In Burma, the country also known as Myanmar, astrology is big business. People seek advice about everything from whom to marry to when to get a haircut. Astrologers are everywhere. They operate from their homes, in beauty parlors, restaurants and shops. Dozens of them lounge in lawn chairs, sit at rickety card tables and squat on the walkways leading to Buddhist temples. The magical formulas the astrologers rely on may be thousands of years old, but the advice they dispense helps their customers navigate the complexities of life in the 21st century.
Burmese astrology is different from the systems that developed in other parts of the world. The Burmese version is based on the number eight. There are eight astrological signs, eight cardinal directions and eight sacred animals. In addition to the seven celestial bodies recognized by other ancient cultures - the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - the Burmese include an eighth, a secret planet named Rahu. It is the subtle and mysterious influence of Rahu that causes eclipses.
What's Your Sign?
In western astrology your birth date determines your sign.That information is irrelevant in Burma. The day of the week on which you made your first appearance is all that matters. If you don't know what day of the week you were born, enter your birthday here.
The Burmese divide Wednesday into morning and afternoon, which changes the seven day week into a form that accommodates the magical number eight. So if you were born on Wednesday, check your birth certificate to find out whether you arrived before or after noon.
Sunday belongs to Garuda, the mythical king of the birds. If you are Sunday-born, northeast is your lucky direction and the Sun is your ruling planet. The more difficult a task or subject, the more it interests you. You are energetic, focused, and very stubborn. You are also too generous and have a tendency to allow others to take advantage of you.
Monday is the day of the tiger. If you are Monday-born, east is your lucky direction and the Moon is your ruling planet. You are patient, steady and reliable. Your ability to persevere against great odds is your finest trait. You are ambitious and like to succeed at everything you attempt.
Tuesday is the day of the lion. If you are Tuesday-born, southeast is your lucky direction and Mars is your ruling planet. You are opinionated, idealistic and you love a good challenge. People are attracted to your strong and honorable character. You respect dignity and prestige in others and are drawn to great causes.
The elephant rules Wednesday morning. If you are Wednesday morning-born, south is your lucky direction and Mercury is your ruling planet. You are impulsive and quick-tempered. You are independent and like to be in charge, but you also frequently take on more than you can handle.
If you are born on Wednesday afternoon, you are called Rahu-born because the secret planet rules your sign. Your animal is the tusk-less elephant and northwest is your lucky direction. You have a wide circle of acquaintances but few close friends. You are a tireless self-promoter driven by the desire for success, though you will go to great lengths to protect your privacy.
Thursday is the day of the rat. If you are Thursday-born, west is your lucky direction and Jupiter is your ruling planet. You are serious, intelligent and quiet. Even those closest to you would be surprised to learn how ambitious you are and how highly you value professional success. In business, your single-mindedness can lead to great things. It can also deteriorate into ruthless, destructive behavior.
Friday is the day of the guinea pig. If you are Friday-born, north is your lucky direction and Venus is your ruling planet. You are sensitive and emotional and you empathize with others. You are also restless and quickly tire of jobs, people and places. You have a strong artistic streak, but tend to be a dabbler. If you can stick with art or music long enough to develop your talents, you are capable of creating great beauty.
Saturday is the day of the dragon. If you are Saturday-born, southwest is your lucky direction and Saturn is your ruling planet. You are intelligent, witty and industrious. You like working alone and controlling your own destiny. You find it tedious to be part of a group or team. However, if you can overcome your reluctance to delegate and can improve your interpersonal skills, you can become an outstanding leader.
Fruit, Flowers and Incense
A typical session with a Burmese astrologer lasts several hours and can be quite expensive. When the astrologer is sure he or she understands the customer's dilemma, out come charts, formulas and tables of magical symbols. Through a series of complex calculations, the astrologer designs a ritual for the person and determines the day and time the ritual must be performed. The details and particulars of rituals vary. Much depends on the nature and severity of the problem or question. However, all rituals include a visit to one or more of the planetary posts located on the outdoor platforms surrounding Burmese Buddhist temples.
A planetary post is a type of shrine. Posts are situated at points aligned with the eight cardinal directions. Each post represents a particular day of the week and its corresponding astrological sign. The shrine includes a table for offerings and a brightly colored statue of that day's sacred animal. Large bowls of clear water and lacquered cups sit in front of the statue.
An astrologer may send a person to the planetary post associated with his or her birthday or may recommend visits to several planetary posts. For example, a Thursday-born could be sent to the shrines for Sunday and Monday.
The ritual begins when the person places yadaya - offerings of fruit, flowers, incense and small paper umbrellas - at the appropriate shrine. The person then pours cups of water over the sacred animal statue. Water is cool and pouring it helps restore balance to the universe. Calculating the number of cups that must be poured is part of the astrologer's service.
Even during the torrential monsoon rains, the temple platforms are crowded with people pouring water on the statues. As they pour, they whisper their hopes and dreams. Modern Burmese know, just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago, that when the rituals are performed in the correct way at the right time, a good outcome is sure to follow.