Amāvāsya and Pratipad  (printed in Jyotish Digest, VolXI, Issue II, April-Sep 2014)

In the ancient world, the new moon was the first citing of the waxing crescent Moon. In western astronomy, the definition of the new moon is when ‘the Sun and Moon have the same longitude’, which means they are in a conjunction. This conjunction time is marked in many calendars, but the Moon is not visible at this moment.

The Vedic astrologer and the yogī are required to differentiate the time before and after this moment of Sun-Moon union as these times contain a different quality. Unfortunately, the present translation of the Sanskrit nomenclature has been very unclear about the differentiation. This creates a misunderstanding in the nature of time, which is cleared by more deeply understanding the phase before the conjunction of the Sun and the Moon and the phase afterwards; or as we may call them, the Old and New Moons.

You will find in almost all texts, previous to this article, that Amāvāsya, the last lunar phase before conjunction, is translated as ‘new moon’. The last lunar phase (tithi) of the lunar synodic month is numbered as either the fifteenth waning phase (kṛṣṇa pañcadaśī) or as the thirtieth phase (triṁśattama) of the entire month. It is also called the tithyanta, which means the last tithi (or end of the tithis). The fifteenth waning tithi begins when the Moon is 12 degrees of angular distance before the Sun and ends at the Sun-Moon conjunction (syzygy). Each moment of the fifteenth tithi, the Moon loses more and more light; therefore it can be described as the ‘dark moon’ (kṛṣṇatā).

amavasya tithi is called dark moon or no moon and is often confused with new moon tithi

After the conjunction, the Moon begins to wax, and the 12 degrees of angular distance after the Sun is the first crescent. In Sanskrit, this first crescent is called either Pratipada which means ‘forming the commencement’ or Prathama which means ‘first, primary, and newly’. The ancient world looked for the siting of the first crescent to begin the new month, thereby calling this visible crescent the new moon. The Babylonians and therefore the Hebrews called this the head of the month (Rosh Chodesh) as the day beginning or commencing the month. The Greeks called the first visible siting as new moon (Noumênía). The Greeks, Romans, Hebrews and Indians eventually stopped looking for the visibility of the Moons first waxing phase and began calculating this mathematically as advances in the astronomy emerged in the last centuries B.C.

So why in some texts, is Amāvāsya being called the new moon? Every Sanskrit translation for the last 150 years calls Amāvāsya the new moon. I even call it the new moon in many places in my early writing and books because that is how the Sanskrit dictionary translates it. The Sanskrit dictionaries were made by linguists, not astronomers or astrologers.

Sir Monier Monier-Williams was the head of Asian languages at Oxford University starting in 1860 and compiled a Sanskrit-English dictionary in 1872 based on the Sanskrit-German Petersburg Sanskrit Dictionary. The German dictionary translated Amāvāsya as new moon and Monier-Williams just translated this into English.[1] Monnier Williams repeats that the word is composed of the roots {vas} which means to dwell and {amā} which means together. His definition is: “the night of new moon (when the sun and moon ‘dwell together’), the first day of the first quarter on which the moon is invisible.”

The first problem with this definition is that Amāvāsya is the day/night before the Sun and Moon dwell together, and second, it is not the first day of the first quarter, but the last day of the last quarter. Another issue with the Monier-Williams’ definition is that it is correct that Amāvāsya is ‘invisible’ but this does not distinguish between before and after conjunction as is done when thirty tithis are utilized. Monier-Williams’ definition does not work for the Indian system of thirty clearly defined phases nor would it be proper for a system of only four phases of the Moon[2] (as some utilize). It does not distinguish that the ‘new crescent moon’ phase does not begin till the very end of Amāvāsya which is the exact moment that Pratipad begins, which is the first day of the first quarter. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the common usage of new moon as “the first visible crescent of the Moon, after conjunction with the Sun”[3] which is how the term was used in ancient literature. That definition fits with the visible situation of Pratipad, not Amāvāsya. Monier-Williams correctly defines Pratipad as the new moon, but this leaves no differentiation between the last and first lunar phase, which each have special names in Sanskrit. Monier-Williams’ definition is incorrect and therefore the translation of Amāvāsya as new moon is incorrect.

