Vedic (Jyotish) Astrology

Introduction to Vedic Astrology

Written by  Gary Gomes
Introduction to Vedic Astrology Photo by Natash Ramasamy (flickr CC)

The following is an excerpt from an introduction to Jyotish.
History of Jyotish Sidereal Zodiac/Chart Formats/Indian Mythology
Introductory Background:
I welcome you to Vedic or Hindu Astrology. You will find many similarities to the astrology you know and even more to Hellenistic Astrology if you encounter that fascinating area of study. Jyotisha is a Sanskrit word. Although there is some controversy about the literal meaning, it is often translated as: Jyoti= light and Isha= soul or spirit; isha is also sometimes translated as god or lord.

A translation provided by the Pandit Gopesh Ojha, whose text you will be using this term, also states the word “Ishtam” means that which is wished for. Since a Jyotish chart is considered the manifestation of many acts through many life times, the term can also mean that which we create through the lights. More conventional interpretations translate Jyotish as “the lord of light” or “the science of light”, but it also reflects our actions in choosing our lives. By understanding the lights (signs?) in the sky we can understand our lives. Some parts of Jyotish also include looking at the signs around us, including omens and palmistry. This is called nimhita.

Jyotish is called a Vedanga or a limb of the Vedas. Specifically it is the eye of the Vedas, and lets us see the pattern of the world, and also our relation and path to the divine.

There are six Angas or explanatory limbs, to the Vedas: the siksha and vyakarana of Panini, the chhandas of Pingalacharya, the nirukta of Yaksha, the Jyotisha of Garga, and the Kalpas (srauta, grihya, dharma and sulba) belonging to the authorship of various rishis.

Siksha is knowledge of phonetics. Siksha deals with pronunciation and accent. The text of the Vedas is arranged in various forms or Pathas. The pada-patha gives each word its separate form. The Krama-patha connects the word in pairs. Vyakarana is Sanskrit grammar. Panini’s books are most famous. Without knowledge of Vyakarana, you cannot understand the Vedas. Chhandas is meter dealing with prosody. Nirukta is philology or etymology. Jyotisha is astronomy and astrology. It deals with the movements of the heavenly bodies, planets, etc., and their influence in human affairs. It includes earthly signs like Nimhita (omens) and the ability to read different parts of the body (palmistry is the most commonly used, but there are others.) Kalpa is the method of ritual. The Srauta sutras which explain the ritual of sacrifices belong to Kalpa. The Sulba Sutras, which treat of the measurements which are necessary for laying out the sacrificial areas, also belong to Kalpa. The Grihya Sutras which concern domestic life, and the Dharma Sutras which deal with ethics, customs and laws, also belong to kalpa.

There are many texts that explore the philosophy of Jyotish, but its basic philosophy is based on Sankhya, a system of thought that categorizes states of existence between spirit and matter. Interestingly enough, Sankhya’s complementary discipline is Yoga, which is the process by which we merge again with the divine, while still retaining our identities. Indian philosophy is heavily steeped in the belief in reincarnation, and the astrology chart is seen as an indicator of how far away from, or how close to reunion with God the soul is. (There are six darshans or viewpoints in Hinduism, set into three pairs—Nyaya (logic) and Vaisheshika (discrimination); Samkhya (categorization) and Yoga (Union) and Purva Mimamsa (religious and spiritual ritual) and Vedanta (or the elimination of boundaries between the divine and the human) This is certainly not the only use of Jyotisha—you will see as we study it that Jyotish excels at identifying trends in material life, and is used for that more than anything else—but ease of life is considered the result of past life actions, which leadi to reward or suffering. The spiritual aspect to these life events depends on how we deal with the good and bad that life hands us—or that we hand ourselves! Also, the concept of the level of karma a person must face becomes important.

Karma is divided into four primary categories: (1) sanchita, (2) prarabdha, (3) kriyamana, and (4) agama. Sanchita and prarabdha karma can be generally understood as the unchangeable fate or destiny of the individual, with kriyamana and agama karma reflecting the person's free will or choice. The following is a basic description of each type of karma. · Sanchita can be defined as one's collective karma from all past incarnations. Sanchita basically means "hesaped together" and reflects the collection of all karmas due to known and unknown actions of the past. · Prarabdha karma is the specific karmic lessons that an individual is ready to experience in this lifetime. Thus, it is only a portion of the collective sanchita karma and may be experienced as a person's destiny or fate in the present incarnation. · Kriyamana karma is created by our current actions in this lifetime. It can be thought of as our free will or effort that we are exerting now. It is our daily behavior and personal actions. As the great Jyotishi, Swami Sri Yukteswar stated, "The first lesson on the spiritual path is to learn to behave". · Agama karmas are created by how we envision the future. They are the new actions that are contemplated as you plan your work as a result of personal insight. As the Buddha stated, "As we think, we create our world". (Credit for the above section:: American College of Vedic Astrology on-line program, year one, Module 1)

