Tengrian CalendarThe founders of the cyclic animal calendar were the nomads of Central Asia – this was one frame of mind of the Soviet science researchers. In 1955 the Soviet scholar V. Shakhmatov wrote that “this chronology for the first time appeared among the nomads of Central Asia at the end of the first millennium B.C.” According to the other researcher V.Tsyboulsky, “the origin of this calendar” is closely connected with the nomadic people of Central Asia.”
On the basis of astronomical observations, different nations created their own time counting systems. They correlated to the movement of the Sun, or the Moon, or to the movement of other planets. Ancient cattle-farmers of Central Asia created their own cyclic animal calendar which was widely used by their descendants – Turkic nomads, through to the 20th century. Kazakhs called it – Moushel.
In 1926 Kazakhstan shifted to a new chronology. The authorities banned Moushel, as well as celebration of Nauryz (New Year) - spring arrival holiday. Life went on as per the new Soviet- Gregorian calendar, and by the end of the 20th century, the ones who remembered the ancient calendar were only the old people. But the calendar of Turkic cattle-farmers didn’t sink into oblivion; it was revived and in a paradoxical way returned to us as the Oriental or Chinese calendar.
“He looks at the sky, as a European looks at his pocket watch"
I spent my childhood in the village of Karabau. I remember looking at stars through “shanyrak”- the top opening of a yurt - our family “planetarium” and my great-grandfather Zhouman telling me interesting stories about stars. He could tell the exact time looking at the night sky stars and during the day by looking at the sun beam – the “arrow” falling inside the yurt through the shanyrak. The yurt for him was like a clock-face.
Our adobe house was located on the very brink of the village. Around it there was an open space of boundless steppe. The steppe for my great-grandfather was the basis, over which there was an inexplicable, but mathematically accurate dome – the sky. The great-grandfather used to start his story with the Pole star, the brightest star in constellation of Little Dipper which in Kazakh is called Temir Kazyk (Iron Stake). During the whole night this bright start doesn’t change its position, while the other stars rise and fall on a sky dome.
“There are 2 other stars that always stay close by the Polar star,” - continued his story great-granddad. “They are the celestial horses: Ak bozat (White horse) and Kok bozat (White-blue horse). They are attached by strong golden chains to the Iron Stake. Do you see the traces of those golden chains?…”
All night long Seven robbers or Zhety Karakshi (Big Dipper) stay awake. The bold seven try to steal the horses and move around them all night long by doing a complete circle round the Pole star and horses, but as soon as the robbers come close to the horses, there comes the morning and seven robbers hide.
Many other legends about stars I heard from my great granddad. About The Three Muflons (Orion constellation) escaping from the hunter Kogaldai, and how animals decided to catch Urker (Pleiades constellation) in order to have an eternal summer, and a legend about the caravaneer who by mistake took the ascending Jupiter (Esek-Kyrgan- the Killer of Donkeys) for the Venus (Tan Sholpan - Morning star). He left too early, was caught in a snow-storm and lost his entire caravan.
Looking at the starry sky, one unconsciously starts to understand why for nomads the sky and the stars were the only fixed signs, with reference to which it was possible to safely travel at night in the steppes with no roads or paths. “Based on the observations, he planned his work, rest, travel, departures, and appointments. In a word, he looks at the sky as an European looks at his pocket watch,” - wrote A. Levshin, 16th century Russian traveler, speaking about knowledge of Kazakhs of celestial bodies.
Our ancestors, the cattle-farmers, read the stars, and terrestrial animals for them were the live heroes of the space legends, helping them in their practical life.
One cycle in 12 years and 12 animals
Looking at the sky, I remembered the Kazakh fairy tale called “How Animals Met the Sun” that tells in allegorical form about the creation of the animal calendar, about the streamlining the time, where animals agree that the one who sees the Sun first, from that animal the time counting and new year will start.
All animals were worried, only the Camel was calm. He knew that he was the tallest of all animals and, sure, he will be the first to see the sunrise. But it was the cunning Mouse who saw the sunrise, by climbing on top of the Camel’s head. So, the first year became the year of the Mouse. And after the Mouse all other animals saw the Sun. Only the proud Camel, relying on his tall height, remained without a year.
