How an Unusual Calendar Became a Symbol of Indian Culture

Fifty years since its inception, Kalnirnay has become an essential household tool and a point of connection for the diaspora.

Sushmita Pathak

May 16, 2022

How an Unusual Calendar Became a Symbol of Indian Culture
January 1973 Kalnirnay

It was the early 1970s, and Jayantrao Salgaonkar was in trouble. The Bombay-based astrologer used to design crosswords for a puzzle-solving contest in Marathi-language newspapers. But due to its financial reward, authorities deemed the contest a form of gambling and, therefore, illegal. Between this run-in with the law, growing competition from state-owned lotteries, and the rise of matka, another betting game, Salgaonkar's crossword business was struggling.

“We had no money,” Salgaonkar's son, Jayraj Salgaokar, who was in his late teens at the time, recounted. So, father and son put their heads together and came up with a new business idea: a calendar-cum-almanac that fused the Gregorian calendar with panchang or panchangam, the Hindu almanac. Along with the usual days and dates, their creation included religious observances and auspicious days and times. In India, a country where many people begin new endeavors or plan surgeries according to shubh muhurats — short windows of time considered lucky due to planetary positions — the objective, explains Jayraj, was to give the public access to scholarly information and save them the hassle of consulting the priest for every little decision. They named their calendar Kalnirnay (‘kaal’ means time; ‘nirnay’ means decision). Neighbors, business associates, friends — almost everyone — thought Jayantrao’s new business, like his old one, was doomed. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Today, nearly 20 million people buy Kalnirnay every year, making it one of the world’s largest selling publications. It’s available in English and six Indian languages, as well as in a variety of sizes and thematic editions. The medium-sized version sells for about 50 cents. In households in Maharashtra, where it first debuted, it’s as common as a wall clock. For 50 years, Kalnirnay has continued to occupy a special place in Indians’ hearts. But as the internet changes habits and expands access to information, will the calendar still find space on their walls?