SUPERSTITIONS IN MYANMAR

SUPERSTITIOUS BURMESE

Burmese are very superstitious. Most Burmese believe on astrology, divination and nats. Fortunetellers, numerologists and astrologers often set up stands outside Buddhist temples and are fixtues of Buddhist festivals. Many of the Myanmar’s generals reportedly used soothsayers and fortunetellers to make decisions and decide policy.

Alchemy, astrology and horoscope casting are all employed to read the future and direct supernatural force to intervene positively on one’s behalf. Events are interpreted for signs and omens. Deaths are blamed on “man-eating” lakes and rivers rather than drownings. When visiting sacred places special clothes are worn and foods are brought so as not offend spirits. Actions taken to ward off a supernatural prediction are called yadaya . These include Buddhist merit-earning activities and advise form astrologers.

Rural Burmese are said to be especially superstitious. Astrology, palmistry and clairvoyance are sometimes relied upon to make important decisions. These may include marriage, going into a business partnership and naming a baby. To offset bad luck, certain meritorious deeds or yadaya may be performed such as setting free some live birds or animals, building a footbridge, or mending a road. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

One example the superstitious nature of Burmese is illustrated by the behavior of a family of a man who drowned in a river. The family contacted the man's employer and insisted that the man be given a "termination of employment" notice. The notice was placed in the man's grave. The family worried that unless the man had this piece of paper his spirit would continue to go to the office every morning for work.

Some towns erect giant models of scorpions to keep evil spirits away. One student told National Geographic that "whenever a snake crosses your path or you dream of a snake, you have good luck.

White Elephants

Among the Burmese, Thais and other peoples of Southeast Asia, white elephants are regarded as symbols of power and fertility. According to Buddhist lore the Buddha’s mother Queen Mahamaya dreamed of white baby elephant at the conception of Lord Buddha. The discovery of white elephants in the wild is a major event that causes a big stir in the countries of Southeast Asia. This is stark contrast to the West where the expression “white elephant” describes an expensive but useless thing.

White elephants are regarded as the most auspicious of all animals in Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia as far back as anyone can remember. They have been sought after and the object of envy. Kings added possession of them to their titles. Great empires have gone to war over them.

The royal "white elephants" in Thailand are in fact are pinkish brown or with some whitish markings. They are often difficult to distinguish from normal elephants. Only one looks genuinely pale. The others look like normal elephants. Their proper name is chang samkan, meaning “important” or “significant” elephant. Most are not albinos, which are usually whitish beige.

Underwear Superstitions in Myanmar

Underwear can be a sensitive topic in Myanmar. Never raise your underwear above your head. This is considered very rude. Washing is often by hand. If you have some laundry done at a guesthouse, some people make take offense to washing your under garments. If you wash them yourself do so in a bucket, don’t do it in the sink. When drying underwear, do it in a discreet place and don’t hang it so it is head level or above as it is regarded as dirty and uncouth for part of the lower body to be higher than the head.

There is a superstition in Myanmar that contact with women’s garments, especially underwear, can sap men of their strength. It is widely believed in Myanmar that if a man comes in contact with a woman's panties or sarong they can rob him of his power. In 2007 one Thai-based group launched a global 'panties for peace' campaign, in which supporters were encouraged to send women's underwear to Burmese embassies, in the hope that contact with such garments would weaken the regime's hpoun, or spiritual power. The generals may indeed subscribe to this belief. It is widely rumoured that, before a foreign envoy visits Burma, an article of female underwear or a piece of a pregnant woman's sarong is hidden in the ceiling of the visitor's hotel suite, to weaken their hpoun and thus their negotiating position. [Source: Andrew Selth, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, The Interpeter, October 22, 2009]

The Daily Mail reported: “Burma's iron-fisted - yet superstitious - military junta believe touching lady's underwear will "rob them of power", organisers say. And Lanna Action for Burma hope their "Panties for Peace" campaign will help oust the oppressive rulers who ruthlessly crushed recent democracy protests. The group's website explains: The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power. So this is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from them. Activist Liz Hilton added: "It's an extremely strong message in Burmese and in all Southeast Asian culture. [Source: Daily Mail]

