivals took place, one around the autumnal equinox, in Tashr(itu), and the other six months later around the vernal equinox, in Nisan(nu). Both months were considered as the beginning of the year (sag mu-an-na). In Babylonia, the festival of Nisan opened the civil year, and the festival of Tashritu opened the religious year.

The Akitu festival is assumed to be the pivotal annual rite of the Sumerian religious year, originally held around the beginning of autumnal equinox. Israel also celebrated the New Year festival in autumn, in the month of Teshrit.

In Babylonian religion, akitu festival came to be dedicated to Marduk's victory over Tiamat. The king in ancient Mesopotamia, in Babylon, was viewed as a god's agent or representative on earth and not as the son of a god.

Celebrating more than one New Year festival, in those days was in no way unusual. M.P. Nilsson, a specialist in this field, says that “The New Year is equivalent to the new harvest, the new supplies of food, which through the rising of the taboo are made accessible. Where there are several fruits, which ripen at different times, there may be several New Year festivals.”

A Year with Two Axes

The Mesopotamian example of a year with two “heads” reflects a regional phenomenon. Though ancient Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Israel celebrated major seasonal rites in both spring and fall, generally the full calendar started in the spring. While the Mesopotamian calendar was constructed around the month and the year, the year was divided into roughly six-month intervals, initiated in spring and autumn. “Recognition of the annual turn of seasons inspired observance of yearly ritual, but spring and fall were equally respected as critical transitions in each year. This balance is particularly evident in the akitu festival, the prototypicalNew Yearcelebration.”

Akitu, the earliest-known record of a New Year's festival, in the spring month of Nisan, dates from about 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. It commenced with the new moon nearest the spring equinox (mid-March; Babylonia), followed by Assyria, with the new moon nearest the autumn equinox (mid-September).

The Sorcerer of les TroisFrères, in France, dates from 14,000 BC. This bearded figure, possessing the ears of a stag, wearing a mask on the top of which were antlers of a deer, is a typical part-human, part-animal, hybrid figure. Babylonian akitu was a most important festival in ancient Mesopotamia.

New Year imbroglio- what it means to Travancore?

In Hindu astrology, the passing of the sun into Aries at the vernal equinox is now calculated to fall on April 14. The Earth's orbital motion makes the sun appear to move eastward among constellations by about 1 degree per day so as to complete a 360-degree revolution in a sidereal year. On Vishu, it starts its new transit which is, the New Year going by the Gregorian calendar. Two days in the year when the night and the day are of equal duration, are points called the Great Equinoxes, or ‘Maha-Vishuvam’ in Sanskrit.

While, in Kerala, this day is celebrated as Vishu, elsewhere in India, we find this day celebrated with a variety of local customs under different names like Gudhi Padwa (Maharashtra), Samvatsar Padvo (Goa), Yugadi (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh), Nav Varsha Samvat (across North India, in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarkhand, Bihar and Chattisgarh), Nau Roz (Kashmir), Naba Barsha (Bengal), Goru Bihu (Assam), Puthandu (Tamil Nadu). The Tamil New Year in Dravidian southern India celebrates the three-day festival of pongal at winter solstice. Here, the arrival of the sun to the vernal equinox in its northward journey is a mode of celebrating the winter solstice. As millennia have passed, the sun’s entry into Aries has drifted owing to a phenomenon known as the precession of equinoxes. It is also calculated differently in Western and Hindu astrology.

Vishu in Kerala

In Kerala, the first thing one sees early in the morning of Vishu is supposed to bring luck to him during the year that follows. Everyone, young and old in the house, brought with eyes blindfolded in front of this vishukkani, arranged on the previous night, are allowed to open their eyes in front of golden lavishness, promise of a plenteous beginning. Everything of a golden hue is associated with this cornucopia of seasonal fruits and flowers which seem to borrow their colour from the sun. They are the yellow cucumber (kani vellari), orangey-gold mango, yellow pods of the jackfruit; glorious bunches of konna (Cassia Fistula) that look like golden drops of liquid sunshine, the brass lamp with the golden flame, the shining brass mirror (Aranmula kannati), a little of gold in the form of a chain or a ring, and the overflowing grain- raw rice, fresh linen, betel leaves, arecanut, a holy text and coins. The ritual kani kaanal marks the dawning of a new astrological year. Arranging this vishukkani is considered as ominous for the whole year. Even temporary houses / theatre, called kanippura, filled with costly and auspicious objects on vishu are erected by the combined efforts of several families.

This solar event in Indian astrology is believed to be the ideal time for commencing rice cultivation. Vishu, an agrarian festival, marks the debut of farming activities in Kerala. Chaal is furrow. In the morning, farmers observe a ritual called vishuchaal, the chaalupooja, the auspicious commencement of rice farming.

In the past, immediately after Vishu, agricultural activities would start anew. The rains seldom fail farmers. Similarly, come March, the bird was heard singing its never-ending vitthum kaikkottum (paddy seed and spade with long wooden handles) heralding the start of sowing operations in the fields. Indian cuckoo’s song reverberates the atmosphere only in March and April, and reminds the farmers to wake up, and begin their farming activities. But the ‘cultivation change', has brought a sea change in the formerly rice fields. The farmers, even if they have the urge to plant, nobody has seeds to take. Perching on the top of very tall trees, the Indian cuckoo sings even at midnight. These trees, felled to feed the brick-mills of Tamilnadu, might have denied them a seat to sit and sing. Apart from the much celebrated cries of the vishuppakshi, many other birds have stopped migrating. The advent of concrete monstrosities spelt the death-knell to the farmlands where seeds were sown formerly.

