another) new year-but only according to one of a number calendar systems consulted by
Indonesians. The nation's Muslims and ethnic Chinese also have calendar systems of their
own, and the Javanese and Balinese have several. No doubt there are others, too, in this
vast archipelago which have not yet been ensnared by Google.
Time. We live in swarms of it. We go to our wits' end to
make sense of it.
We think of a life in terms of it, as in the
'get born - get to live - have to die' notion of individual existence. Between those
modes, we experience time subjectively. When we ourselves have to give birth or face
death, suddenly existence seems immediate and unique. Being in love also plays havoc with
time: an hour can be as endless as an empty highway or as quick as a gasp. Clocks and
calendars provide objective standards for societies to organize the practical matters of
life, such as when to plant rice or when to start wondering if you're pregnant or when to
catch a plane. Some calendar systems will also advise you when to start dancing lessons or
make a fishing net or cut grass for the roof of your house.
Almost all systems of measuring time originate in
observable rhythms in the natural world-the movements of the earth, the sun and the moon.
Most calendar systems-of which there are some forty in use today-can be divided into
whether they use the sun or the moon as their guiding light.
This is because these two (apparent) rhythms
are unrelated. A purely solar calendar (such as the familiar Gregorian one) is based on
the cycle of seasons during the year that it takes for the earth to go around the sun, and
has no relation to the cycles of the moon. A purely lunar calendar (such as the Muslim
calendar) is based on the cycle of the moon's rotation around the earth, and is not tied
to the seasonal cycle.
A tropical year is measured from one
fixed point in the solar cycle-such as an equinox or a solstice-to the next, currently
365.242190 days (although these days are getting incrementally shorter over the
centuries). A synodic month is the time from one new moon to the next. This is
currently 29.5305889 days, but getting incrementally longer.
Some calendar systems (such as the Chinese
calendar and the Hebrew calendar) are based on astronomical calculations that attempt to
account for both rhythms. Others (such as the Javanese and Balinese Pawukon
calendars) are entirely rule based, with no relation to either the sun or the moon.
Indonesia uses the Gregorian calendar, of
course, to order its everyday affairs in accordance with most of the rest of the world;
but it also maintains other more culturally specific calendars to keep track of
metaphysical matters. Indonesians remain affectionately, even passionately, attached to
their holy days. There are many. Here is how they keep track of them.
The Islamic (Hijri) calendar
This is surely the most broadly based alternative
calendar system in this country where the great majority of people consider themselves
Muslim. This purely lunar calendar has twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days, which
begin on the sighting of the first crescent moon.
Although the astronomical new moon can be
calculated, the Islamic calendar requires that the new month begin when the crescent moon
is sighted by an actual person at a given locale. Natural factors such as cloudy weather
can influence the exact moment that a month begins. Thus the Islamic calendar cannot be
The Hijri calendar dates from the year 638 of
the Common Era (CE), and takes its name from the Hijrah, a crucial event in the
history of Islam, when the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. The twelve
months of the Hijri calendar, with important holy days are as follows:
Twelve lunar months of twenty-nine to thirty
days make a lunar year with an average of 355 days. The following formulas are used to
convert between the Hijri year and the Gregorian year:
||Important holy days
|1 Muharram ul Haram
||1st: Islamic New Year
||27th: Isra & Mirah
||1st: First day of fasting
17rh: Nuzul Al-qur'an
Last ten days, which include Laylatu al-Qadar
||1st: Idul Fitri
|11 Dhul Qadah
|12 Dhul Hijja
||10th: Idul Adha
12th: Dhul Hijjab-10: the Hajj to Mecca
G = H ( (3 x H) / 100 ) + 622
H = G ( (G - 622) / 32 ) - 622
Thus, (most of) the year 2004 CE is 1425 H.
The Chinese calendar
This is a soli-lunar calendar (yin-yang li),
which tries to account for both the tropical year and the synodic month, with the year
beginning with the new moon near the winter solstice.
