By Vic DiCara, 2012
Vic DiCara's website: http://vicdicara.com/
India developed and carefully preserved an excellent system of astrology.In the 70s it gained popularity in America and eventually throughout the worldas 'Vedic Astrology,' perhaps riding the coat-tails of a larger explosion ofinterest in Indian culture and spirituality ushered in by ISKCON (the 'HareKrishnas') and similar groups like TM ('Transcendental Meditation').
The Origins of Vedic Astrology Long before European’s recognized that the Earth revolves around the Sun and that planetary orbits are elliptical (oval shaped), the Eastern clerics of the Indian sub-continent were using their knowledge of these fundamental principles to interpret their world. The originator of Vedic astrology is Parasara Muni. Parasara was the father of Vyasadeva who compiled the Vedic literature. Parasara was one of the celestial sages because, in his treatise, he mentions – that he learned directly from Brahma and Narada, two celestial personalities who figure prominently in.
Is the term 'Vedic Astrology' appropriate for what is practiced under thatname today?
Yes and no, because there are two different ways to define 'Vedic.'
- A historian or archaeologist defines it as a specific period of time,usually about 3 or 4 thousand years ago, in which four specific books bearingthe name 'Veda' were the basis of civilization in India.
- Others define 'Vedic' as anything which pertains to the Veda and theircivilization, including anything that develops with its root in the Veda.
The second definition gives a lot of leeway and can therefore stretch toadmit some validity in using the term 'Vedic Astrology' the way we currentlydo. But I believe it would be better to stop using the term in this mannerbecause the astrology of modern India is just too significantly different fromthe astrology described in the Veda itself, even using an inclusive definitionof the term Vedic.
Objection: 'The Yajur Veda has an appendix called Vedānga Jyotiṣā, whichtranslates to 'Vedic Astrology.' Therefore there is no question that it is anappropriate term.'
Reply: Yes, there certainly was some form of astrology in Vediccivilization – and the essentials of it were recorded in an ancient handbookcalled Vedānga Jyotiṣā. But the astrology defined in that book simply is notthe astrology practiced in India today. That book defines how to createcalendars establishing the proper times to perform rituals. There is no hintof natal interpretation. There is no reference to signs, houses, or any of theother mainstays of modern 'Vedic' astrology. Therefore I maintain that it ismisleading to call today's astrology 'Vedic.'Just because India's astrology isn't really 'Vedic' doesn't mean it's notexceedingly excellent and impressive! Why not let it be great on its own twofeet and call it what it is, Indian Astrology? The term Vedic Astrology shouldbe reserved for the system of astrology literally defined in the Veda and itsdirect ancillaries.
Objection: 'There are many ancient Vedic scriptures defining VedicAstrology as we practice it today. For example, the Brihat Parashara HoraSastra.'
Reply: There are certainly many excellent books which define the rules andprinciples by which modern Vedic Astrology operates. However these were allwritten in relatively recent history, and the overwhelming majority of theircontent has exceedingly little in common with the astrology defined in theVeda itself.
As India exchanged with the West, a Judeo-Christian concept of 'just believe'invaded and confused how she understands and implements her own guru-discipleprocess. Many 'gurus' now ask 'disciples' to blindly and blanketly accept whatthey teach without asking serious questions. This attitude is anti-Vedic! Theentire Vedic corpus of Upanishads is built of inquiry, scrutiny and analysis.If we don't think carefully and ask important questions, knowledge itselffalls into disrepair.
The fact is: the books that are the basis for modern astrology in India didnot exist before about a thousand years ago. Yes, that is very old, but itfalls very short of being 'ancient' or 'Vedic.' The Brhat Parashara HoraShastra in particular did not exist before the 19th century.1
But again, just because modern Indian astrology is not ancient doesn't mean itisn't awesome. Let it be awesome in its own right – as 'Indian Astrology.'
If today's Indian Astrology is not Vedic, what was Vedic Astrology?