Amāvāsya and Pratipad in the Vedas

The Atharvaveda has three hymns (sūktas) next to each other that relate to the phases of the Moon. The first is the Amāvāsya Sūkta which is to be read at that time. The Pūrṇimā Sūkta is to be read on the full moon. And the Sūrya-Chandra Sūkta was read on sighting of the first crescent.

The Amāvāsya Sūkta says that Amāvāsya is the portion ‘dwelling together’ (saṁvasati).[4] It even calls this dwelling together as a conjunction or union (saṁgamanī).[5] The Taittirīya Saṁhita (III.5.1) says that Amāvāsya is entering into union (niveśanī saṁgaṁanī). The English astronomical word for this union is syzygy, meaning ‘yoked together’ or ‘union’.[6] It is the union of the Sun and Moon from the view of Earth. Amāvāsya is clearly understood to be the phase before syzygy. It was not considered a very auspicious time as we see a prayer in the Atharvaveda praying for protection from thieves, flesh-eaters, spirits (piśācas) and those who hunt on Amāvāsya (the dark night).[7]

The Sūrya-Chandra Sūkta starts with the childlike dance of the Sun and the Moon which allows the Moon to be born new (nava) again.  This is to be read on the first crescent which here is called darśa. Monier-Williams defines this as ‘appearance’, the moon when just becoming visible, and day of the new moon. The word comes from looking at, viewing, or to appear which refers to the first appearance of the waxing crescent. The darśa-yāga is the ‘new moon’ sacrifice performed on the first lunar day of the month which is known as pratipad.

The new crescent is seen as a new leaf on the stem of the soma vine.[8] As the Soma vine is described as having 15 leaves which increases (vardha) and decreases (hīya) like the Moon waxes and wanes. [9] The Sūrya-Chandra Sūkta prays to let us grow/thrive (pyāyana) like the new moon[10] which is growing from a single leaf to a full plant.

Amāvāsya and Pratipad in the Tantra

Abhinavagupta says the waning Moon nourishes (āpyāyana) the gods, losing one tithi at a time until it reaches the fifteenth portion (pañcadaśī tuṭi). There the goddess Amāvāsya, who is the emaciated Moon (kṣīṇaścandra), enters the conjunction with the Sun.[11] He calls the final portion, Amā, which means ‘together’ referring to the union (saṁghaṭṭa) of the Moon with the Sun. The goddess Amā abides (vāsya) in the fifteenth tithi offering libations to everything (viśvatarpiṇī).

She is called Amā, ‘together’, as she is entering union. The fifteen tithi, Amāvāsya, is where Amā (togetherness) resides (vāsya). The goddess of this final tithi has been called the Emaciated One (śuṣkā) as well as the ‘Lioness of the Nectar of Union’ (utsaṅgāmṛtakesarī).[12]

The goddess of the Full Moon was called Pūrṇā or Paurṇamāsī. When the lunar month is calculated from the end of the Full Moon (as it was in Eastern India for some time) it is called pūrṇimānta month. The standard use of months beginning from the end of the thirtieth tithi is called amānta months, which means it begins at the end (anta) of the tithi ruled by the goddess Amā. The junction (saṁdhi) between the waxing and waning Moon lasts for one lunar day. The first part of the saṁdhi comes from the last half of Amāvāsya, the other part comes from the first half of the waxing crescent moon (pratipad). In Tantra, this junction space has its own goddesses and practices.

Amarakośa of Amarasingh

The Amarakośa is an ancient thesaurus. Here we can see where the confusion may have come from with the modern dictionaries (even though they did not reference this source).

(1.4.267)  amāvāsyā tvamāvasyā darśaḥ sūryendusaṅgamaḥ

The Amarakośa puts Amāvāsya, darśa, and Sun-Moon-union (sūryendusaṅgama) in a verse as synonyms without differentiating the terms. Amāvāsya is the last tithi, darśa is the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon- pratipad, and Sūrya-Indu-saṅgama is the syzygy that splits the months, but is used in Atharvaveda to describe Amāvāsya.

