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Vedic Astrology

based on article by Shyamasundara Das

Vedic vs. Western Astrology
Part of the Vedas
What is Astrology
Omens and Signs (from Agni Purana)

You have probably heard of astrology, who hasn't? Most people know what their Sun sign is in "Western Astrology" but very few know about Vedic Astrology, the subject of this essay. Even people who have only the slightest smattering of knowledge about astrology ask the question: What is Vedic Astrology? And how is it different from the Western Astrology that they are accustomed to? Therefore, to answer these questions I first would like to very briefly explain a little about Vedic Astrology and how it is different from its Western cousin.

Vedic vs. Western Astrology

The Vedas refer to the oldest scriptures that are known to exist, they are well over 5,000 years old. The vast ocean of Vedic knowledge encompasses both material and spiritual knowledge; it is perfect knowledge that was revealed by Sri Krsna (The Godhead) to the Rishis, the sages of Vedic culture. Astrology is a part of the Vedic literature, and has been preserved and handed down in the guru parampara, the chain of disciplic succession, since time immemorial. Vedic Astrology is the original form of astrology that existed thousands of years ago in what is now known as the Indian sub-continent. It gradually spread by diffusion into other cultures such as the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Chinese, etc. The major differences between Vedic Astrology and modern Western Astrology are threefold:

First of all, Vedic Astrology is technically called a Sidereal system whereas Western Astrology is Tropical. What this essentially means is that up in the sky there are stars which make up the various constellations of the Zodiac such as Virgo, Aquarius, etc. Vedic Astrology is based upon the actual stellar constellations (sidereal) whereas Western Astrology is based on a fictitious zodiac that slowly moves backwards in space as a function of time (tropical). These definitions can be found in any good dictionary.

Secondly, Vedic Astrology, as already mentioned, is based on a very old unbroken tradition since time immemorial whereas Western Astrology has had a very checkered history. Astrology for all intents and purposes disappeared in the West during the Dark Ages; it resurfaced during the Renaissance only to fall out of favor during the so-called Age of Reason. In fact, it totally disappeared from the European continent until about 100 years ago. It had been kept barely alive in England during that time. Western Astrology as we know it today has only been around for 130 years. The point being that the Vedic tradition is very strong and vibrant with the heritage of many millennia of accumulated knowledge, whereas Western Astrology is a chaotic mishmash of so-called New Age ideas; the "new kid on the block."

Thirdly, Vedic Astrology being an appendix to the Vedas, is thoroughly soaked in Vedic thought and philosophy. This necessitates that the practitioner of the science must have earnestly assimilated the Vedic philosophy and live the life of a Vedic brahmana, with all its attendant spiritual practices. By contrast, modern Western Astrology is a reflection of permissive Western culture where anything goes. Western Astrology has no real consistent philosophical basis. The Western Astrologer has (in comparison to the Vedic Astrologer) no philosophical training, nor does he know what it means to follow a spiritual discipline. The combined effect of genuine philosophical knowledge coupled with an authentic spiritual lifestyle cannot be overestimated when it comes to developing the divine vision and ability to properly guide that is so necessary in becoming an astrologer.

Part of the Vedas

So it will be assumed that by the word "astrology" we mean Vedic Astrology.

The four Vedas - Yajur, Rg, Sama and Atharva - are each composed of four portions, i.e. Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. This aggregate is the sruti and constitutes the body of the Veda. But a body without limbs is useless. Thus the Vedas have six limbs (anga) called sad-vedangas. These six appendices are: siksa, chanda, nirukta, vyakarana, kalpana and jyotisa. They are sort of manuals for the use of the Vedas and the preliminary knowledge for performing the sacrifices..

Siksa is the science of proper articulation and pronunciation of the Vedic phonemes (sounds). Siksa is essential because mantras are precise sound formulas that must be executed properly if the desired result is to manifest, (see creation of Vrtrasura, SB 6th canto).

Chanda is the science of poetic meter; in the Vedas there are eleven chandas such as Gayatri, Usnik, Anustup, etc. (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.21.41).

Nirukta is the science of etymology and lexicology (dictionary meaning); a famous nirukta was compiled by Yaska.

Vyakarana is the science of grammar. In ancient times Panini's Astadhyayi replaced all other works on the subject because of his masterful presentation and conciseness; it is still the standard. Jiva Goswami wrote his own vyakarana called Harinamamrta Vyakarana. It isn't very concise but has the edifying quality of glorifying Sri Krsna (God).

Kalpana is the science of rituals and observations (vidhi).

Jyotisa is the science of astronomy and astrology. The Yajur and Rig Vedas have sections attached to them dealing with astronomy, whereas the Atharva Veda has a section dealing with astrology. Aside from the Vedas, many rishis such as Parasara, Garga, Narada, Sukadeva, Bhrgu, etc., wrote on this science and preserved it in their sampradayas (disciplic successions).