Medom and Chaitram of the Saka Varsha are identical. They are the first month according to the astronomical calendar and are supposed to mark the vernal equinox, which falls on the 21st of March. If a Keralite is asked about the New Year day of Kerala, casually he will pronounce that Vishu day is the New Year day. But, on referring to the almanac, he will correct the statement that Chingam is the start of the Malayalam calendar in Kerala. The astrologers, on the other hand, argued that it should have been started with Vishu. A conference of astronomers that the king Udaya Marthanda Varma summoned in 825 AD., resolved to start the New Year on the first of Chingam. While Cochin, Madurai, Tirunelveli and Ceylon followed suit, Palghat and North Kerala retained the ancient mode of reckoning the New Year from the first day of Kanni (Virgo) in September. As the Government of Kerala adopted Kolla Varsham as the regional calendar, the 1st of Chingam has remained as the Malayalam New Year Day.

The origin of the Kollam Era, also associated with Onam, celebrated in Kerala and other parts of south India is the national festival of Kerala. But this theory, too, like the earlier ones, has its flaws. Onam, celebrated even in the Sangam era, found a place of importance in the Kollam Era. Some scholars point out that Onam is celebrated in the month of Chingam but hardly starts on the first of Chingam. They question the suggestion that the Kollam Era was started as late as 825 AD, in commemoration of this ancient festival. The Malayalam era (kolla varsham) new year begins with the month of Chingam (August). In days of yore before the advent of monsoon, farming activities usually ended on June 1. Paddy as well as other agricultural produces became ripe for harvest in the month of Chingam for the Onam festival. The surplus produce enabled them to celebrate Onam with great joy and splendour.

Eras in India

Hindu mythology speaks of four eras or ages. They are Krita Yuga, Tretaa Yuga, Dvaapara Yuga and Kali Yuga (3102 BC) which is current. Graha-parivritti and Ohko cycles (from 24 B.C.); Brihaspati cycle (Northern) current at mesha sankranti; Saptarshi or Laukika era (Kashmir); Laukika /Loka-kala; Vikrama and Saka Salivahana eras (founders unknown); Gupta era (AD 319-320); Valabhi-samvat era; Traikutaka, Kalachuri, or Chedi era (AD 248-9); Chalukya-Vikrama era (AD 1075-6); Ganga era (AD 590); Harsha era (AD 606-7); Virodhikrit era (AD 191); Lakshmana-sena/ Sena era (October 7, 11 19); Siva-simha era (March 19, 1113); Ananda-vikrama era (AD 33); Newar era (AD 878-9); Bengali San (AD 593-4), Shaka, an astronomer's era which started from 15 March 78 AD prevalent in the whole of lndia starts from Chaitra Shukla 1. Hijari Era of the Muslims started from 16 July 622 AD.

In India, where there was no single continuous era used for marking the years, various eras were in use to mark the secular date of an event, registered by the year of the reign of the local king, in which it happened like a dynastic era; a king might ordain the commencement of a new era to commemorate some glorious event in his reign based on astronomical calculations, or on events in religious history.

Difference between northern and southern systems

In Malayalam andu and kollam refer to ‘year.’ The years of the Kollam Era/Kollam andu are current and are solar. In North Malabar, New Year begins with the moment the sun enters kanya rasi (kanya sankranthi) of the zodiacal signs, ie., solar Asvina. In the South Malayalam country (Travancore and Cochin), and in Tinnevelly, New Year begins from the moment the sun enters simha rasi (simha sankranthi) -solar Bhadrapada 1. The kollam andu of Kerala provides evidence for solar years starting with the sun entering Leo (simhadi) and Virgo (kanyadi). Adi means beginning. Calendar beginning with the zodiacal sign of the lion (simha) is simhadi and that with virgin is (kanya) kanyadi.

In the south Malayalam country (Travancore and Cochin) and in the Tinnevelly district the andu commences with Chingam (avani), ie., on the first day of the fifth month of the solar calendar (Tamil). In British Malabar, the andu commences with Kanni, ie., on the first day of the sixth month of the same calendar. The andu year is thus not synchronous with the cyclic, Kali or Saka year.

Difference between northern and southern systems exists in the Kollam calendar. The sun entering a sign of the zodiac during the day time, earned that day, status of the first day of the month corresponding to that sign. In the south, where day is divided into parts, the sun must have entered the sign within the first 3 of the 5 parts to get the above status. Otherwise, the day next should have been reckoned the first of the month.

Kollam Era

Collam Era (CE), the name of the Malayalam solar calendar, is also called Malabar era (ME). Its Malabar (centred on Pantalayani Kollam near Calicut) and Travancore versions (Kurkeni Kollam/ Quilon) and the other versions in North Malabar and Kolathunadu start on August 25, 825 AD and 25 September respectively.

The start of the Kollam Era is reckoned from the month of kanya-rasi (Virgo), for Malabar; Chingam is the first month of the Malayalam calendar. But parts of central Kerala consider Medam as the start of the year cycle. The version of Kolla-varsham practiced in central/south Kerala excepting North Malabar (Kolathunadu) began on August 25, 825 AD, and the year commences with simha-raasi (Leo) and not in mesha-raasi (Aries) as in other Indian calendars. However, in erstwhile North Malabar Kolathunadu, the Kollam Era is reckoned from kanya-rasi (September 25) instead. Formerly, the New Year celebration in the Travancore region was held on Chingam 1, and that of Malabar, in north Kerala, New Year was on Kanni 1. Later, the Government of Kerala adopted Kolla-varsham as the regional calendar with Chingam 1 as the Malayalam New Year, and Kanni followed as the second month.

