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19 June 2013

Burmese Horoscopes (Myanmar Zata)

Burmese astrology is as old as the ancient civilization of Burma (Myanmar). It is based on the seven days of the week. Most Burmese believe in astrology and often consult with fortune tellers and astrologers for their future. Burmese parents usually record carefully the exact moment at which a child is born and engage an astrologer or a Buddhist monk to create a horoscope (zata) for their child soon after birth. The zata is inscribed with a metal stylus on both sides of a folded piece of corypha palm leaf which has been sewn tightly together to make a thick surface. The zata is incised on one side with astrological diagrams, calculations and zodiac signs, a complicated array of figures that depict the position of various planets at the time of birth and date, and the day of the week is represented by numbers. The day and time of birth and the zata name — given by the astrologer — are neatly inscribed on the other side. Usually the zata is about 21 x 6 cm long, half the length of palm leaf. Some of them are very beautifully engraved and ornamented. 

Front of the zata of Ma Hnin, dated 1840 (Or.12469a)
Front and back of the zata of Ma Hnin, dated 1840 (Or.12469a)

Zata are always kept carefully in a secure place by the parents, sometimes in a special religious room, until the children are old enough to take care of them themselves. Parents take their children’s zatas to the fortune tellers or astrologers to find out about their children’s health, wealth and even their future. The astrologers calculate and predict according to the time and circumstances of a person’s birth and then give detailed interpretations of their readings. People also consult with astrologers over matters such as marriage, illness or jobs.

The earliest of the five horoscopes in the British Library Burmese collection is the zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C). The Burmese inscription on one side shows that this person was born in the year 1143 BE, in the month of Thidingyut (October), on the fifth day of the waxing moon, and the first day of the week, Taninganwei (Sunday), in the evening. On the reverse a roundel and a square table with the numbers is surrounded by an ornamental border of numbers. 
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)
The Zata of Myat Tha Aung, dated 1781 AD (Egerton 852C)

The zata of Ma Hnin (Or.12469a) is dated 1840, the zata of Ma Thaing (Or.4789) is dated 1842, the zata of Shin Hkaing (Or.4790) is dated 1852, and the zata of U Thuwunna (Or.12469b) is dated 1875. Each of them consists of a single palm leaf stitched to another to make a thick surface. All are very neatly executed and the general construction is the same.

This kind of Burmese art and this form of astrology still remain popular in Burma, with some ordinary people as well as astrologers being able to interpret the signs.    

San San May, Asian and African Studies



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