Three weeks ago we bade farewell to the old year, and welcomed the New Year, 2023 according to the Gregorian calendar. This month also marked the start of a new year for several different communities in different parts of India. Other parts of the world are also celebrating new beginnings. In many countries in East and Far East Asia it is the Chinese New Year that will herald 2023 as the Year of the Rabbit on 22 January this week.
The Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year astrological cycle in which a zodiac animal is assigned to each year in an ever-repeating rotation. The 12 zodiac animals are, in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each year has an animal sign according to the 12-year-cycle. The Year of the Rabbit signifies the fourth year in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac
There are several myths and legends related to the origin of this. According to one story, the legendary Jade Emperor invited all the world’s animals to a banquet, but only these twelve animals accepted his invitation. Thus he honoured them by dedicating one year on the Chinese calendar to each.
Another Chinese zodiac origin story claims that the Buddha himself called for 12 sacred animals to protect his palace. He thus organized a race that involved all animals on earth to identify the most worthy. At the end of the race, the first 12 animals to complete the race were selected as his guards. Now, they represent the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
The most popular tale is that of The Great Race that explains the order of the animals in the zodiac has many variations, but the essence is the same.
According to legend the Jade Emperor decided that in order to determine the order in which each of these twelve animals would be placed in the zodiac, they would have to run a race, and they would be assigned their places depending upon the order in which they reached the finish line.
All the animals set off on the course. On the way to the finishing point there was a big river that they had to cross. The Rat had got up and started early, but when it reached the river it felt helpless; how could it navigate the swirling waters? But then it saw the strong Ox about to enter the water, so it used its wits and climbed onto the Ox’s head. The Ox was kind and let it ride with him. But as soon as they reached the other side, the wily rat quickly slid down and scampered to the finish line. And so the Rat came first, followed at number two by the diligently plodding Ox.
Tiger and Rabbit were not far behind. Both were fast, but Tiger was faster and came in third. Rabbit though fast on the ground, was stumped when it reached the river; it could not swim but it used its strong legs to hop from stone to stone in the river. However at one place it slipped and fell in the water, but it grasped a floating log and hung onto it, and was tossing with the current.
Dragon who everyone thought would easily win the race because it was believed to have magical powers fell behind as it took a detour on the way to help some villagers to extinguish a fire. When it returned to the river it saw the rabbit clinging to the log which was being carried away by the currents. Dragon used its breath to push the log to the shore. Thus the rabbit was the fourth animal to complete the race. Rabbit never found out where the breeze that had helped it ashore came from. The helpful dragon thus came after the rabbit, to be fifth in the race.
The story goes on to describe the adventures and machinations of the other seven animals who completed the race.
2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. The Chinese zodiac assigns an animal and its attributes to each year. Those born in a specific year are said to possess certain characteristics of the animal, as defined in the Chinese belief system; and their fortunes are determined accordingly. The years of the Rabbit include 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and now 2023.
The rabbit is historically known as the gentlest of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The attributes also apply to the people born in the year of that animal. Thus those born in the year of the rabbit are believed to be gentle, quiet, elegant, and alertas well as quick,ingenious,skilful, kind, patient, and very responsible. Those born under the sign of the Rabbit are known for their calm and decisive nature, which helps them to navigate difficult situations effectively. They are sometimes reluctant to reveal their minds to others and have a tendency to escape reality, but are always faithful to those around them. In the Japanese zodiac that also follows these 12 animal signs, rabbits represent fortune, moving forward and cleverness.
In addition to these traits, according to the Chinese theory of five elements, each zodiac sign is also associated with one of the five elements: Gold (Metal), Wood, Water, Fire, orEarth. These occur once in a 60-year cycle. According to this, 2023 is the year of Water Rabbit. Water rabbits are characterized as being gentle, amicable, able to adjust readily to different conditions, but with a firm mind set and principles.
In today’s world where there is an increasing prevalence, (indeed even positive recognition) of more aggressive traits of competitiveness, and ruthlessness, this year is a reminder of the value of gentleness, tenderness and empathy. In Chinese and Japanese cultures the sign of the Rabbit is revered as a symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity.
According to Chinese astrology, 2023 the year of the Water Rabbit will be less tumultuous than last year which was the year of the Tiger. It is predicted to be a year of Hope. This is what the world needs so badly now.
Here is to the Year of the Rabbit 2023—a year of hope, peace, and moving forward with empathy.