Burma’s Fascination with Astrology

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: “fortune tellers and palm readers still have great influence—along with Buddhism—on the people of Burma. And with the economy in a free fall and frustration with the government on the rise, many are searching out soothsayers for some sign that change is afoot. “More people are coming these days than in the past,” said San Zarni Bo, who’s seen business at his modern, two-story office outside of the capital increase by up to 40 percent this year. “I think most people are facing problems and disturbances and they want to know when their future will be brighter.” [Source: Michael Casey, AP, December 29, 2005 <>]

“All across Asia, astrology, black magic and animism easily mix with traditional religions and modern technology as people seek help in choosing a child’s name, the right job or the best date for starting a new enterprise. But in Burma, living by the position of the planets or a select set of numbers seems to carry even more weight, given that little reliable information is available in the isolated, impoverished country run by a military government. Astrologers here are treated like rock stars and publications touting predictions for the coming year are among best sellers on newsstands. The government in recent years, however, has tried to rein in their influence, banning among other things a yearly astrological calendar from predicting cataclysmic events like natural disasters. <>

“Fortune tellers—a big yellow hand outside their shops advertises their services—can usually be found around Buddhist temples. Using charts with the planets’ positions, a customer’s birth date and a reading of their palm, a fortune teller will offer simple predictions and sometimes prescribe rituals to be performed. A customer may be told to place gold leaf on a statue of Buddha or free a bird for good luck or take action on a date considered auspicious by the Buddhist calendar. Other rituals can be more elaborate—healing the sick requires a family member to take a lock of their hair and a finger nail, wrap it in a piece of their old clothing and throw it in a river. <>

“Along a row of fortune teller shops, there was no shortage of customers on a recent morning. One young, restless fisherman said he came seeking advice about going abroad while an unemployed man sought career counseling. “I want to start my own business but I don’t know what to choose,” said 39-year-old Thet Naing, after meeting with a fortune teller. “He told me I could get into the travel business or start trading agriculture products,” he said. “He said 2006 would be lucky for me so not start my business until then. I’ll follow his advice.” <>

“Thet Naing admits fortune tellers are right only about “50 percent of the time” but that his family rarely makes a decision without them. He recalled how they sought a fortune teller before buying a house to ensure it had good karma and to choose a propitious name for a newborn sibling. When a baby is born, many parents also ask an astrologer to draw up a horoscope to help select favorable days and hours throughout the child’s life. Cosmic schedules are written on palm leaves and are considered among a person’s most important possessions. “Everyone wants to know their fortune,” Thet Naing said surprised, when asked why he keeps coming back. “If you don’t see your future, your journey will be more difficult. If you see your future clearly, you’ll have less anger.” <>

“While the government has sought to lessen the influence of soothsayers, the military leaders reportedly seek a court astrologer’s advice and hold events on dates featuring multiples of the number nine, considered lucky by the late dictator Gen Ne Win. They seized power on September 18 and held 1990 elections on May 27. Lucky nine hasn’t always worked out, however. In 1987, the government dropped 25, 35, and 75 kyat notes and replaced them with 45 and 90 kyat bills. The move caused an uproar because the government refused to offer compensation for those holding the old notes and many people went broke.” <>

Burma's 'Superstitious' Leaders

Melinda Liu wrote in Newsweek: “Burma's generals are no less superstitious than their countrymen. They changed the country's name to Myanmar in 1989 on the advice of soothsayers. They decided "Burma" was unlucky...In 2005, the regime heeded astrologer advice and moved the country’s capital—at great expense—from Rangoon to Naypyidaw...The new capital escaped the worst of Nargis’s wrath, making the generals, look either prescient or blessed—if not just plain lucky.” [Source: Melinda Liu, Newsweek, May 19, 2008]

