Indian Astrology

Astrology projects into the future of a person or even an institution. And the discipline, as we have seen, bases this on certain calculations in which the present moment and the passage of his nakshatras across the sky are taken as inputs. There are many traditions in astrology. Intercultural give and take resulted in sharing of these traditions. And among them there are three main traditions. These are Vedic Astrology, Western Astrology and Chinese Astrology, and are used by modern astrologers too. The first two follow almost the same route and share a common base as horoscopic systems of the astrological arena. Both use an astrological chart for an event based on the position of the Sun, the Moon and the planets at the moment of the event. The only difference is that the Western astrology uses the tropical zodiac but the Vedic one uses the sidereal zodiac. And the zodiac is the belt of constellations through which the Sun, the Moon and the planets move across the sky. Astrologers noted these constellations and so attached a particular significance to them. In the Western model the link between sign and constellation does not remain the same. But in the Vedic one, the link is the basis. In the Indian astrology, they use 27 nakshatras or lunar mansions and the dashas or the planetary periods. What about the Chinese astrology? Though it is called 'Chinese', it is not exclusive for China. This tradition is in vogue in other Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In the Chinese system the zodiac signs do not divide the sky as the Western and Indian systems show, but divide the celestial equator. This a major difference the Chinese system has from the other two. The zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Sun, the moon and the planets move across the sky. The great sky-watchers that the ancient astrologers had been noted these and assigned particular effects to each one of them. And they developed the system of the signs of the zodiac – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces – based on twelve of the constellations. Scholars are of the opinion that astrological ideas originated in ancient Babylonia from where it reached Asia, Europe and the other areas. The Babylonian astrology came to Greece, according to these scholars, as early as the middle of the 4th century BC, and then around the late 2nd or 1st century AD, it got mixed with the Egyptian tradition and this resulted in the horoscopic astrology. This form soon spread to the ancient world of Europe and India and other parts of Asia. This development of astrology has strengthened the discipline of astronomy in a great way. The historians of astrology point out that many prominent thinkers, philosophers and scientists like Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Paracelsus, Girolamo Cardan, Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, Johannes Kepler, Carl Jung and many others were ardent practitioners of astrology.

Western astronomy brought to India the signs of the zodiac, the sever-day week, the hour, and several other ideas, observes A.L. Basham, in his Evergreen Encyclopedia, volume 1. Thanks to their achievements in mathematics, Indian astronomers made some advances on the knowledge of the Greeks, and passed their lore, with that of mathematics, back to Europe by way of the Arabs, he continues. "Like all ancient astronomy, that of India was restricted owing to ignorance of the telescope; but methods of observation were perfected which allowed very accurate measurement, and calculations were aided by the decimal system of numerals. We know of no remains of observatories of the Hindu period, but those of the 17th and 18th centuries, at Jaipur, Delhi and elsewhere, with their wonderfully accurate instruments, constructed on an enormous scale to minimize error, may well have had their ancient counterparts."

And during those periods the Indians knew only of the seven planets with their naked eyes – Sun (Ravi, Surya), Moon (Soma, Chandra), Mercury (Budha), Venus (Shukra), Mars (Mangala), Jupiter (Bruhaspati), and Saturn (Shani), and to these planets or grahas, two more were added – Raahu and Ketu. These for them were the astrological celestial bodies. India too played its role later in developing astronomy, in the study of planets, asteroids, meteors, stars, galaxies and intergalactic spaces. But unlike the Greeks, the ancient Indians believed that the planets had equal real motion, and that their apparently different angular motion was due to their different distances from the earth.

'Jyotisha' is a Sanskrit word which stands for 'astrology'. And astrology for the present empirical world is an ancient and primitive astronomy. In societies where intelligent pursuits for knowledge were vehement, this had been a subsidiary practice. For instance, in ancient India, Jyotisha was styled Vedanga to mean an appendix to the Vedic pursuits. The main purpose of developing this design was fixing suitable dates and time for religious sacrifices and other rituals. Right from the very beginning of human enquiries into the secrets of the Universe, people have thought that the astral bodies like the shooting stars, meteors, comets, satellites (the moon and the likes of it), planets, stars and their constellations did play a significant role in the affairs of humans. There are certain references to this effect in the Vedic literature as well as the ancient writings in other cultural centers. It is this faith that has grown into a highly popular practice of astrology even up to these times of highly developed scientific and technologic insights into the nature of the universe.

How did ancient India develop this branch of 'primitive' studies? The term "primitive" could only mean the knowledge available in that hoary past. Historians and other experts in the field state that there was some Mesopotamian influence on India's early astronomical ideas. Some Greek influence was also attributed to the development of astrology in India. These influences could not have been of a one-way style affair. For, there had been pre-existed and native forms of astrology.

Science or un-science?
Whether it is science, pseudo-science, superstitious faith or whatever, astrology has been a strong influence in the life of people all over the world, including China, Japan and the United States. Certain enthusiasts quote studies from the US that 31 % of Americans opined in a poll that they believed in astrology. And it is pointed out from various centers that even many of the leading scientists are followers of astrology. This could be the result of the gravitational force of cultural and tribal memories or continuation of religious practice. There are societies where for everything from birth to death, every event is endorsed in consultation with the practitioners of astrology. In India where belief in astrology is highly contagious and wide, not only the Hindus, but even the Christians and other religious groups do consult astrologers for all auspicious events and in preparing horoscope for the new born. The experts in astrology define the system as a study of the influence of movements and the positions of astral bodies on the life on earth. The followers of modern science snub it as a pseudo-science and a superstition, claiming divination by the positions of the planets and the Sun and the Moon. Modern astrologers, who are familiar with the ways of modern science and technology, define their pursuit as a symbolic language, an art form, and a gift of prophecy based on certain charts, calculations and insights.

People are always interested in getting to know of the future. In earlier times too Indians were as interested in foretelling the future as any other people of yore. Interpretation of dreams was one way of doing this. Another one was face reading or interpreting birthmarks or the shape and size of the features or other signs from the body which were thought as suggestive of the individual's fate.

The ancient watchers of the skies had charted the heavens by means of lunar 'mansions' or nakshatras. This was known even during the Rig Veda times. Astrology was taking shape. It evolved through a series of systems, traditions and beliefs. The knowledge of the relative positions of the astral bodies helped the early astrologers in understanding and interpreting the personality of men and women, and giving information about their predicament. The earliest recorded beginnings of astrology lie in the 3rd millennium BC, according to scholars. The role this played in the development of culture, early astronomy, and other disciplines can be traced throughout the history of mankind.