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CHAPTER XVI

THE SYSTEMS OF RECKONING TIME

1. CALENDARS AND ASTROLOGICAL TABLES.--2. THE VARIOUS MODES OF CHRONOLOGY. The cycle of 12 years. Counting back from the current year. The cycle of 60 years. The cycle of 252 years.--3. THE YEAR AND ITS DIVISIONS.

1. Calendars and astrological tables.

The Tibetans received their astronomical science from their neighbours in India and China; the Chinese also becoming their teachers in the art of divination. Their acquaintance with the astronomical and calendrical systems of these nations coincides with the propagation of the Buddhist religion by the Chinese and Indian priests, to whom they are also indebted for the respective systems of defining the year.[1] Both systems are based upon a

[1. In the 'Description du Tubet," translated from the Chinese by Klaproth in Nouv. Journ. As., Vol. IV., p. 138, the Chinese consort of King Srongtsan Gampo and her suite are stated to have brought the Chinese system into Tibet in the seventh century A.D.]

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unit of sixty years, differing, however, in the modes of denominating the years. The Indian denomination is called in Tibetan Kartsis, "white mathematics;" the Chinese method, on the other hand, goes by the name of Naktsis, "black mathematics, a term also extended to the "black art," or the science of divination and of astrological calculations.[1]

The Tibetan designations for almanacs are Leutho,[2] Lotho, or Ritha; they are sketched by the Lamas.

It is a very general custom to append to the almanacs various tables for astrological purposes. These additional tables differ widely in contents as well as in size; they are rarely wanting for the following purposes:

Gabtsis,[3] "the concealed calculations," are tables framed upon the common calendrical system, the occasions for which they are consulted being most various.

Grubtsis,[4] "the perfect astronomy," for deciding the character and influence of the planets.

Tserab las-tsis[5] is the name of the calculations for the duration of life, and of the fate of man.

Bagtsis[6] are -the tables consulted in cases of marriage.

Shintsis[7] are those used to find an answer to inquiries respecting the form in which the dead shall be re-born.

[1. Nag, "black;" rtsis, "mathematics;" dkar, "white." These names have decidedly originated from the Tibetan names for India and China, which are called respectively "white plain," Gya-gar, and "black plain," Gya-nag. Kartsis, however, is also used for "Astronomy," or "Astrology," but it is then spelt skar-rtsis, from skar, a star.

2. The name Dalow for calendar, occurring in Turner, "Embassy," p. 331, is probably a dialectical modification of this word.

3. Gab, "a shelter; concealed, dubious;" rtsis, "mathematics."

4. Grub, "perfect."

5. Ts'he, "time, lifetime;" rabs, "genealogy;" las, "work, fate."

6. Bag, "a bride."

7. gShin, "a corpse."]

{p. 276a}

Plate XV.

PRINTS FROM SLIPS OF WOOD USED IN TÍBET AS A SUPPOSED PROTECTION AGAINST EVIL SPIRITS

No. 2; from Síkkim

###

{p. 276b}

Plate XVI.

PRINTS FROM SLIPS OF WOOD USED IN TÍBET AS A SUPPOSED PROTECTION AGAINST EVIL SPIRITS

No. 3; from Síkkim

###

{p. 275}

Naktsis, which also designates the art of divination in general, is predominantly applied to tables by means of which the lucky and unlucky times affecting a particular individual, with the reasons of their being so, can be determined. Several tables of this kind will be described in a subsequent chapter.

Tables relating to particular classes, such as Rajas, Lamas, and the like, are less frequently met with.

2. The various modes of chronology.

The various systems of reckoning time have already been the object of the most learned and successful researches by Csoma and Ideler. I give an abstract of their results on account of the connexion of the calendrical systems with the interpretation of the astrological calculations; this affords me, at the same time, the opportunity of combining with it the informations which Hermann obtained from natives during his stay in Síkkim.

1. When any thing is to be defined referring to a period not too distant from the present time, it is not the practice to use a standard unit of sixty years, but a cycle of twelve years is employed instead, each year bearing the name of an animal,[1] which names are invariably repeated in the following order:--

[1. Respecting the origin and introduction of this cycle which is generally called "the Tatar," see Ideler, "Ueber die Zeitrechnung der Chinesen," pp. 75, 78. He believes it to have first arisen in Western Asia. Klaproth finds it mentioned for the first time in Chinese books in the year 622 A.D. Nouv. Journ. As, Vol. XV., p. 146.]