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: “Asked about the future of Burma’s junta, San Zarni Bo pulls out a ragged copy of an astrology magazine from 1948. Turning to the predictions for 2006, he offers up a smile and a guarded interpretation. “One of things written in this book, it says that 2006 will not be very nice,” says the popular astrologer. “But for the people, there will be no big problems and everyone will receive good things.” [Source: Michael Casey, AP, December 29, 2005]

Ben Macintyre wrote in The Times, “The fate of the Burmese junta is written in the stars. That, at least, is what the Burmese junta believes. For one of the odder and most revealing aspects of the brutal military gang that rules Burma is its faith in astrology. When the junta moved the capital from Rangoon to a malarial town deep in the jungle, it did so because an astrologer employed by Senior General Than Shwe had warned him of an impending catastrophe that could only be averted by moving the seat of government. The same astrologer asserted that the most auspicious moment for the move would be November 6, 2005, at 6.37 in the morning. Sure enough, at that precise hour on the ordained day, the bullet-proof limousines of Burma’s generals started to roll towards their new home on the road to Mandalay. [Source: Ben Macintyre, The Times, September 2007 ]

History of Burma's 'Superstitious' Leadership

Ben Macintyre wrote in The Times, “Burma’s intensely superstitious rulers have long been guided by a belief in portents and prophecies, cosmology, numerology and magic. The time and date of the ceremony marking independence from Britain was also chosen according to astrological dictates: 4.20am on January 4, 1948. General Ne Win was the mysticism-obsessed dictator who seized power in 1962 and steered Burma from prosperity to penury; in 1987 he introduced the 45-kyat and 90-kyat banknotes, for the simple but mind-bending reason that these were divisible by and added up to nine, his lucky number. He believed this move would also ensure he would live to the lucky age of 90. Ne Win died in 2002, at the age of 92, which was either good luck or bad luck, depending on how you look at it. Even the decision to change the name of Burma to Myanmar was prompted by Ne Win’s soothsayer, and announced on May 27 (since 2 + 7 = 9). “ [Source: Ben Macintyre, The Times, September 2007]

Andrew Selth wrote in The Interpeter: “For centuries, such beliefs have been deeply embedded in Burmese society and have influenced attitudes and behavior at almost every level. All Burma's modern rulers have consulted soothsayers and propitiated supernatural forces. In 1961, Prime Minister U Nu ordered the construction of 60,000 sand pagodas all over Burma to avert impending dangers and bring peace to the war-ravaged country. The government's instructions for the construction and consecration of the pagodas were based on the auspicious number nine. [Source: Andrew Selth, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, The Interpeter, October 22, 2009 ^^]

“After seizing power in 1962, General Ne Win relied heavily on astrologers and numerologists for policy advice. The decision in 1970 for Burma to change from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right-hand side was reportedly because the General's astrologer felt that Burma had moved too far left, in political terms. It was said that he walked backwards over bridges to ward off evil spirits, and bathed in dolphin's blood to extend his life to the age of 90. ^^

“Many of the military officers who have exercised power since the abortive 1988 pro-democracy uprising have had personal astrologers. Like most Burmese, they believe that personal names and dates of birth carry special significance and, being equated with particular planets, can influence events on earth. The generals are also known to practice yadaya, a mystical technique for manipulating the results of astrology or portents. Such beliefs have reportedly influenced a number of important military appointments and policy decisions over the past 20 years. ^^

Than Shwe is reputed to be even more superstitious than his predecessors. For example, the decision to build a new capital at Naypyidaw, and the precise time in 2005 for the government's transfer from Rangoon, were reportedly based on advice from his astrologers. Other decisions (such as the 65-year prison sentences passed against some dissidents last year) are said deliberately to reflect eleven, Than Shwe's lucky number. He has also been accused of engaging in occult practices, including human sacrifices and cannibalistic rites, in order to consolidate his rule over Burma. ^^

“Anti-regime activists too have used magic to pursue political ends. For example, in 2007 one Thai-based group launched a global 'panties for peace' campaign, in which supporters were encouraged to send women's underwear to Burmese embassies, in the hope that contact with such garments would weaken the regime's hpoun, or spiritual power. The generals may indeed subscribe to this belief. It is widely rumoured that, before a foreign envoy visits Burma, an article of female underwear or a piece of a pregnant woman's sarong is hidden in the ceiling of the visitor's hotel suite, to weaken their hpoun and thus their negotiating position. ^^

Are Burma's Leaders Really That “Superstitious”?

