‘Astronomical error’ delays Nepali winter solstice fest by 20 days


Maghe Shakranti is being observed across Nepal on Monday, around 24 days behind schedule, astrologers say.

While, the rest of the world marked the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, on December 22, Nepalis are observing celebrations for the same event in mid-January — 24 days later.

Reason? The Nepali calendar has fallen around 24 days behind the natural season, says Acharya Jayanta, associate professor at Balmiki Campus. “This is happening because the Nepali calendar has ignored an astrological process called the precession of the equinoxes,” he adds.

It is common knowledge that there are two occasions in a year in which the day is as long as the night — March 20 and September 22. Similarly, there is one with the longest night and other with the longest day — June 21 and December 22 . These events correspond with ‘fixed’ points on the path that the earth traverses while revolving around the sun. These points are crucial for a calendar system to maintain resemblance with the natural seasons.

However, due to precession of the equinoxes, which is caused by various factors such as gravitational pull of the sun, the points move at the rate of around 1 degree every 72 years. “Over a period of time, the difference adds up and the solstice events occur relatively faster,” added Acharya.

The Greogorian calendar, also known as the Christian calendar, has already made adjustments so that the solistice and equinox events correspond with its fixed dates. The Julian calendar, Gregorian’s predecessor, assumed that the time between the spring equinoxes as 365.25 days — 11 minutes short of the actual time difference. It also fixed March 21 as the spring equinox day.

Four hundred years after the Julian Calendar was adopted, the spring equinox had drifted 10 days behind schedule — thus resulting in the spring equinox falling on March 11. As the spring equinox was tied to the celebration of Easter, the Roman Catholic Church considered this steady movement in the date of the equinox undesirable. So as per the decision of the all-powerful church, the Gregorian calendar began by skipping 10 calendar days in a certain year, to restore March 21 as the date of the vernal (spring) equinox.

“Changes like these have not taken place in the Nepali calendar in the recent past,” informed Acharya. “This is the reason why Nepalis are celebrating Maghe Shakranti 24 days after the rest of the world.”

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