Here are the most major differences between ancient and modern 'VedicAstrology:'
- Today's Vedic Astrology is primarily personal or 'natal.' We interpretbirth charts for individual people. In ancient times astrologers had a muchlarger role as the 'clock' and 'calendar' for the entire society. AncientVedic astrology (as recorded in brief in Vedānga Jyotiṣā) was almost entirelyconcerned with creating accurate clocks and calendars for practical,agricultural, philosophical and religious use.2
- More importantly: today's Vedic Astrology is primarily based on 9 planetsin 12 signs and houses.3 Ancient Vedic Astrology was not. It was primarilybased on roughly 27 fixed stars (nakṣatra) and the manner in which the Moonmoved through these stars and formed combinations (yoga) with the Sun andassociated phases.
Maybe ancient Vedic Astrologers did do natal astrology, but from what wehave recorded of that period it is not likely. I have not found any referenceto natal astrology in the ancient tales recorded in the Veda themselves, but Ihave seen many references to it in later branches of Vedic culture as recordedin the Purāṇa and Itihāsa.4 Ancient Vedic Astrology wasn't much aboutcharacter assessments, personal advice, or predictions about career andfortune.
In Vedic literature, when we hear the astrological details of anindividual, it is mostly meant to act as a 'timestamp' accurately identifyingtheir place in history, or at least on the calendar of religious and spiritualobservance. By saying, 'He was born when the stars were in the followingposition…' an author gives a time code that another astrologer at any point inhistory can decode and translate into whatever calendar system becomesrelevant. Placing events on a historical timeline and in context of thereligious calendar was indeed a primary concern for ancient Vedic astrologers.
The theory of natal astrology is that this timestamp can also be decoded tounderstand the destiny (karma) of the person born at that moment in time, soit is not that ancient Vedic Astrology has no relevance to natalinterpretation. The point must be admitted, however, that natal interpretationwas not the primary application of ancient Vedic Astrology. However, from thePurāṇa and similar later works we can see that natal astrology did soon becomeimportant as Vedic culture evolved.
Nine planets in twelve signs and houses, however, is never mentioned; notin the timestamps of ancient Vedic astrology, nor in the natal interpretationsthat soon gained importance.5 The astrological points of reference used inancient Vedic astrology are the 27 fixed stars (nakṣatra), often addressed notby name but by the Vedic gods who rule them.
Case In Point: Śrī Kṛṣṇa's Astrological Timestamp
Here is Śrī Kṛṣṇa's astrological timestamp as recorded in the late Purāṇa,Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.3.1 & 2):
अथ सर्वगुणोपेतः कालः परमशोभनः
दिशः प्रसेदुर्गगनं निर्मलोडुगनोदयम्
atha sarva-guṇopetaḥ kālaḥ parama-śobhanaḥ
yarhy evājana-janmarkṣaṃ śāntarkṣa-graha-tārakam
diśaḥ prasedur gaganaṃ nirmaloḍu-gaṇodayam
'Fate became endowed with all good qualities and reached its paramount beauty in the birth-star of the unborn. All thestars were peaceful, as were the planets, stellar phenomena, and thedirections - which arose in spotless array.'
This mentions the 'birth-star of the unborn' referring to Aldebaran (or aconstellation of stars centered on Aldebaran), called Rohiṇī in VedicSanskrit. The deity empowering this star is Brahmā, the motherless (therefore'unborn') creator of the universe.
As you see, the first and foremost concern of ancient Vedic astrology isthe 'birth-star' – the nakṣatra occupied by the Moon. These stars areaddressed in terms of the Vedic gods which empower them. Interpretive meaningin ancient Vedic astrology comes from knowing the qualities and traits of theVedic gods who empower the fixed stars. It has nothing to do with elements,modes, planetary rulers, etc.
There is mention of direction (diś) and the ascendant (udaya), indicatingthat the astrology being used at the time had something similar to a housesystem. There is also mention of planets (graha) along with 'stars' (ṛkṣa)and 'stellar phenomena' (tāra), but no specific information about them isgiven except that they were 'peaceful.' Some argue that only the Sun and Moonare relevant in true Vedic Astrology, but this reference indicates to thecontrary.6 In my opinion the Sun and (especially) the Moon were the mostimportant factors in ancient Vedic Astrology, but other heavenly bodies neednot be altogether disregarded.
But by reviewing this example, you can come to understand that even in thelate Purāṇic period there was no reliance on specific planets in 12 signs andhouses.7
One condition is that Mars’ own Rasi (Aries or Scorpio) shouldn’t be in the 10th house. Secondly it gives better or full results if Mars is alone in the 10th house. Presence of other stars with Mars reduces the promised effect of Mars in the 10th house. 10th house costumes.
