In all Hindu rituals we begin the program with a sankalpa – a commitment or resolution – to the devata (God) who is being worshipped. We chant these words starting “Shubhe shobhane muhurte….” mindlessly and often incorrectly. It will help if you could tell us what this sankalpa is, and why we chant it.
The sankalpa, which as you say is chanted in all pujas and other rituals at the start, comprises four sections interwoven seamlessly, to announce four important things:
• Which time-cycle am I presently in (the unique Hindu concept of Yuga)?
• Where am I doing this ritual (a description of the geography)?
• On which day and at what time am I doing it (the precise tithi and nakshatra)?
• What will be I be doing in the course of this ritual?
The first part starting with ‘shubhe shobhane muhurte’ and ending with ‘pratama paade’ sets out the details of the time-cycle in which we live, called Yuga. Yuga can be roughly equated to an era or an age within the kala chakra or the overall time cycle. The Hindu concept of time is cyclical and not linear. This cycle of creation is God’s work.
Srishti and Samhara, creation and dissolution, are the two parts of this never-ending process in a long cyclic succession of events.
The second section, starting with ‘jambudweepe’ and ending with ‘vyavaharike’ takes one through the geography: it describes the setting of the place from which the person is taking the sankalpa. In essence this talks of Bharata or India, the motherland of the Hindus, and our coordinates and boundaries. The Sankalpa starts with “Adhya Brhmanaha, Dwitiya Parardhe, Sweta varaha kalpe, Vaivasvata manvantare, Ashthavimsati tame, Kali yuge…. ”
• Adhya Brahmanaha literally means that the person who does the Sankalpa starts from Brahma’s life.
• Dwitiya Parardha means Brahma’s second Parardha. One Parardha consists of 50 Brahma years. Now the second Parardha is running.
• Sweta Varaha Kalpa is the first of the thirty Kalpas according to Matsya Purana.
• Vaivasvata manvantra: There are fourteen manvantras in a Kalpa, and the present one is seventh and its name is Vaivasvata manvantra.
• Ashthavimsatitame means 18,000 Kalpas has been now completed.
• Kaliyuge-Prathame pade means we are in the first quarter of the Kaliyuga.
• Jambu Dweepe, Bharata Varshe, Bharata Khande describes the geographical area of our motherland.
The third part of the sankalpa focuses on the specific date and time of the ritual. Starting with the schema of 60 years (‘Prabhavadi sashtya samvatsaranam madhye”), it specifies the year, the month, the paksha, the day (vasara), the date (tithi), and the nakshatra.
The other terminologies that we come across in our sankalpa are:
* The Varsha: There are 60 years in a cycle and each year (Samvatsara) has a name. For instance, Jaya is the name for the year 2014-15).
* The Ayana: There are two ayanas in a year viz., Uttarayana (roughly January to June) and Dakshinayana (roughly July to December). Each ayana has a period of six months.
* The Ritu: There are six Ritus (seasons) in a year, viz., (i) Vasanta (ii) Greeshma (iii) Varsha (iv) Sharat (v) Hemanta (vi) Shishira.
* The Masa: There are twelve months in a year. They are Mesha, Vrushabha, Mithuna, Kataka, Simha, Kanya, Tula, Vrichika, Dhanur, Makara, Kumbha, and Meena.
* The Paksha: A paksha consists of 15 days and two pakshas make a month. Shukla paksha starts the day after amavasya and ends with pournami. Krishna paksha starts the day after pournami and ends with amavasya.
* The Tithi: Every day has a tithi and in a paksha we have 15 such tithis. The same set will appear in both the Shukla and Krishna pakshas. These are the ordinal numbers of the days.
* The Vasara: Sunday (Bhanu vasara), Monday (Indu vasara), Tuesday (Bhauma vasara), Wednesday (Sowmya vasara), Thursday (Guru vasara), Friday (Brugu vasara) and Saturday (Sthira vasara) are the seven days of the week.
* The Nakshatra: The Hindu calendar has 27 nakshatras during each month, repeated 12 times in a year. The name of the nakshatra of the day is announced as part of the sankalpa.
Finally, the actual resolve or commitment is chanted: “asmakam sakutumbhanam kshema…” concluding with “karishye” (I shall do).
The karta spells out the purpose of the puja or the ritual, the God or Goddess for whom it is done, and the benefits being sought in terms of the health, wealth etc. of the family of the karta
Source: “The Great Hindu Tradition” authored by Shri Sharma Shastry