Beginning with the month of Chingam, Kolla-varsham follows a solar pattern with twelve months and a seven-day week. The days of the week are suffixed with azhcha, the word for week day. The days of the year (365) divided into groups of fourteen days, are each named after a star in the Malayalam zodiac, numbering twenty seven. The first of each Malayalam month falls roughly in the middle of the European months. The Malayalam calendar months are named after the constellation signs of the zodiac in which the sun is seen during the period.

Priests in Kerala consulted the Malayalam calendar (almanac, called panchangam) to decide all temple events and followed the 27 stars and the 30 tithies. Hindu households observe their rituals based on the asterism which may occur a few days before or after the date on the western calendar. The Malayalis refer to them to calculate their festival days, other occasions related to birth, and death rituals and to fix up suitable time for initiating agricultural activities based on the Kolla-varsham. The outbreak of southwest monsoon, around June 1, is known as edavappathi (mid-edavam) and that of north-east monsoon during mid-October is called thulavarsham (rain in the month of thulam). The agricultural activities centred on these seasons provide Kerala, two harvests of paddy in the months of kanni (kannikkoythu) and makaram (makarakkoythu).

State festivals, such as Vishu and Onam, are celebrated when the zodiac position coincides with the Malayalam month Medom, the first month, according to the astronomical calendar. The Vishu festival, which signifies the start of the New Year, comes generally in middle of April. Medom 1 falls on April 14, as Vishu is considered the start of the agricultural season. The legendary King, Mahabali, visits Kerala during a prosperous Onam, August- September.

How did the Kollam Era originate?

To the historian of Kerala, the question, “How did the Kollam Era originate?” has all along been “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Participating in the great debate allowed several scholars to have free play to their imagination. But the question on the origin of the Kollam Era preferred to remain to this day one of the unresolved mysteries of Kerala history.The beginning of the Kollam Era was in a period of cultural and educational glory…No record is available so far to answer the question as to who inaugurated the new era.”

Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal, the first Venad ruler, who might have been the founder of the Kollam Era, was succeeded by Vallabhan Kotha. The inscriptions of Kerala written in Vattezhuthu are dated in Kali era, Kollam Era, or Puthuvaipu era. The Mampalli plate of 973 (149 ME/ 978 AD) of Sri Vallabhan Kotha of Venad is the earliest available epigraphical record dated in the Kollam Era.

Extension of Kollam Era

Kollam Era was extended from South Kerala, to the adjoining districts of Madurai and Tirunelveli in Tamilnadu, and part of Sri Lanka (Ceylon); in all these places the era commences on first Chingam, the zodiacal month of Leo (August- September) and in North Kerala, on first Kanni (mid-September), in which the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Virgo.

Javanese calendar

Javanese, Madurese and Sundanese people, the main ethnicities of Java island, used the Javanese calendar (taunjawa) primarily as a cultural icon, a cultural identifier and as an object and tradition of antiquity to be kept alive. Prior to the use of the Javanese calendar for cultural and metaphysical purposes these Javanese peoples had used the Hindu / Saka calendar.

Saka-warsa (Sanscrit), literally means the year of the Saka dynasty. Salivana or Saka era that the Hindus introduced to the Javanese was known to them as saka-warsa, which uses the solar cycle for calculating time. Commencing in 78 AD, this era still nominally prevails in Java. Java introduced the native and the Hindu calendar in no other country of the archipelago, except the neighbouring Bali and Lomboc, where it is still found.

Historicity of Kollam Era

There are several accounts, current, recorded and hearsay, about the commencement of the Kollam Era. In the view of anthropologists and historians, the start of a calendar commemorates an event. Its origin was from the formation of the Kandiyoor Sree Mahadeva temple, at Kandiyoor near Mavelikkara in Alappuzha district, by Chera King Rajasekharan (Cheraman Perumal Nayanar) in AD 823. ‘Kandiyoorabdam’ was an era in widespread use until the introduction of ‘Kollavarsham.’

The obscure origins of the Kollavarsham, prompted many to dig out various legends, theories and stories like: founding by Udaya Marthanda Varma, ruler of Venad, of a little kingdom with its capital at Kollam; foundation of the city of Quilon (Kollam) or its Siva temple, in 824/825 AD; reopening of Kollam, a prosperous trading centre following a natural disaster which had destroyed it; the departure of Cheraman Perumal to Mecca or Mount Kailasam, so on and so forth. Many such conflicting views about the origin of Kollavarsham in 825 AD, have made it a calendar mystery. Getting to them makes confusion more confounded and guides one to a state of indefiniteness.

The genesis of the Kollam Era- a subject of endless controversy: Cheraman Perumal

The conversion of Cheraman Perumal to Islam and his consequent pilgrimage to Mecca is the oldest of the theories associated with the origin of the Kollam Era. In the Portuguese almanac, the Malabar astrologers note an era called the Cheraman Perumal Era, the initial year of which is 826-27 AD, founded in memory either of his accession to the throne or his ascension to heaven. The tradition regarding Cheraman Perumal's conversion to Islam, though persistent, the evidence in support of it is hardly convincing.

