The Sikh calendar is called the Nanakshahi Calendar and takes its name from Guru Nanak, who founded Sikhism.
For most of its history Sikhism has used the traditional Vikrami (or Bikrami) calendar, shared by Sikhs and Hindus in North India, to set the date of its festivals. The Nanakshahi Calendar was adopted in 2003 and made life much easier for Sikhs as their holy days no longer move about the calendar from year to year.Gurpurbs (celebrations devoted to particular Gurus) now always happen on the same date, and occur once (and once only) in every year.
The calendar didn’t fix the date of all Sikh festivals. Those Sikh festivals that are celebrated at the same time as similar Hindu religious events, such as Diwali and Hola Mohalla, still have their dates set by the Vikrami calendar.
The Nanakshahi Calendar was developed by a Canadian Sikh, Pal Singh Purewal, a retired computer engineer. He started work on the calendar in the 1960s. Purewal believed that having a unique calendar was vital for the integrity of the Sikh religion.
Pal Singh Purewal
All communities and faiths have their own calendar as a mark of their distinct cultural identity. Just as the Islamic world has the Hijri calendar and Hindus have Vikrami calendar, the Sikhs will have a Nanakshahi calendar along with the common era (CE) calendar which is in use throughout the world.
The implementation of the calendar was approved unanimously by leading Sikh organisations in March 2003.
The first attempt to introduce the Nanakshahi calendar was in 1999 but it was almost immediately banned.
The two institutions that rule Sikhism were on opposite sides. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee or SGPC (the top Sikh religious institution) implemented the Nanakshahi calendar in December 1999, despite an order from the Akal Takht (the other top religious and legal institution in Sikhism) that the calendar should not be implemented until a general consensus emerged on the issue within the Sikh community.
The SGPC decided that an important festival should be celebrated on January 5, the date given by the new calendar, while the Akal Takht insisted that the it should be on January 14, the date in the traditional calendar.
The showdown resulted in temporary victory for the Akal Takht. The SGPC backed down, senior SGPC officials suffered various religious punishments, and a top SGPC official was excommunicated.
Ordinary Sikhs were left in utter confusion and for the next few years some followed the lunar calendar (Vikrami or Bikrami) while others used the solar calendar (Nanakshahi).
The arguments about the calendar were concerned not only with its accuracy but also the identity and status of Sikhism and the Sikh community within Hindu-majority India.
Traditional Sikhs opposed the change because it broke with the past, but Sikh radicals supported it because it gave Sikhs their own calendar and emphasised their separate identity from Hindus.
Some people pointed out that most religions base their calendars on the movements of the moon, and not that of the sun, that this was somehow more spiritual, and so a Sikh religious calendar should also follow the moon.
Others argued that the new calendar wasn’t really Sikh at all, but was just a “solarised” version of the Hindu calendar or a version of the Western calendar with added Sikh elements.
Some politicians pointed out that the old Vikrami calendar, and the sharing of some Hindu and Sikh festivals, was one of the few elements of Punjab culture that had survived the growing breakdown between the Sikh and Hindu communities in North India. But other politicians, anxious to establish the separateness of the Sikh community, supported the new calendar as another pillar of Sikh identity.
Moderate Sikhs were anxious about anything that might cause trouble between Sikhs and Hindus in the hothouse atmosphere of Indian communal relations, particularly in the Sikh heartland of the Punjab.
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