(1.4.268)  sā dṛṣṭenduḥ sinīvālī sā naṣṭendukalā kuhūḥ

The first word is ‘dṛṣṭendu’ which means the visible or seen Moon (which refers to the initial crescent- pratipad), the goddess Sinīvālī  and Kuhū who are identified with Amāvāsya in the Taittirīya Saṁhitā[13] are listed with the synonym, then ‘invisible Moon phase’ (naṣṭa-Indu-kalā) refers to Amāvāsya.

1.4.267 refers to Amāvāsya, Amāvāsya, Pratipad, Amāvāsya. 1.4.268 refers to Pratipad, Amāvāsya, Amāvāsya, Amāvāsya. In this way, the terms for Amāvāsya and new moon (pratipad) are being mixed and a linguist without astrological skill would not differentiate them.

Nomenclature from other traditions

The Egyptians associated the Moon with the god of renewal, Osiris. The waning Moon was his dismemberment from his jealous brother, Set, into fourteen parts. The dark moon (Amāvāsya tithi) was a mourning for his loss where no beneficial activity was recommended. The new moon (śukla pratipad) would be a celebration of the rebirth or resurrection of Osiris. The full Moon was a celebration of the restoration of Osiris.

The Babylonians used 30 lunar phases called ūma, in the Akkadian language, which literally means ‘day’. The days used the same notation as the Indian tithi presently used today in India. The Akkadian Moon-god, Sin, (called Nanna in Sumerian) can be represented by the number 30, representing ‘she who is made of 30 portions’. The union of the Sun and Moon was seen as a sexual act from which the crescent Moon was born. The Moon before syzygy was the invisble Moon (similar to naṣṭa-Indu-kalā) while the new Moon was the visible Moon (similar to dṛṣṭendu).

The Hebrews adapted their calendrical calculations from the Babylonians, but I haven’t seen much use of the thirty phases. They called the first crescent (new moon) as the ‘head of the month’ (Rosh Chodesh). The Hebrews had additional temple offerings and psalms to be read on sighting the visible crescent.

The early Hellenic world used a system of thirty tithis till their calendar become more tropical and began using a solar counting system. Hesiod (750-650 BC) talks about activities in the various tithis. The Greeks called the last waning tithi either the thirtieth (triakás) or the old moon (hénê). And the first waxing lunar phase was called the new moon (noumênía).

In modern (European-based) paganism the waning crescent has been called the ‘crone’s crescent’, while the waxing crescent is called the ‘virgin’s crescent’.  Often the Moon is seen in cycles of 4 or 8 phases and the differentiation is not as distinct between these phases as it is with tithi calculated with angular distances between the Sun and Moon.

In the ancient world, from Rome to India, observation of the first crescent (new moon) was used to determine a new lunar cycle. There was much advancement in astronomy between 200 B.C. to about 400 A.D. The celestial mathematics of calculating the lunar cycle advanced to great accuracy and most of these places (accept for the Moon worshipping Arabs) ‘calculated’ the new moon instead of waiting for someone to observe it for the first time. There are some religious teachers that believe that since in the biblical times, the first observation was used instead of the mathematical calculation that we should still use observation. I believe this is like saying we should ride on a donkey instead of in a car because that it what they did in the bible.

The change from observation to astronomical precision has brought about a discrepancy between the astronomical definition and the common usage definition of new moon in English. Previous to the advancement of celestial mathematics the new moon was the first visible crescent. The exact moment of syzygy was unknown until scientific advancements to calculate the lunar cycle became more accurate. After the time where works like Ptolemy were produced, the new moon became the moment of syzygy, where the moment the Moon began waxing anew.

