People like U2 can say, “nothing changes on new years day” but still, a year is an extremely important and significant unit of time.
The Sun, you see, is by far the brightest, most powerful and most important heavenly body for us human beings here on earth. A “year” is a measurement of one complete cycle of the Sun. Time itself cannot be measured except in relation to motion and change. The biggest, brightest, most powerful thing moving through the sky above our heads is the Sun. That movement and the changes it brings to our seasons is the most significant and important way to measure time – and the perfect unit of that movement is a “year.”
Time, really, is God. Of course God is not just time, but time is one manifestation of a facet of God because it is the main way we experience the all-powerful in our daily lives. Therefore to measure time is a way of communing with God. A year is therefore a significant cycle in the divine energy.
But what is a year? When does it “start” and “end”?
Well, a year is a cycle, a circle. Circles have no true start or end, they are continuous – like time itself. But we select a reference point on the cycle of time and call it the “start.” Our modern calendar, unfortunately, has fallen – like our modern world – completely out of touch with the natural world. We arbitrarily change days in the middle of the night, have months that start and last all willy nilly, and a year that is close to a reasonable starting point, but about a week and a half late to the party.
First, let’s get to know the different types of “years.” There are a few different definitions of what a year is, and they all have to co-exist. The great astronomical treatise of India, Surya Siddhanta, identifies four types of years: 1) stellar / sidereal, 2) solar / tropical, 3) lunar and 4) common.
A stellar or “sidereal” year is the amount of time it takes the Sun to move from a zodiac star, through the entire circle of the zodiac, and back to the same star it started at. This comes out to be about 365.25 days.
A solar or “topical” year is the amount of time it takes the Sun to move from one key seasonal point (such as a solstice or equinox), through the entire cycle of seasons and back again to the same key point it started at. This comes out to be about 365.24 days.
If you look carefully you will see that the sidereal year is 0.01 days (about 20 minutes) longer than the tropical year. This is why, over tens of thousands of years the seasonal / tropical zodiac goes cyclically in and out of alignment with the stellar / sidereal zodiac.
Our modern calendar is a distorted version of a tropical calendar with the winter solstice (December 21st) roughly selected as the “start” and “end” of each year.
A lunar year is the amount of time it takes the Moon to complete 12 cycles (“months”) from “new” through “full” and back to “new” (or visa versa). Most cultures, including India, use this calendar for spiritual and religious timings. It comes out to be about 354.37 days.
The difference between the lunar year and the other years is quite a lot, about 11 days! So every 3 years the discrepancy between the lunar year and the varieties of solar years becomes about 30 days – which equals one month. So every 3 years lunar calendars get an extra month, called “adhika maasa” in India, to help keep them in sync with the solar years.
A common year is simply a collection of 360 sunrises. This year is not accurate for anything of long duration, but is very accurate for dealing with the length of days – which is exactly the length of one sunrise to the next. So it is simply used for short spans of time in most folk ritualistic contexts.
Keeping aware of nature’s true time cycles is an ideal way to keep in communion with the divine Godhead. I hope this short article will help us do just that.
– Vic DiCara