William Logan subscribes to the theory that the commencement of the Kollam Era of Malabar is with the departure of King Cheraman Perumal of Kodungalloor. Was the journey undertaken to Mecca to embrace Islam? The story of the departure to Kailasam remains to be answered. The Periya Puranam is much older than the oral tradition or the medieval Keralolpatti. We find Perumal accompanying his associate and Saivite saint, Sundaramurti, the last of the three hymnists of Devaram, who left Tiruvanjikulam (Cranganore), for Kailasam. Perhaps, the Cheraman Perumal myth itself might have originated from the Keralolpathi and Kerala Mahatmyam.

Cycle of Parusurama

The Kollam Era, limited to the Malayalam - speaking area of Malabar coast to the Tirunelveli district of the Tamil-speaking area, is connected with the legend of Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, and is also called the Era of Parusurama.

Some European scholars seldom called it an era. To Prinsep, it was a cycle — the cycle of Parasurama. In correcting this Dr. Burnell rightly says it not a cycle but an era. He adds that “it began in September 824 AD” and is only used in the South Tamil country and Travancore. “In Travancore and in the Tinnevelly district, where the era is used, the year begins not in September, but in the middle of August, and the province where it begins in September is not Travancore or the south Tamil country, but Malabar, which Dr Burnell does not include.”

Calendar system: Rajasekhara Varman Kulasekhara / Raja Udaya Mathanda Varma

Kulasekhara Alwar was a famous Vaishnavite saint. His successor, Rajasekhara Varman Kulasekhara (820-844), was a Saivite saint. If at all the Kollavarsham was introduced by a ruler, it should have been by this Emperor of Mahodayapuram, in 825 under his reign. On the ground of absence of inscriptions and records, immediately after the inauguration, the Udaya Marthanda story is found not acceptable.

The educated king Raja Udaya Mathanda Varma, the Lord of Venad, summoned a special council under his authority at Kollam, to make extensive astronomical calculations and the new era was established with effect from 15 August 825. The site of the city founded that same year was soon to attract great wealth to Venad, notably under Christian merchants.

Shangoony Menon records in his History of Travancore: “In the Kali year 3296 (824 AD), when King Udaya Marthanda Varma, who was residing in Kollam, convened a council of all the learned men in Kerala with the object of introducing a new era, and after making some astronomical researches, and calculating the solar movements throughout the twelve signs of the zodiac, and counting scientifically the number of days occupied in this revolution in every month, it was resolved to adopt the new era from the first of Chinnam of that year, August 15, 824, as Kollam year one, and to call it the solar year. This arrangement was approved by all the wise men of the time, and every neighbouring country began to adopt the same.”

Discrepancies made the declaration mysterious

The finding that the source date, used in the Padmanabha Swami temple inscription, proved to be Chingom 5, of Kollam Era 801 (1625 AD), was made years later than originally thought. Again, it is pointed out that there was no Udaya Marthanda Varma in the Kollam Era origin period. The declaration of the era thus becomes questionable.

Who established the Kollam Era?

William Logan came out with the suggestion that the Kollam Era was perhaps established by the Kolathiri rajas. Since the Kolathiris rose to the fore only around the 12th century, this theory also becomes untenable.

Samadhi of Shankaracharya

Keralolpathi attributes reasons for the introduction of the Kollam Era launched in 825 AD, to commemorate the Samadhi of Saint Shankaracharya around 820 AD. Kerala District Gazetteers rejects the argument that the Kollam Era began in commemoration of the special customs of the Namboothiris, by Sankaracharya, on the basis of the evidence of the Sankarasmrithi, which lays down that the Anacharams was written by Sankaracharya himself. In fact, the Sankarasmrithi was written only after the 12th century AD., when the Namboothiris had become powerful.

The traditional text Keralolpathi attributes the introduction of the Kollam Era to Shankaracharya. This chronogram, 'a-charya-va-ga-bhe-dya' corresponds to the commence ment of the Kollam Era. It means Shankaracharya's word/law is unalterable) into numbers; in the Katapayadi notation it translates into 0 6 1 4 3 4 1. These, when written backwards, give the age of the Kaliyuga on the first year of the Kollam Era. By that day 1434160 days of Kali had expired. And their Kali day would work out to be September 25, 825 AD, which corresponds to the beginning of the Kollam Era in Kolathunadu, i.e., the first day of the Virgo (kanya-raasi). According to the Chronogram, Kollam Era began on this day.

Siva Temple

Herman Gundart speaks about the date of the foundation of the city of Quilon or the newly built ‘Siva’ temple at Kollam, namely, AD 824/5 and calls it an era, called the 3 rd thousands of Parasurama’s cycle. He is of the opinion that the erection of a ‘Siva’ temple at Kollam has been reckoned with the commencement of “Kolla Varsham.” As no important Siva temple of any antiquity is found in existence either at Quilon or at Kollam in Malabar, this suggestion also becomes untenable.

Yet another account is that the Kollam Era commenced in the south and in the north, with the date of the founding of the towns of Kurakkeni Kollam and Pantalayini Kollam respectively. The words 'Kollam tonri' clearly mean that the Kollam town came into existence. This constitutes the epigraphic description of the origin of the era and does not seem to fit in with the fact, as both Kurakkeni Kollam and Pantalayini Kollam were in existence even before the commencement of the Kollam Era. Kodungallur Kollam, already in existence, was a great city even before the time of Cheraman Perumal.

Kolla Varsham began to follow. The establishment of port towns both in Pantalayani and Kurkeni Kollams followed as major trade centres. This welcomed traders from other countries to the Malabar coasts. Did the advent of Kollam motivate the origination of Kolla Varsham?

