Solar Calendar (Hindu)

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Notice to Users: Javascript needs to be enabled for the calendar conversion to work. It is based on the invaluable table in Staal’s text, but has been modified so that the month baisākh functions as the first month of the Hindu calendar, in place of ćait, which is now the last month of the year. That is to say, a shift from a lunisolar convention to the purely solar convention that was the rule in Jammu, Kashmir, and Punjab postal practice (and others not directly pertinent to us, such as Nepal.)

Important ćait covers are regularly misdated (early by a year) through the use of the wrong advent month for the year. On occasion the correct dating is arrived at on philatelic grounds, thus necessitating recourse to the “scribal-error” gambit, specifically, that the letter-writer was still using the old year number through habit. Since Masson’s day, the J&K literature has been wedded to this single aspect of the lunisolar calendar, its advent month, but is forced to ignore the rest of its baroque structure and detail. Adopting the solar convention in toto resolves a number of difficulties. In any case we learn to be wary of the literature, past and future, whenever ćait figures in the dating. Some examples follow:

Example 1. Who could want a more straight-forward example than the following: a clear 13 ćait 1943 in manuscript accompanied by two sufficiently legible datestamps:

The solar convention (as per utility at the top of the screen) gives 24 March 1887, precisely as the postmarks contend. The Staal chart dates it a year earlier. Image taken from the internet; our thanks to the poster.

Example 2.  The Srinagar Seal struck in black is attested between Nov. 1877 and Aug. 1879. The detail below is dated 28 ćait 1934 ~ 8 April 1878 under the new solar convention, and thus lies well within the attested range.

Under the old reckoning, we had been forced to take this item as an anomalously early use of the black from either April or June 1877 (depending on whether one reads ćait or jeţh). That would have implied a period of several months during which the seal was in simultaneous use in both black and red, a state of affairs for which there has been no other reported evidence. With proper implementation of the calendar, there is no longer a compelling case for imagining a doubled-coloring scenario.

Example 3.  Here is the footnote on page 12 in Masson’s Handbook II (Lahore 1901):

“. . . To disarm possible contradiction on this point, I may mention that I possess two of these [New Rectangular] stamps, unperforated, on envelopes dated 2 and 6 Chet [our ćait] 1935, corresponding to 20 and 24 March 1878. These puzzled me, because they would bring back the first use of new rectangular stamps by six or seven weeks, and of the unperforated stamps by nearly six months. After a deal of thought the solution suggested itself to me: Chet being the first month of the Hindu year, the writers made the mistake of continuing the use of the past year, writing 1935 for 1936, just as we by oversight often do in the first few days of our new years.”

Resolution: The conversion utility based on the solar convention puts 2 ćait 1935 to 13 March 1879, which Masson would evidently have found amenable, and so do we today. Masson’s day dating is still discrepant by about a week. (More about that on the Masson-dating page.)

Example 4.  Below: A famous bisect cover, Leh to Hoshiarpur, in which an Old Kashmir 1a orange-vermilion watercolor is said to be vertically bisected to serve the ½a function. The collector’s arrow pointing to the year 1934 is tagged 1877, which misdates this 1878 cover by a year in the now familiar way. The collector, evidently taking a lead from the Sialkot March datestamp, must have thought this was a 1934 ćait cover, which is not exactly wrong, as we shall discover:

Here’s how she goes under both systems: The despatch date for the cover is clearly dated 20 phāgun 1934 in both the Persian and in the Dogri at the lower-right corner of the cover. That corresponds in both calendars to 2 March 1878. If the collector saw those, he ignored them in perplexity. The letter was delivered about 18 days later, thus the TOO LATE seal. That puts the letter’s arrival at about 8 ćait, which would be 8 ćait 1934 ~ 19 March 1878 for us solarists (for whom the Samvat year doesn’t turn over until next month). The lunisolarist, however, must take the delivery date as 8 ćait 1935, because for him the year clicked over a week earlier when the letter was still in transit. Of course 8 ćait 1935 under the lunisolar convention also gives the requisite 19 March 1878. Except within the month of ćait itself, we do not have to care what convention a letter-writer used; and this is a phāgun-anchored cover.

phāgun 1934 ~ March 1878. The 20 is the in preceding line on the cover, and there is also a 20 in the Persian. The Haverbeck auction (Lot 1590) curiously misdates this cover even further back, to March 1875. The b/w image is taken from Plate 17 in Séfi & Mortimer.