A year in the Chinese calendar has twelve
months, with a leap year of thirteen months. If there are thirteen new moons from the
beginning of month containing the winter solstice to the same point in the following year,
then a leap year must be inserted. Thus a twelve-month year has 353, 354, or 355 days; a
leap year has 383, 384, or 385 days.
The solar year is plotted in accordance with
the sun's longitude at specific stages of its cycle. In the West, four such points are
commonly observed, indicating spring, summer, autumn and winter:
But the Chinese solar year takes account of all
points in which the sun's longitude is a multiple of 30:
Years are counted in 60-year cycles. Each year
has a name that is composed of terms from two smaller cycles of differing length. The
first cycle, called the Celestial Stem, has ten terms:
|The sun's longitude at fixed
in the tropical year
|At the vernal equinox
|At the summer solstice:
|At the autumnal equinox:
|At the winter solstice:
|The sun's longitude at the
in the Chinese Year*
|Principal Term 1
|Principal Term 2
|Principal Term 3
|Principal Term 11
|Principal Term 12
|*Calculated from the 120th meridian east of
The second is the familiar twelve-year zodiacal cycle:
According to http://webexhibits.org/calendars/calendar-chinese.html,
where these charts are borrowed from, "each of the two components is used
||mao (hare, rabbit)
Thus, the 1st year of the 60-year cycle becomes
jia-zi, the 2nd year is yi-chou, the 3rd year is bing-yin, etc. When we reach the end of a
component, we start from the beginning: The 10th year is gui-you, the 11th year is jia-xu
(restarting the Celestial Stem), the 12th year is yi-hai, and the 13th year is bing-zi
(restarting the Terrestrial Branch). Finally, the 60th year becomes gui-ha.
Oracle bones dating from the Shang Dynasty
(c.1800 - 1200 BCE) show that Chinese astronomers were already able at this early date to
calculate a solar year of 365 ¼ days and a lunar month of 29 ½ days.
The Javanese calendars
In the centers
of the old Hindu kingdoms throughout Java, one still finds traces of pre-Islamic
calendars: the Saka calendar of twelve months; and the rule-based cycles referred
to as Pawukon. These are especially important to those who still practice the old Kejawen
Although the Saka calendar is far more
commonly used in Bali than in Java, we reproduce here a Javanese version (published on
www.info-indo.com) because of its poetic description of the seasons. The dates given were
for an earlier year and should be read as approximate.
The five-day Pasaran cycle is based on
the old system of holding farmers' markets in a rotating network once every five days. The
day's are: Legi, Paing, Pon, Wage, Kliwon-names that are reflected in present-day
permanent markets in Central Java, such as Pasar Kliwon.
|The Javanese Seasonal Cycle
||The dry season; leaves are falling from the
trees; the ground is withered
and arid, bereft of water "like a jewel that
has come free of its setting."
||The dry season; parched earth lies in hard
clumps; the mango
and cotton trees begin to bloom.
||The dry season; spice roots are harvested;
the gadung tree begins to bear fruit.
||Rain begins to fall, as "tears well up in
the soul", marking the end
of the dry season; birds are singing and busily
The Labuh Season is at hand.
||The rainy season, sometimes with fierce winds
and flooding; mangoes are
ripe; snakes are driven from their nests; "a
fountain of gold falls
across the earth".
||The rainy season, sometimes with fierce winds
and flooding; mangoes are
ripe; snakes are driven from their nests; "a
fountain of g old falls
across the earth".
||The rainy season is at its peak; birds are
hard pressed to find food,
and in many areas there is severe flooding.
||The rainy season; rice fields are growing and
the cat is looking for
his mate; grubs and larvae abound.
||The rainy season; rice fields are turning
yellow; "happy news is spreading";
water is stored within the earth, the wind blows
in one direction,
and many fruits are ripe.
||Rain yet falls, but is diminishing; the wind
rustles and blows hard; the air
is still chilly. The Mareng Season is at hand.
||The dry season has begun; farmers are har
vesting the rice fields;
birds tend their young with affection, as if they
were "jewels of the hear t".
||The dry season; water begins to recede,
"vanishing from its many places".