M. G. S. Narayanan, who studied the Chera-Pandya conflict in the 8th –9th centuries, which led to the emergence of Venad or the Kingdom of Quilon, has come out with yet another theory, which attributes the credit for the origin of the Kollam Era to the establishment of a Christian community at Quilon in 825 A.D. He writes: “It is not surprising that the Chera king who was contemplating the development of the new harbour town at Kurakeni Kollam welcomed the Monks and permitted them to introduce Syrian liturgy in worship other than Sanskrit liturgy following the Shivite revival. This was the period when the Cera-Pandya conflict was developing in the south. The foundation of Kollam in 825 A.D. must have coincided with this victory of Chera in the Vel province. Therefore, it is easy to understand the anxiety of the Chera king to please Vaishanavites and allow the Assyrian Monks to settle at Kollam so that the harbour might grow quickly and compete effectively with Nillakal, further south, which had passed under the control of the Pandyas. This incident reveals the practical wisdom of the rulers and throws light on the economic–political motivations of men who promoted ideas of religion and culture. The Syrian Christian Monks who took advantage of the situation were equally clever and resourceful. In the absence of materials for a detailed history, it is difficult to ascertain whether Mar Abo was a (priest) or a missionary. Perhaps he was both at the same time and there was no inherent contradiction between the two roles." The Christian traders started reckoning their year from the date of their settlement in the Kollam town. Sreedhara Menon objected to this on the ground that the “Christian trade in Quilon was too insignificant an event to enthuse the non-Christian masses of people in other parts of Kerala so much as to make them adopt a new era to commemorate the event.”

Some researchers have credited the immigrants from the North, perhaps the Namboothiris settled down in Malabar and later in Quilon, with developing the rather unique solar calendar. The calendar was first established in Malabar and a month later in Quilon, which came to be known as the Kollam calendar, associated with Kurakkeni Kollam. As all these assumptions are based on obscure documents, they are untenable.

Historians conceived the launching of Kollavarsham differently from time to time, the latest one being that of M.S. Jayaprakash, presented at a press conference in Kollam on November 6, 2009. He declared that the launch of Kollavarsham was to commemorate the complete transition of Kerala from the Dravidian-Buddhist tradition to the Aryan-Vedic system and claimed this as solving the mystery behind the launch of the Kollam Era in A.D. 825. The commencement of Kollavarsham, in fact, marked the political and cultural change in Kerala, precisely, the transition of the land from the reign of Perumals to a caste based rule.

Kollam Andu: A cycle of a thousand years commenced in 1177 — 76 B C

Since the discussion on the Kollam era has gone wayward, and the history of Kerala is left in the lurch, it became relevant to search data new, to carry forward the thinking process. In his essay on the Chronology of Ancient India, Velandi Gopala Ayyar observes that the Kali yuga and the Kollam andu have started yet another theory, for the Kollam andu commenced in 1177 — 76 B C. Originally reckoned in cycles of 1,000 years each, the second of the andu years is stated to have expired in 825 AD. Reckoned from 1176 BC, AD 825 would have been the first year of the era's third millennium. According to approved tradition, Ayyar says that the present cycle is believed to be the fourth, having begun in the year 825 AD. The year 1978 is 1155 and it began on 17 August for simhadi system. The years run in cycles of 1000. But, in actual use, the number has been allowed to run on over the 1000, AD 1894—95 being called Kollam 1070. The year 1076 of Kollam Era commenced in AD 1900, the year 1141 of the Kollam Era begins on August 16, 1965 (simhadi) or September 16, 1965 (kanyadi), according to different systems of reckoning. Let us calculate the solar sputum at sun-rise on the 28 th of Kanni 1111 Era (corresponding to 14 th October 1935.)

“During the period of elaboration of the classical Hindu astronomy, which was definitively expounded in the treatises called siddhantas and by authors such as Aryabhata I (born AD 476), Varahamihira, Brahmagupta (7 th century AD), etc., the ancient Vedic notions on the cycle of years, embracing round numbers of solar and lunar years together, were developed. On the one hand, greater cycles were calculated in order to include the revolutions of planets, and the theory was elaborated of a general conjunction of heavenly bodies at 0° longitude after the completion of each cycle.”

The Kollam Era, a sidereal solar, known as the Kollam andu / Malabar era is in use from Mangalore to Cape Comorin, and in the Tinnevelly district. The names of the months in Malabar are sign-names, whereas in Tinnevelly the names are chiefly those of lunar months. Avani of the simhadi Tinnevelly year is Chingam of the South Malayalam (Tinnevelly) the simhadi kollam andu. The panchanga of Tinnevelly and the Tamil country has given both sign-names and the lunar-month names. “The first Kollam andu commenced in Kali 3927 current, Saka 748 current, AD 825—26, the epoch being Saka 747 — 48 current, AD 824—25.” The years of this era used are as current years.

There is no record extant of its use earlier than AD 825. Three preceding cycles that ended with the year 1000, expired in AD 824—25, suggest that the Parasurama era or Kollam era began in Kali 1927 current, or the year 3528 of the Julian scheme.

The current cycle, begun in 825 AD., has now been carried beyond the 1,000 - year limit. This shows that the convention, if any such had existed had been ignored. In the face of such absent mindedness, the relevance of scholars inventing or assigning an event without examining it meticulously for the commencement of Kollam year in AD 825 is uncalled for. A community of farmers who strained their eyes looking at the stars in the faraway heavens to predict the onset of monsoon might have been the stakeholders of a calendar system. Let us begin by examining the words they used to ruminate in their effort to invent a cause for the commencement of Kollam era. One such word is kollam. Combined with the other two words like aandu and varsham for ‘year’ they were repeating the same story in a boring manner. Let us begin by examining the word varsham which also means ‘rain’.

