By Jenna Jolie
The Myanmar calendar, also known as the Burmese calendar, is a combination of lunar and solar elements, which sets it apart from other calendars around the world. In this article, we will delve into the traditional Burmese calendar, explore the calendar system currently used in Myanmar, and unravel the intricacies of the Burmese lunar calendar.
The Traditional Burmese Calendar
The traditional Burmese calendar, known as the Burmese Era (BE) or Myanmar Era (ME), primarily relies on a lunisolar system, a hybrid of lunar and solar calendars. A lunar month typically comprises 12 months. The days alternate between 29 and 30, which results in an average lunar year of 354 days. This contrasts with the approximately 365.25 days in a solar year. Consequently, to harmonize the lunar calendar with the solar year, some form of addition, known as intercalation, is necessary. The Burmese calendar distinguishes itself from the older Hindu calendar by adopting a variation of the Metonic cycle. This unique feature necessitates reconciling the sidereal years of the Hindu calendar with the near-tropical years of the Metonic cycle by adding intermediate months and days at irregular intervals.
The Burmese calendar has maintained its presence in various states of Burma since its inception in the Kingdom of Sri Kshetra, dating back to 640 AD during the Pyu period. Furthermore, it served as the official calendar in other mainland Southeast Asian kingdoms like Lanna (Thailand), Lan Xang (Laos), and Cambodia until the late 19th century. Nowadays, the traditional Burmese calendar continues to coexist alongside the Gregorian calendar as one of the two official calendars in Myanmar, deeply intertwining with Myanmar's rich cultural heritage and religious beliefs. Traditional holidays, including the Burmese New Year and various Burmese Buddhist festivals, are calculated according to the traditional Burmese calendar. It plays a pivotal role in calculating auspicious dates for important ceremonies, such as weddings and ordinations.
Moreover, Buddhist monks rely on this calendar for scheduling religious observances, including the three-month Buddhist Lent (Vassa). Buddhism plays a central role in the lunar calendar, and many of the lunar days are associated with important events in the life of the Buddha. For example, the full moon day of Kason is celebrated as Buddha Day, commemorating his birth, enlightenment, and death. Similarly, the full moon day of Thadingyut is a time of festivity, marking the end of the Buddhist Lent.
The traditional Burmese Calendar primarily relies on a lunisolar system
What are the twelve Burmese months?
The Burmese calendar consists of twelve months, and each month is associated with specific lunar phases. Here are the twelve Burmese months:
These months have their unique significance and are associated with various cultural and religious festivals in Myanmar.
What Calendar Is Used in Myanmar?
Nowadays, the majority of people in Myanmar follow a dual calendar system: the widely recognized Gregorian calendar and the traditional Burmese calendar. The Gregorian calendar is widely used in government, schools, and commerce, aligning Myanmar with international standards and facilitating communication and coordination with the rest of the world. On the other hand, the traditional one is still utilized to commemorate religious observances, state celebrations, and astrological phenomena. It originated in 638 C.E., roughly the same time as King Popa Sawrahan's introduction as an upgrade to the ancient Hindu calendar.
This duality between the Gregorian calendar for official and business purposes and the Burmese calendar for cultural and religious events showcases Myanmar's rich cultural diversity and ability to blend tradition with modernity harmoniously.
The majority of Myanmar people use the Gregorian calendar and the traditional Burmese calendar
What is the first month of the Myanmar calendar?
While the Gregorian calendar is governed by the sun's movements, the Myanmar calendar is uniquely lunisolar, incorporating both solar and lunar aspects.
The first year of the Myanmar calendar is Tagu, which typically commences from March or April on the Gregorian calendar, marking the transition of the sun's apparent position from Pisces (Mina) to Ares (Mesa). This is a time of great significance and merriment. At its heart is the Myanmar New Year Festival, which usually falls on the 13th of April and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and jubilation. This festival, rooted in the Tagaung Period but gaining prominence during the Bagan Dynasty, features the Thingyan water festival. Water symbolizes coolness, clarity, and the cleansing of impurities, and the act of pouring or splashing water on one another is believed to usher in a sense of purity and good fortune for the New Year. Tagu is probably the most expected month, as it is not just a joyous occasion for the people of Myanmar. It welcomes all, inviting anyone who wishes to partake in the celebrations, spreading happiness and a sense of togetherness, both within Myanmar and for those who join the festivities.
A Myanmar week comprises seven days, each symbolizing a cardinal direction, animal sign, and celestial body, except for Wednesday, which signifies two of each. A day in the Myanmar calendar, called a "yet," is further subdivided into units of 60: one "yet" comprises 60 "nayi" (24 minutes), one "nayi" comprises 60 "bizana" (24 seconds), and one "bizana" consists of 60 "kaya" (0.4 seconds).
The first year of the Myanmar calendar is Tagu
The Myanmar calendar plays a vital part in the country's unique culture. Myanmar people commemorate the traditions and festivals based on their calendar, preserving national identity from generation to generation. While the Gregorian calendar has become the standard for administrative and business purposes, the traditional Burmese calendar continues to hold a significant place in the hearts of the people.
The Burmese lunar calendar, in particular, showcases the deep connection between Myanmar and Buddhism and the influence of celestial events on the people's daily lives. The lunar calendar's unique structure and its reliance on lunar days and planetary positions make it an essential part of Burmese culture and tradition.
In the ever-changing world, the Myanmar calendar remains a symbol of continuity and resilience, embodying the country's ability to embrace modernity while cherishing its age-old customs. It's a reminder that the passage of time is not merely a matter of numbers and dates but a profound reflection of the nation's history, culture, and spirituality.