Journal

Friday-Saturday as weekend in Nepal

Nepal is one of the very few countries that have Saturday as holiday and Sunday as working day. Another country would be Israel where Sabbath is observed on Saturday. According to some sources, Saturday became official rest day during Rana Dynasty, under the order of Shrī Tīn Bhim Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana in the 1930s. But why Saturday and not Sunday as rest day? Some of my Nepalese friends jokingly suggested that because Saturday is astrologically inauspicious (śanaiścara) so it is better not to work. Some sources claimed that it is a Vedic convention, which is certainly groundless because the concept of week is not found in the entire Vedic corpus. While Saturday as a rest day is unheard of in India and other neighboring countries, the reason is probably more straightforward. In the Indian astral tradition, the seven planets always begin with the Sun. The week begins therefore with Sunday and end in Saturday. Placing the Saturday as the weekend, literally end of the week, makes perfect sense and Sunday is of course the first working day. Nepal was simply faithful to the original design of the concept of the week, although technically speaking, the planetary week should start with Saturn and not the Sun!

The Newari saptavāra deity for Saturday is Grahamātṛkā and is paired up with Uttaraphalgu(nī) as shown here in the woodcarving in Chusya Baha, Kathmandu.

Grahamātṛkā

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.

Budhavāra

 

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.

IMG_9759

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)!