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1. Ji, the mouse.

7. Ta, the horse.

2. Lang, the ox.

8. Lug, the sheep.

3. Tag, the tiger.

9. Prel, or pre, the ape

4. Yos, the hare.

10. Ja, the bird.

5. Brug, the dragon.

11. Chi, the dog.

6. Brul, the serpent.

12. Chag, the hog.

 

Thus, when a particular year is to be specified, the Tibetan term for year, Lo, is added to the name of the animal, and it is called Ji-lo, "mouse year;" Lang-lo, "ox year," &c.[1] When the date of an event which has taken place previous to the present duodecimal era is, to be indicated, the number of cycles that have passed since the time in question is first put down, and by adding to it the number of the animal year the entire sum of years is accurately arrived at.

2. In books, as well as generally in conversation, the dates of past events are not unfrequently determined by counting back from the current year. For instance, the present year being 1863, the birth of Tsonkhapa, which occurred in 1355 A.D., would be said to have taken place 508 years ago. This method is also applied. in the Baidûrya Karpo, from which Csoma has extracted his highly important chronological table.[2]

3. A cycle of sixty years seems to have been in very general use in Tibet a long time ago.[3] As a novelty,

[1. Csoma, "Grammar," p. 147.

2. Csoma, "Grammar," p. 181; Huc, "Souvenirs," Vol. II., p. 369.

3. It is curious that the present generation of Tibetans are unacquainted with the historical data of its origin and antiquity. They account. for the introduction of this cycle by the supposition that the idea had been taken from the average length of human life. Such, at least, was the assertion of Chibu Lama, the political agent of the Râja of Síkkim, and of several other Lamas.]

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it was ordained, probably in the eleventh century A.D., that the cycles of sixty years should be counted from the year 1026, which is the year next to 1025, in which the Kâla Chakra system had been introduced into Tibet (see p. 47). The year 1026 being the first year of the first cycle, 1086 became the first year of the second cycle. If the number of the cycles that have already elapsed were regularly added in books and documents to the definition of the current year, this system would be as precise as our way of counting by centuries; but the number of the cycle being omitted before the year to be determined,[1] the reader frequently finds it no easy task to assign the correct era by weighing and comparing dates of an indirect nature.

The year 1026 was also the first year of the contemporaneous Indian cycle, and thus the identity of the Tibetan and the Indian order of years within the cycle became possible. The first, second, third year, &c., of any Tibetan cycle is consequently the first, second, third year, &c., of an Indian cycle; the number of cycles, however, do not accord with each other, the Indian not dating from the year 1026, but from one, or even two other and anterior epochs.[2]

It is already long ago, at least under the dynasty Han, or 206 B.C., that the Chinese began to measure time by cycles of sixty years, a period formed by the combinations of a decimal and a duodecimal series. But

[1. As an example see the historical document relating to the Hímis monastery, p. 183; and the Dába document, p. 278.

2. See Csoma, "Grammar," p. 148.]

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between the Chinese cycle and that of the Indo-Tibetan the coincidence was not perfect, a third year of the Chinese cycle being coeval with the first of the Tibetan cycle, and so on. This difference, however, remained without any influence upon Tibetan chronology so long as China possessed no political weight in the country; but when the Chinese government, in 1718,[1] made Tibet a dependency, it soon followed that the inhabitants were obliged to adapt the cyclic order of their years to that of the Chinese, and this could only be effected by advancing the number of the year throughout by two. Thus two years are virtually cancelled from the Tibetan calendar, so that the cycles commence two years earlier than before the change; e. g. in 1864 instead of 1866. The altered chronology is used at present in all official matters, and is generally adopted for private business.

In support of this explanation I quote the document from Dába.[2] It is dated from the sixth month (month

[1. Köppen, "Die Religion des Buddha," Vol. II, p. 196.