Another description of Kṛṣṇa's astrological timestamp is in Harivaṁśa:8
अष्टम्यां श्रावणे मासे कृष्णपक्षे महातिथौ
रोहिण्यामर्धरात्रे च सुधांशोरुदये तथा
aṣṭamyāṃ śrāvaṇe māse kṛṣṇapakṣe mahātithau
rohiṇyām ardharātre ca sudhāṃśor udaye tathā
'[Kṛṣṇa was born on] the great day: the 8th phase of waning part of the monthof Śrāvana. Rohiṇī arose with the Moon at midnight.'
- The lunar month (māsa) was Śravaṇa (usually a mid to late summer month,but it is a lunar month, and so is not absolutely locked in to the seasonal /solar calendar)9
- The lunar trend (pakṣa) was waning (krsna-pakṣa).
- The lunar phase (tithi) was '8' – which means a half moon.
- The nakṣatra occupied by the Moon was Rohiṇī.
- The time: Midnight, at moonrise
Modern astrologers look at this and find nothing to interpret, but thosewell versed in Vedic symbolism could indeed deliver significantinterpretations from this, especially if we examine the conditions or look toother texts10 and discover that the combined positions of the Sun and Moonformed a yoga called Harṣa, which indicates being 'ready, willing and able toenjoy.'
In the entire Vedic library there is almost never a description of horoscopesin terms of planets in signs and houses. Such things are found only in highlyinterpolated texts or in relatively recent commentaries and works.11 The 27fixed stars and their deities are the actual backbone of interpretive work inancient and pre-classical Vedic Astrology.
If modern 'Vedic Astrology' doesn't primarily come from the Vedas, wheredoes it come from?
India has undoubtedly developed an extremely excellent system of astrology,but she did not do it in absolute isolation from the rest of Planet Earth. Byno means is that a denigration of the glory of India! In fact, it highlightsher glory. One of the most glorious things about India and Vedic culture, infact, is its openness to plurality. India has a unique ability to verycarefully maintain very old traditions while simultaneously being open, pluraland inclusive. Hinduism itself attests to this. It is a harmonious pluralityof very different religions, sciences and philosophies. It has the oldestroots of any modern culture, and in many ways is the most attractive andvibrant spiritual and philosophical culture in the world even today.For as long as we have historical records, India has had open borders and hasespecially welcomed philosophical and scientific exchange with other cultures.If we consider the Puranic description of how the Vedas came into theircurrent form we see that it involved many different people working togetherover hundreds or thousands of years.12 The truly Indian and Vedic way is toembrace knowledge from wherever it comes, and to allow it to develop, evolveand blossom.
Thus the astrologers of ancient India mingled with the astrologers of otherancient cultures. Modern 'Vedic Astrology' is a child born from this. From thewest came an elaborate method of interpretively using the 12 divisions of theSun's path over the ecliptic.13 Indians took this into their pre-existingframework which had always been sidereal, being as it was all about the 27fixed stars, and so Indian eventually developed a sidereal conception of the12 signs.14 Similarly they acquired various techniques and principles for usingthese 12 signs interpretively with 9 planets, including the concepts ofdignity, subdivisions of signs (aṁśa), aspects between planets, andchronological phases (daśā).
There is no intelligent doubt about this because:
- We have no definition of 12 signs and houses etc for interpretive purposesin any ancient Vedic text.
- We see that the nomenclature and in some cases even the chart diagramstructure is clearly an obvious import from Persian and Greeksources.15
Indians are an extremely smart, scientific, intuitive and artistic people.Schools attributed to Jaimini and Parashara developed elaborate and amazinglyuseful interpretive systems incorporating what they gained from theirexchanges with other astrological cultures. The astrology of modern India isvery relevant to anyone who wants to become thoroughly learned and capable asan astrologer, because it represents what such a highly skilled people havedeveloped after taking the best parts of astrological culture they gatheredfrom the rest of the world, and linking it to their own rich astrological,philosophical, and spiritual background.
