Astrologers in India trace their art to the fifth millennium B.C.E. though a new shape was given to ancient astrological speculations by Parashara Muni around 1500 B.C.E. He is one of the first astrologers in the world known to have actually cast horoscopes, the personal birth charts for individuals. He also is known to have had a special interest in the application of astrology to health and longevity concerns. He wrote several books, the most important being the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, and composed hymns to the several planetary deities.
Muni's work was expanded by Ranavira, who lived during the same era. Ranavira, who also operated as a clairvoyant seer, concentrated on the astrological correlated to compatible personal relationships, female astrology, and psychological astrology. Ranavira appears to be the fountainhead of Indian astrology's continued interest in applying astrology to predicting successful marriages.
Astrology emerged in the context of the Vedas, the ancient holy writings of the Indian people, which through the Vedic hymns offered a positive worldview oriented to nature and the pastoral agricultural life. Astrology, also called Joytisha (meaning of the shining world of light), complemented this worldview in its attempt to shine the divine light on the individual's life. As a teacher, astrological knowledge attempted to dispel the darkness of illusion and assist the person to understand the purpose of the soul's present incarnation.
The birth chart pictures the consequences or karma that the person brings into this incarnation (Indians believing that the soul reincarnates in a series of embodied existences either as humans or animals). While at times, as in Western astrology, astrological interpretation has fallen into a fatalistic mode, contemporary Vedic astrologers, drawing on the optimistic spirit of the Vedic literature, specifically eschew such a view. They emphasize that the natal chart offers a picture of karmic influences but also shows indicative rather than deterministic forces active in the person's life.
The Vedic birth chart differs from the traditional Western horoscope in several ways. Most importantly, Indian astrologers use what is termed the sidereal zodiac rather than the topical zodiac. The sidereal zodiac is based upon the actual positions of the 12 signs of the zodiac in the sky. The topical zodiac is based upon the position of the Sun as it rises at the spring equinox. Over the years, that point (called O° Aires) shifts slightly year by year, one aspect of the phenomenon known as the procession of the equinoxes. Over the centuries, the two zodiacs have developed a difference of 23°, enough to throw most planets into an adjacent sign. Vedic astrologers cast a chart based upon the moment of birth (defined as the moment of the first cry of the newborn).
The most important elements in the individuals' charts are the planets, which were in ancient times identified with lesser deities. Planets are termed graha, that which possesses a person, hence the planets are seen as symbolic of the illusions (maya ) of earthly existence that obscure the individual's divine nature. Each planet has acquired a set of associations and its particular placement in the chart indicates a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Generally, only the ancient visible planets are utilized by Vedic astrologers and thus one will not find Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto, not to mention the asteroids or hypothetical planets that occasionally appear as elements in Western horoscopes.
Besides the signs, planets, and houses that both Indian and Western astrology share, Vedic astrology also includes a unique set of divisions placed on the birth chart, the planetary periods. Vedic astrology not only divides the zodiac into the 12 signs, but it also divides it into 27 lunar mansions roughly defined by the movement of the Moon around the earth every 27 days. The planetary periods relate to the lunar mansions very much as houses relate to the traditional signs. The planetary periods are of varying lengths as they are related to the different planets. The place of the newborn in the cycle of periods is determined by the position of the Moon in the natal chart. The recognition of these periods provides Indian astrologers with an additional level of interpretation of the person's life not available to traditional Western practitioners.
The Western appropriation of Vedic astrology began early in the twentieth century but did not become prominent until the migration of large numbers of Indians to the West after World War II (1939-45) and the contemporaneous turn Eastward by numerous young spiritual seekers. The flux through which Western astrology has passed in the last decades of the twentieth century, during which time every aspect and boundary of traditional Western astrology was challenged, provided openings for the introduction of Vedic astrology. Many Westerners found it more appealing than the dominant system and a growing number of books explaining the system have been published in the West. Also, materials published in India have become freely circulated through the English-speaking world. During the 1990s, annual conventions of Vedic astrologers were held in North America.
Braha, James T. Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrology. Hollywood, Calif.: Hermetician Press, 1986.
Cameron, Barbara. Predictive Planetary Periods: The Hindu Dasa. Tempe, Ariz.: American Federation of Astrologers, 1984.
DeLuce, Robert. Constellational Astrology: According to the Hindu System. Los Angeles: DeLuce Publishing, 1963.
Its characteristics included ritual sacrifice to many gods, especially Indra, Varuna, and Agni; social classes (varnas) that formed the basis of the caste system; and the emergence of the priesthood which dominated orthodox Brahmanism from c.900 bc. Transition to classical Hinduism began in about the 5th century bc.
Ve·dic / ˈvādik; ˈvēdik/ • adj. of or relating to the Veda or Vedas.• n. the language of the Vedas, an early form of Sanskrit.