Posts written by Bill M. Mak

Newari Buddhist iconography of seven-day planetary deities and nakṣatras

Tucked in a back valley not far from Thamel, the backpackers’ haven in Kathmandu, is a 17th century Vajrayāna Buddhist temple called Guṇākaramahāvihāra (known locally as Chusya Baha). In it one finds rare woodcarvings of deities representing the seven planetary days (saptavāra) and the 27 nakṣatras (lunar mansions). Similar Buddhist astral iconography may be found in Tibet, Japan and Southeast Asia where esoteric Buddhism had reached. The nine-planet system (navagraha) which became popular in India possibly only after 6th century influenced also the Buddhist astral system, and is practiced in tandem with the saptagraha system.



Here one finds the fourth planetary day (Mercury) represented by the goddess Uṣṇiṣavijayā, paired up with the nakṣatra Aśleṣā. The 27 nakṣatras begins with Kṛttikā which was placed in the west. This does not conform with the conventional Buddhist astral system which places the first nakṣatra to the east instead.


At the Golden Temple (hiraṇyavarṇamahāvihāra) in Lalitpur (Patan), we find a copy of the Newar Buddhist almanac. In it one finds typical Indian pañcāṅga information, including astrological prediction based on 12 Indian zodiacal signs and navagraha, mixed with Buddhist elements. There were also descriptions of a solar eclipse, translated likely from modern astronomical almanac into Newari rather than calculated in traditional manner with texts such the Sūryasiddhānta.

公開講座 2015年6月18日(木)



会場:京都大学人文科学研究所東アジア人文情報学研究センター (分館)2階大会議室 アクセス
矢野道雄(京都産業大学 名誉教授)「宿曜道にみられるインドの天文学と占星術」
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An exciting evening lecture on astral science by two eminent Japanese scholars (18 Jun, 2015, Kyoto).
- Prof. Kaifu Norio (President of International Astronomical Union / Professor Emeritus of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan): “Myths and Legends on Stars, and Universe of Ancient Asia”
- Prof. Yano Michio (Professor Emeritus of Kyoto Sangyo University): “Indian astronomy and astrology as seen from the tradition of Sino-Japanese Esoteric Buddhist astral science”

*** Registration required. See (Japanese only):日本語/

2015 New Year in South and Southeast Asia – Mar 21 or Apr 14/15?

2015.4 Indian New Year

In India, the Hindus celebrate the New Year from the month of Caitra which begins from the New Moon, and in which the Sun enters “Aries” (Sanskrit: meṣa). Whereas, in Southeast Asia and certain parts of India such as Bengal, the New Year starts directly from “the moment the Sun enters Aries” (Sanskrit: meṣasaṃkrānti = Thai: songkran). Since the Gregorian calendar is solar, the latter Indian (solar) New Year is more or less fixed at around Apr 14/15. The former (luni-solar) Indian New Year is always close to the latter, but moves around depending when the New Moon is.


But what is the true significance behind either of these New Years?


Just like all the calendars, Gregorian, Chinese, etc., they preserve a distant memory of the past. The latter Indian New Year was originally associated with spring, when the vernal equinox was located in Aries at around 400 CE. (Due to precession, the equinoctial point has now moved to Pisces). This coordinate system was originally developed by the Greco-Babylonian astronomers a few centuries before the common era and was adopted by the Indian some centuries after the common era. Prior to that, the Indians used only a luni-solar calendar like the Chinese.


The concept behind the former luni-solar Indian New Year beginning with Caitra is therefore much older. In the Vedas, Caitra is associated with spring (vasanta) as well, but was associated with the vernal equinox at a much earlier date at least a thousand years earlier, located in the nakṣatra Kṛttikā (close to Taurus).


Although both the contemporary Indian New Years are completely arbitrary, tied to Aries which carries greater meaning in astrology than in astronomy, we can nonetheless see beautifully how precession brought us from Taurus (former luni-solar India New Year), to Aries (latter solar Indian New Year), and to finally Pisces (where vernal equinox is currently located).


While on the topic of astral science, I should point out that today we have the Sun, Mercury, Mars in Aries and the Moon in Taurus.


A belated happy new year to all my friends who celebrate the Indian New Year(s)!