2 It is styled Lam-yig-dang-ming-dang-yar-na, "Road prescription, and also denomination how far up," and was made at Nyugcháng, a halting place about eight miles south of Dába. Adolphe engaged to pay a sum of "six Srang (ounces) of gold" (= about 60) to the Chinese officer residing at Dába, if he or his brother Robert should cross the Sátlej river; his head man, called Bara Mani, or also simply Mani, pledged himself to pay this sum. The treaty was written by the Chinaman himself, who added, instead of his signature, the official seal; Adolphe, having no seal at hand, stamped it with the but-end of his riding-whip.--The Lama Gombojew transcribed the original into capital letters, in which it is also printed on Plate XVII. But here again (comp. p. 183) occur so many deviations from the terminology of the sacred books, that it was impossible to arrive at a translation. Prof. Schiefner, who had kindly looked for analogous documents in modern dialects in the St. Petersburg libraries, did not find any which would have afforded the means of detailing quite literally either the Dába or the Hímis document.]

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Plate XVII.

TREATY

BETWEEN ADOLPHE SCHLAGINTWEIT

AND

THE CHINESE AUTHORITIES OF DÁBA.

This was in reference to the Routes he and his brother Robert should be allowed to take in Gnári Khórsum.

###

 

{p. 279}

of July) of the wood-hare year. This year is the fifty-second in the cycle. If fifty-one is added to 1806 (not fifty-two, because 1806 is the first year of a new cycle, the fourteenth of the Indo-Tibetan chronology), we obtain the year 1857; but my brothers were in Dába in 1855, which year can only be found by deducting two years (compare p. 287).[1]

Within these cycles of sixty years the single years are denominated differently in the Indian and in the Chinese manner. According to the Indian principle, each year is called by a particular name; these Sanskrit terms the Tibetans have simply translated into their own language.[2] In imitation of the Chinese mode[3] of reckoning time the sixty years of the cycle are designated in the following way. The twelve animals already mentioned are five times repeated in the order given above, and are coupled with the five elements, each of the latter being introduced

[1. Csoma, though alluding to a difference between the Indo-Tibetan and Chinese cycles ("Grammar," p. 148) does not take into consideration the predominant use of the Chinese system, when he says that the year 1834 is the 28th of the current cycle. From the reasons given above, the 30th will he found the correct number. In Cunningham's example ("Ladak," p. 395) the Indo-Tibetan cycle is also applied.--I must further observe that Csoma was misinformed, when he speaks of the difference between the commencement of the Chinese and the Indo-Tibetan cycle as one of three years instead of two, saying that "the Tibetans give the designation of first to the fourth year of the Chinese cycle."--I may still draw the attention to another deviation, which is easily made by Europeans when counting the years in the cycles. In calculating the difference between any given year and the first of the respective cycle, the two numbers are to be taken inclusive; if, e. g., a cycle begins in 1806, the year 1851 is not the forty-fifth, as Cunningham reckons it (p. 396), but the forty-sixth year of the series.

2. Csoma, "Grammar," pp. 148, 150, where the sixty names may be found.

3. For this method see the memoir of Ideler, "Ueber die Zeitrechnung der Chinesen." Berlin, 1839.]

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in the Series twice in immediate succession. We obtain, therefore, sixty combinations each differing from the other. The years are then distinguished in two ways; they are either called by the names of the element and animal combined, or by the names of the colour of the element and the animal combined. A combination of the one form is, e. g., water-hog year; and the same combination, in the second form, blue-hog year. Water-hog or blue-hog year stands for the 60th of the Indo-Tibetan cycle. If the names of the years are given in full detail, a gender is also added to the combinations of element and animal, this being represented alternately by pho, a particle denoting the masculine gender, and mo, the feminine particle; and the gender of every combination is, therefore, defined by its very position in the cycle. The year beginning the cycle has the element and animal masculine, the next year has the same element and the successive animal both feminine; and the same alternations of the gender being kept up throughout it results that every year the numeral of which is an odd number, as 1, 3, 5, &c., must be masculine, while the years represented by the even numerals 2, 4, 6, &c., are feminine. It must be noticed that a distinctive power is not conferred by the addition of these particles, m at first might appear to be the case. The natives employ the mode of counting by colours when pointing out a year in an almanac, because the elements are there represented by colours and symbolical signs, and not by words;[1] on all other occasions the

[1. Schmidt, preface to Ssanang Ssetsen's history, p. 90.]

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name of the element is more usually resorted to. The following table shows the succession of the elements and their colours, from which no deviation is made in counting time.

Tibetan name.

