Pahar (Hindi/Nepali: पहर, Urdu:پہر), which is more commonly pronounced Paher, is a traditional unit of time used in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In India, the measure is primarily used in North India. One pahar nominally equals three hours, and there are eight pahars in a day.
The word pahar/peher literally means a watch (i.e. period of guard-duty), and has the same root as the Hindustani word pehra (meaning to stand guard) and pehredar (literally guard). Pahar or pehar is derived from Sanskrit word prahar which is ancient unit of time in India.
Each pahar of a 24-hour day-night cycle has a specific name and number. Traditionally, night and day were each allocated four pahars. The first day pahar (or din pahar) was timed to begin at sunrise and the first night pahar (raat pahar) was timed to begin at sunset. This meant that the day pahars were shorter than night pahars in winter, the opposite was true in summer, and they 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.
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 or دوپہر) 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.
Sant Kabir mentions pahar in one of his Dohas as below.
पाँच पहर धंधे गया, तीन पहर गया सोय ।
एक पहर हरि नाम बिन, मुक्ति कैसे होय ॥
Meaning : [You] Went to work for five pahars, slept remaining three pahars, how will you attain salvation without chanting holy name of Lord for at least one pahar?
- Amir Khusro Dihlavi, Mir Amman (1882), Bāgh-o-bahār; or, Tales of the four darweshes, W.H. Allen, "... pahars, or watches, of which the second terminated at noon; hence, do-pahar-din, mid-day ... do-pahar-rat, midnight ... in the north of India, the pahar must have varied from three and a-half hours about the summer solstice, to two and a-half in winter, the pahars of the night varying inversely ..."
- Susan Snow Wadley (2005), Essays on North Indian folk traditions, Orient Blackswan, ISBN 81-8028-016-0, "... pahar (period of three hours) ..."
- J. Wilson (Settlement Officer) (1883), Final report on the revision of settlement of the Sirsa district in the Punjab, "... they vary in length at different times of the year, but at the equinox the pahars of the day and night are equal, each being three hours long. Dopahar means midday; pahar din raha=3 PM; pahar rat gai=9 PM; pahar din charha=9 AM ..."
- Arvind Kumar, Kusum Kumar (2006), अरविंद सहज समांतर कोश: शब्दकोश भी-थिसारस भी (Arvind Basic Dictionary and Thesaurus), Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt Ltd, ISBN 81-267-1103-5, "... पहला पहर = प्रातःकाल ..."
- T. Warren, A shorter English-Nepali dictionary, Asian Educational Services, 1988, ISBN 978-81-206-0304-2, "... midday dopahar दोपहर् ..."
- Richard Delacy (1998), Hindi & Urdu phrasebook, Lonely Planet, ISBN 0-86442-425-6, "... kal seh pahar ko : yesterday evening ..."