Tibetan Calendar

Tibetan Calendar is a traditional calendar widely used in Tibet. According to history, a unique calendar which is used to calculate day, month, and year according to wax and wane of the moon, was created by Tibetan people more than 3,000 years ago. Hundreds of years later, those who believe in Bonpo (the original religion in Tibet) learn to reckon the exact day of Winter Solstice and made it the beginning of a year. This laid the foundation of the variety of festivals in Tibet. In the 7th century, Princess Wen Cheng and Princess Jin Cheng entered Lhasa Tibet for marriage successively and took Chinese Traditional Calendar to this ancient land. From then on, the Tibetan Calendar had taken advantage of the lunar calendar and the Hindu calendar. It became an individual calendar which contains Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches, and the five elements In the Yuan dynasty. After centuries of development, the Tibetan Calendar has become a mature system.

Actually, the Tibetan calendar has been influenced by three systems. One is Sri Kalachakra Tantra (Wheel of Time Tantra), which was spread into Tibetan from Sanskrit in 1027 A.D. The second one is the lunar system that brought by Princess Wen Cheng in Tang Dynasty. The last one is the elemental solar system, which defines the new year falls in December. The three systems harmonize solar and lunar factors in the Tibetan calendar. 

Lunar system in Chinese Calendar.

Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the relationship of the earth, the sun, and the moon.

Tibetan Calendar is a combination of the lunar calendar and solar calendar. The year which consists of 354 days is divided into four seasons according to the calendar. Unlike most of the other tradition, one year begins with winter and ends in autumn. Twelve months are included in one year and the first month is the same as Chinese Traditional Calendar. A month includes 30 or 29 days. The former is called the big month while the latter is called the small month. They alternate with each other and an additional one called leap month is added to the calendar to adjust the relationship between months and seasons. According to the Tibetan Calendar, one year is not divided into four equal parts as the time range of each season is based on the locations of the sun in the sky. In general, winter is the longest season, then spring, autumn, and summer. Every 60 years Tibetan Calendar will recount according to the tradition handed down from old times. Besides, the 24 divisions of the solar year could be very useful in predicting the weather of Tibet in the long-term, the planetary motion, and eclipse.

Besides Tibet, Tibetan Calendar is also used by the persons who live in some areas like part of China's western regions and Bhutan. It provides a guide for daily routines like travel, marriage, and funeral because people there believe that almost every daily activity should be done at the right time. Many proverbs that come from the activities of astronomical observations and local legends have been recorded into the calendar. They are easy to remember and spread among the Tibetans.

Tibetan Calendar is widely used by Tibetans to solve many kinds of problems in their daily life. Not only for finding the law of nature and the universe, but also the connection between the progress in treating illness and climate change. It’s also used for the weather forecast. The Tibetans have discovered various ways from ancient time to forecast the weather by observing the plants, animals, rivers, stars, the shape and color of clouds, and the direction of the wind. They will refer to some ancient books to see if any natural disaster may happen in the next year such as snowstorms, earthquakes, and floods. Besides, the Tibetans will arrange their farming according to the activities of migrant birds like cuckoos, wild gooses, and swallows. In addition to those mentioned before, Tibetan Calendar also includes many unique elements of China like seven luminaries, the Eight Diagrams, Jiugong, Chinese Zodiac and geomantic omen. As a wonderful gift from the old generation, This unique calendar is a treasure that could be a great help to Tibetans even the whole of mankind.

Ancient coin with Tibetan historical symbols.

The old coin merged many symbols of the calendar culture.

The five elements must not be unfamiliar to people who are interested in Chinese culture. Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, the five elements are considered as the source of all lives. And Chinese people use twelve animals to label each year. It’s the same for the Tibetan calendar. However, because of the different lengths of the months and the different beginning dates of the year, the Tibetan and Chinese systems are not the same on counting the days, months, and years. So, please do not mix the two. 

The Five Elements in Chinese culture.

Ancient Chinese philosophers used the theory of five elements to explain the formation of all things in the world and their mutual relations.

As per the Tibetan calendar, each element controls two years, while one animal just labels one year. Then, change to the next one. For example, the year 2018 was an Earth – Dog year, then, 2019 is an Earth – Pig year. Every sixty years is a cycle. In 1027 A.D., Sri Kalachakra Tantra (Wheel of Time Tantra) was spread into Tibetan from Sanskrit. Thus, 1027 was defined as the first year of the Tibetan calendar. That year was a Fire-Rabbit year. That’s why Fire-Rabbit year is always the first year of the sixty-cycle in the Tibetan calendar. 

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