Translation.

Colour.

Shing

wood

green

Me

fire

red

Sa

earth

yellow

Chag

iron

white

Chu

water

blue

 

In order to facilitate the determination of our era in Tibetan terms, I append, as an example, the following table, which contains the Tibetan mode of counting and the numbers now used in compliance with the Chinese prescription. The table is, at the same time, selected so as to embrace seventy-five years belonging to three different cycles.[1]

[1. When the animals constituting the cycle of sixty years are traced for astrological purposes, and not for the mere reckoning of time, the succession of the colours corresponding to the elements is given differently from that mentioned above, in order to avoid a coincidence with the colour given to the animals. Their order is given in the next chapter.--The Lamas have many works to explain the system upon which the chronology by the cycle of sixty years is based. A very comprehensive and at the same time detailed hand-book on this subject in the work Yangsal Domi (as it is generally pronounced), meaning "a clear-burning lamp for luck." The number of its leaves somewhat exceeds 500 and it also contains notices of the astrological arts. A copy of this book is also to be found in the St, Petersburg library.

2. In China the cycles date back to a period so remote, that I cannot here enter into any details respecting this part of the subject; and I simply confine myself to the remark, that the cycle 1864 to 1923, which is No. XV. in the modified Tibetan chronology, is in China Proper No. LXXVI. See Ideler's "Zeitrechnung," p. 60.]

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TIBETAN CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE

of the cycle of sixty years.

Year of the Christian Era.

Tibetan Era.

 

Counting from 1026.

Modified so as to bring it into correspondence with the Chinese numbers of the years within the cycle.

 

Nos.

Nos.

 

of the cycle

of the year within the cycle

of the cycle

of the year within the cycle.

Tibetan denomination, corresponding to the present number of the year within the cycle.

1852

(XIV.)

47

(XIV.)

49

Water-Mouse

1853

 

48

 

50

Water-Ox

1854

 

49

 

51

Wood-Tiger

1855

 

50

 

52

Wood-Hare

1856

 

51

 

53

Fire-Dragon

1857

 

52

 

54

Fire-Serpent

1858

 

53

 

55

Earth-Horse

1859

 

54

 

56

Earth-Sheep

1860

 

55

 

57

Iron-Ape

1861

 

56

 

58

Iron-Bird

1862

 

57

 

59

Water-Dog

1863

 

58

 

60

Water-Hog

1864

 

59

XV.

1

Wood-Mouse

1865

 

60

 

2

Wood-Ox

1866

XV.

1

 

3

Fire-Tiger

1867

 

2

 

4

Fire-Hare

1868

 

3

 

5

Earth-Dragon

1869

 

4

 

6

Earth-Serpent

1870

 

5

 

7

Iron-Horse

1871

 

6

 

8

Iron-Sheep

1872

 

7

 

9

Water-Ape

1873

 

8

 

10

Water-Bird

1874

 

9

 

11

Wood-Dog

1875

 

10

 

12

Wood-Hog

1876

 

11

 

13

Fire-Mouse

1877

 

12

 

14

Fire-Ox

1878

 

13

 

15

Earth-Tiger

1879

 

14

 

16

Earth-Hare

1880

 

15

 

17

Iron-Dragon

1881

 

16

 

18

Iron-Serpent

1882

 

17

 

19

Water-Horse
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1883

(XV.)

18

(XV.)

20

Water-Sheep

1884

 

19

 

21

Wood-Ape

1885

 

20

 

22

Wood-Bird

1886

 

21

 

23

Fire-Dog

1887

 

22

 

24

Fire-Hog

1888

 

23

 

25

Earth-Mouse

1889

 

24

 

26

Earth-Ox

1890

 

25

 

27

Iron-Tiger

1891

 

26

 

28

Iron-Hare

1892

 

27

 

29

Water-Dragon

1893

 

28

 

30

Water-Serpent

1894

 

29

 

31

Wood-Horse

1895

 

30

 

32

Wood-Sheep

1896

 

31

 

33

Fire-Ape

1897

 

32

 

34

Fire-Bird

1898

 

33

 

35

Earth-Dog

1899

 

34

 

36

Earth-Hog

1900

 

35

 

37

Iron-Mouse

1901

 

36

 

38

Iron-Ox

1902

 

37

 

39

Water-Tiger

1903

 

38

 

40

Water-Hare

1904

 

39

 

41

Wood-Dragon

1905

 

40

 

42

Wood-Serpent

1906

 

41

 

43

Fire-Horse

1907

 

42

 

44

Fire-Sheep

1908

 

43

 

45

Earth-Ape

1909

 

44

 

46

Earth-Bird

1910

 

45

 

47

Iron-Dog

1911

 

46

 

48

Iron-Hog

1912

 

47

 

49

Water-Mouse

1913

 

48

 

50

Water-Ox
{p. 284}

1914

(XV.)