The terrestrial scenario: word arisi refers to wild rice

Transplantation of seedlings, grown in nursery beds, using water obtained from the stray showers of pre-monsoon days, is a prerequisite for rice cultivation. In order to produce the seedlings of transplantable age, about one month old, by the time of the onset of the monsoon (from May to September), one should plan the nurseries in anticipation. Such planning can be discerned in the ploughing ceremony widely practised all over the Asian region on the day of the vernal equinox, 10th Medam ME (April), from time immemorial. We get water, the basis of life, in the life-giving rains which help, make plants and herbs come forth.|

Rain is at its peak during July to September (Shravan and Bhadrapada), when the south-west monsoon arrives in the north-western parts of India where the rain-bearing masses of clouds burst open and release the water. 12 Monsoon rain makes the Asian regions ideal for growing rice. Its failure topples the timing of agricultural operations, throwing the population to starve. The Siamese proverb, “The rice harvest depends upon plentiful rain, and plentiful rain upon piety,” 13 becomes self-explanatory in this context.
Many cultures begin rice cultivation work in anticipation of the monsoon showers on the vernal equinox. The word varsha(ritu) is rainy season, varisham is rain. A naturally occurring wild rice, eaten by Rsis and Rajas on ekadasi, is called vari. It is nivaram.  Grain of rice, freed from chaff is ari. Perhaps, the word varisi, derived from var(i)sham, in course of time suffered mutation and gave shape to the now familiar word ari(si) from which other world languages picked up the name. Pali describes wild rice as nivaram and sayamjatisalim with reference to where it may be found.

This indicates that the Dravidian word ari(si) refers to wild rice, the rice before domestication and bears the DNA mark of the early man. Scientists say that human languages are a reflection of their inherent DNA.

The seasons

Agricultural activities are centered round the season. This fact influenced scholars to opine that, literally, the term varsha (year) has been “derived from the term varsha (rain) and this prolific rainy season leads and represents all the seasons of the year.”  Not only that: the Indian calendar revolves around the rainy season (varsa) considered to be the Mother and Queen of all the seasons and the year (varsa) relates to rain. The rains are, then, one of the forms of manifestation (rupa) of all seasons. Indeed, from the year (rain/varsha) is named the rainy season (varsha).

Mostly derived from the seasonal rain or yearly natural cycles, the Sanskrit word for year varsa reminds one the same way as abda, and implies the rainy season. The word varsha derived from the root vrish, means ‘to rain.’ Abda made up of the word ‘ap’ for water or rain, and the root ‘da’ for ‘to give’, means giver of rain/water – the cloud, and implies the rainy season and year. It refers to the monsoon rains in the cycle of the year. One can perceive from this a time when “a year beginning with rainy season, the most obvious and, in general, the most regular division of time, from which the later Hindu called the year varsha or abda.”  It is obvious that in the opening period of Indian history, the year began from the solstice, particularly the summer solstice, the time around which the monsoon came, on the basis of which the terms ‘varsa’ or ‘abda’ (rain-giving) were coined for the year.  In the Indian context, the beginning of the year with the rainy season meant summer solstice.

With the advent of Brahmanic influence in Central India, varsha became the usual word for year. By then, the rainy season seemed to mark most distinctly the return of the year. The two systems of yearly calculation prevalent in the Vedic (Rgveda) age were hima varsa, starting from the summer solstice of the sun, and the sarat varsa, beginning on the first day of the autumn season. In the month of Margashirsha, the constellation Mrigashira/ Orion could be found nearest the rising full moon. Its ancient name, Agrahayana literally means “the beginning of the year.” A common word for the “year” in the Atharva Veda, Hayana also means rice. Agra means the first and Agrahayana refers to the first month of the year (hima-varsha) around 4000 BC.

Derivations of the name Quilon are from Kolu, Kolla or Kolli

The Kumbha Bharani festival of Kurumba Bhagavathi temple, where an important feature is the strange custom of singing obscene songs as a ritual, is in Kotunkollur, the modern Cranganore, called in early Tamil literature as Musiri.

The former residence of the ruling Perumals, Kotungallur, the capital of the Chera kings of Kerala, is situated on the river mouth of Periyaar. Derived from kola, an earlier Kotumkolluur (Kotum + kolla + uur) is the big river mouth, which port and its suburbs figure prominently in early Chera history. Sluice, water channel, bund, a hurdle, is mata, ov, vellachaal, varanmpu in Malayalam. It is a channel for draining water. Small ridge in the fields is varanmpu, a boundary. Kolla is mata (as) a floodgate/lock-gate. We have seen that the word kolla is inbuilt in this place name.

A sylvan tract in a mountainous district is kola., Cf. melkolla, keezhkolla. It is a dry, as well as an uncultivated land. The stakes used to reinforce the bund in wet lands is kollaa ppathal. A breach in a bank/ bund is kolla(yi). A water tank is kolla.

Nadoorkolla/ Nadooekolla desam (village), is a picturesque hamlet, south of Neyyattinkara, in Kollayil desom. Melkolla/ Mekkolla, Cheriyakolla, Keezhkolla desom (Chenkal village), in Kollamkode desam and Kollamkavu are the other place names around Neyyattinkara. Kollamvilakom, Kollarukonam, Kollayil veedu, Kollaravila; are some house names found in these villages with kola as a suffix. In Suchindrum and other places, the farmers are found querying each other in the early morning “pathukku poyacha?” which means ‘did you visit the field?’ Pathu in Suchindram refers to paddy field. Pathayam which refers to granary came from this word. In some places in Kanyakumari district, the same query is asked using kollayi for paddy field.