Still, you may, like me, find it even more enlightening and beneficial to seekthe very roots of the ancient Vedic system itself. I feel that the real jewelof Vedic astrology lies in deeply understanding the Vedic deities who empowerthe 27 fixed stars of the undoubtedly ancient Vedic sky.16 Gaining thatsymbolic foundation will take you on a grand adventure through the Veda,Purāṇa and Mahābhārata. Then you could explore how phases and solar anglescombine with the Moon (and perhaps other planets) in these stars to provide arich and useful interpretive resource for natal and non-natal application.
What Does Indian Astrology Uniquely Offer to the InternationalAstrological Community?
There are many obstacles, but I think the greatest barrier to Indianastrology being a truly monumental blessing on the world is that thetranslations of its authoritative and classical works into English areatrocious. To be successful, such works would require excellence in Sanskrit,English, communication, and astrology; but the authors who have publishedtranslations thus far rarely have expertise in even one of these areas. Bookswritten in English on Vedic astrology by modern authors are fluff incomparison to the classics. At best they lack scholarship and depth. The veryfew exceptions to this rule are almost always dry or poorly worded. However, Iam confident that if we turn more attention towards Indian astrology, thequality of its understanding and presentation will dramatically improve.
I would like to close this article by sharing with you what I personallyfeel are excellent parts of Indian Astrology worthy of deep exploration. Mylist will proceed towards what I feel are the most important things IndianAstrology has to offer humanity.
Multiple Timing Systems
The vimśottarī daśā ('120-year Phases') is a popular and useful system oftiming events. The downside of being popular is that there is lots ofmisinformation about it. Still, it's potential as a timing technique isprofound. There are also more than a dozen other similar systems to explore inBrhat Parashara Hora. That book also offers a unique way of interpretingtransits, called aṣṭaka-varga, which certainly appears to be worth a carefulexploration. India has also preserved the techniques of Persian solar returnsvery carefully, and any student of Persian astrology and solar returns wouldbe happy to avail themselves of it.
Subdivisions of Signs
India's focus on sign-subdivisions expanded into a very impressive and welldeveloped school of interpretive techniques. In addition to other roles playedby the subdivisions, each one can stand as a chart within the main chart,pertaining to a specific house and area of life.
Aspects by Degree and Planet
The Brhat Parashara Hora's method of calculating degree and planet-specificaspects is outstanding. Each planet has a different 'vision' of the sky, withunique lines of sight that fade in and out of focus gradually from degree todegree.
Planetary Potency Formulae
The Brhat Parashara Hora Shastra's method of ṣaḍ-bāla using more than adozen factors to determine how forceful a planet is in a nativity isoutstanding and of great practical merit. The effects of potent planets aremore dominant and profound than the effects of impotent planets.
Classical dignity depends largely upon the relationship between the 'host andguest' (the planets who own and occupy a sign, respectively). Indian Astrologyhas an unchanging baseline of relationships between the various planets,modified on a case-by-case basis by the current planetary positions. Thebaseline interplanetary relationships are fascinating and reveal much aboutthe planets themselves. It is supplemented with rich Indian mythology, too.
Further, in classical India, dignity is not solely based on the primary zodiacsign but on several sub-divisions of the sign. In the Indian System a planetin a sign can have up to 150 different dignity-affecting placements, dependingon its degree and minute! The Brhat Parashara Hora provides an excellentmathematical formula for calculating dignity across many subdivisions.
Complete System of Lunar-centric Sidereal Astrology
I personally feel that the relatively unknown kernel of indigenous Vedicastrology is at least equal in worth to all the astrological schools thatdeveloped in India, combined. Awaiting our discovery and exploration is a richand deep array of 27 gods in 27 fixed stars, each with an extensive mythologyimparting interpretive import.
Corollary to these stars is an eloquent system of finely measuring andinterpreting lunar phases. Indian thoughts on relationship compatibility andelectional astrology are rooted in these 27 stars and – though very poorlypresented to the world thus far – are very worthy of exploration.
Essentially the 27 Vedic stars open a doorway to a completely 'new'non-zodiacal system of astrology!
I believe that the greatest blessing India offers to astrology is notdirectly astrological. India's unparalleled metaphysical refinements present aphilosophical foundation for astrology that is extremely sublime, empowering,real, and deep.
