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Zodiac & Horoscopy in India

Updated: Dec 28, 2022


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and hence, there can never be a dogmatic stand as far as history is concerned and it is not very different in astrology. What I am writing is not a dogmatic account of notes but just a presentation of what I think are never considered as records by the western historians probably because of bias. Humans are influenced by their prejudice and bias is not a wrong thing but what if that bias puts off Indian history by thousands of years? Western historians distorted the time periods of various historical facts just because it did not fit into their chronology of events. It is only mere ignorance to discard Indian history before the common era.


David Pingree, in his paper “Astronomy and Astrology in India and Iran”, mentions, “In the Indian Epics, the Râmâyaṇa and the Mahâbhârata, the planets also appear in an astrological context, their influence depending on their conjunctions with the constellations, on their retrogressions, and on their transits.​ This type of astrology is termed gocâra.” Although he accepts very explicitly that astrological context is very much present in the Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and openly acknowledges the aspects of horoscopic astrology such as conjunctions, retrogressions and transits (Gocara); takes a contradictory stand that India borrowed from Greece. He went on to state that Indo-Iranian astronomy lacks originality. Pingree’s assertion about horoscopy coming to India from Greece is nothing more than an emotional position to support a preconceived notion and is not to be taken seriously. In fact he doesn’t credit India for its contributions to astronomy and science at all which is a biased position and distorted presentation of historical facts because basic research suggests otherwise. Pingree always took a stand that India got the knowledge of the zodiac and horoscopy from Greece but never went beyond Yavanajataka but the zodiac was known to the Indians arguably before any other civilization and there are enough references to prove this fact. Not just Pingree but various other scholars stick to the belief that the knowledge of the zodiac came to the Greeks from the Mesopotamians. The Babylonian astronomical treatise Mul Apin is dated to 7th century BC. Rig Veda is very old and we don’t know the exact period but Yajur Veda could be from 3000 BC to 2500 BC followed by Atharva Veda which also has references to the zodiac (12 signs). I’m not the first person to mention this and this isn’t new but yet people have ignored this and attributed Babylonians as far as the knowledge of the zodiac is concerned. Bias?


Pingree opines that the Indian zodiac does not seem to have existed before Yavaneswara and relied on some figures depicting four corner-pillars of the old stone railing at Gaya representing some signs of the zodiac. Apparently, he rejects any claim by Indian historians about the representation of the zodiac in the stone in Gaya. At this point, it becomes important to note that Pingree is just a historian of science and not religion. However, any research is complete and thorough only if as much available evidences are analyzed before coming to a plausible conclusion but in Pingree’s case, he did not even go to the four Vedas which are the fundamental scriptures of Hinduism before coming to a conclusion that Indians did not have the knowledge of the zodiac. As I stated before, Mul-Apin is from the 7th century BC and Rig Veda, even if one is bamboozled to believe what is on wikipedia, is from 1500 BC. In reality, the Vedas are much older than the distorted figures that we have now. This premature conclusion makes Pingree’s work incomplete and misleading.


One of Pingree’s arguments to prove horoscopy traveled from Greece to India is some of the words in the text which he thought were borrowed from Greek. Pingree was a historian of science and he knew Sanskrit but he went to make some wild assumptions about words borrowed in Sanskrit from Greek. Ahorātra is a sanskrit word which means day and night. Someone who knows sanskrit would certainly know this but Pingree made an assertion that the word horā was borrowed from Greek. More authentic Indologists Nilesh Oak and Raj Vedam have done some mind blowing research work as far as Indian history is concerned and they have gone as far as 70000 BC. There is no need to go that far but it is not hard to understand that Sanskrit is far older than Greek. Moreover, it was the Greeks who came over to India but not otherwise in history. On the other hand, in simple colloquial terms: I speak Tamil and when I talk, I use the English word, “mobile” and not the tamil word அலைபேசி (Mobile). Like this, there are so many words in our daily lives we use that are in English and not Tamil. This is very common across India where people don’t use a particular word from their language but use English. This is quite common in technical circles as well and astrology is no different. Because of this, Pingree’s one of many arguments about the word Kendra coming from the Greek word κέντρον is questionable.


In Vaisheshika Sutram, which is the oldest surviving treatise on Atomic Physics written by Maharishi Kanada in 6th century BC, he talks about gravity, referring to why the objects fall. Conjunction and disjunction are two major aspects we need to keep in mind here.

saṃyogābhāve gurutvāt patanam
"In the absence of conjunction, falling (results) from gravity."

- Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, 5.7.1, Maharishi Kanada, 6th century BC


The Sanskrit word for gravity is gurutvāt. As it is, there is every possibility that the Latin words Gravitas or Gravis originated from the Sanskrit word gurutvāt. However, we cannot be very sure about it although it seems like it. This is no different from Hora or Kendra.


Even if it the words used in Yavanajataka resemble Greek, it could be because Sanskrit is much older and Greeks borrowed that word or it could be because Indo-greeks of that time had accepted a common tongue when it comes to certain words. This is hardly a case to prove that horoscopy came from Greece to India. Indian scientist Subash Kak who argued that Pingree fabricated or made serious errors, quotes a saying by Henri Poincare, “Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.” With all due respect, Pingree’s arguments were just a heap of stones which needed more work before building a house.


The Yavanas

As Alexander and his troops made their way from Macedonia to the east as far as the Indian subcontinent, they became part of the civilizations they traveled and conquered. While Alexander’s aim was to conquer India, it did not really happen as Alexander’s troops basically wanted to go back home and see their family. Another distorted story that is doing rounds is that Alexander defeated Porus but then handed back the kingdom. History says Alexander found it hard to even go beyond Porus and decided against his initial desire to conquer India.


Quoting the words of Greek Historian, Plutarch from his, The Life of Alexander. (Translation by John Dryden)


But this last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians' courage, and halted their further progress into India. For having found it hard enough to defeat an enemy who brought but twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse into the field, they thought they had reason to oppose Alexander's design of leading them on to pass the Ganges, too, which they were told was thirty-two furlongs broad and a fathom deep, and the banks on the further side covered with multitudes of enemies. For they were told the kings of the Gandaritans and Praesians expected them there with eighty thousand horses, two hundred thousand foot, eight thousand armed chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants. Nor was this a mere vain report, spread to discourage them. For Androcottus, who not long after reigned in those parts, made a present of five hundred elephants at once to Seleucus, and with an army of six hundred thousand men subdued all India. Alexander at first was so grieved and enraged at his men's reluctancy that he shut himself up in his tent and threw himself upon the ground, declaring, if they would not pass the Ganges, he owed them no thanks for anything they had hitherto done, and that to retreat now was plainly to confess himself vanquished. But at last the reasonable persuasions of his friends and the cries and lamentations of his soldiers, who in a suppliant manner crowded about the entrance of his tent, prevailed with him to think of returning. Yet he could not refrain from leaving behind him various deceptive memorials of his expedition, to impose upon aftertimes, and to exaggerate his glory with posterity, such as arms larger than were really worn, and mangers for horses, with bits and bridles above the usual size, which he set up, and distributed in several places.


Although Alexander did not further his campaign to conquer India, the amalgamation of the Greeks with the Indians especially in the northwest India (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Punjab, etc) certainly created cultural mixture and exchange of ideas. We are working with the time frame of the 4th century BC roughly followed by the times after the death of Alexander. We don’t know how many troop members actually returned home to Macedonia and how many people stayed back but we know from history that some people from Alexander’s troops and other management staff chose to stay back at places Alexander conquered or visited. Like this, many Greeks stayed back in the northwestern lands of India. There is no knowledge of astrological practice in Macedonia when Alexander began his campaign. In fact, astrology was probably completely flourishing in Egypt and not anywhere remotely close to modern day Greece or Macedonia and hence, it is unlikely that the entirety of astrology came to India from the Greeks because of the people who actually settled as Alexander changed his mind about the conquest of India. This can just be assumed as a precursor to understand that once, Indians and Greeks had come together to live in close circles.


Yavanajataka

The word Yavanas had two associations: one is foreigners and the other is Greeks. Because of the times, it is almost an assumption that the Yavanas meant Greeks and it is a plausible theory which I am not denying. However, if we read the text, astrology is more Indianistic than Hellenistic. I am just mentioning the overall tone of the text considering the techniques that are dealt with. The problem with some people reading the Yavanajataka is that they read it with a preconceived notion that astrology and zodiac came to India from Greece and Babylon. I am not denying any form of amalgamation of cultures but I am just stating how Indian contributions were wronged and suppressed.


