Mandalay 1888: An Englishman discovers Thingyan
(From the Illustrated London News, April 1888) For anyone wondering why "New Year" is celebrated in mid-April: 1. "Thingyan" (spelled "Saṁkran" in Burmese) is derived from the Sanskrit "Saṁkrānti". It is the same word as "Songkran" in Thai. 2. "Saṁkrānti" means the day the sun moves from one "rashi" or constellation of the zodiac to another. There are actually 12 "thingyans" in a year! 3. The "new year" marks the movement of the sun from the last constellation (Pisces or Mina in Sanskrit, "Mein" in Burmese) to the first (Aries or Mesa in Sanskrit, "Meittha" in Burmese). 4. The zodiac originated in ancient Babylon (approximately 2,600 years ago). The start of the zodiac (with the first day of Pisces) in ancient Babylonian times marked the vernal equinox (the start of spring). 5. Because of axial precession (the slow change in the earth's rotation over millennia), the vernal equinox now occurs about a month earlier (21 March), rather than during Thingyan. Happy Thingyan!