Example 5.  What follows is a dating problem where I too was originally forced into the dread scribal-error gambit for want of another option at the time:

This stamp is a detail from an unambiguous phāgun 1934 cover that implied a March 1878 sending. No problem there, but now look at the next item, which bears vintage from the same cask:

This Jammu-Srinagar internal cover is dated 2 māh ćait 1934 ~ 13 March 1878, just days apart from the preceding item. Again no problem, but that is only because we have now used the solar-dating convention. Had we used the utility in its former hybrid version, and we did, that dating comes out a troubling year earlier. Collection Hellrigl.

Examples 6 & 7.  The Sialkot duplex is attested so far on outgoing State mail between 14 March 1880 and 31 January 1881 according to the Bard Papers. Item #10318 in the Jaiswal archive shows a Masson dating of “15th Chet 1936” (correct), which Masson converted erroneously to “23rd March 1879.” That is earlier than the otherwise attested range by almost a year. Our new conversion, by contrast, yields 26 March 1880, which is consistent with the record. There is a similar cover for “22th Chet 1936,” which should be advanced in like manner to 2 April 1880.

Example 8.  The New Rectangular ½a rose is a New Color issue known from the spring of 1883. A Masson dating of one such on cover was converted from 24 ćait 1939 to “28th March 1882.” Our new conversion puts this to 4 April 1883, which at least gets the stamp into the New Colors era. Strictly we do not have a test here, because an anomalous rose is conceivably not of the New Colors regime. Still, it is likely that it is, and goes with the other reds of the new period. SG does indeed catalogue a rose from 1883. Collection Jaiswal (#10420).

Example 9.  There is a Jammu to Hoshiarpur City cover in the Jaiswal archive (#10421) dated 28 ćait 1944 in manuscript, which we convert to 9 April 1888, with corroboration from a British date stamp. The calendar utility in its old version would have rendered the manuscript dating a year earlier than the date stamp. And with the dating being so late in the month, the scribal-error “out” is even more unpalatable than it usually is.

Example 10.  The line of manuscript at the top of the following extract is receiving notation for the letter (done at Cawnpore if you care to know). The first part reads māh ćait 1946. The crossed element is the '9' and the other three numerals with it are orthodox. Under the solar convention that month started on 12 March 1890, plus or minus a day. So we have comfort from the cds, which reads 9 March 1890 ~ 27 phāgan 1946, the despatch date at Srinagar.

Under the lunisolar convention in which ćait is the first month of the new year, the despatch date would also have been 27 phāgan 1946. If the post office were using the latter system, we would expect ‘1947’ in the receiving notation, contrary to fact. Philatelists in the past would have had to resort to the scribal-error gambit yet again.

Example 11. The despatch date on the cover below [b/w image ex Mix] reads 21 ćait [19]34 ~ 1 April 1878. That conversion, where we have used the new solar convention, gives a good date. The annotator, David Masson, who clearly took the stamp as being of that general vintage, was unwittingly using the wrong advent month of the Hindu year when he was impelled to write:

“This is really 1935: the mistake was made by the writer in the first month of this new year.”

The stamp at issue here (SG38) is the ½a brown-red oilcolor on European laid paper known unambiguously on three or four covers between early March and early April 1878.

Example 12.  Use of the solar convention in other J&K officialdom can also be seen on the “Simons Document” that authorized the sale of the remainder stock of native stamps. This document, prepared by the Office of the Revenue Minister of the State Council, was dated 23 August 1898, which we now convert to 9 bhādon 1955. The Samvat dating on the document was rendered simply as 19-5-55, where the -5- means the fifth month. Bhādon is indeed the fifth month of the Hindu year under the solar convention, but the sixth when ćait is the deemed the first month.

Example 13.  That the solar convention dominates social life is suggested by this excerpt, slightly edited, from Wikipedia’s Jammu page:

“Every year, on the first day of Vaisakh, the people of Jammu celebrate Baisakhi. The occasion is marked by numerous fairs and people come in thousands to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. Devotees throng the rivers, canals, and ponds and take a ritual dip.

And so the evidence mounts: It appears that taking baisākh to be the first month of the year is as much the unbroken rule for J&K, Punch, and Punjab philately as it is for Nepal and others farther afield. We now look for counter-examples (so far in vain) in case both calendars are attested in postal use.

Counterexample 1?   Not quite. One argument for ćait taking precedence over baisākh as advent month is that the early stamp designs bear the frozen samvat date 1923, which was indeed the lunisolar number on 23 March 1866, the day of the first known mailing. It had already been 1923 for ten or eleven days at that time, while the solar calendar was yet to click over to 1923 at month’s end. However, a modest anticipation of the fresh year to mark the imminent inauguration of a new postal era cannot be taken as an unnatural act. In fact the first circular die might well have been designed, even engraved, in the dying days of 1922 on both calendars, for we need only go back to about March 11 for that to have been the case.

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