An aged man living in the Kollayi village in Neyyattinkara becomes nostalgic when asked to recollect his days in this village as an infant. The entire field is submerged at the peak of the monsoon. The slew gate locked with a worn out wooden sluice, may break with a big bang during peak monsoon. Though the rushing rain water through the mata, spelt doom to the young sapling of paddy grown in the nursery apart from the destruction of the new layer of mud deposit thrown by the gushing water, children curiously used to wait to hear this sound from the paddy field even at the dead of night. At dawn, they rushed to the field to see the havoc.

For a week, the flood kept the inmates indoors. These Kollayis might be the primitive paddy fields which facilitated farmers to put up their habitats and later a few became the habitats of the royalty. This process envisaged a large period of time when the primitive man who considered varsham, abdam and kollayi simply as a spot where the monsoon rains heavily irrigated fields, facilitating them to plant their rice plants. In the course of time these words attained the meaning ‘years.’ While varsham, kollam and abdam give us the sense of year instantly, they fail to give us their original meaning. On hearing the word Kollam, one will perceive an era, kolla-varsham probably commenced in a place called Quilon. But it began to let out its original meaning only when an attempt was made to trace its previous history. As a result, it revealed its old form –rain/ monsoon for the paddy field. All these three words take us to the habitat of the primitive farmer, who with the help of the constellations knew the time and programmed his activities. That was a time when kanyadi was important and fundamental.

Kolla, an ancient part of Tamilnadu, is believed to have been swallowed by the sea. Keerpoy, a town in Bengal, the seat of a commercial residency, with somewhat sandy land, is known as Kolla land.  During ancient times Kolhapur city had been known by many names: Koll(a)pur, Kollagiri, and Kolladigiripattan. 'Kolla' means valley, and Kolhapur means 'city of valleys'.

On the derivation of the word Kollam or Quilon, Caldwell writes that, the only possible derivations for the Tamil and Malayalam name of Quilon are from “Kolu, the ‘Royal Presence’ or presence-chamber, or hall of audience. Kollam might naturally be a derivative of this word; and in confirmation he noted that the other residences of Malabar kings were also called Kollam, eg., Kodungalur, or Cranganore. The same word Kolu, also refers to ‘a height’ or ‘a high ground.’ A very common word in Tamil Kollei stands for ‘a dry grain field, a back-yard.’ A gorge, a valley, dale, dell is Kolli. Kolli is also said to be the name of a hill in Chera country, ie., the Malabar coast.

Karur was the capital of the Cheras during the Tamil Sangam age. The Cheras who were the Lords of the Kolli-malai, shifted their capital to Mahodai (Cranganore or Musiri), towards the close of the eighth century AD. Cheraman Perumal, the most famous Chera ruler and Tamil hymnist, ruled from Kodungolur (Cranganore). He is credited with having reached Kailasa along with Sundaramurti (about AD 820).

Kolli is the word for mountain tracts. Kolli kavalan, means the protector of Kolli and refers to the king of Kolli / ruler of Kolli hills. Kollippurai (meaning Poraiyar), the rulers of the Kolli hills, has also been found in Karur. Kolli must be in Kerala itself, says T. A. Gopinatha Rao, and stands for 'Kollam', the modern 'Quilon'


The one-month anomaly of Simha and Kanya ?

One cannot stop wondering about the legend-monger’s ingenuity. When many take pains to explain the genuineness of the place name ‘Kollam’, we see Jayaprakash coming forward with the idea of a simultaneous convention in both Kollams. He points out that the declaration of the Kollavarsham was made in two separate sessions of almanac experts and mathematicians, held simultaneously at Kollam–the present headquarters of the southern district, and the other Kollam near Kozhikode in the north. But, source for such a separate convention is wanting. The reason why the southern session during the reign of Rajasekharavarma Udayamarthanda decided to make the first day of the Malayalam month of Chingam as the New Year Day and the northern session made it Kanni 1, was unknown to him.

He fails to provide a reason for a new calendar to be established in Quilon or Calicut, with a one-month difference between the two calendars, when so little is known about the origin of the era itself.

The key to the obscure origins of the Kollavarsham lies in the Gregorian months of August or September of 824 AD. What could be that event that motivated the stakeholders to start an era to commemorate the event?

Pranata mangsa’ : traditional method of identifying seasons using phenological phenomena

The official saka year is the elapsed year. In Java and Bali, Indonesian Hindus used this calendar also. Solar years well known in ancient India, normally started from the day following that of the vernal equinox, “as was the case with lunisolar reckoning, but not, of course, at the first New Moon after true meena sankranthi but at the sun’s entrance into mesa (Aries).” Traditionally, this is the beginning of the rainy season (varsa) in India. Meshaadi means the "start of Aries."

The first rain fall that normally occurs in June, prompted the natural beginning of the cycle of agricultural activities in Kerala. When the sun enters the autumnal equinox, Kerala coast begins to experience the outbreak of very heavy rainfall for nearly nine months in the year. The agricultural year commencing in September is known as Kollam andu. The adoption of this form of solar reckoning proved good in Kerala.

