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  • Writer's pictureSabchu Rinpoché

Etymology Class #1: Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa or Vaiśākhā is the fourth month in lunar calendar. Vesak, Wesak, and Baisakh (in Nepal) are the ubiquitous, popular names for the day (for some countries, it is also the name of the month) but are corrupted variants of the name Vaishākhā.

Out of the twenty-eight constellations, ‘Saga’ (Skt. Vaishākhā, वैशाख; Tib. ས་ག་) is one of them. In English, it is Alpha Librae.

‘Dawa’, in Tibetan, is for ‘moon’ and since month consists of a cycle of the moon, ‘dawa’ means month too. However, only the 15th or the full moon day of the month is attributed as Vesak Day! But please note that Vaishākhā referred to the whole month.

Saga Dawa Düchen or otherwise known as Vesak Day is on May 16, 2022 for many countries as per their astrological calculation. As for Phug system’s astrological calculation of Tibetan calendar, it is on June 14, 2022. Hence, I look forward to observe this day next month.

Why is their discrepancies in calculation all the time in lunar calendar? Why can’t everyone follow one calendar?

Well, some 600 years ago, some important people in Rome had the same questions, and hence the world today follows solar-based calendar (the Earth revolution around the Sun, as opposed to the cycles of the of the Moon phases), or otherwise known as Gregorian calendar, credited to Pope Gregory XIII, who reformed the Julian calendar, which is also solar calendar credited to Julius Caesar.

I think, the religious figures and powerful kings played instrumental role in the success of Gregorian calendar, apart from the reason of its precise calculation. That being said, the evidence of the use of lunar calendar in Western world were found in Scotland dating as far back as 8000 BCE.

Today, the common lunar based calendar are actually lunisolar calendar – the months are based on the observation of the Moon cycle, with intercalation or addition/subtraction days to bring the months into general agreement with the solar cycle. It is the differences in the intercalation that create the discrepancies amongst the astrological calculators.

In any case, it is not an issue today because, for the most of us, the beauty and function of diversity outweighs the importance of uniformity. Also, you get to celebrate the same event twice 😀. Who would complain about that?!

Happy Vesak Day!


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