49

(XV.)

51

Wood-Tiger

1915

 

50

 

52

Wood-Hare

1916

 

51

 

53

Fire-Dragon

1917

 

52

 

54

Fire-Serpent

1918

 

53

 

55

Earth-Horse

1919

 

54

 

56

Earth-Sheep

1920

 

55

 

57

Iron-Ape

1921

 

56

 

58

Iron-Bird

1922

 

57

 

59

Water-Dog

1923

 

58

 

60

Water-Hog

1924

 

59

XVI.

1

Wood-Mouse

1925

 

60

 

2

Wood-Ox

1926

XVI.

1

 

3

Fire-Tiger

 

4. Another method of counting is that based on a cycle of 252 years; it was made known for the first time in Georgi's "Alphabetum Tibetanum," and again reported by Huc.[1] From the above mentioned elements and animals a cycle of 252 years is formed by imputing to the masculine and feminine particles a discriminating power, and thus multiplying the combinations. The first

[1. Huc, "Souvenirs," Vol. II., p. 368. The combination of the animals with the elements, as given by Georgi in his "Alphabetum Tibetanum," pp. 464-69; is altogether arbitrary, for by this way the elements follow each other twelve times, whilst in all these modes of chronological combination every element is taken but twice and then followed by the next.]

{p. 285}

twelve years of this cycle are counted by the names of the twelve animals only; the next sixty years (13-72) by coupling them with the five elements (each being introduced twice, as described in the preceding table); the period from 73 to 132 is denominated by affixing the masculine particle "pho" to the combinations; that from 133 to 192 by appending the feminine particle "mo." The years from 193 to 252, as Abbé Huc concludes, are distinguished by the alternate employment of pho and mo till the end of the cycle. This is not quite clear. If it were to be understood that, in this last series, a male combination alternates with a female combination, we should obtain only those terms which are already contained in the periods from 73 to 192. As one combination which would provide the addition of the 60 years required for completing the sum of 252 without a repetition, and which could be brought into final accordance with Hues words, I might suggest the uniting of elements and animals of different genders. According to this mode, the year 193 has the element male and the animal female, 194 has the same element female, the animal male, 195 has the next element male and the animal female, 196 the same element female and the animal male, and so on; while in the previous series the entire combination is of the same gender in both its parts. In this, however, there is a theoretical disadvantage which ought not to be overlooked. When completely worked out, it would not conclude with 252, but would proceed as far as 312; for sixty more combinations, differing from those already obtained, are

{p. 286}

at once formed, if we continue the series by now making the first element female and the first animal male, and then the same element male and the next animal female, &c.

Perhaps the following combination may not be unworthy of our attention, since it equally excludes repetitions, and has besides the advantage of not extending the series beyond 252. In the group from 13-72 the genders of the elements are undecided, the animals also have no particle appended; failing this, however, usage warrants us in regarding them as males. This supposition is confirmed by the representations wherever they are distinct enough; moreover, in verbal explanations the male nouns are almost exclusively used, as, e. g. ram in stead of sheep, &c. In the concluding series from 193 to 252 the gender of the elements might also be considered to remain undefined, while the animals might all be taken as females. The combination of two parts of diverse gender rather seems not to be in contradiction with what we may suppose to be intended in Hue's words; and the combination of the elements with female animals, besides, derives probability from its being that particular connexion which properly completes the series in form as well as in number.

As an illustration of the combinations resulting, I add a list of all the years in the cycle of 252 in which the mouse, the first of the series of animals, occurs.

Year 1. Mouse.

Year 13. Wood-mouse.

{p. 287}

Year 73. Male wood-mouse.

Year 133. Female wood-mouse.

Year 193. Male wood, female mouse. (Huc).

