RSS Feed

The Kollam Calendar Mystery – A discussion

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Kolla varsham- that is what we call the Malayalam calendar. The interesting aspect is that here again we have two versions, the Malabar version and the Travancore version, the former centered on Pantalayani Kollam near Calicut and the latter around Kurkeni Kollam or todays Quilon. In some old records they are mentioned by experts like Kielhorn and Sundarama Pillai as the Trivandrum calendar and the Calicut calendar. The two calendars are separated by a month with the year starting in August in Calicut and September in Quilon. But getting to the well accepted Kurkeni Kollam calendar, how would one explain the origins of this calendar, so different from some of the others of the region, like the Tamil calendar? Let’s take a look at the various legends, theories and stories. None may provide a clinching answer, and as usual, various communities and groups are satisfied by the one they empathise with!

To get to the obscure origins of the Kollavarsham, you have to go to the Gregorian months August or September of 824 AD. Typically anthropologists and historians contend that these things start by commemorating an event. What could it be? Here is where multiple stories and legends get cited, the construction of a Siva temple, the opening of a new port town, the departure of Cheraman Perumal to Mecca or Mount Kailasam, the death of Sanakaracharya and so on. We will get to them one by one after noting that while most calendars are Lunar or Luni-Solar (note that adjustments needed to be made in these calendars for the extra month), the Kollam era is entirely Solar. While most others start with Aries, the Kollam era starts with Leo. Also peculiar is that while other calendars are expired years calendars, the Kollam era is a current system (Note that the year zero does not exist in the Anno Domini system of the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar where the year 1 BC is followed by AD 1 and the 20th century for example begins on January 1, 1901. However, all eras used with Hindu and Buddhist calendars, such as the Saka era or the Kali Yuga, begin with the year 0. All these calendars use elapsed, expired, or complete years, in contrast with most other calendars which use current years). The months are named after the rashis in the North of India whereas they are given lunar names named after nakshatras in the South.
One of the popular stories mentioned in oral accounts is that of the departure of the Cheraman Perumal to Mecca. If you for a moment assume that to be the case, then the question comes up about the one month difference between the two calendars. Does it signify the time he took to sail from Quilon to North Malabar from where he eventually veered westwards to the Red Sea? But why would he go to Quilon to sail off when he was possibly based in Kodungallur which was an active and popular port where many vessels bound towards the Arab ports embarked? Then again why would a predominantly Hindu Malabar celebrate an event such as his conversion to Islam? That too after an event which in addition disintegrated the Chera country into petty warring kingdoms! Why would these Hindu kingdoms celebrate such an event? Not quite a justifiable explanation.
Now we get to the other account related to the Perumal (we will talk about this Perumal and his departure in greater detail in the next article), namely the Periya Puranam which is much older than the oral tradition or the medieval Keralolpatti where it says that when it was time for the perumal’s friend and Saivite saint Sundaramurti to leave Tiruvanjikulam (Cranganore), the Perumal also followed him to Kailasa. While it is somewhat farfetched, it does establish that the Perumal disappeared mysteriously, but again provides no reasoning for a new calendar to be established in Quilon or Calicut. Nevertheless, it is a fact that this event is dated pretty close to the start of the Kollam era.
The next legend is connected to the Sankaracharya who died around 820 AD. Now you can see that he died a full 4 years before the Calendar started. Why would one celebrate his death? So it could not have been his death. Keralolpatti mentions that Sankaracharya established the Kerala anacharam or irregular customs on Aug 25th, 825 AD or the new Kollavarsham at both Kollams’s. To lend weight to this is the chronogram A car ya va ga bhed ya (which literally means that the acharya’s word is unalterable) which stands for 0 6 1 4 3 4 1, to be read backwards. If you do that it becomes the Sept 25, 824 which is the first day of Malabar’s Kollam era in the Kali era. Sankaracharya perhaps died in 820 or some time earlier, so we see a 4-5 year difference. The details of the anacharams are mentioned in the Sankarasmriti and this itself was written only after the 12th century or perhaps even later (as it lays down rules for the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the English!). And then again, after considering the 11 day Gregorian calendar adjustment by the British, the Kollam era in reality, started on July 25th 825 AD. And then again, after considering the 10/11 day Gregorian calendar adjustment by the British in 1752, the Kollam era in reality, started on August 15th 825 AD. But why start a new calendar because new rules are being laid?

