Pahar or Prahar, which is more commonly pronounced as peher, is a traditional unit of time used in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. One pahar nominally equals three hours, and there are eight pahars in a day. In India, the measure is primarily used in North India and Urdu speaking communities of Deccan in South India.
Pahar/pehar/peher is derived from the Sanskrit word prahar which is an ancient unit of time in India. The word pahar/peher has the same root as the Hindustani word pehra (meaning to stand guard) and pehredar (literally guard/watchman). It literally means a “watch” (i.e. period of guard-duty).
Traditionally, night and day were each allocated four pahars, or “watches.” The first pahar of the day (or din pahar) was timed to begin at sunrise, and the first pahar of the night (raat pahar) was timed to begin at sunset.
This meant that in the winter the daytime pahars were shorter than the night-time pahars, and the opposite was true in summer. The pahars were exactly equal on the equinoxes. Thus, the length of the traditional pahar varied from about 2.5 hours to 3.5 hours in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
Each pahar of a 24-hour day-night cycle has a specific name and number. The first pahar of the day, known as pehla pahar (Hindustani: pehla, meaning first), corresponds to the early morning. The second pahar is called do-pahar (Hindustani: do, meaning second). In the common speech of North India, Pakistan and Nepal, dopahar (दोपहर) has come to be the generic term for afternoon or midday. The third pahar is called seh pahar (Persian: seh, meaning three) and has generically come to mean evening, though the term is less commonly used than shaam.
Poet-saint Kabir mentions pahar in one of his dohas:
पाँच पहर धंधे गया, तीन पहर गया सोय ।
एक पहर हरि नाम बिन, मुक्ति कैसे होय ॥
You went to work for five pahars, slept for the remaining three pahars. How will you attain salvation without chanting the names of Lord Hari for at least one pahar?
A unit of time or midst unit is any particular time interval, used as a standard way of measuring or expressing duration. The base unit of time in the International System of Units (SI) and by extension most of the Western world, is the second, defined as about 9 billion oscillations of the caesium atom (Caesium also spelled cesium in American English is a chemical element with the symbol Cs and atomic number 55. The exact modern definition, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology is: “The duration of 9192631770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium -133 atom.
Historically units of time were defined by the movements of astronomical objects.
- Sun-based: the year was the time for the earth to revolve around the sun. Year-based units include the Olympiad (four years), the lustrum (five years), the indiction (15 years), the decade, the century, and the millennium.
- Moon-based: the month was based on the moon’s orbital period around the earth.
- Earth-based: the time it took for the earth to rotate on its own axis, as observed on a sundial. Units originally derived from this base include the week at seven days, and the fortnight at 14 days. Subdivisions of the day include the hour (1/24 of a day), which was further subdivided into minutes and finally seconds. The second became the international standard unit (SI units) for science.
- Celestial sphere-based: as in sidereal time, (a timekeeping system that astronomers use to locate celestial objects), where the apparent movement of the stars and constellations across the sky is used to calculate the length of a year.
These units do not have a consistent relationship with each other and require intercalation. (Intercalation or embolism in timekeeping is the insertion of a leap day, week, or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons or moon phases. Lunisolar calendars may require intercalations of both days and months.) A lunisolar calendar is a calendar in many cultures whose date indicates both the Moon phase and the time of the solar year.
For example, the year cannot be divided into 12 28-day months since 12 times 28 is 336, well short of 365. The lunar month (as defined by the moon’s rotation) is not 28 days but 28.3 days. The year, defined in the Gregorian calendar as 365.2425 days has to be adjusted with leap days and leap seconds. Consequently, these units are now all defined as multiples of seconds.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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