Yavanajataka is very much Indian and is filled with Indian astrological techniques and not much of Hellenistic techniques. From the existing notion of astrology came to India from the Greeks through this one text, it is hard to believe that a civilization that did not have any form of horoscopic astrology prior to Yavanajataka according to the historians, have suddenly developed all the techniques that are so Indian in the Yavanajataka itself. In verse 35 (Ch 1), there is a mention that the Navamsas are useful in calculating the periods of life most likely pointing to the Dasha systems. For a country that never had astrology (according to the historians), it is weird to have complex time lord techniques overnight as implied in Yavanajataka. Greeks did not have Dasha systems (although they had other time lord systems) and the technique is undoubtedly from India. While the Yavanajataka points to calculating periods of life in the 2nd century, I suppose it implies there were Dasha systems prior to that period. It is not so easy to hide a pumpkin in a plate of rice but it was done thus far.


Yavanajataka, Ch 1, Verse 35

There are portions (bhaagas) (of each sign), they say, belonging to the seven planets, and these (saptamsas) undergo modifications according to the planet. The navamsas, whose forms and actions (are taken into consideration) in genethlialogy, are (also) well known (as being useful) in making predictions, in calculating the periods of life (dashaas), and in determining the length of life.

It is well known that the Greeks did not go beyond the Decans, Terms and Dodecatemoria. The Saptamsas and the Navamsas are home to India and the Navamsa likely was transmitted to Persia in 767 CE when Indian astrologer Kanaka visited Baghdad where he taught the mathematical works of the great Bhaskara and astrology of Varaha Mihira to the Arabs. This was very evident in the later works of the famous Muslim astrologer, Abu Ma’shar especially in his work, Kitāb tahāwil sinī al‐mawālīd (Book of the revolutions of the years of nativities). As far as I can understand, it looks like the Greeks were trying to expand their horizon in astrology from India while the benefit appears to be there for Indians as well but majority of the text is very much Indian. I don’t know of any references to the idea of Hora chart in Hellenistic astrology although they had the Sect which is the differentiation of the nativities into diurnal and nocturnal births. Some of the Greek nuances that are mentioned in the Yavanajataka are very obvious but they are less. Here, we need to appreciate the amalgamation of two civilizations instead of taking away the entire credit from one civilization.


References from the Vedas

Everyone knows that Lord Rama’s horoscope is mentioned in the Ramayana but don’t consider it but that doesn’t mean it is not there. I’d recommend people to check out the great Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata that have various references to Natal and Electional astrology.


Rig Veda I.155.6 (Credit: Wisdom Library)

“He causes, by his gyrations, ninety and four periodical revolutions, like a circular wheel, vast of body, and evolving in many forms, through the praises (addressed to him); ever young, though not infantine, he comes at our invocations.”


Atharva Veda (1200 to 1000 BC - conservative figure)

Kanda 2 of Sukta 8.1


Grown are two highly efficacious Vaishnavi herbs. Arisen are two stars in the sting of the zodiac Scorpio. May they slacken and remove the highest and lowest shackles of hereditary consumption and release the patient.


Kanda 2, Sukta 6.5


We address the day and night, both Sun and Moon and all the phases of the Sun in the Zodiacs and pray that we may be free from sin and distress.


Kanda 9 Sukta 9.1


Of this splendid, blazing and ancient high priest of solar yajna, which gives light and energy and takes the waters and essences of earth and sky, the second, younger and middling brother is Vayu, wind and electricity, abiding in the middle region of the sky, the energy voracious and present everywhere. The third and youngest brother is Agni, fire which is sprinkled with ghrta and water. Here in the Sun, I See the sustainer of people and the progenitor of seven light-children together in the spectrum. (The translator Tulsi Ram notes that Sapta-putram is: Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn preceded by Rahu and Ketu)


Kanda 9 Sukta 9.2


Seven join the one wheel chariot of the Sun drawn by one hose of light of seven names. The wheel, the wheel of time, unaging and automotive, has three sub-wheels with three naves and rim, three seasons, or past, present and future, three chronological divisions of time. And in this time and space orbit of the Sun, abide all the worlds of the universe.


Kanda 10 Sukta 8.4


One is the wheel, twelve segments of the felly, three segments of the nave. Who would know that wheel of existence? Three hundred and sixty are the spokes fixed there in, and as many spikes, all fixed and firm, immovable. He Brahma would know that.


References in Tamil Literature - Sangam Period

Nedunal Vaadai - 3rd Century BC

Nedunal Vaadai is a poem from Tamil Sangam Literature composed by Nakkeerar from 3rd century BC which is about the pain of the queen waiting for the King to return from the war. Nakkeerar was most likely a court astrologer to the Pandya King Nedunchezhiyan I.