Qualitative Nature

During the dark moon of Amāvāsya, the Indian scriptures say not to pick any plant or harm any life (“not even a lizard”). The life force is seen to reside deep inside of beings, for plants it is pulled deep into their roots. Ancestor worship (śraddha) is done during the lunar phase of Amāvāsya. No auspicious worldly activities are recommended at this time as it is the last phase (tithi gandanta), the end of the fortnight (pakṣa gandanta) and the last day of the month (māsa gandanta) which associates it with ending and death. Individuals are advised to do extra personal practice; such as sacred baths, purifications, mantras, etc. to clear the energy of Amāvāsya, and the dirt of the past month. Only black magic that has ill intention is said to be successful during this time.

Pandit Sanjay Rath teaches to avoid signing contracts, making business deals or anything to do with money as it is a phase where the results will hurt you. Projects began at this time often end with deceit and suffering.

The energy of the dark moon grows in strength till conjunction of the luminaries. The moment after conjunction, the new waxing phase begins. It is instant, as previously the Moon was waning and after that union, it is waxing. It is similar to the moment of Sunrise or the moment of the winter Solstice.[14]  The new moon (pratipada) is ruled by the energy of Brahmā, the creator god. The dark moon is heavy, dirty, and inward, while the new moon is light, pure (śuddha), and outward.

The junction space (saṁdhi) between these two phases lasts for one lunar day (tithi). This is approximately 12 hours previous to the syzygy and 12 hours after the syzygy. This time is considered more auspicious to perform ritual and practice meditation.

The new moon (pratipad) is not good for social activities as the Moon is still very limited, but it does not hold negative energy for other actions. Its nature is the energy of growth (vṛddhi) and the Vedic prayers to it are invocations for prosperity and growth. In ancient times, when the days were numbered according to the lunar phases, pratipad was the first day of the month. New calendars would be started, new schedules made, bills would be paid and a new month began fresh.

Syzygy Moon, Dark Moon or Old Moon

The Greeks associated the dark goddess Hekate with the Old Moon (hénê). She was often shown in a triplicity similar to the groupings of ten tithis[15] that was common in early Greece. In Tantra, Amāvāsya is associated with the dark goddess Kālī. Amā is said to be the original effulgence (bimba) of the goddess Kālīka.[16] The name Kālī is the feminine of kāla which means dark, black, time as well as death (your time has come).

Kälī is also called Jyeṣṭhā which means the pre-eminent, more excellent than, or the eldest. As the eldest she is seen as the goddess that came before the others, creating the womb of Time in which all things were born into. As the eldest, she is properly portrayed as old and emaciated with sagging breasts. The emaciated Moon, the old Moon, the dark Moon all would be proper titles for the phase that represents Kālī’s energy (but not New Moon). The Moon of Amāvāsya has not been reborn yet, the new Month has not started till after Amāvāsya completes.

The most exact translation of Amāvāsya would be something of the nature of Dwelling-Together Moon, Union Moon or Syzygy Moon. Though these are the most direct, they don’t sound well with the term Full Moon. Because of the darker energy of the goddesses related to Amāvāsya it could be called the Dark Moon. The only problem with this is that some western astrologers have used that term to refer to the placement of the lunar apogee point, which moves 40 degrees a year and takes 8 years to cycle through the zodiac. This point has also been called the Black Moon and therefore is not set nomenclature. Other western astrologers have termed the time period of 2-3 days before and after the syzygy as the Dark Moon, but again this has not become fixed nomenclature as some also call it the Dead Moon.

The opposite of the full moon could be called the empty moon, representing the lack of light, but there is no ancient ‘nomenclature’ to support this terminology. It has also been called ‘no-moon’ by some struggling to differentiate it from the new moon.

The term Old Moon has validity both from the Greek name of Amāvāsya as well as the connotations of Kālī as Jyeṣṭhā. It has a beneficial contrast with the New Moon (pratipad); when the Old Moon ends the New Moon begins. Old Moon represents the goddess in her crone form, having been born a baby (new), reached her prime (full) and faded away to be an old grandmother ready to pass away (old), then born (new) again.

There needs to be a more proper translation given to the tithi where the goddess Amā resides. I translate Amāvāsya as the last tithi or the ‘dark moon’.



