March is the month when Beijing starts to warm up and spring arrives! What else is happening? Of course it’s Women’s Day on March 8th, but there are two more traditional events of note this month too – ‘Insects Awakening’ and Guanyin’s birthday.
Read on to find out more about these noteworthy dates in March!
Insects Awakening: March 5th
Insects Awakening (惊蛰 Jīngzhé) is the third solar term in the lunar calendar, out of a total of 24 terms, each two weeks long. As the name suggests, this is when plants and insects start to wake up after winter, and it marked the beginning of the farming year. Traditionally, it was thought that spring thunderstorms woke the insects, and if the thunderstorms were too early it foretold bad weather for the year to come.
“Once the Awakening of Insects comes, spring ploughing never ceases” – traditional saying
The ancient Chinese believed that white tigers started hunting at this time of year, and people bitten by one would have bad luck throughout their lives. So to prevent this, people made offerings by drawing white tigers on paper and smearing pig blood on the mouth, thereby ‘feeding’ it so it didn’t bite!
Guanyin’s Birthday: March 31st
Guanyin is an enlightened being called a Bodhisattva, also known in Sanskrit as Avalokitesvara and in English as the Goddess of Mercy. Her statue can be found in most Buddhist temples.
She is believed to come to the aid of the desperate and can take any form in order to help them, making her one of the most beloved divinities in Buddhism. Worshipped in male form up until the 12th century, Guanyin gradually became female over time, and is now often represented as a woman in white robes, wearing necklaces. In her right hand is a water jar containing pure water, and in her left hand is a willow branch, which she uses to control the weather, bring rain to drought-stricken areas.
Legend is that she was originally a girl named Miao Shan (妙善). She began chanting sutras as soon as she could speak, and begged her father (in some stories, the king) to let her become a nun in the temple rather than being married off. Her father allowed her to work in the temple but in order to discourage her he asked the monks to give her the hardest chores. However the animals came from all around to help her, and her father became so angry he tried to burn the temple down. Miao Shan put out the fire with her bare hands, suffering no burns. Her father then tried to have her executed but the executioner’s axe shattered. To save the executioner from her father’s anger she eventually allowed herself to be killed. She was about to cross over into heaven when she heard cries of suffering back on earth, so she asked to be sent back and decided to stay until all suffering ends. Other versions of the story tell that she was taken to safety by a tiger before she died, so she is often depicted in art with a tiger.
A common representation of Guanyin is with multiple arms (a ‘thousand arm Guanyin’). The story goes that she became so overwhelmed by the suffering of the people that her head split into eleven pieces. So Amitabha Buddha gave her eleven heads to try to deal with it. Then when she tried to help all the people her arms split into several pieces too, and Amitabha Buddha tried to help her again by giving her a thousand arms to better help the suffering.
Chinese Buddhists celebrate her birthday by going to the temple to chant, burn incense and light candles, or doing the same at home. Some will also make a pilgrimage to Mount Putuo, located on an island in Zhejiang Province. It is believed to be Guanyin’s ‘place of awakening’ in China, where she went to meditate after her return to earth, and has a 33-meter-tall statue of Guanyin.
What important dates are you observing in March? Let us know in the comments below. We always love hearing your thoughts and insights!
– Chinaonlinemuseum.com; Cultural Keys; James Baquet via www.newsgd.com; Torontochineseorchestra.com
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