The only event of some importance in 824 was the appearance of a comet over China, hardly the reason for a New Year establishment unless the Chinese were in control of Quilon at that time or this had something to do with Chinese New Year. Again we see no points of commonality here. There is also a general issue that the Kollam era is mentioned in written records only dated after the 12th Century AD! Why did it take so many years for its acceptance? We do not have a real answer for this as yet.
Consider for a moment that the Nambuthiris and nairs came from somewhere in North India as legends put it. Would the Kollam year have anything to do with the older era current in places like Jammu and Kashmir, i.e. the Saptarshi era or the Sastra Samvatsara? This was the era where the first two digits had been removed from a 4 digit running calendar, i.e. 4292 would become 92 in writings. But then what happened after 99? Sundaram Pillai explains that the two calendars were the same until the year 99 of the Saptarshi calendar. But even that does not run to a conclusion for the Saptarshi calendar starts in Mesah and the Kollam era started in Simha. Then again the Saptarshi era was Luni-solar while the Kollam calendar is solar. Was the difference a correction to make the former to a solar calendar (Then again the Saptarshi calendar runs with a 25 year difference with the kali yuga)? How would one calculate and drop out a few months? Did the mathematicians of Malabar and Travancore differ about the formula which explains the one month anomaly Simha and Kanya?

Perhaps the answer comes with the next account which is narrated by Shangoony Menon in his History of Travancore – “In the Kali year 3296 when King Udaya Marthanda Varma who was residing in Quilon, convened a council of 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 Chingam of that year, 15th August 825, as Kollam year one and to call it the solar year." But this was found to be wrong when the source date he used from the Padmanabha Swami temple inscription proved to be 801 years later than originally thought and secondly due to the fact that there was no Udaya Marthanda Varma in the Kollam era origin period.
Pillai goes on to state that this also sounds a little obscure for it was perhaps better to use the Saptarshi year in that case, rather than create a new calendar. But then again, the Kollam era seems to have been devised by somebody who understood the difficulties of adjustments in lunar calendars.

Herman Gundart however was of the opinion that the “Kolla Varsham” started with the erection of a ‘Siva’ temple at Kollam. But this does not make sense as there is no such temple and the establishment of a temple cannot be the reason to create a new calendar. Others mention that its origination was strictly local and religious, and “Kolla Varsham” was not accepted by the people living in other regions, but, when Kollam or Quilon became a major trade center trading with the east and the West, the traders and the people of other countries began to follow “Kolla Varsham”. But then how do you explain the Northern Quilon? Now could it be to commemorate the establishment of both Pantalayani and Kurkeni Kollam port towns? Unlikely since both of them were popular centuries before the Kollam calendar was formed. But a usage Kollam Tontri allows us to conclude literally that it was after the establishment of a port of Kollam, or perhaps more correctly after the establishment of the Kollam era. Sanskrit texts incidentally mention the Kollam era as the Kolamba era. Tamil texts name the area around Quilon as Kolamaba so it was perhaps associated with Quilon in the South.

The next theory is that it was started by Christian settlers in Quilon. Since it took a month for news to travel to North, the start in Pantalayani differs by a month! But according to Sreedhara Menon, this is not acceptable as the Christian community was insignificant and did not have the weight to create a new system in both Travancore and Malabar.
M.G.S.Narayan in his paper on Cera Pandya conflict in the 8th – 9th centuries which led to the birth of Venad writes, “It is not surprising that the Chera king who was contemplating the development of the new harbor town at Kurakeni Kollam welcomed the foreigner and permitted him to settle down at the new harbor site. This was the period when the Cera-Pandya conflict was developing in the south. Subsequently Vilinjam was retained in the Pandyan sphere of influence while the Vel country with new headquarters at Kurakkeni Kollam became a division of Cera kingdom. The foundation of Kollam in 825A.D. must have coincided with this victory of Cera in the Vel province. Therefore it is easy to understand the anxiety of the Chera king to please foreign merchants and settle them at Kollam so that the harbor might grow quickly and compete effectively with Vilinjam further south which had passed under the control of the Pandya. 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 merchants 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 Sapir Iso was a merchant or a (priest) missionary. Perhaps he was both at the same time and there was no inherent contradiction between the two roles.