Translation by Aswin Subramanyan


She was inconsolable. She cried too much. Mercury bromide was applied in the bed she was sitting on and the legs of the bed were topped with a round finish. On the ceiling upon the wax surface, the newly crafted painting was the strong horns in Aries (Ram) which is the first that roams in the sky. Quite different from the Sun but with all beauty like the Moon was Rohini (Aldebaran), like how the Moon is inseparable from Rohini, she was saddened as to why she isn't having such inseparable moments. She took a deep-breath. Her tear-drops fell down through her beautiful eyelashes and with her reddish hands, she wiped the tears that were flowing across her cheeks. She longed alone! Image: Nedunal Vaadai


Dr. Jayasree Saranathan points out the ivory trade from Ancient India (Madurai) and the lamps that were used in the Pandyan Kingdom which were either made by the Greeks in India or brought by them to India. It is plausible that the Greeks who saw the zodiac painting (could have taken a few other works too) in the ceiling of the Pandyan queen’s bedroom took the idea of the zodiac to Greece from Madurai (Tamil Nadu, India).


Silapathikaram - 2nd Century CE

Translation by Ramakrishna Dikshitar


The Aasaan (Acharya) then said: 'O mighty conqueror in battle! These remarks apply only to kings (The Cola and the Pandya) wearing garlands of [ar and margosa] flowers, and beautiful jeweled crowns. O Imayavaramba! Is there any monarch who dares to defy your wrath? They meant no insult to you; so curb your anger. The astrologer versed in the five parts (Panchangam - Thithi, Varam, Nakshatram, Yogam, Karanam), who knew the effects of the planets in each of the twelve signs of the zodiac rose up and said: 'Powerful king! Long live your Valour! The time is now auspicious for making the rulers of this vast earth prostrate themselves before your beautiful lotus-feet. Prepare to start out in that direction which you intend to follow.

Image: Poems 20-30, Book III, Ch 26, Kalkotkkadai, Vanjikkandam, Silapathikaram


Pulipani Jothidam


Bogar was one of the 18 Siddhars in Tamil Nadu and Pulipani was one of Bogar’s disciples. He was well versed in medicine and astrology. His 300 astrological rules in poetic Tamil still survives in the name of Pulipani Jothidam (Pulipani’s Astrology). Bogar is dated from 550 BC to 300 BC. Pulipani must have lived around the same time considering that he was Bogar’s disciple. Unlike Sanskrit tradition where there are few ancestors with the name Parasara, we don’t have many people with the same name in the Tamil tradition and hence, there is only one Bogar and one Pulipani. Pulipani Jothidam is a comprehensive poetic work on natal astrology which is available even today.


Conclusion

Indians had a flourishing oral tradition and it is almost still existing. No one can find textual evidence beyond a certain point in history and therefore, to rely upon textual evidence from the pre-antiquity period is not conclusive for any form of historical research. Modern day Indologists are making use of geological and astronomical evidence to arrive at plausible conclusions when it comes to historical periods where textual evidence is impossible to gather. The four vedas consist of everything from the creation of the world, science, mathematics and what not! Sage Baudhayana wrote the essence of Pythagoras theorem which is part of Yajur Vedam (Sulba Sastram) and this was at least 700 years before Pythogoras. When civilizations were writing about the world, elements and other philosophies, Indian sages were performing complex surgeries which also included plastic surgery (Suśrutasaṃhitā). Saying Indians did not have the knowledge about the zodiac shows ignorance. I am not taking a dogmatic position that everything comes from India. It is very evident that Indians accepted knowledge from the rest of the world and one such example is Tajika which is clearly Perso-Arabic. However, my point is just that it is not even remotely scholarly to suppress or belittle the contributions of Indian sages and modern Indologists just because they don’t fit the existing narrative.


More related and scholarly works:


Addendum: 28 December 2022


Here's the poem on Rama's horsocope in Valmiki Ramayana


The seasons six in rapid flight

Had circles since that glorious rite.

Eleven months had passed away.

Twas Chaitra’s ninth returning day

The Moon within that mansion shone

Which Aditi looks kindly on.

Raised to their apex in the sky

Five brilliant planets beamed on high

Shone with the moon, in Cancer’s sign,

Vrihaspati with light divine,

Kausalya bore and infant blest

With heavenly marks of grace impressed.