Wood, female mouse. (Schlagintweit).

This cycle of 252 years is not in general use; Csoma heard nothing at all about it, neither did Cunningham; nor did my brothers find it actually employed. As an instance, I may mention that the date wood-hare year of the Dába document gives, according to the 252 years cycle, the year 1845, if we begin with 1026 as the first,--1843, if we correct it for the modifications recently introduced; while it must be 1855 (see p. 277). This cycle may, however, be expected to be in use in the very centres of the Lamaic institutions, such as Lhássa, Tashilúnpo, &c.[1] At some distance from Lhássa it seems to be no longer known, even if it were ever employed; the Lamas in Síkkim were not acquainted with it.

3. The Year and its Divisions.

The year with the Tibetans is a lunar one, i. e. the phases of the moon regulate the duration of the mouth, and twelve such months--after the lapse of which nearly the same season begins to return-are the basis of the definition of the annual period. Twelve of these lunar

[1. The cycle may, however, perhaps be tried when examining older documents. The historical document relating to the foundation of the monastery of Hímis allows at an events of an interpretation by applying the 252 years cycle, compare p. 187; but it appears to be the more general custom to denominate the, years also in historical treatises by the cycle of 60 years.]

{p. 288}

months are equal to 354 days, 8 hours, 48 min., 36.6 sec.--a total which is less than the solar year by 10 days, 21 hours, 0 min., 11 sec. The Tibetan year nominally amounts to 360 days; and in order to bring it into accordance with the moon, one day,[1] from time to time, is not counted at all. But as this does not occur with exact regularity, the mouths and years do not always begin on the same day as the Chinese months and years.[2]

The difference between the lunar and the solar year is compensated by the Tibetans by inserting, for every period of nineteen years, seven intercalary months (Tib. Dashol); the error then remaining is not more than about two hours for this period, for seven lunar months give 206 days, 17 hours, 8 min., 20 See., and the inferiority of the lunar year for 19 years is altogether 206 days, 15 hours, 3 min., 29 see. It is only after about two centuries that the error amounts to one day.[3] With respect to the principle which is followed in the intercalation of the seven months I am not in possession of any details. Csoma says, that generally one month is inserted every third year.[4]

The year begins in February with the appearance of

[1. "Description du Tubet" in Nouv. Journ. As., Vol. IV., p. 137. In his Souvenirs (Vol. II., p. 370) Rue states that, owing to the belief in lucky and unlucky days, many are omitted altogether, and are then counted by the number of the preceding days.

2. See Ideler, as quoted above, p. 165.

3. In the Julian calendar the difference is much greater, amounting in 128 years to a whole day. Mädler, Populäre Astronomie, p. 522.

4. Csoma, l.c., p. 148, and Nouv. Journ. As., Vol. IV., p. 187.]

{p. 289}

the new moon.[1] The twelve months, in Tibetan Dava, are called the first, second, third month, &c., from one to twelve, or also by the names of the cyclic animals with the word "Dava" added.[2] The months are subdivided into thirty days, in Tibetan Tsei, which are quoted by their numerals, and into weeks, in Tibetan Gungdun. Within the week the days bear the names of the sun, moon, and five planets.[3] Certain symbolical signs are also connected with the different days, as in the following enumeration:

Number of the day within the week.

Celestial body.

Tibetan name.

Symbolical sign.

1

The sun.

Nyima.

A sun.

2

The moon.

Dava.

A waning moon.

3

Mars.

Migmar.

An eye.

4

Mercury.

Lhagpa.

A hand.

5

Jupiter.

Phurbu.

Three nails.

6

Venus.

Pasang.

A garter.

7

Saturn.

Penpa.

A bundle.

 

The days are subdivided into twenty-four hours, each hour into sixty minutes, in Tibetan Chusrang.

[1. So my brother Hermann, the Chinese description of Tibet, and Hue. Turner, however, was informed that the first month was January; "Embassy," p. 321.

3. Cunningham's "Ladak," p. 396. Csoma and Schmidt, Dictionaries sub voce zla.

4. In the Chinese description of Tibet it is said that the five elements are introduced in the denomination of the days of the week, but I have found nothing at all tending to confirm the statement.]

{p. 290}


Next: Chapter XVII. Description of Various Tables used for Astrological Purposes