The Vedic understanding of karma as a marriage of freewill and fate puts aresounding resolution on debates concerning this topic. Essentially, humanbeings are 'adults' of the universe and are therefore held responsible fortheir free choices. Responsibility for the use of our freedoms is whatgenerates inescapable fate. The vast plethora of extremely well developedspiritual and moral paths developed in India and recorded in Vedic literatureprovides practical tools by which an individual can stop fighting with theirfate – embrace it as the loving correction and reward of their universalmother and take firmer grasp of their freewill, liberating themselves fromhabitual responses that perpetuate the wheel of destiny.
Vedic Astrology Chart
For whatever reason your gaze may turn to India, may the goddess Śrī Rādhābless your endeavor with its ultimate fruit. Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Read Vic DiCara's book:
1Although written as a discourse between two people of the Vedic time period (Parāśara and Maitreya), most scholars believe that the original version came together after 600 AD and represented a compilation of select portions of previous but relatively contemporary works. In the 10th century Bhattotpala identified it as being a lost work. In the19th century a scholar gathered whatever pieces of the book could be found and rewrote it. Thus the copy we have today contain modern texts based on scraps that are most likely younger than the 10th century.
2'Philosophical' astrology defines the conceptualization of time itself, dating the universe and the unfolding of its various ages.
3Though, to be honest, even that is often challenged by 'Vedic astrologers' using non-classical planets.
4For example, Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.12.12-31 describes natal astrologers making predictions regarding King Parīkṣit.
5There are very few exceptions that I am aware of, and it exists only in a North Indian version of Rāmāyaṇa. Therefore it is very likely to be an interpolation. Another exception is the Garga Samhita, but that books is widely considered riddled with interpolation.
Why Vedic Astrology Is More Accurate
6One may counter-argue that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the relatively recent culmination of the Vedic literary effort. However, we see astrological reference to the planets in ancient Vedic calendars, which have weeks of seven days, named for seven planets.
7In fact Bhāgavata Purāṇa explicitly defines the tropical zodiac with 12 divisions in 5.21.2. This means that the book is certainly aware of such an astrological framework and still chooses not to use it in relation to interpretive astrology.
9Months are named differently in different periods of history, and in different regions of India. The main difference is that some start the month from the full moon and others from the new moon. Thus other sources refer to the same date as the month of Bhādra.
10Like Garga Samhita (1.10.27-28), although that work is discredited for critical considerations as highly interpolated.
11For example, relatively recent book (Kha Manikya) ventures a modern description of Krishna's horoscope: 'Taurus Rising with the Moon and Ketu. Sun, Venus and Jupiter in their own signs. Saturn, Mercury and Mars exalted.' A few centuries ago the great spiritualist Viśvanānth Cakravartī essentially ratified this presentation by quoting it in his commentary on the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. In very modern times various persons – probably unaware of this ratified opinion – have ventured their own ideas of the houses and signs of Krishna's horoscope.
Vedic Astrology Calculator
13Ancient India probably did also divide the Sun's ecliptic into 12 portions, anchored on the solstices and equinoxes. This method is described throughout the Purāṇa like Viṣṇu and Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and is defined in the astronomical authority Sūrya Siddhānta. Historians date these to a classical period, but the undoubtedly ancient Ṛg Veda also makes reference to the Sun's circular path having 12 major divisions (as well as many other ways of dividing it). But there is no evidence that ancient and pre-classical Vedic astrologers used this system for anything other than constructing agricultural calendars.
14I personally feel this is a mistake which became standardized in relatively recent history and must be abandoned. I have written elsewhere on the lack of logic in a sidereal twelvefold zodiac, and established unequivocally from Surya Siddhanta and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam that the original Indian astrologers considered the zodiac to be tropical.
15The 'North Indian' style of drawing a chart (and the derivations thereof) come from Persia. The so-called 'Vedic' terminology for many essential concepts pertaining to the houses is still in Greek, just spelled and written in Sanskrit letters. For example, kendra and trikona have no Sanskrit etymology, they are Greek words: kentron and trigonon. Other terms, for example pertaining to the 12 signs, are direct translations of the same concepts in the Persian and Greek systems.
16These 27 or 28 are defined explicitly in the oldest Veda, such as Ṛg.