Andrew Selth wrote in The Interpeter: Whenever critics of Burma's military government run out of explanations for the regime's apparently self-defeating policies, they tend to fall back on the fact that regime leader Senior General Than Shwe is very superstitious. He has been accused of making decisions not on the basis of rational calculations, but on the advice of astrologers, numerologists and magicians. There is probably some truth to such claims. However, they can also reflect weak analysis and a failure to delve more deeply into the government's mindset. Indeed, some of these stories seem designed simply to promote anti-regime sentiment, by exciting cultural and religious biases in Western countries. [Source: Andrew Selth, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, The Interpeter, October 22, 2009]

“These days, Burma is awash with stories” about superstitions and leaders.” In themselves, they are no basis for serious analysis. They are important, however, in that they tap into popular belief systems, and this gives them considerable currency in Burma. The official Board of Astrologers, created by Ne Win to advise on the timing of major state events, is now used to help manage local soothsayers. This reflects the military regime's awareness of the influence exercised by such figures, their ability to sway public sentiment and their potential to encourage social unrest through pronouncements unfavourable to the regime. ^^

“Burma is predominantly Theravada Buddhist, but this is a tolerant philosophy that easily accommodates older animist traditions, as well as esoteric schools such as astrology and numerology. It is not unusual for statues of mythical beings to be found alongside Buddha images in Burma, and pagodas are often encircled by guardian animals representing the days of the week. Most Burmese have an astrological chart drawn up at birth and many consult fortune tellers to guide their daily lives. Natural phenomena such as earthquakes and cyclones, or the collapse of a pagoda, are interpreted as omens or signs of celestial disfavour. ^^

“Burma is not alone in having leaders who observe such practices. Indira Gandhi secretly consulted astrologers. Indonesian Presidents Sukarno and Suharto both allowed superstitions to influence the nature and timing of certain policy decisions. Current Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa recently declared his belief in astrology. Other Asian cultures give an important place to esoteric belief systems, including the occult. Even in resolutely secular commercial centers like Singapore and Hong Kong lucky numbers are highly prized and feng shui plays an important part in urban planning. ^^

“Nor are such beliefs confined to Asia. Western leaders as diverse as Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles De Gaulle, Francois Mitterrand and Leonid Brezhnev were all known to have consulted astrologers. In 1988, it was revealed that US President Ronald Reagan was superstitious, and allowed his daily schedule to be dictated by his wife's personal astrologer. ^^

“Arguably, astrology, numerology and magic are as valid as faith-based belief systems as sources of political guidance and inspiration. In the Western news media, however, these practices are usually cited as evidence of the ignorance and irrationality of Burma's leaders and, by implication, their unfitness to rule. Ironically, even Burmese activists — themselves imbued with many traditional beliefs — have emphasized such characteristics in order to garner support from Western constituencies, such as conservative Christians in the US. ^^

“In such reports, democratically-elected U Nu tends to be described simply as quixotic or eccentric. Burma's military leaders, however, are painted in much harsher colors. It is implied that their attachment to 'primitive' and 'dangerous' superstitions has been a major factor in the country's ruin, and thus the terrible plight of the Burmese people. The generals are implicitly contrasted with refined, Oxford-educated and devoutly Buddhist opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is not known to share her compatriots' beliefs in such matters. ^^

