THE BAHÁ’Í CALENDAR
by Gordon J. Kerr
THE SCIENTIFIC DIMENSION
A calendar is a time-keeping device employing such perceptible units as days, months, seasons, etc. These units refer to the regular motions of the sun and moon in relation to the earth.
Unfortunately, the solar and lunar cycles are not in agreement; while the solar year consists of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds, the lunar year has 354 days, approximate to a day.
The Báb says: “With the coming of the Bayán God ordained nineteen months for every year and nineteen days for every month. The year starts when the sun enters the sign of the Ram and ends when the sun, after completing its journey throughout the signs of the Zodiac, enters the sign of the Fish.” (Note: 19 x 19 = 361 + 4 or 5 Intercalary Days.)
The number 19 has an astronomical significance: every nineteen years the sun and moon, with respect to their cycles, are in the same relative position.
Furthermore, while the beginning of the year in the present calendar is purely arbitrary and astronomically difficult to define, the Bahá’í new year was astronomically defined by the Báb by the position of the earth in relation to the solar configuration. Therefore it may be defined within a second.
By varying the number of intercalary days, the start of each year may be adjusted with the same precision.
THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION
The calendar revealed by the Báb is not merely a time-keeping device, but has also a profound spiritual meaning; it expresses the balance in human life which is essential for spiritual growth. “Nothing is more precious in the eyes of God than balance” says the Báb.
The year is taken as a whole and is divided into four units of three months, four months, six months and six months respectively. The names of the months are meaningful too, for they correspond to the spiritual purpose of these units.
1st unit: Bahá Jalál Jamál
Splendour Glory Beauty
2nd unit: ‘Azamat Núr Rahmat Kalimát
Grandeur Light Mercy Words
3rd unit: Kamál Asmá’ ‘Izzat Mashíyyat ‘Ilm Qudrat
Perfection Names Might Will Knowledge Power
4th unit: Qawl Masá’il Sharaf Sultán Mulk ‘Alá’
Speech Questions Honour Sovereignty Dominion Loftiness
The first months represent the keeping of faith. After accepting the new Revelation, the fire of love is kindled in the heart of the believer and he experiences spiritual joy. The names of these months are indicative of this state: Splendour, Glory and Beauty. The love of man for God is defined in this unit.
The next four months represent man’s study of the Word of God and the increase of his consciousness. This is the eternal love of God for man – the knowledge of God is brought to man through His Messenger each time that man is in need of guidance. The names of these months apply to the Writings: Grandeur, Light, Mercy and Words.
The next six months represent man’s spiritual progress. He becomes a better man, not in relation to others, but in relation to what he was before accepting the New Revelation. He loses his shortcomings, gains strength and is able to resist temptations; thus, he becomes dead to the material world. The meaning of “union with God” becomes visible in such a man, for he reflects the teachings of God in his own life. This is the love of God to God, in other words, the love of God to His reflection in the actions of men. The names of these months signify spiritual progress: Perfection, Names, Might, Will, Knowledge and Power.
In the last six months eternal life is conferred upon those whose efforts remain forever in the process of an ever-advancing civilization. The Báb says that the fourth unit pertains to “dust”, that is, the material civilization. This is the time when the results of the three preceding units become visible in the work and actions of men. The fourth unit represents love of man for man, and the names of the calendar months are: Speech, Questions, Honour, Sovereignty, Dominion and Loftiness, which are the attributes of a successful life.
The year is taken as a unity, but any length of time, whether it be a day, or a month, etc., may be adjusted to this pattern. The four unitys of the year are simply a reminder of how to gain balance in one’s life. Then the four units will all be merged into one unit and the meaning of unity will become apparent.
Perhaps the meaning of the calendar would be easier to understand if we realize that the four units represent LOVE, KNOWLEDGE, UNITY and WORK which is Worship.
The following are the words of the Báb concerning the four parts of the unit which is the year. He shows the essential necessity of spiritual progress which should precede the material progress of human civilization.
“In the first three months take place the creation of the fire of the love of God in the hearts of men.
“In the next four months take place the creation of the conscious mind; during these months the food of the knowledge of God is bestowed upon men.
“In the next six months God makes men die, not by material death, but by death to temptations of the material world.
“In the last six months God gives life to those who are dead to all love except the love of God and who are firm in His love.
“The first three months are those of the fire of God; creative fire and not the fire of chastisement.
“The next four months are those of eternal love, [heavenly food].
“The next six months are those of the unity of God with His creation. God radiates eternal love through the reflection of His Spirit in the hearts of men ablaze with His love.
“The last six months pertain to dust, and all that comes forth from the preceding three units is hidden in this last unity; this is the unit where fruit is harvested.”
The first month, Bahá, and the last month, U’lláh [‘Alá’], form … Bahá’u’lláh.
Note: The quotations from the Bayán are translated from the French version which, although adequate, must needs be improved, and thus do not represent an authoritative translation. [For further reference see “Selections from the Writings of E. G. Browne on the Bábí and Bahá’í Religions”, edited by Moojan Momen: George Ronald, Oxford. (1987)]