The Seasons’ Maths: Are there 4, 6 or 24 seasons in a year?

Based on which country you live in, the year can be divided into 4 or 6 or even 24 seasons! Let’s crack the seasons’ maths!

Here’s a riddle for you: What numbers four in the West, six in India and 24 in China? Don’t jump to complex conclusions looking for some tangled trade ratio! It’s simply the count of the seasons in the different parts of the world.

Summer, winter,

Spring and Fall,

Are the seasons

I love you,

Most of all!

In our teens, this was a romantic song we learnt to love and for the longest time, summer, winter, spring and fall were the four seasons I thought of. Then one day I realised that fall or autumn was not all that visible in our neighbourhood, in the absence of deciduous trees which create that spectacular orange-red carpet on the ground in temperate zones. I had to reduce my seasons count to just three in Delhi, as the fall fell from favour! However in Bombay, I realised, the three seasons were summer, winter and monsoon. Before moving to Ahmedabad, I asked someone about the weather and she wryly replied, we have only two seasons here: Hot and Hotter!

Happily, the seasons in my life increased again as I began to research and write on Indian culture and I was thrilled with the idea of Shad Ritu or six seasons. In India, as in China and most countries, the Gregorian calendar is followed for official purposes. But it is the lunar calendar that rules our domestic and social life and speaks of six distinct seasons in India. The cycle of seasons is referred to as rituchakra. There are twelve months in the Indian calendar too. Six seasons across twelve months means that each season is spread out over two months. On a day to day basis, we do not remember which month or season is on according to the Hindu calendar. However the names of seasons and months are familiar and used in common parlance. I’m sure everyone has a friend named after one of the months or seasons! Do you know a Vasant, Varsha, Sharad or Hemant? Now it will be easy to remember the six seasons or Shadritu: Vasant Ritu is Spring, Grishma Ritu is Summer, Varsha Ritu is Monsoon, Sharad Ritu is Autumn, Hemant Ritu is Pre-winter, and Shishir or Shita Ritu is Winter. Autumn or Fall is colloquially called patjhad or pankhar, literally meaning fall of leaves, and with the rich and varied geographical zones in India, we do see the Fall in action in some places.

Here is a table that gives the names of the six seasons and twelve months of the Indian calendar and their approximate relationship to the Gregorian calendar of Jan to Dec.

6-seasons_teble-01

Each of these seasons is celebrated in prose, painting and poetry in India. In many Indian languages, there is Baramasa poetry that describes how nature, landscape, animals, birds and even the human heart is influenced by the seasons. Many of the Gujarati poets that we feature on creativeyatra have written Ritu geet or songs of the seasons. The epic Ramayana explains the nuances of the seasons poetically by observing the stars and vegetation in the forest. Kalidasa, the poet whose imagery of nature is so evocative and aesthetic, wrote lyrically about spring several centuries ago. There is a description of all the seasons beautifully depicted in verse in his epic Ritusamhara which roughly translates as the ‘pageant of the seasons’.

“With the insolent clumps of Palash trees flourishing fiery blossoms in the breeze
The earth looks quite like some new-wed girl Clothed in red for spring-time festivities.”
(Canto-VI, St-19. P-87) Ritusmahara by Kalidasa

It is the season of spring- spring that intoxicates with its song and scent. The mango buds were opening, and swarms of bees settled on them humming softly. The lakes around the city echoed with the joyous cries of swans, thrilled by the expanding lotuses. Travellers heard with delight the festive songs sung in every street. The dhak trees were in full blossom. The sweet humming of the black bees among the jasmine buds sounded like cupid’s trumpet call of victory. The swarm of bees clustering around bunches of white flowers looked like sapphires worn with pearls in a necklace. The trumpet flower seemed to be hook with which the god of love was fishing among the restless hearts of men.

SUBANDHU in VASAVADATTA

It is in Indian miniature painting tradition that we find the most amazing depiction of the seasons. The Baramasa (literally meaning twelve months) series has 12 folios which capture the elements of the sky and earth, of the flora and fauna, as well as of the moods of the people across the six different seasons, documenting the detailed observation power of the artists. The flowers of the different seasons, the animals depicted, the sky and landscape and activity of the people in each of the 12 paintings of the Baramasa series, are distinct and characteristic. The mood, location and activity of hero and heroine, who are often Radha and Krishna, are echoed by the natural surroundings in each painting.

In Ahmedabad, while the hot sun blazes, a cool retreat is the NC Mehta Museum. It has some amazing collection of miniature paintings. Baramasa is a series of paintings connected to the seasons of the year, with each month of the Indian calendar depicting the mood in a brilliant manner.

baramasa-miniature-indian-paintings
Baramasa miniature paintings (Image source: exoticindia.com)

Interestingly, when living in China, I found that, just as in India, although they follow the Gregorian calendar for most purposes, they too have their own method of calculating time. But they have neither 4 nor 6 seasons; they have 4 x 6=24, i.e. a double dozen ‘seasons’ or ‘solar terms’. There are six ‘stages of winter’ alone! The 24 solar terms, based on the sun’s positions in the zodiac, were created by farmers in ancient China to guide the agricultural affairs and farming activities. They are linked to changes in climate, natural phenomena, agricultural production, and other aspects of human life, including clothing, food, housing and transportation.

Chinese Solar terms- Chinese Seasons
The Chinese Solar terms for the weeks to come

In the rich and delightfully complex cultural contexts of countries like India and China, the quintessence of wisdom of centuries makes it mandatory that we time our lives not just by calibrating calculators and clocks, but by tuning into Mother Nature’s rhythm and celebrating all the seasons with full gusto!

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