“In any study of political culture and the behavior of national leaders, some allowance must be made for 'irrational actors' and idiosyncratic decisions by powerful individuals like Than Shwe. His personal beliefs and those of other generals — and key opposition figures — need to be considered in analyses of contemporary Burma. However, they are certainly not the whole story. The regime's foreign and domestic policies are dictated by a wide range of complex factors, many of which would be familiar to other governments, both in the region and further afield. The superstitions of Burma's leaders will doubtless continue to provoke public comment. However, greater foreign influence in Naypyidaw will depend on an understanding of all the elements which make up the regime's worldview and prompt its policy settings, not just one.” ^^

Superstitions in Myanmar

Common superstition in Myanmar: 1) Don't go underneath a staircase, you will loose your will power; 2) Don't go under a pole or rope, where women used to hang-dry their longyis, you will loose your will power; 3 ) Don't leave a shoe or a slipper up-side-down. It'll cause bad luck; 4) Don't keep a broken glass or a mirror in homes, replace the window panes asap if broken; 5) Don't wash your hair within a week after a funeral in the neighborhood; 6) Don't hit the pot with a ladle after you stir the curry, it's like hitting your parents' head; 7) Don't hit two lids of pots and pans against each other, a tiger may bite you; 8) Don't feed someone with the palm upward, the food might cause you disorder; 9) Don't clip your nails at night, ghosts don't like that; 10) Don't take kids to dark places, ghosts may posses them; 11) Carrying some hairs of an elephant tail will avoid evil. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Madyjune wrote in her blog Speaking Out Loud blog, “ I don’t wash my hair on the full moon days (especially days like the full moon days of Kasone, Thadingyut, and Tazaungmone), because it’ll cause bad luck. Not that I care about these beliefs, but I avoid these days because I would never get to have a peaceful day if I did so. [Source: Madyjune, Speaking Out Loud blog, November 28, 2009 }{]

“Also, after I clip my nails, I have to throw them away from outside the house. When I was younger, I was at my uncle’s house and my aunt caught me throwing my nails in the waste bin. She told me this story about a thief who went into a barn to steal some rice. He broke his fingernail and it went into a pile of grains. So he tried to find it in the pile and was caught later by the owner. The owner asked him why he didn’t ran away and the thief told him that he was looking for the fingernail as he didn’t want the owner to go into poverty because of it. So, the owner forgive him and set him free. So fingernails and toenails in the house bring poverty to the family. I didn’t believe any of this crap, but just to be on the safe side, I always throw them out of the windows. Sometimes, they land right back in the yard, but so far we aren’t in poverty. }{

“Growing up with my uncle and aunts isn’t easy. I was taught many things, including table manners like don’t sing while you are eating ‘cuz only beggars sing while they are eating, and if you want a second helping, always leave a small portion of rice in your plate before you put in more rice, etc. Sometimes these things just stuck with me. One time, I saw my student singing while eating and I told him not to do that. He asked me why and I had to bit my tongue to not blurt out that only beggars sing while they are eating. Another superstition I remember is ‘don’t play hide and seek after sunset because the devil will take the hiders.’ I never really believed that at all. }{

Numerology and Lucky Numbers in Myanmar

According to Myanmar.cm: “As in other cultures, Myanmar people have their own beliefs and superstitions concerning numbers. Religious concepts also play a part in avoiding or embracing certain numbers. Buddhist scriptures involve certain numbers like Triple Gems, Five Greatest Benefactors, Ten Perfections, Nine Virtues of the Buddha, Four Noble Truths, and Eight Righteous Ways to Nibbana (Nirvana.) These numbers are not necessarily attached to any good or bad luck, but when people do something good or meritorious, they call to mind certain numbers that are associated with a positive meaning. Some people are inspired by a particular number such as their date of birth while others have an unreasonable fear that certain numbers like '10' will bring them bad luck. Now an increasing number of people, especially urban folk, are influenced by the Western belief that '7' stands for good luck, while '13' stands for bad. Such superstitions are not deep-rooted among Myanmar people and there is no official forbearance on any particular number. [Source: Myanmar.cm ]