The Pasaran cycle coincides with the
seven-day week: Senin, Selasa, Rebo, Kemis, Jumat, and Setu. This creates
two-termed days, beginning with Senin Legi, giving a cycle that takes thirty-five days (7
x 5 = 35) to complete. These double-barreled days are called weton. The weton on which one
is born is thought to influence one's personal traits, and it is customary for Javanese to
celebrate their weton with a slametan ceremony once every thirty-five days. There
are also mystical values associated with the days of the wetonan cycle, with
certain days being favorable for particular activities. The eve of Jumat Kliwon, for
example, is considered especially auspicious for magical or spiritual matters, such as
paying homage at the tombs of wise men.
also use a lunar calendar. The Wulan ('moon') calendar is similar to the Hijra
calendar, with twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days.
The first day of Sura, the start of the
Javanese New Year, is a day for purifying the self and cleansing sacred heirloom objects (pusaka).
On the eve of 1 Sura, many Javanese bathe in holy springs and spend the entire night in
The Javanese calendar is also unique in for its
Windu cycle of eight years:
Windu Year Days
1 Alip 354
2 Ehe 355
3 Jimawal 354
4 Je 355
5 Dal 354
6 Be 354
7 Wawu 354
8 Jimakir 355
Ehe, Je, and Jimakir are leap years. In these
years, an extra day is added to the twelfth month, Besar. This contrasts with the Hijri
calendar, which adds one day to the twelfth month in eleven of every thirty years.
In an article entitled 'Javanese Calendar and
its Significance to Mystical Life' by Suryo S. Negoro published on www.joglosemar.co.id, we find the
1. Purwana/Alip means: ada-ada (starting
2. Karyana/Ehe means: tumandang
3. Anama/Jemawal means: gawe (work)
4. Lalana/Je means: lelakon (process,
5. Ngawanga/Dal means: urip (life)
6. Pawaka/Be means: bola-bali (always
7. Wasana/Wawu means: marang (to the
8. Swasana/Jimakir means: suwung
"The 8 years compose a sentence: ada-ada
tumandang gawe lelakon urip bola-bali marang suwung means: 'It starts by making
activities for the process of life, it always returns to void.' The word year in Javanese Tahun
means seed (wiji in Javanese). The 8 years explain the process of wiji, always
return to void (suwung) i.e., born - died. Born - died, always rotating."
The Balinese calendars
Hindu Bali has often been promoted as a 'living
museum' of classical Javanese culture. The idea is no longer fashionable; but if one looks
at the infamously complicated Balinese calendar system, it is clear that it owes much to
Bali uses both the Saka calendar and a Pawukon calendar. The Balinese Saka months
are almost identical to those of the Javanese Saka calendar, with some slight variations
of spelling. It does not count years in Windu, but in accord with the Gregorian
calendar, minus 78. In this sense it is a solar calendar.
The months (sasih) are lunar, however.
They have 30 days, counted 1 - 15 penanggal from the new moon to the full moon
(called purnama), and then 1 - 15 panglong from the day after the full moon to the
dark of the moon (called tilem). But because the lunar year is eleven days shorter
than the solar year, every three years another month is added at the end of the sixth or
seventh month, so that the new year-which begins on the new moon of the ninth month-always
falls around the spring equinox. Thus the Balinese Saka calendar is lunisolar, following
Nyepi, first day of the Saka year, is a
most conspicuous holiday in Bali, and unique to the island. (It is widely described in the
tourist literature, so we won't talk about it here.) Other points in the Saka year are
also significant for religious holidays. The full moon is an auspicious time for the
temple anniversary festivals called odalan, when a temple's particular deities are
invited to descend and receive homage through offerings. The full moons Purnama Kedasa
and Purnama Kapat are especially exalted-perhaps because they form the parentheses
of the most benign season in Bali, between April and October, when the weather is cool and
clear-and this is when many of the island's most important temples hold their odalan.