Logan however opines also that the Kollam era was perhaps established by the Kolathiri rajas, of which two factions existed, one at Malabar and one at Quilon to commemorate events at both places. This again is refuted by astronomers who maintain that it was not a political announcement or change which started the new calendar. This line of thought is also untenable since the Kolathiris rose to the fore only around the 12th century.
Others like Col Warren connected it wrongly to the Parasurama cycles. The era of Parasurama or Parasurama Sacam is a cycle of 1000 years, which is said to have begun in B.C. 1175 ¾ complete, or 1176 B.C. current. It is also mentioned that the Nambuthiris travelling southwards brought it with them and made the necessary adjustments to start the third thousands of the Saptarshi eara which originally started in 1176BC.

Even more theories follow with people trying to exercise their brains to create reasons. One such theory states that Onam celebrations started with the Kollam era, but Onam hardly starts on the first of Chingam and then again this is also not correct since Onam was celebrated even in the Sangam era. Sreedhara Menon concludes his discussion by agreeing with Sundaram Pillai that it was the continuation of the Saptarshi era after it counted down to 100. He adds that it took a few hundred years to be accepted and became popular only by the 10-11th centuries after the Namboothiris gained ascendancy in Kerala and that the month difference between the Malabar and Travancore calendars is accounted for due to the calculation methods used by the North and South astronomers!
Other theories hover around the lost Jewish tribes, with the Namboothiris being actually the Nampthali Jews and so on, but all of them fall on the wayside. Prof Jayaprakash’s theory, the newest is perhaps the closest to reality and has some grounding, but requires more study to reach conclusions. According to him, the Buddhist culture appeared in Cheranad or Cheralam during 3 B.C. and it had an influence on all religions which were later introduced in this land. According to him, after the brutal annihilation of the Buddhist culture by the Brahmins from the North, Cheralam was christened Keralam. Through the annihilation, many of the important Buddhist shrines were converted into Hindu temples. He opined that the biggest influence Buddhism had in the Subcontinent was in Kerala and it was Kollam which was the citadel of Buddhism and that it was after destroying the Buddhist culture that the Brahmin enforced caste system got established in Kerala. Kollam was earlier called Kolam, and when it came under the rule of Jayashimhan Perumal, the land came to be called Deshinganad. He also had specific comments about the establishment of the Kollavarsham.

According to late Historian M.S. Jayaprakash the launch of Kollavarsham marked the complete transition of Kerala from the Dravidian-Buddhist tradition to the Aryan-Vedic system. According to him, Kollavarsham also marked the political transition of the land from the reign of Perumals to a caste-based rule. The commencement of Kollavarsham was in fact the declaration of a political and cultural change in Kerala. He also opines that the Kollavarsham declaration was made by two separate sessions of almanac experts and mathematicians held simultaneously at two places known by the same name Kollam – one the present headquarters of the southern district and the other one near Kozhikode in the north. So that is another train of thinking about the reasons for a new system, we need to get into. The implementation still follows the earlier theories.
In conclusion, one can assume that the rather unique solar, current calendar was developed by the immigrants moving in from the North, perhaps the Namboothiri’s who settled down in Malabar and later in Quilon, and then the calendar got a little bit adjusted to what we know as the Kollam calendar. This has some traction due to the fact the calendar was first established in Malabar and a month later in Quilon, though it does not explain it satisfactorily. Nevertheless, due to the fact that it is also called Kolamba era, it is somehow more associated with Kurakkeni Kollam. But these are all assumptions based on obscure documents and you can perhaps imagine that with more research on the Buddhist – Jainist past of Kerala more facts will slowly come to light including the Sankaracharya aspects and you may even see the conclusions of Dr Jayaprakash gaining more credence.

References
Dates of the Kollam or Kolamba era – Kielhorn
Miscellaneous Travancore inscriptions – P Sundaram Pillai
Kollam era - KV Sarma
Survey of Kerala History – Sreedhara Menon
HinduArticle
Cera- Pandya conflict in the 8th – 9th centuries which led to the birth of Venad- Narayan,MGS,

Notes – Just to establish some perspective, why did the Buddhists and Brahmins start this big quarrel? Interesting legends and perhaps lots of caste politics – It seems that King Pasenadi (Prasenajit) of Kosala admired the Sakyan clan as Buddha was from that clan and decided to marry into it (second marriage) and strengthen the alliance by asking for the hand of a Shakyan bride. But then, he was sent Naga-Mtinda the daughter of the Sakyan chief whose paramour was actually a naga worshipping slave! Not knowing this, Pasenadi married her; and had a son, Vidudabha and a daughter Vajira.  When the truth came to light, both mother and child lost their royal honors but were reinstated after Buddha pacified Pasenadi. However after Pasenadi’s death and Vidudabha’s accession to the throne, mayhem occurred resulting in the massacre of the Shakyan clan who fled Kapilavastu to various places like Nepal and we also hear mentions of Lanka and the South of India, perhaps Quilon and other locales. The Vedic revival during the 8th century A.D. was referred to as the revival of Hinduism by the Western Scholars. This was initiated by Adi Shankaracharya in the Gangetic plains of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. During this time, devotion to the Buddha was sought to be replaced by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna.