The south-west monsoon, referred to in Java as the east monsoon, prevails from June to August, September, and brings dry conditions to the area. The west monsoon does not set in central or eastern Java. Its introduction from India is, therefore, a distinct possibility, “although the balance of arguments - in particular its association with agriculture, where Indian influence seems almost completely absent, as well as the Indonesian name Hapit given to two of its months, and Indonesian numerals to the others – is clearly in favour of the view, expressed by Rouffaer and others, that the Pranata Mangsa is originally Indonesian.”

The Kollam Era of southern Kerala is also an evidence for solar years starting with the sun entering into Leo (simhadi) and Virgo (kanyadi). The former (simhadi) begins with the month of sravana, exactly like the Javanese solar year. In the year saka 1000, taken as a meshadi solar year, the month simha corresponds to the Bengali bhadrapada and the Tamil avani of the meshadi kali.

How will one explain the one-month anomaly?

The Saptarshi era was luni-solar; the Kollam calendar is solar. The Saptarshi calendar starts in Mesha and the Kollam calendar in Simha. Lunar or Luni-Solar calendars needed adjustments to be made for the extra month. The entire solar Kollam Era, which starts with Leo, is a current system. How can one explain the one-month anomaly between simha and kanya?, in the southern parts, with that of Leo (simhadi).

Seldomness of a reign, beginning on the 1st day of the first month of a meshadi kali year, or a simhadi or kanyadi Quilon year, is noteworthy. It is also supposed that it began on an auspicious day, say the 3 rd day of the 7 th month (of a cyclic or calendar year), e.g., the 125 th Quilon year. Probably because Leo was regarded as the sun's swakshetra, the Quilon astronomers preferred simha (Leo) as the first month or own house and reckoned Quilon year 125 as regnal year 1, and 126 year as regnal year 2.

Under the influence of the Quilon king and his astronomers, the Quilon year began in the southern parts with the month of simha (Chingam), while those in some parts of Malabar began the year with the month of kanya (kanni). It is assumed that, “according to the Brahmana dictum "citra nakshatram bhavati mukham va etat samvatsarasya”= the citra (Spica) asterism (which we know is just opposite asvati, the present first asterism of the Kali year) is the mukham (=face, beginning) of the year, and citra is in kanya (Virgo) rasi.”

Formation of the occult symbol

Asvayukku is one born under the Asvati asterism. The constellation aswati / ashvini is the first nakshatra (lunar mansion) in Hindu astrology, corresponding to the head of Aries. Aaswinam is the name of a month in the rainy season during which the moon is near to the constellation asvini. Alpasi/tulamasam is the month of asvina that corresponds to Oct / November.

Named after the star ashwini, aaswina masam begins when full moon occurs in Aswini star, and it is the corresponding month of Ashwayuj in Bengali calendar. During sunset in October, the stars in the western horizon appear in the form of a lion belonging to the zodiacal sign Leo setting. The stars of the rasi virgin (Virgo) appear over. The formation of this occult symbol, of the virgin mother riding the lion, gave rise to its worship under different names like Durga, Kanya, Parameswari. During Aswayuja (Oct.-Nov.), before sun rise, we can watch the image of Durga in the constellation simha (Leo) and later kanya (Virgo), both combined in the form of “woman sitting on a lion.”

Six months later, in the month of Chaithra, the same scene repeats after sunset. A festival called Vasanth Navarathri celebrated during the first 9 days of the month of Chaithra, is still found in vogue.

The universal mother symbolizing nature is so old in India. The month of kanya (Sept- Oct) in the constellation Virgo rasi is notable for the festival of Kanya month or Devi-Navaratri or Dasara Puja. Here, we see the universal deity assuming the form of a kanya virgin, the origin of whose worship is lost in the very night of time.

Making of a universal mother

“If, crossing the Himalayas and reaching China and Mongolia, men came in contact with unknown rites and superstitions; they could always supply parallel or analogy from their home life and association. Strange and powerful goddesses were adored in China. What an age of common faiths that must have been that left us the Virgin Kanya (Kanya Kumari) as the tutelary deity of Cape Comorin, and Kwannyon, the Mother as the giver of all blessings, in Japan to this day! Who is to say which is older, Kari, the Mother-Queen of Heaven, of Chinese mythology, or Kali of Bengal? Even these conceptions, however, dating as they clearly must from the days of that matriarchate when nations and races were not yet differentiated--even these do not represent the earliest stratum of religious thought in India or in Asia.”

The day and night of 15 muhurtas each occur in the month of chaithra and asvayuja. The first nine days of asvayuja are devoted to this festival in honour of Durga. Navaratri starts in the bright summer of asvayuja, in commemoration of the victory of Durga on the demon Mahisa. This vernal and autumnal equinox is of equal length. It increases or diminishes by three muhurtas once in every six months. “This means that the length of the day and night (ahoratra) may vary to the maximum extent of three muhurtas or one and a half muhurtas (72 minutes) before 6 AM and one and a half muhurtas after 6 PM (local time).”

Celestial scenario claims very high antiquity

By the apparent conjunction, or nearness to any particular star in the constellation, the sun's place in the heavens, or zodiac, can be determined. The constellation Virgo/the virgin, situated in the Zodiac, or sun's path, contain Spica Virginis, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. In the evening sky in the month of April, it first appears and continues so until sometime in October, when it sets with the sun. The star Spica, envisaged as a spike of wheat, is “situated south-west of Arcturus, which when Spica first appears in the east, may be seen in the north east, and higher up in the sky. Find Arcturus, and then look some ways south-west of it, and you will see Spica.”


More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

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