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Contemporary Forms of Vedic Astrology

PARASARI Astrology—
This is the predominant form of astrology practiced in India and is the most prevalent form practiced in the United States, by far. The major text in this tradition is the Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra which is considered the Bible of Vedic Astrology. The Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra is an encyclopedic collection of astrological techniques, many of which are only sparsely used or investigated by many contemporary astrologers. The other major reference texts in this tradition are Phaladeepika by Mantreswara; the Brihat Jataka (curious collection which seems very much influenced by Greek astrology) by Varaha Mihira; the Jataka Parijata (a compendium of collected knowledge from various sources); the Uttara Kalamrita by Kalidas -- a little gem of astrological knowledge which contains a wealth of astrological gems; and the Saravali. These texts are the backbone of Jyotish. The problem with many of these texts is that the translations of many of these texts have been relatively disorganized -- many astrology students have found the experience of approaching these texts very daunting because the technique are often presented in a very random fashion. In my opinion, it is extremely important for the student to start to familiarize him or herself with these texts, primarily for the purpose of getting closer to the source Perhaps, as some have insisted, these techniques were not meant to be studied without the aid of a Guru. However, this belies the number of successful and accurate astrologers who are able to utilize Jyotish techniques successfully without a Jyotish Guru. This does not mean that I downgrade the importance of learning from those who have come before us, but I think that the Jyotir Vidya reveals itself to the sincere soul. Jyotish has rules, of that there is no doubt, but after the rules are learned, creativity can be introduced, and tested. I have seen quite a few eminent teachers disagree with each other. Every teacher has something of value to teach us. But keep in mind that the most important teacher is the Ishta Devata -- the teacher inside.

JAIMINI Astrology—
Jaimini astrology is a fascinating system of Vedic Astrology which has NO parallels in the West. In many ways its strikes me as a more thoroughly integrated system than the Parasara Vimshottri dasa system taught to most beginning Jyotishis (and from which many astrologers believe it originally It also strikes me as being a more forgiving of birth time inaccuracies, and easier to learn, than Parasari astrology. The reason that it is not taught more often is that the system is not even that well understood by many Indians, and it does require some familiarity with the Parasara system of astrology in order for full understanding. Jaimini has several unique qualities which reveal at a glance those things which require a great deal of investigation using Parasara astrology, especially when considering spiritual potential in the chart. Jaimini uses sign dasas (periods of our lives which are under the influence of signs) rather than planetary dasas. So when one is going through a dasa the individual is not only influenced by the sign, but also the planets in the signs as well. There are certain idiosyncrasies within this system, and it is, as yet, rather incompletely understood in the West. Indeed, even in India. It is thought that there exist some million Sanskrit slokas, 20,000 translated into Indian languages and about (optimistically) a little more than 5,000 Sanskrit Slokas translated into English. Of the 20,000 Sanskrit slokas which are devoted to Jaimini, there are only about 500 translated into English, so vast stores of existing knowledge have not been translated nor interpreted. Large parts of Jyotish are not written, but are passed along orally, and significant interpretational clues are contained in other holy literature, including the Puranas, the Gita, and the Upanishads. But even in its incomplete state, it is extremely powerful when used properly. Please note that there are currently major differences of opinion regarding Jaimini indicators and how to calculate mahadasas; try to learn the shells of the systems and then reach your own conclusions regarding which of he systems seems more correct for you.

TAJIKA Astrology—
This is also referred to as Varshaphal, or “the fruits of the year”. This system, practiced extensively in Northern India (and showing a certain interesting similarity to the techniques of Arabian astrology), uses annual returns (the movement of the Sun to the same position it was when you were born) in order to fine tune predictions for the current year. There is also a rather interesting system of calculations called “sahams” which identify sensitive points on the horoscope in both the birth and annual charts. I have personally seen Tajika charts reveal extremely accurate predictions, particularly in health matters. Although not as complicated as Parasari astrology, it is extremely detailed, and the interpretation is less free flowing than in Parasari astrology. There is a precedent for using Parasari astrology principles in Tajika charts, and it would be interesting to see if the interpretational accuracy worked both ways -- in the interests of research.