14 comments:

  1. Premnath.T.Murkoth

    Confused,

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Premnath.
    As you saw this a collation of some studies and not pointing to a definite answer.

  1. Valerii Gaganov

    How "11 day Gregorian calendar adjustment" can shift starting point from "Sept 25, 824" to "July 25th 825 AD"? Has Kollam Era zero year or no?

  1. Tejaswininimburia

    The mystery of Kollam calender is not puzzling when analysed with reference to other three South Indian states. The whole confusion is due to lack of inscriptional evidences in Kerala and discontinuity of evidences with regard to places referred by Alwars and Nayanmars Though occasionally the Deccan kings made attempts on Kerala contacts remained only during the time of early Cholas up to Parantaka. As per Chola inscriptions specific references are with Ay kings of Venad normally referred as Keralas Kollam and Malai mandala with its capital at Udagai(Udayavaram) near Udipi.There was huge influx of Brahmins from Malai Mandala during Pallava Chola period and the region around Lalgudi was known as Mazhanadu referred even by Saint Sambandar in Sixth century AD. Since Rajaraja and his successors were more interested in protecting Maritime trade than any other kingdom they had to wage relentless attack against Kollam,Vizhijam and Kanthalursalai. From the time of Kadambas there had been Ghatikas(military academy) which would have become power centers themselves with active participation of traders from middle east the Chera kings remaining hapless victims. The south Indian merchant guilds actively supported Cholas providing Moonru Kai masenai and through them made relentless war on two fronts against Srivijaya in East Asia and Middle east merchant guilds in Kerala. It came to an end with assassination of Athi RAJENDRA bringing direct line of Cholas to a close though KulothungaI carried up to his life time. Instead of dragging Sankaracharya Buddhism and Namboodiris let Kerala historians make an earnest effort on mystery of Kerala the maritime war of Cholas the indifference of Deccan kings to Kerala.

  1. Tejaswininimburia

    The mystery of Kollam calender is not puzzling when analyses with reference to other three South Indian states. The whole confusion is due to lack of inscriptional evidences in Kerala and discontinuity of evidences with regard to places referred by Alwars and Nayanmars Though occasionally the Deccan kings made attempts on Kerala contacts remained only during the time of early Cholas up to Parantaka. As per Chola inscriptions specific references ate with Any kings of Venad normally referred as Keralas Kollam and Malai mandala with its capital at Udagai(Udayavaram) near Udipi.There was huge influx of Brahmins from Malai Mandala during Pallava Chola period and the region around Lalgudi was known as Mazhanadu referred even by Saint Sambandar in Sixth century AD. Since Rajaraja and his successors were more interested in protecting Maritime trade than any other kingdom they had to wage relentless attack against Kollam,Vizhijam and Kanthalursalai. From the time of Kadambas there had been Ghatikas(military academy) which would have become power centers themselves with active participation of traders from middle east the Chera kings remaining hapless victims. The south Indian merchant guilds actively supported Cholas providing Moonru Kai masenai and through them made relentless war on two fronts against Srivijaya in East Asia and Middle east merchant guilds in Kerala. It came to an end with assassination of At hi RAJENDRA bringing direct line of Cholas to a close though up to Kulothunga carried up to his life time. Instead of dragging Sankaracharua Buddhism and Namboodiris let Kerala historians make an earnest effort on mystery of Kerala the maritime war of Cholas the indifference of Deccan kings to Kerala.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Velerii
    KV Sarma explains this very well in his paper – So I will quote him - From the time of the acceptance of Pope Gregory's compensation of 10 days to the Julian era, in 1582, the commencement of the Kollam years has shifted to August 15 of the Christian year. The formula for conversion would then be AD date = Kollam date + 824 (for August 15 to December 14) and Kollam date + 825 (for December 15 to August 14, It is also to be noted that while the above is the case for the major part of Kerala, comprising of South and Central Kerala, in North Kerala the era is reckoned from the next month, Kanyii, i.e. from September 25/15 instead of from August 25/15.

