Friday, February 04, 2011

Tai Sui Culture

By observing the position of stars in the sky, Chinese astronomers discovered the regular pattern of Jupiter moving about 30 degrees every year and it takes 12 years for it to finish a celestial circle (the orbital period of  Jupiter moving around the Sun is 12 years, 11.86 years to be exact). Based on this observation, Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections called 12 Earthly Branches (地支) to follow the orbit of Jupiter. The ruling role of the Jupiter in ancient Chinese daily life was profound and it was recognized as the Year Star (Sui Xing, 歲星). However, Jupiter moves in a counterclockwise direction around the yellow belt (Yin direction) which is opposite from the habit used on Earth for direction. Chinese astronomers thus created a phantom star call Tai Sui (太歲) that moves in a direct opposite direction of Jupiter (in Yang direction (clockwise)) around the yellow belt with a cycle of 12 years. The twelve years of the Jupiter cycle not only identifies the phantom start "Tai Sui", but also provides the foundation of 12 Earthly Branches, the 12 Chinese Zodiac, the Chinese hour in the form of double-hours,12 directions, and the Chinese Sexagenary cycle, etc.

Tai Sui was considered as a guardian star that held the same standing as an emperor and the direction of Tai Sui was considered the direction of best luck. However, the prestige of Tai Sui is unchallengeable, the civilians don't have what it takes to get benefit from it; in contrary, it's advised to avoid facing it directly as it might offend the supreme star which could bring misfortune. It's the same idea that civilians couldn't look directly at the Emperor in ancient time. In time, the guardian role of Tai Sui was neglected and the evil influence prevailed.

Tai Sui was first recorded to be apotheosized in Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 CE). It was until the Jin Dynasty, the Emperor Zhangzong (August 31, 1168 – December 29, 1208) started to worship his mother's natal star to pray for a fast recovery from her illness, the Tai Sui worshiping culture (An Tai Sui, 安太歲) got its popularity. Later on, 60 honorable generals were apotheosized as Tai Sui to assist the Jade Emperor (the king of all dieties) in taking charge of the well-being of the mortal world. Each of them takes turn to be in charge for a year; 60 generals (Tai Sui) match the 60 years of Sexagenary cycle.

The basic rule of An Tai Sui can be simplified as follows: each year, those whose Chinese Zodiacs are in alignment with Tai Sui/Jupiter are considered offending the Tai Sui (2 Zodiacs) while those whose Chinese Zodiacs form an angle of 45 degree from Tai Sui/Jupiter are considered conflicting the Tai Sui (2 Zodiacs). For example: this year, 2011, is a rabbit year, which means Tai Sui is orbitting upon the Rabbit Zodiac. Together with the Rooster (on the direct opposite direction of rabbit) are considered offending Tai Sui. Meanwhile, the Rat and Horse form an angle of 45 degree from the rabbit (where the Tai Sui is located) are considered conflicting Tai Sui (take a look on Tai ji and 12 Zodiacs pic for better understanding). It is advised those signs to go throught a prayer for blessing in avoidance of the evil influence of Tai Sui that might bring misforturne.

The An Tai Sui ceremony was as simple as writing down words like "The Tai Sui of this year is here" on a yellow or red paper and posted it on a wall then worshipped it with joss sticks twice a day through out the whole year. In the end of the year, the paper was torn down and burned. Nowaday, people go to temples around Chinese New Year (usually before January 15th of lunar calendar), pay some money (NT$600~1,200) and have the professionals say the prayer for them. In Taiwan, those whose Chinese Zodiacs offending/conflicting Tai Sui go to temples and write down their names and birthdays in lunar calendar (Gregorian-Lunar Calendar Conversion Table)(including the hour of birth). The information will be written on a piece of red paper and posted on a wall with a LED light lit up throughout the year (some have a buddha statu embeded in the wall). To identify the paper that has your name on it on a wall from hundreds of similar papers on it is not an easy task. The Tainan Kaiji Wu Temple (No.114, Xinmei St, Central-West District, Tainan city) introduced a system to help to locate your Tai Sui easily. You will be given a 6 digit number that is unique for your Tai Sui, keyin these digit on the locator, all LED lights on the wall will be switched off leaving only your light turned on for a while. Other temples also embrace modernization: you can pay the money via creadit card or even do it online.


Traveling Hawk said...

Very interesting and well documented, Hanjie!

Anonymous said...

Awesome!! What an interesting and nicely written post, thanks for that. My favorite modernization is an i-phone app. where you can toss divining blocks by flicking your phone.
I'm looking forward to checking out the LED lights in Kaiji Wu Temple.