At the opposite side of the year, purification
ceremonies (melasti) are held in the sixth month, around December or January. And
on the longest, darkest night of the year, on the dark of the moon before the seventh
month is Siwalatri, the 'night of Shiva'.
mundane matters, the Balinese make frequent use of a cyclical calendar that seems also to
be of Javanese origin. But there are differences in current practice.
In Bali, the market cycle is three days, rather
than five. So the Balinese refer not only to the five- and seven-day cycles referred to
above, but also to a three-day cycle: Pasah, Gunung Tegeh, and Kajeng. As in
the Javanese Pasaran system, all three different cycles are turning simultaneously,
forming particular conjunctions. In fact, in the Balinese system there are not three
cycles (or wara), but ten. They comprise one to ten days, and each day has a name.
(This is the small print that fills up the individual dates on a Balinese print
All these wara complete a cycle of 210
days, in 30 seven-day weeks, or wuku, from which comes the term Pawukon.
These wuku also have names, and they derived from a lively myth about incest, Watugunung.
While Javanese observe their weton once every thirty-five days, Balinese observe their
oton, which occurs once every 210 days-the day of their birth in terms of the five-day and
the seven-day conjunction in particular wuku; for example, Soma Pon Kelawu.
This conjunction of the five- and seven-day wara
in a wuku generate many important nodes which require special offerings, or which
are particularly lucky (or unlucky) for specific activities. To keep track of these, the
Balinese devised the ingenious chart called the tika, pictured here. As an
artifact, the tika is a supreme example of a rule-based calendar. Having no
relation at all to celestial movements, it never needs adjusting and remains forever
stable. One has only to carve it into a piece of wood, and it is permanently useful.
Although tika vary in their codes and
even in the particular wara they illustrate, several important conjunctions are
almost always included: Kajeng Kliwon (a three- and five-day conjunction) and Saniscara
Kliwon, which is called a tumpek. There are six tumpek in the 30 week / 210
day cycle, falling in the weeks Landep, Wariga, Kuningan, Krulut, Uye, and Wayang,
and these are special days for giving offerings to particular classes of things of value.
For example, Tumpek Landep is for honoring metal objects; Tumpek Uye, for livestock;
Tumpek Wayang for musical instruments.
Given the animistic underpinnings of Balinese
Hinduism with its emphasis on ritual-and the fact that until recently it was almost
entirely an agricultural society-it is not surprising that the alternative calendars
remain important to daily life in Bali. Indeed, the old strain of rice grown in Bali has a
growth cycle of 210 days; and-until the Green Revolution of the 1970s- the Pawukon
calendar used to be a reference tool for coordinating planting cycles among the subak
Still, as it was pointed out by the people at
www.babadbali (to whom we are grateful for much of the information here), there is an
indisputably archaic ring to the sort of divinatory advice being handed out, year after
year, in Bali's printed calendar:
It's a pity that the Balinese calendar goes
only this far. There is nothing of interest here for young people in Bali. There ought to
be an update. It tells us things like: a good day to pierce the nose of your water
buffalo; a good day to put rice in the rice barn, and so forth. Even though these things
have almost nothing to do with life today, they keep appearing in the calendar, just like
in the old lontar books.
What we need is informed divinatory advice
about a good date to reformat your hard disk, start a mailing list, tune your carburetor,
change the filter on your air-conditioner or your car-or a good day to start exporting a
new product; things like that. Isn't this the kind of 'ajeg Bali [Bali upright]
that will create a buzz?
They have a point.
Diana Darling is the Editor of Latitudes.
The image of the Balinese tika is
reproduced from Un Autre Temps: les calendriers tika de Bali by Georges
Breguet and Jean Couteau, Somogy Editions dArt, Paris (2002).