BHRIGU ASTROLOGY—
The term Bhrigu astrology actually encompasses several discrete systems of astrology which co-exist in India. The most familiar type is the system of palm leafs which are kept in custodial capacity and passed down among families from generation to generation. This system was discussed in one of Swami Kriyananda’ s texts, and is supposed to give a reading for certain individuals destined to experience such readings. These palm leaf readings apparently developed when the astrologers of India began to get so proficient in Jyotish they were able to generate the charts of those not yet born. This is not so amazing when one realizes that the paths of the planets are set, so generating a chart becomes a mathematical process. Apparently these families pass down certain techniques for finding and interpreting charts (including the seemingly fantastic ability to generate names, which is actually a part of chart interpretation called namakaran. Although a bit beyond the scope of this text (I may include it in an intermediate level text), namakaran, or “making names” or identifying people and places by name from astrology charts is theoretically possible through the use of a standard natal chart, as all the Devanagari Sanskrit vowels and consonants are assigned to the nakshatras.

The second system referred to as a “Bhrigu technique” is the Nadi readings. Nadis are points on the Zodiac -- there are at least 1200 such points -- all possessing some character or trait. Obviously the use of such a technique requires an extremely accurate birth time, but Nadi techniques are said to produce incredibly accurate results. However, as in the palm leaves, there are several different Nadi traditions -- some through systems legendarily attributed to the Sun, others to the Moon (contained in the text Chandra Kala Nadi); some to Mars; and some to other planets.

A third set of techniques is standard astrological techniques pulled from Bhrigu astrology. There are certain techniques which are culled from the Bhrigu system which are unique and not in basic Parasara texts; this system is still being revealed at this time and it will probably be many generations before significant parts of this system are released, although there have been several interesting initial steps taken in this direction by Narendra Desai, Nalini Kanta Das (Tom Hopke), and K. N. Rao and R. G. Rao from India.

Panchpakshi (five bird) This is a type of biorhythm system developed in India by Tamil saints, in which the various lunar mansions are assigned the qualities of birds in Vedic astrology. These birds (peacock, cock, vulture, owl, crow) are assigned to times of the day (which change during the days of the week) and individuals will either have good or bad days depending on the state of their “bird”. I have seen several analyses using the Panchpakshi system, and feel that this system should be used more extensively, particularly for the purpose of evaluating the ability of an individual to withstand illnesses and setbacks in life.

MUHURTHA—
This very complicated system of astrology sets the timing of events, such as when to start a ritual, when to marry a person, when to start a job, when to start a voyage, when to conceive. Every aspect of life can be chosen for a beginning using electional astrology. Muhurtha (literally, this means a 48 minute interval and is a basic unit of time in Vedic Astrology) is an extremely involved system that requires intense study and has many rules.

PRASHNA—
This is what is known as horary astrology in the West. Prashna is considered a discipline by itself in India, and certain astrologers specialize solely in this system of astrology. It is used to answer specific questions based upon the time the petitioner asks the question. Prashna can also involve the interpretation of omens, such as a dog barking (called NIMHITA) although some experts consider Nimhita to be a separate discipline from Prashna.

PALMISTRY—
This is considered a part of Jyotish as the indications of the stars are also in evidence in our hands and certain planets rule certain parts of the body.

TYPES OF VEDIC CHART STYLES

Although this class will mostly use the South Indian chart format, it is useful to become familiar with both styles. The North Indian chart looks very similar to some charts used in Europe in the middle ages. It is a square chart, with interesting lines drawn from the corners and with lines drawn from mid-point to mid-point of each side. It is a house based chart. The ascendant is usually marked by a number in the top opening (1=Aries; 2 = Taurus; 3=Gemini; and so forth. To give examples, a Libra rising would be marked 7, a Sagittarius would be marked 9, and a Pisces 12)) and the chart is read counterclockwise, so the top left side opening is the 2nd house and the top right hand opening the 12th house.

The South Indian chart is a bit simpler in conception in that it is a series of twelve squares, around an open space. It is a sign based chart and is read clockwise. Pisces (we’ll get to the Sanskrit terms for these signs a bit later) always sits in the upper left side of the chart, Aries is in the next box, Taurus follows, and Gemini sits in the upper right hand corner.

You can see examples of both chart styles in James Braha’s and William Levacy’s books. I would encourage you to experiment with both, to see which style you prefer.

Students are expected to spend five to fifteen hours per week on the Vedic Astrology material. After studying this week’s Vedic reading assignments, please ponder the following questions: What are the possible origins of Jyotish and its relationship to the Vedas? Can you think of a reason why there is so much information packed into the first nine pages of Mantreswar’s Phaladeepika?


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