Ben Macintyre wrote in The Times, “ General Ne Win was the mysticism-obsessed dictator who seized power in 1962 and steered Burma from prosperity to penury; in 1987 he introduced the 45-kyat and 90-kyat banknotes, for the simple but mind-bending reason that these were divisible by and added up to nine, his lucky number. He believed this move would also ensure he would live to the lucky age of 90. Ne Win died in 2002, at the age of 92, which was either good luck or bad luck, depending on how you look at it. Even the decision to change the name of Burma to Myanmar was prompted by Ne Win’s soothsayer, and announced on May 27 (since 2 + 7 = 9). “ [Source: Ben Macintyre, The Times, September 2007]

Students demonstrations that shook Myanmar occurred on the day of the four eights—August 8th, 1988 (8/8/88). There were worries that were be more protest on the day of the four nines—September 9th, 1999 (9/9/99).

Mythical Creatures in Myanmar

As in Greek mythology, Myanmar has a number of its own mythical creatures that either resembles a real-life animal, or an imaginary one having a single combined form of several animals. Many mythical creatures originated in the life stories of the Buddha. 1) Chinthe: The 'grotesque' form of a mythical lion. According to Myanmar legends, lions are noted for their bravery and magnificence, thus considered as the best guardians for religious shrines and edifices. It is common to see statues of lions in front of, or around, the pagodas in Myanmar. 2) Belu: This is a kind of ogre similar to an oriental gargoyle. It is a common creature in the stories of the Buddhist scriptures representing a huge, cruel, man-eating monster. 3) Magan: This is a mythical sea monster resembling a crocodile with a prehensile snout. [Source: Myanmar.cm ]

4) Pyinsa Rupa: This is a combination of five animals: elephant, bullock, horse, carp, and toenayar (dragon.) An alternative belief is that it consists of lion, elephant, buffalo, carp, and hintha. 5) Sarmaree: This is a large, long-haired wild or domesticated ox that greatly values its his hairs. 6) Manote Thiha: A fabulous mythical creature with a man's torso and a lion's hindquarters, which is always depicted in a squatting posture on forked haunches. 7) Nagar: The Myanmar equivalent of a mythical dragon without legs or a serpent, which breathes out flames of fire and can turn objects or creatures to ash just by looking at them. Toenayar or Nayar A mythical dragon or serpent with four legs.

8) Nawa Rupa: A combination of nine animals in one creature, similar to the Pyinsa Rupa mentioned above. 9) Hintha: This 'grotesque' form of a duck is believed to have golden feathers, and is able to fly great distances. It supposedly lives in large flocks, and is a symbol of the Mon people who believe their former capital Bago was founded on a site where a pair of Hintha had dwelt. 10) Keinayee-Keinayar: They are a pair of very gentle mythical birds with a human head and torso. Keinayee is male and Keinayar female, representing a symbol of true love. Kayar nationals they descended from Keinayee and Keinayar. 11) Karaweik: This is a mythical bird that supposedly possesses a pleasant melodious cry. Traditionally, a barge in the shape of a Karaweik was used in formal ceremonies as a royal commuter boat.

Burmese Astrology

The Burmese zodiac is the traditional Burmese system of astronomy and astrology. While it is still an important component of the Burmese calendar, today, the zodiac is closely identified with Burmese astrology, called Bedin . Largely derived from Hindu astronomy and Vedic astrology, the Burmese zodiac consists of not only the same 12 signs of the Western zodiac but also 27 lunar mansions of the month and eight weekday signs. The Burmese zodiac, like the Western zodiac, is divided into 12 signs called yathi. The Burmese signs are identical to Indian and Western signs as they were derived from Indian and ultimately Western zodiac. Each yathi is divided into 30 degrees; each degree into 60 minutes; and each minute into 60 seconds. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Myanmar Zodiac Sign(Greek zodiac sign), Myanmar month, (months): 1) Ram (Aries), Tagoo (March-April); 2) Bull (Taurus), Kasone (April-May); 3) Mythical birds (Gemini), Nayone (May-June); 4) Shrimp, (Cancer), Waso (June-July); 5) Lion (Leo), Wakaung (July-August); 6) Girl (Virgo), Tawthalin(Aug-Sept); 7) Man with a balance (Libra), Thadingyut(Sept-Oct); 8) Scorpion (Scorpio), Tasaungmone(Oct-Nov); 9) Arrow (Sagittarius), Nattaw(Nov-Dec); 10) Goat (Capricorn), (Dec-Jan); 11) Water Pot (Aquarius), Dapodwe(Jan-Feb); 12) Two Fish Pisces, Tabaung(Feb-Mar). [Source: Myanmar.cm]