  1. Maddy

    hi tejaswininimburia
    I could not quite understand how what you wrote explains the kollam calendar - can you elaborate?

  1. Valerii Gaganov

    Thank you, Maddy! But Gregorian adjustment shifts dates forward: from 15 August to 25 August (not from 25 to 15!).

  1. Maddy

    Thanks valerii..
    Kollam era is reckoned from Aug 15 824 AD and is expressed in expired years. I have made a text correction above, with the actual start date as Aug 15 (not July) explaining the 10 day shift of the Gregorian calendar. Thus as you can see, the original Aug 15 of Gregorian became the Aug 25 which was finally attributed to the Kollam era start date. I agree that it is a tricky thing to work out with calendars going forward and backward.

  1. Tejaswininimburia

    Kollam era cannot be separated from evolution of Kollam. Kollam has evolved from Ravivarmas only I.e., when VaragunaII, Vijayalaya, Nirupatunga Indra/Govinda were all ruling Deccan. There was clash of interest between Varaguna I/Kochadaiyan Ranadheera and Ganga and actually occupied Mangalore which was not an impossibility through Alupa/Uchangi Pandiyans. However there was lull after Varaguna I. Kerala history begins only from Ravivarmans. A branch of Ravivarmans allied with Vijayala. The contact between Niruputunga/Vijayala/branch of Ravivarmans is available in Pallava/Chola inscriptions which ended with mysterious disappearance of Paluvettaraiyars. During this period large number of Malayela/Malnad Brahmins settled in Trichy areas. Vellan Kumaran a Malayela Brahmin was the general of Rajaditya who became Chaturana Panditha and established Mutt at Trivootriyur. My question if Kollam is connected with arrival of Nairs and Namboothiris why should there should be huge influx of Malayela Brahmins in Tamilnadu. Kollam first appears only in Rajaraja I inscriptions. Why are you always linking with era with that town the formation is not available up to Rajara's period. Thus it is clear that Ravi Arman represented interest of Anjuvannam middle east merchant guild against South Indian merchant guild who wholeheartedly supported Cholas for sustenance. Kollam era would have emanated during Zamorin period just like Arya Bhatta fixed Kali Yuga in fourth century AD. Thus the beginning of the era had no significance in view of the above correlations

  1. Newgen Astro

    There is an article in entitled 'Beginning of Malayalam Era' which derived the beginning of ME as 17-8-825 CE PGC. when sun zenith occurred at the latitude of Kanjangad few Km south of ancient boundary of Kerala, i.e., River Chandragiri. No legend or Julian/Gregorian connection are to be attributed to the astronomy of Kerala. Kerala's astronomers of 825 CE were far superior to the astronomers of Pope Gregory or Julius Caesar.

  1. Newgen Astro

    The URL in which the article Beginning of Malayalam Era appeared is academia dot edu, which somehow missed while uploading

  1. Naveenkumar K.U

    Nice study Maddy. My sincere appreciation on that.

    Strange to find historians like M.S Jayaprakash using adjectives like "brutal annihilation of the Buddhist, etc.". Historians are supposed to be pragmatic and free of bias (which seems missing here).

    Would surely like to know based on what historical evidence did he conclude the "brutal annihilation" aspect of the 8th century Brahmins?.

    If I remember correctly, M.S Jayaprakash was the same person who was trying hard to give a "clean chit" to Tippu (when all odds and evidences were against him).

    To summarize, his theory of kollamvarsham seems to be a bit distorted. He has tried to view history through his coloured glasses all along.

  1. Keralavarma Vijay Thampuran

    Hello Maddy,
    I have also read many theories of Kolla Varsham. But this is the first time I read about the Kashmiri system and Namboothiris bringing it here. So let me tell you something which I read while going through the differences of rituals followed by Namboothiris with other Brahmans of South India. This is from a book published by an affiliate of Yogakshema Sabha in Kerala. It may or may not be related. Just keep this in mind and may help you in future also.

    There are 2 sects of rituals and customs followed by Brahmans all over the world. Gowdy and Gony. The Namboothiris follow Gony system, while the other Brahmans of South India follow Gowdy system. That is why all rituals and customs are different for Namboothiris. The other Brahmans who followed Gony system were, at that time, living in areas of Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanisthan, parts of Iran etc. This included Kashmiri Pandits, if I am not mistaken. Rest of the Brahmans in India follow Gowdy system.

    So we cannot rule out the Kashmir angle or the effect of Gony system in Kolla Varsham.

    Thank you
    Vijay Kerala Varma