Tibetan calendar making is based on the Sri Kalachakra Tantra (Wheel of Time Tantra), which was translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit in 1027 A.D. The first chapter of these high level Buddhistic teachings, External Kalachakra, includes Tibetan cosmology and chronological studies.
The official Tibetan calendar is lunar, but in Tibetan calendar making different
systems are used, which harmonize solar and lunar factors. There are three systems for defining the New Year:
The Tibetan New Year (Losar) falls around February - lunar system
The Kalachakra New Year falls in April - solar system
The Elemental New Year falls around December - lunar system
It is important to keep these different systems apart because they have their own purposes. When the calendar of
the Tibetan New Year defines the official time calculation, then systems of the Kalachakra New Year and the Elemental New Year are essential
for astrological calculations.
The Kalachakra New Year and the Elemental New Year
Tibetan calendars are also prepared for observing either the Kalachakra New Year or the
Elemental New Year. The Kalachakra New Year is used for planetary calculations for astronomy and astrology. The Kalachakra year is constituted by the Sun's movement
through the astrological signs in the Sidereal Zodiac, and this solar year has 365 days. The Kalachakra system uses the same twelve Zodiac houses and planets as the Indian calendar do. When the Sun is entering into Aries, it also marks the Kalachakra New Year, which is actually the third month of the Tibetan Calendar and falls in April. The Elemental New Year falls in December and
is used in
the calculation of an Elemental horoscope to define a person's age.
Losar - The Tibetan New Year
The official Tibetan New Year, Losar, is celebrated on the first day of the first month of
the Tibetan lunar calendar and it falls around the February new moon. The first month is called
Hor-zla (Mongolian month) because of their Mongolian connection.
The history behind Mongolian months began when the Mongolian ruler Chingis Khan invaded parts of Western China. He took over the Chinese months and renamed them as Mongolian months. The day of victory was then celebrated as New Year. In
the 13th century the Tibetan Sakya Drongon scholar, Chögyal Pagpa, and his uncle Sakya Pandita, introduced Buddhism to Mongolia. Chögyal Pagpa became a teacher of
Chingis Khan's grandson Kubilai Khan, who was the ruler of Mongolia at the time. Along with Buddhism
also came the Kalachakra system, and Mongolian months were converted to be equivalent
to Kalachakra months. Mongolian rulers named Chögyal Pagmas family Kings of Tibet and this probably helped the Kalachakra system
become Tibet's official calendar. In return, the Mongolian
Hor-zla month also became the Tibetan New Year as a sign of friendship between
the two nations. And to this day the Tibetans still celebrate Chingis Khan's victory over the Chinese tribes.
The Tibetan calendar is a unique system which is lunar-based. India also has a lunar calendar, but it is different
to the Tibetan and starts the year on a different date. It has only 360 days in the year and a complicated system of using skip-days
(tsi chad-pa) and extra days (tsi lhag-pa). The new moon always
starts the month, and the full moon falls on the fifteenth day. As the lunar phase defines a month, every month is 30 days and a year has twelve months. The lunar day is
about one minute shorter than a solar day, which is 24.00 hours. To make the calendar correspond with solar days, it
occasionally adds a 13th month.
Each year is ruled by one of the five elements and one of
twelve animal signs as in Chinese calendars, but they start the year on different
dates and the months have different lengths. So it is very important not to mix Tibetan and Chinese systems together.
Tibetan years follow twelve-year animal cycles. One element
rules two years in a row and then changes to the next element, while an animal sign will rule for one year at a time.
The Year 2000 was an Iron-Dragon year and the year 2001 was an Iron-Snake year.
The year 2002 was a Water-Horse
year, and so forth. The 60
year cycle of all combinations of the five elements and twelve animals is called
Rab-byung. We are now living in the
17th. Rab-byung, which began in 1987.
The first year in the Tibetan calendar dates back to the Kalachakra year, 1027. Actually the system of animal years
already started in the middle of 600 A.D. under the influence of the teachings of a Chinese princess who married the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. The system of 60 year cycles,
Rab-byung, was introduced around the 10th century and in the 11th century it was widely used in Tibet. Kalachakra teachings were blended with Elemental astrology, and when Tibetan scholars made the very first Tibetan calendar they used
Rab-byung for counting the years. As Kalachakra teachings were the
foundation for chronological calculations, it was decided that the official date of introduction of Kalachakra would be Year One. Year 1027 was a Fire-Rabbit year and
from then a Fire-Rabbit year became the first year in Tibetan
Rab-byung, while the Chinese 60 year cycle
always begins with a Wood-Mouse Year.