[1] अमावास्य  (von वस्, वसति mit अमा)
1) n. das sich-Einnisten (?): य आग रे मृ गयन्ते प्रतिक्रो शे ऽमावा स्ये । क्र व्यादो अ न्यान्दिप्सतः सर्वां स्तान्त्सहसा सहे ॥ AV. 4, 36, 3. —
2) f. °स्या (mit oder ohne रात्रि) Neumondsnacht P. 3, 1, 122. VOP. 26, 11. AK. 1, 1, 3, 8. H. 150. ये ऽमावा स्यां ३ रात्रिमु दस्थुर्व्रा जम त्रिणः AV. 1, 16, 1. अ हमे वास्म्यमावा स्या३ मामा वसन्ति सु कृतो मयी मे । मयि दे वा उ भये सा ध्याश्चेन्द्रज्येष्ठाः समगच्छन्त सर्वे ॥ 7, 80, 2. अ मा वा स्या च पौर्णमा सी च 15, 2, 2. 16, 3. 17, 9. ŚAT. BR. 1, 6, 3, 35. 4, 5. 8, 32. 2, 4, 4, 6. u. s. w. 14, 4, 3, 22. = BṚH. ĀR. UP. 1, 5, 14. AIT. BR. 7, 11. CHĀND. UP. 5, 2, 4. ĀŚV. ŚR. 12, 6. KĀTY. ŚR. 3, 3, 25. u. s. w. NIR. 11, 31. P. 4, 3, 30. M. 4, 113. 114. 128. YĀJŃ. 1, 217. PAŃCAT. 169, 8. Vgl. अमावस्या, कुहू, सिनीवाली und आमावास्य.

[2] Four phases of [1] New Moon, [2] half waxing Moon, [3] Full Moon, [4] half waning Moon or an 8 phase system using [1] New Moon, [2] waxing crescent, [3] first quarter, [4] waxing gibbous, [5] full moon, [6] waning gibbous, [7] last quarter, [8] waning crescent.

[3] In Astronomy, the new moon is defined as the moment the Moon and Sun have the same ecliptical longitude (syzygy), which is the time marked on calendars as the new moon.

[4] yat te devā akṛṇvan bhāgadheyamamāvāsye saṁvasanto mahitvā. Atharvaveda 7.84.1 (Amāvāsya Sūkta)

[5] āgan rātrī saṁgamaṇī vasūnāmūrjaṁ puṣṭaṁ vasvāveshayantī. Atharvaveda 7.84.3 (Amāvāsya Sūkta)

[6] Syzygy refers to when the Sun, Moon and Earth are in a straight line which happens at either conjunction or opposition. In this way, it can refer to the end of Āmāvāsya and the beginning of sukla pratipad or the end of Pūrṇima and the beginning of kṛṣṇa pratipad.

[7] य आगरे मृगयन्ते प्रतिक्रो शेऽमावा स्ये । क्रव्यादो अन्यान्दिप्सतः सर्वां स्तान्त्सहसा सहे ॥ Atharvaveda 4.36.3

[8] Atharvaveda 4.86.3 Sūrya-Chandra Sūkta

[9] Charaka Saṁhitā, Cikitsāsthānam, Chapter I.4 Rasāyanādhyāya v.7

[10] Atharvaveda 4.86.5 Sūrya-Chandra Sūkta

[11] Tantrāloka VI.92-93

[12] Manthānabhairavatantram, Kumārikākhaṇḍa 3.116, 3.132

[13] Agrawala, Prithvi Kumar. Goddessess in Ancient India p.103-104

[14] Tantrāloka VI.24,114

[15] Three decads: mên histámenos, mên mesôn, mên phthínôn

[16] Manthānabhairavatantram, Kumārikākhaṇḍa 3.116



Agrawala, Prithvi Kumar. Goddessess in Ancient India. Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1984.

Most, Glenn W. Hesiod Volume 1: Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Loeb Classical Library 57, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006.

Sophistes, Apollonius. The Ancient Greek Sacred Lunar Month. Retrieved August 01, 2014, from , website

syzygy. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from website:

Posner, Menachem. Rosh Chodesh. Retrieved September 14, 2014 from