In a 12-year cyclic calendar each year was named after an animal and each obtained the particular animal’s character. Kazakh names of the calendar years are: tyshkan (mouse), siyr (cow), barys (leopard), koyan (hare), ulu (snail), zhylan (snake), zhylky (horse), koi (sheep), meshin (monkey), tauyk (hen), eet(dog), donyz (boar).
In Kazakhs the word ‘Moushel’ means Jupiter calendar. Jupiter does a complete revolution around the Sun approximately in 12 years. Dividing the Jupiter’s path into 12 equal parts with 30 degrees in each section, each part was given the name of a certain animal. Expression “bir moushel otty” (literally: “one moushel has passed”) means “12 years passed”. Five moushels make 60-year ‘tolyk moushel’ (full moushel). And minor cycles are built-into big ones, that infinitely repeat.
The word ‘moushel’ is derived from the word ‘moushe’ – the part. The 12-year structure of this cycle corresponds to traditional ideas of an animal structure, and in compliance with that still the carcasses of sacrificial animals are cut into 12 parts.
There were 12 months in a year, each one having 30 days. The remaining five days were called “Bes konak” – “Five guests”. The animal calendar doesn’t have the attributive sign of all other calendars - numberings of years. Nomads didn’t encroach on the measurement of Eternity. Numbering is linear, and ‘Moushel’ has no beginning and no end. The end of one cycle is always the beginning of another one.
And the New Year as per the cyclic calendar always comes at one and the same time, on the Great Day of the Earth and the People (Ulystyn Uly Kouni), the day of a spring equinox.
Kazakhs, as well as all Central Asian nomads, knew well what each year brings with it - how much moisture and winds, grass and sunny days, thaw and cold periods. They knew the safe years for their domestic economy: the year s of a cow, leopard, snake and horse – and unsuccessful years: mouse, snail, hen and boar. But especially dangerous were the year of a hare, the year of inevitalbe famines, which were especially hard and repeated every 36 years.
Human life cycles
The life of a certain individual was considered as the chains of 12-years: each one of us have “moushel zhas” (age of transition) in 12 years. It is a transition period when the person passes from one life cycle to another. The transition is accompanied by health deterioration, psychological and personal difficulties. Moreover, it is comprehended as death in one quality and the re-birth in another one. Therefore, it is necessary to be careful and attentive on the 13th, 25th, 37th, 49th, 61st, 73rd, etc. years of human life. When the person transits the “moushel” age, it is traditional with Kazakhs to give away a favourite clothing item to a relative or a friend, by saying a whish that they also should safely pass the upcoming test period. This custom is similar to the distribution of clothes of a died aged man who lived a long and happy life.
By the way, the “moushel” periods coincide with the periods of restructuring of human’s hormonal system, known in the modern medicine. 13 years is puberty period, 25 years - the period when production of growth hormones stops (the end of physical youth), 37 years - the period of psychological crises, know also as “shadow line of human life”, 49 years - switching off of reproduction function.
Who will be the first to meet the sun?
During the trip to Katon-Karagai nature reserve in Altai, I saw many rock drawings of animals. On one of them there was the drawing of the sun and in front of the sun there was a drawing of a camel, waiting for the sunrise. According to the fairy tale, a camel didn’t happen to be the first to meet the sun. But according to the other legend, the camel, after all, got an important place of a sacral animal.
Animals have gathered and divided the camel body into 12 parts – mushe. Each animal took one part of the camel. And in fact, the ears of the mouse resemble camel’s ears. The cow took its hooves; the leopard took the camel’s breast. The hare took its lip, the snake – its neck, the horse- its mane, the sheep –its back, the monkey- its buttock, the hen- its head top, the dog - its thigh, and the boar- its tail.
The camel was sacrificed and divided into 12 ritual parts, embodying all animals of a 12-year cycle and each part, thus, formed the part of the Time.
This traditional calendar is very optimistic, unlike Maya’s calendar. It doesn’t aspire from the beginning to the inevitable end. It has no end. Nomads lived in a cyclic spiral time. The evil or good done will return back. This world (bul dounie) and the other world (o dounie) closely interact. The saints (aruakh) and shamans freely move in time and space between the Top, Middle and Bottom Worlds.
The person living by a cyclic animal calendar lives in the infinity that consists of multiple self-repetitions. The old time circle smoothly transits to the new one. The Time is infinite, and with it is the World!
by Zeena Urynbassarova
February 7 2013, 15:24