Myanmar Zodiac Sign (Longitude, Sign, Sanskrit, Latin, Ruling planet); 1) 0̊, Meittha, Mes.ha, Aries, Mars; 2) 30̊, Pyeittha, Vr.is.abha, Taurus, Venus; 3) 60̊, Mehton, Mithuna, Gemini, Mercury; 4) 90̊, Karakat, Karkat.a, Cancer, Moon; 5) 120̊, Thein, Sim.ha, Leo, Sun; 6) 150̊, Kan, Kanya-, Virgo, Mercury; 7) 180̊, Tu, Tula-, Libra, Venus; 8) 210̊, Byeissa, Vr.s'cika, Scorpio, Mars; 9) 240̊, Danu, Dhanus.a, Sagittarius, Jupiter; 10) 270̊, Makara, Makara, Capricorn, Saturn; 11) 300̊, Kon, Kumbha, Aquarius, Saturn; 12) 330̊, Mein, Mi-na, Pisces, Jupiter. +

The zodiac month consists of 27 days, approximating the mean sidereal month of 27.321661 days. Thus each zodiac day, called nekkhat, represents a lunar mansion, or a segment of the ecliptic along which the moon revolves around the earth. Though the names are Burmese adaptations of Sanskrit names, the Burmese system is not the same as the modern Indian system. The Burmese system uses unequal spaces for each segment (from 5̊ to 26̊), and the first segment, Athawani, begins at 350̊ longitude. The modern Indian system uses equal segments of 13̊ 20' (360̊ divided by 27), and the first segment, Asvini, begins at 0̊. (The zodiac also recognizes a lost 28th constellation, called Abizi (; Sanskrit: Abhijit), which apparently made one revolution among these stars in 27 to 28 days.) The nekkhats are usually used to calculate the zata (horoscope) of a person or an event. Many historical dates were represented with the nekkhat position, not with the more common calendrical date. +

Zodiac Day, Burmese, Sanskrit, Extent, Range: 1) Athawani, Asvini, 18̊, 350̊–8̊; 2) Barani, Bharani, 10̊, 8̊–18̊; 3) Kyattika, Krittika, 16̊, 18̊–34̊; 4) Yawhani, Rohini, 12̊, 34̊–46̊; 5,) Migathi, Mrigasiras, 14̊, 46̊–60̊; 6) Adra, Ardra, 5̊, 60̊–65̊; 7) Ponnahpukshu, Punarvasu, 27̊, 65̊–92̊; 8) Hpusha, Pushya, 14̊, 92̊–106̊; 9) Athaleiktha, Aslesha, 12̊, 106̊–118̊; 10) Maga, Magha, 11̊, 118̊–129̊; 11) Pyobba Baragonni, Purva Phalguni, 16̊, 129̊–145̊; 12) Ottara Baragonni, Uttara Phalguni, 9̊, 145̊–154̊; 13) Hathada, Hasta, 10̊, 154̊–164̊; 14) Seiktra, Chitra, 15̊, 164̊–179̊; 15) Thwati, Svati, 13̊, 179̊–192̊; 16) Withaka, Visakha, 21̊, 192̊–213̊; 17) Anuyada, Anuradha, 11̊, 213̊–224̊; 18) Zehta, Jyeshtha, 5̊, 224̊–229̊; 19) Mula, Mula, 13̊, 229̊–242̊; 20) Pyobba Than, Purva Ashadha, 15̊, 242̊–257̊; 21) Ottara Than, Uttara Ashadha, 5̊, 257̊–262̊; 22) Tharawun, Sravana, 13̊, 262̊–275̊; 23) Danatheikda, Dhanishtha, 12̊, 275̊–287̊; 24) Thattabeiksha, Satataraka, 26̊, 287̊–313̊; 25) Pyobba Parabaik , Purva Bhadrapada, 10̊, 313̊–323̊; 26) Ottara Parabaik , Uttara Bhadrapada, 16̊, 323̊–339̊; 27) Yewati, Revati, 11̊, 339̊–350̊.

