Seven Planets

Seven planets 七曜 (Skt. sapta-grahāḥ). The sun, moon and five visible planets. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were unknown in the ancient world. In India an additional two “hidden planets” are added (Rāhu 羅睺 and Ketu 計都) which then comprise nine planets 九曜. Around the year 800 another two planets (Ziqi 紫氣 and Yuebei 月孛 / Yuebo 月勃) were added in China, constituting eleven planets 十一曜.

While Chinese texts have standard names for the seven planets, Chinese Buddhist works and almanacs will sometimes use transliterated loanwords from other languages. Amoghavajra 不空 provides in the Xiuyao jing 宿曜經 (T 1299) the names of the seven planets in Chinese, Sogdian, Persian and Sanskrit. Their various names are as follows. The Persian terms are numerals, not planet names, used to indicate the day of the week.


Chinese: , 太陽.

Sogdian: , (myr).

Persian: (ēw).

Sanskrit: 阿彌底耶, 阿儞底耶 (āditya).


Chinese: , 太陰.

Sogdian: , (m'x).

Persian: 婁禍 (dō), 婁禍森勿 (dō šambih).

Sanskrit: 蘇摩 (soma).


Chinese: 火星, 熒惑.

Sogdian: 雲漠, 雲漢 (wnx'n).

Persian: (sĕ).

Sanskrit: 盎哦囉迦 (aṅgāraka).


Chinese: 水星, 辰星.

Sogdian: (ṭyr).

Persian: , (čahār).

Sanskrit: 部陀 (budha).


Chinese: 木星, 歳星.

Sogdian: 鶻勿, 溫沒斯 (wrmzṭ).

Persian: (panǰ).

Sanskrit: 勿哩訶娑跛底 (bṛhaspati).


Chinese: 金星, 太白, 啟明, 長庚.

Sogdian: 那歇, 那頡 (n'xyẟ).

Persian: (šaš).

Sanskrit: 戌羯羅, (śukra).


Chinese: 土星, 鎭星, , 填星.

Sogdian: 枳院, (kyw'n).

Persian: , (haft).

Sanskrit: 賖乃以室折羅, 室悉羅 (śanaiścara).

For extensive details about each planet's metaphysical and mythological features according to native Chinese concepts see the Wuxing da yi 五行大義 by Xiao Ji 蕭吉 (Sui dynasty).

The standard ordering of the seven-day week (土日月火水木金) originated in Egypt around the Common Era. The seven-day week was probably first employed around the Eastern territories of the Roman empire, the first usage found in the work of Dio Cassius (born 155 CE). It later became widespread from the third century before being adopted by Constantine in 321. Around the third to fourth centuries it was introduced into India. In the Vṛddhayavanajātaka, an astrological work by Mīnarāja dated to 300-325, the planets are for the first time in India listed in the temporal order of their regency over the days of the week. The earliest extant inscription referring to the seven-day week is dated to June 21st, 484 or 165 of the Gupta era during the reign of Budhagupta (r. c. 477-500).

This ordering of weekdays is a union of the Egyptian belief in deities overseeing each of the twenty-four hours and the Greek cosmological concept of concentric spheres. The spheres run in the descending order of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. The first hour of the first day is assigned to Saturn, the second hour to Jupiter, the third to Mars, and so on. The twenty-fifth hour (the first hour of the second day) is assigned to the Sun. The forty-ninth hour is assigned to the Moon. There are also earlier variant orderings which are reflected in Chinese translations.

As days of the week, each planet has astrological significance. Auspicious and inauspicious activities are assigned to each day. The fate of an individual is also influenced by which day they are born on. Furthermore, predictions about the future are made if certain weekdays fall on specific days of the lunar calendar. These are detailed in the Xiuyao jing.

In Hellenistic astrology, which was introduced into China with texts like the Duli yusi jing 都利聿斯經, the planets on the horoscopic chart are extremely significant. Jupiter, the Moon and Venus are positive or benefic, whereas Saturn and Mars are negative or malefic. The Sun and Mercury are of mixed qualities. These influences can be altered by various factors, such as which zodiacal house 十二宮 they are located in. The geometric relationships between the planets on a chart (called 'aspect') also influence events and individual fates. These concepts completely differ from native Chinese ones (Saturn for example is regarded as auspicious). These occidental ideas influenced late Tang literati society, as seen in authors Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824), Du Mu 杜牧 (803-852), Lu Tong 盧仝 (795-835), Sikong Tu 司空圖 (837-908) and Du Guangting 杜光庭 (850-933).

In China the native system of “field allocation” 分野 is a set of astral-terrestrial correspondences which assigns segments of the sky to geographical areas of China (designated by their ancient country names) and interprets the passage of planets through varying zones as being portentous, in particular conjunctions. Unlike in Hellenistic and Indian astrology, the concern is the state and not individuals. In the Warring States (403–221 BCE) period it was entirely sino-centric, but by the Han came to incorporate non-Chinese geographical zones as well as concepts such the five elements 五行 and yin-yang 陰陽 theory. For a study of this see Pankenier (2013). Planetary convergences also are believed to herald either fortune and disaster for a state. For details see fasc. 26 of the Han shu 漢書 (Tianwen zhi 天文志). By the late Tang, the occidental and Chinese systems had been partially integrated.

In esoteric Buddhist 密教 practice, there are mantras for each planet or all of them collectively, used either to enhance their positive influences or deflect their negative influences. These practices can be coordinated according to when it is astrologically appropriate to do so. In the Taishō the relevant texts are found between T 1302 ~ T 1312. Daoist influences in the late Tang further added a dimension of fatalism, where misfortunes are attributed to a lack of reverence for the planets (see the Gexiangong li Beidou fa 葛仙公禮北斗法 in Fantian huoluo jiuyao 梵天火羅九曜 T 1311), which is related to worship of the Bid Dipper 北斗七星. In Japan, the Sukuyō-dō 宿曜道 tradition developed their own elaborate rites for working with planetary influences. In Japanese Shingon there are also the annual practices of hoshiku 星供 and hoshi-matsuri 星祭り (rites of star worship) on New Years正月, the winter solstice 冬至 and the end of winter 節分.

The planets each possesses unique features in iconography where they are depicted in human forms. The earliest extant representations of the planetary deities in India are from the fifth century (Gupta period). Chinese artists generally depicted the deities in Chinese garb with associated animal caps. See illustrations and descriptions in T 1311. Noteworthy extant specimens include "Tejaprabhā Buddha and the Five Planets" 熾盛光佛并五星圖 from Qianning 乾寧 4 (897 CE) by Zhang Huaixing 張淮興 from Dunhuang (British Museum Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.31) and “Deities of the Five Planets and Twenty-Eight Constellations” 五星二十八宿神形圖 (Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts), which is attributed either to Zhang Sengyao張僧繇 (c. 490-540) or Liang Lingzan 梁令瓚 (a contemporary of Yixing 一行 683–727).


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Beck, Roger. A Brief History of Ancient Astrology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Chan Man Sing 陳萬成. "Du Mu yu xingming" 杜牧與星命. Tang yanjiu 唐研究 8 (2002): 66-68.

Pankenier, David. Astrology and Cosmology in Early China Conforming Earth to Heaven. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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