The first pair of angas, siksa and chanda, teach us how to speak the Veda. The second pair, nirukta and vyakarana, teach us how to understand the meaning of the Veda. While the third pair, kalpana and jyotisa, teach how to use the Veda. Each vedanga is related to a bodily limb. Jyotisa is given the epithet "vedacaksus", the eye of the Veda, because it allows us to see through opaque time and to understand how the gunas (modes of material nature) are working.

In the Vedas great stress was made on performing sacrifices and other observances at the correct time in order that such sacrifices and observances bear fruit; this is one area of jurisdiction of the vedanga jyotisa.

As mentioned the purpose of jyotisa, astrology, is to show us how to use the Vedic knowledge. Let us look at some practical examples of how this could be done. The famous Bhagavad-gita verse (BG 2.14) states:

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino 'nityas
tams titiksasva bharata

"O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed."

The concept seems easy to understand when nothing is troubling us. Problems arise, however, when a person is beset by some obstacle or crisis. Then it is a different story because there is a tendency for us to lose our philosophical objectivity. This is where jyotisa (literally "light from God"; jyoti - light, isa - God) can help by returning us to a proper philosophical perspective of things. Jyotisa can do this because it deals with time cycles and the science of time in general. Jyotisa can thus inform us when a particular effect will begin to manifest, how long it will last, and when it will depart. This allows one to act wisely, to tolerate the situation without being disturbed, because the teaching of the Gita is reinforced by jyotisa.

Without this positive reinforcement from jyotisa experts we may react in ignorance. Being caught in the temporary grip of a negative situation we may become depressed, desperate or in some other way mentally disturbed. In such a disturbed state of mind we may act in a negative or destructive way which compounds the negative situation we are in. Eventually the negative situation passes as they always do, but now we have to be responsible for our foolish behavior while in a disturbed mental state.

I'm sure that if you consider your own life you will recognize situations where it would have helped greatly to know that there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel, even if you couldn't see it now. Perhaps you would have acted differently, not out of hopelessness or desperation but out of wisdom and tolerance for your present situation.

The Vedas are the storehouse of knowledge, both material and spiritual. But such knowledge aims at perfection of self-realization. In other words, the Vedas are the guides for the civilized man in every respect. Since human life is the opportunity to get free from all material miseries, it is properly guided by the knowledge of the Vedas, in the matters of both material needs and spiritual salvation. The specific intelligent class of men who were devoted particularly to the knowledge of the Vedas were called the vipras, or the graduates of the Vedic knowledge.

There is a little difference between the vipras and the brahmanas. The vipras are those who are expert in karma-kanda, or material activities, guiding the society towards fulfilling the material necessities of life, whereas the brahmanas are expert in spiritual knowledge of transcendence. This department of knowledge is called jnana-kanda, and above this there is the upasana-kanda. The culmination of upasana-kanda is the devotional service of the Lord Visnu, and when the brahmanas achieve perfection, they are called Vaisnavas.

Amongst the karma-kanda experts, the expert jataka vipras were good astrologers who could tell all the future history of a born child simply by the astral calculations of the time of birth (lagna). Such jataka-vipras were present during the birth of Maharaja Pariksit, and his grandfather, Maharaja Yudhisthira, awarded the vipras sufficiently with gold, land, villages, grains and other valuable necessaries of life, which also include cows. There is a need of such vipras in the social structure, and it is the duty of the state to maintain them comfortably, as designed in the Vedic procedure. Such expert vipras, being sufficiently paid by the state, could give free service to the people in general, and thus this department of Vedic knowledge could be available for all.

What is Astrology

As previously explained astrology is a limb of the Vedas, literally the 'eye of Vedas.' Now we shall investigate what astrology is and how it works.

There are six branches of astrology: Gola, astronomy; Ganita, calculations based on planetary position; Jataka, birth horoscope; Prasna, answering specific questions; Muhurta, choosing a time to start something; and Nimitta, omens.

Astrology is essentially a language, a mystical cryptogram created by Sri Krsna. Each of the planets according to Srila Parasara Muni, father of Vyasadeva, is intimately connected with one of Krsna's avataras and ultimately is a manifestation of that particular avatara. As any language has parts such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc., astrology is no different except that in this language the parts are planets, signs, houses, aspects, etc. It is the language of time.

The horoscope and the zodiac belt are often referred to in the literature as the kala cakra, wheel of time. The horoscope is like a big clock, except that while we are familiar with clocks that have three hands, the horoscopic clock has ten hands made up of the Ascendent, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu, and Ketu. And while the clocks of normal experience measure in hours, minutes, and seconds; the hands of the kala cakra measure much longer spans of time. A complete cycle of the ten hands from the Lagna (ascendent) to Ketu take respectively: one day, one year, 27 days, two years, one year, 12 years, one year, 30 years, 18 years, and 18 years. A complex clock indeed - one only Sri Krsna could create.