Burmese Zodiac Weekdays

The Burmese zodiac employs eight signs in a seven-day week, with each sign representing its own day, cardinal direction, planet (celestial body) and animal (Cardinal direction, Burmese, Sanskrit, English, Planet, Sign): 1) Northeast, Taninganwe, Aditya, Sunday, Sun, Garuda; 2) East, Taninla, Chandra, Monday, Moon, Tiger; 3) Southeast, Inga, Angaraka, Tuesday, Mars, Lion; 4) South, Boddahu, Budha, Wednesday a.m., Mercury, Tusked elephant; 5) Northwest, Rahu, Rahu, Wednesday p.m., Ascending Lunar node, Tuskless elephant; 6) West, Kyathabade, Br.haspati, Thursday, Jupiter, Rat; 7) North, Thaukkya, Shukra, Friday, Venus, Guinea pig; 8) Southwest, Sanay, Shani, Saturday, Saturn, Na-ga. [Source: Wikipedia +]

While the eight signs are the most prevalent in modern Burmese zodiac, the zodiac officially also recognizes a ninth sign called Ketu, which rules over all of the signs. Ketu's sign is a mythical Animal of Five Beauties called Pyinsa Rupa with the antlers of a deer, the tusks and the trunk of an elephant, the mane of a lion, the body of a naga serpent, and the tail of a fish. Moreover, Rahu and Ketu, while borrowed from Hindu astrology, are different from their original versions. Hindu astrology considers Rahu and Ketu to be the ascending and descending lunar nodes but Burmese astrology considers them distinct planets. +

At any rate, the inclusion of Ketu is not due to astronomical necessity but rather cultural. (J.C. Eade points out that "there is no astronomical necessity" for Ketu, whose orbit can be derived from the value of Rahu, and suggests that Ketu was "superfluous to the system, and perhaps even as an entity that owes its origin to a mistake". Htin Aung says the use of Rahu and Ketu in Burmese zodiac and astrology is for cultural, not necessarily astronomical, value, noting that the nine signs neatly fit the Nine Gods of Burmese animist tradition and indeed are an essential part of the "Ceremony of the Nine Gods" usually held when there is sickness in the house.) +

The signs can be represented in a nine-square diagram. The exact arrangement is used to place the planetary figurines in the "Ceremony of the Nine Gods", with Ketu in the center, right behind a statue of the Buddha. All the planetary figures face the Buddha (as the animist practice has been absorbed into Burmese Buddhism): 1) Northwest, Wednesday evening, Rahu, Tuskless elephant; 2) North, Friday, Venus, Guinea pig; 3) Northeast, Sunday, Sun, Garuda; 4) West, Thursday, Jupiter, Rat; 5) Center, Week, Ketu, Pyinsa Rupa; 6) East, Monday, Moon, Tiger; 7) Southwest, Saturday, Saturn, Naga; 8) South, Wednesday morning, Mercury, Tusked elephant; 9) Southeast, Tuesday, Mars, Lion.+

The Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday and Rahu planets are considered to be Malefics, or planets with an evil influence while the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday planets are considered Benefics, or planets with benign influence. Ketu is considered to be the most powerful and a Benefic but as the chief planet, it cannot be grouped with any other planet. However, modern Burmese astrology rarely uses Ketu, and tends to use only the other eight planets. +

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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