Rama, the Universe’s lord,

A prince by all the worlds adored.

New glory Queen Kausalya won

Reflected from her splendid son.

So, Aditi shone more.


There is surely an opinion that Rama's horoscope could be Thema Mundi and there is no doubt about it. Even if it is not Rama's horoscope and Thema Mundi, it is part of Ramayana which is dated very conservatively at around 11309 BC by more authentic Indologists today. One of the handful of reasonably authentic European Indologists, Georg Feuerstein wrote a book, "In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Insight on Ancient India" presenting the ideas that were largely suppressed by other European/western historians. The Vedas are way older than what the modern world thinks. I recommend Subash Kak, Nilesh Oak, Raj Vedam among others. There are stunning revelations about the timelines of Indian history. They also prove that western historians have either suppressed or distorted the facts.


The problem is the assumption that evidence is lost which is the narrative propagated by European Indologists. From the Indian perspective, there is no doubt about the prehistoric existence of Vedic astronomy. To understand the ancient Indian history, a historian surely needs to study at least about the River Saraswathi, Harappan civilization and Poompuhar. Unless a historian has a reasonable exposure to all these, it surely disqualifies them to even continue their work. I started this post by saying, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. The truth is, no one bothers to look through the evidences we already have, making it a compelling case of distortion and narrative driven focus. Textual evidence is the most preliminary point of research. Modern historians are cracking a lot through astronomical, archeological and geological evidences. I’m neither saying Indians gave everything to the world, nor I’m saying Indians were the first in everything. I’m just trying to acknowledge the contributions that were made well before the time that’s claimed today. Graham Hancock in his America Before writes about how we had a far more advanced civilization going on around the Amazon basin before 140,000 years. Will it be wise to think they did not have the knowledge of astronomy or astrology? Many people are questioning as to why scholars would close their eyes to evidences but little is understood about the distortion of not just Indian history but any fact from history that doesn't fit into the existing narrative. A well-respected astrologer asked me a question in one of the forums where the discussions of origins was going on. Why would a European historian would discard or distort Indian history? I thought the question was valid (although naive), which required answering.


Why wouldn't a western or a European historian distort historical facts about India which is against the actual truth to only maintain the narrative that no one really existed before 500 BC (the Greeks) or 700 BC which is a bit earlier (Babylon). It is surprising that the historians actually accepted Babylon, which is good. It is proven beyond conviction that Indian history was distorted and falsified. I mentioned Pingree in this post because he is well known in the circles, but there are many historians who relied on minimal evidences to arrive at conclusions or ignored the existing evidences (The Vedas) at hand.


In Siva Purana, with reference to Skanda, a cataclysm (Pralaya) has been indicated (apparently we don't know of any other civilization capturing it, but again, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) which almost exactly coincides with the time period of a major cataclysm pointed out by Graham Hancock and other researchers, which is around 12500 BC. That is when the ecliptic, which was earlier, an ellipse gradually started becoming a circle which left out one of the Nakshatras (fixed star) Abhijit. This is the redesigning of the zodiac, which Dr. Jayasree Saranathan clearly points out.


Main stream historians or scientists have discarded various portions of history as myths only because they went beyond timelines which are already part of the narrative history. There is no parallel to Indian and Egyptian civilization but only because of new findings that went against the narratives, scientists discarded many portions of Egyptian history as myth. Now, it is proved that Egyptian history goes farther back than we can ever imagine, which is even beyond 36000 BC. This is not just only with Indian history but with most lost/pre-historic civilizations, not because of time but because of lack of research or distortion. While we now know that many advanced civilizations were lost, it will be a gross error to think that they did not know about astronomy or astrology. Without going too far behind, we can only start with Harappan civilization, but I understand that it is hard to unlearn for people who are seasoned to narratives. Having said that, people are changing and being more open. In about a decade, we will see a more open-minded community that will appreciate the new findings of human history, while I still have no doubt whatsoever that the main-stream scientific community will never make that shift.


Seeing only what we want to see is human nature. If we take off the bridle that has locked our eyes from viewing, we will see a world beyond our influenced imagination!


When I posted the link to this article on Facebook, many people commented and shared their scholarly views. I am thankful and grateful to everyone's contribution to this post. I compiled all the comments in a PDF file which is available for download here. Name: Facebook comments on the article: Zodiac & Horoscopy in India.


Title Image: Pixabay


Let Peace Be!

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