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.

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)!

Prelego: La Mondo de Umesao Tadao 開講演会:梅棹忠夫の足跡

Dr. Bill M. Mak (Institute for Research in Humanities / Hakubi Center, Kyoto University)

La 6-a Publika Prelegkunveno memore al Japana Tago de Esperanto

Titolo: La Mondo de Umesao Tadao (prelego en Esperanto)


Umesao Tadao (1920-2010) estas japana etnologo kies komparaj teorioj pri kulturoj kaj scioj estas notinda inter antropologoj. Dum lia profesoreco en Kiota Universitato kaj direktoreco de la Nacio Muzeo pri Etnologio, Umesao ankaŭ havis grandan influon al la japana publiko (okazigo de la Monda Ekspozicio en Osaka en 1970 kaj la fondado de la Nacio Muzeo pri Etnologio). Rimarkinda estas ankaŭ la intima ligo inter Esperanto kaj Umesao, kiu dum jaroj propagandis Esperanton kaj ludis rolon en diversaj E-organizoj japanaj kaj internaciaj. Inter liaj verkaĵoj estas “La Spirito de Esperanto” (1983) kaj “Sepdek-sep ŝlosiloj por la japana civilizacio” (1987). En tiu-ĉi prezentado, mi provos montri la sintenon de Umesao pri la nunaj problemoj de nia mondo, kaj kiel rolas lingva kaj kultura diverseco en la respondoj al tiuj problemoj.

Dato: 2015.6.21 (Dim)

Tempo: 14:00 – 17:00



ビル・マク氏 (京都大学人文科学研究所/白眉センター准教授)


梅棹忠夫(1920-2010)は京都大学教授として、また国立民族学博物館長として、日本 社会に著しい影響を与えた。梅棹とエスペラントとの親密な関係にも注目すべきもの がある。現在の諸問題に関する梅棹の対応を取り上げ、それらに対して言語・文化の多 様性が果たす役割についてふれたい。

日時:2015 年6月21日(日)

午後2時 ~5時 会場:エスペラント会館4階教室