Asia in days, months and numbers

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Just as the Pacific is our mightiest ocean so Asia is our mightiest continent. When it comes either to distinguishing between our seven days of the week or to finding specific numbers to be a sum total there is a healthy diversity of interpretation across this continent.

Thais believe that if they dress in a certain colour each day it will bring them good luck. The code is: Monday: yellow (lueang), Tuesday: pink (chom poo), Wednesday: green (kiaw), Thursday: orange (som), Friday: blue (nam ngem), Saturday: purple (muang), Sunday: red (daeng). Black (dam) is not lucky for conservative people and is reserved for funerals; unless, of course, you are young in which case it’s seen as edgy and sophisticated.

Turkmenistan takes things a step further with not just days of the week but months of the year. In 2002 President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan decided to rename both catagories. The days of the week were renamed: Monday is translated as the Major (main or first) Day’; Tuesday, Young Day; Wednesday, Favourable Day; Thursday, Blessed Day; Friday remained as it was; but Saturday became the Spiritual Day; and Sunday, Rest Day.

Some months were also renamed to take the names of heroes of Turkmenistan’s past, but January was to become Turkmenbashi, after the president’s official name (‘Head of all the Turkmen’). In response to his suggestion that April should become known as ‘Mother’, one of his supporters suggested that instead it should be named after the president’s mother Gurbansoltan-eje. The president heeded the advice.

Particularly across South-East Asia, certain numerical groups have particular significance in their catagories:

Threefold notions include the Vietnamese three fundamental bonds (am-cuong): prince and minister, father and son, and husband and wife). Four is represented with the country’s four supernatural creatures (tu-linh): dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix.

Five relates to both the Yemeni bani khoms who were practitioners of the five despised trades: barber, butcher, bloodletter, bath attendant and tanner and also to the Tulu of India’s pancamahapataka which are their five greatest sins: murdering a Brahman, stealing gold, drinking alcohol, seducing the wife of one’s spiritual mentor, or associating with a person who has committed such sins.

Six is expressed with what the Vietnamese judged to be ‘luc-nghe’ a translation of their six arts: propriety, music, archery, charioteering, writing and mathematics while in China the six relations (liuqin) were thought of as father, mother, elder brothers, younger brothers, wife, children.

Haft rang are the Persian seven colours of the heavenly bodies: Saturn, black; Jupiter, brown; Mars, red; the Sun, yellow; Venus, white; Mercury, blue; the Moon, green. Elsewhere, in Sinhalese India saptavidha-ratnaya represent the seven gems or treasures of a Chakrawarti king namely: chariot wheel, wife, jewel, elephant, horse, son, prime minister.

Ashtabhoga are the Tulu of India’s eight sources of enjoyment: habitation, bed, clothing, jewels, wife, flower, perfumes, betel-leaf and areca nut. Ashtāng in Hindi depicts the prostration in salutation or adoration, so as to touch the ground with the eight principal parts of the body, namely: the knees, hands, feet, breast, eyes, head, words and mind.

The nine precious gems called nasāya-ratna in Sanskrit are interpreted to be pearl, ruby, topaz, diamond, emerald, lapis lazuli, coral, sapphire and go-medha. They are supposed to be related to the nine planets. More earthily meanwhile are the nine basic commodities that people need for everyday living. What the Indonesians call sembako consist of rice, flour, eggs, sugar, salt, cooking oil, kerosene, dried fish and basic textiles.

And finally there are the ten Persian vices (dah ak) which are named after the tyrant Zahhak. He was notorious for ten defects of body or mind namely: ugliness, shortness of stature, excessive pride, indecency, gluttony, scurrility, cruelty, hastiness, falsehood and cowardice!

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