To create a horoscope requires the exact date, time and place of birth. The reverse is also true; given a chart, a learned astrologer can tell the date, time, and place of birth. This time-keeping feature of astrology is used today in archeology and history to date personalities and events based on recorded horoscopes or other astronomical observations such as eclipses and comets.

We have introduced two analogous systems with reference to astrology: astrology as language, and astrology as a super clock. We have done this to illustrate the neutrality or non-causal nature of astrology. Just as a language can be used for good or bad; to create edifying literature such as the Srimad Bhagavatam or a mundane novel with zero spiritual merit. In the same way, astrology can describe any phenomena that exists, whether it be divine, such as Sri Krsna or the life of an insignificant entity like me. The planets do not cause the events that take place in a person's life but they are capable of describing, measuring and timing them. This is possible only because of the Lord's supreme will.

Another way to look at astrology is as a sophisticated and systematic science of laksanas; that is, symptoms or signs. There are numerous examples from the sastra where omens and physiognomy are used in relation to Sri Krsna. The science of omens or nimitta is directly a branch of astrology. The study of physiognomy or bodily symptoms (laksana) is called Samudrika Sastra, after Samudraraj, the lord of the sea, who, from his vantage point, was able to study the perfect bodily construction of Sri-Sri Laksmi Narayana. Hasta Samudrika, the science of palmistry, is a specialized sub-branch of Samudrika Sastra. It should be remembered that astrology, palmistry, and physiognomy are all intimately related.

Astrology and related subjects are valid sciences applicable to both the divine and mundane sphere because they are non-causal, rather they are symptomatic of higher laws.

Omens and Signs (from Agni Purana)

If one is about to go out of the house, one should take care of any bad omens that there might be. Such bad omens are cotton, dried grass, cowdung, coal, molasses, leather, hair, a lunatic, a chandala, a widow, a dead body, ashes, bones and a broken vessel. If one comes across these as one is about to leave, one should not start without pacifying the elements through prayers to Vishnu. The sound of musical instruments is not an auspicious sound at the beginning of a journey. If the means of transport by which one is travelling breaks down, that too, is a bad omen. If weapons break, perhaps you should postpone the journey. The same is the case if an umbrella held over one's head happens to fall. If one hits one's head against the lintel of the door as one is about to cross the threshold, prayers are again indicated. And never call back someone who has just left. That is a bad omen and bodes ill for the success of the journey.

There are good omens for a departure and if one sees them, the journey is bound to be successful. Good omens are white flowers, full vessels, meat, distant noises, an old goat, a cow, a horse, an elephant, fire, gold, silver, a sword, an umbrella, fruit, clarified butter, curds, a conch shell, sugarcane, the sound of thunder, lightning and a dead body with no one crying over it.

Omens are important even if one is not going on a journey. A peacock crying on the left means that something is going to be stolen. If a donkey brays with a broken voice, that is good omen and something good will happen. If a boar or a buffalo crosses over from the left to the right, that is a good omen. But if they cross over from the right to the left, that is a bad omen. One's desires will be attained if horses, tigers, lions, cats or donkeys cross over from the right to the left. Jackals, moles, lizards, pigs and cuckoos are good omens on the left and monkeys are good omens on the right. If a jackal calls once, twice, thrice or four times, that is a good omen. It is a bad omen if a jackal calls five or six times. It is a very good omen if a jackal calls seven times.

If crows caw on the left of an army, the soldiers will not be able to win. If a crow can be seen near the door a house, this means that there will soon be a guest. A crow looking at the sun with one eye signifies great danger. A crow covered with mud means the attainment of one's desires. A dog barking inside the house leads to the death of the householders. A person whose left limbs are sniffed by a dog, will attain riches. If the right limbs are sniffed, there will be danger. A dog blocking one's path signifies theft. A dog with a bone or a rope in its mouth means the loss of property. But it is a good omen to see a dog with meat in its mouth.

Cows mooing irregularly mean threats to the master of the house. If this happens at night, there will be a theft or a death in the house. If the cows have horns that are wet or daubed with mud, that is a good sign for the householders. A cow that plays with cranes or doves is bound to die. A cow that licks its feet is also destined to die. If an elephant strikes its right foot with its left, that is a good sign. Prosperity comes if an elephant rubs its right tusk with its foot.

There is great danger if an umbrella falls just as one is about to leave on a trip. Journeys are to be avoided if the stars are not favourable.


Astrological tables
Astamangala Deva Prasna
astrofiles (various)
Nadi granthas
Nadi astrology experience: Bhrigu Samhita reading (Indradyumna Swami)
Important jyotisha texts (Roman transliteration)

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