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THE VEDIC ZODIAC

------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary

For an observer on the earth, the Sun appears to move around the earth. The path of this motion is called the ecliptic . Approximately 8 degrees on either side or the north and south of this apparent ecliptic path of the sun is the bandwidth in the heavens within which all the planets (including the sun) seem to revolve from the earth. This precise bandwidth of sky can be visually described as a wheel and hence it is called Bha-Chakra ('Bha' means 'to shine' and 'chakra' means 'wheel' ). Thus the zodiac is referred to as the 'shining wheel' in Jyotish.

 

On a clear moonless night, observing the sky, it is possible to count approximately three thousand stars. With a 100 inch telescope about 1,500 million stars are observed. The term heaps of stars is probably an appropriate description for the visual effect in the sky. In fact the word Rasi means 'heap' meaning 'heap of stars' . In other words the Zodiac is comprised of 'heaps of stars' .

 

The ancients intuitively related groups of stars to meaningful patterns. These were not of arbitrary formations or shapes but had clear definite distinctions with specific meanings. The adopted cosmic law is that the form and essence are related. This is an oft-repeated spiritual law in the agama sastras. In other words the meaning of a shape is reflected in their characteristics. The seers of vedic astrology observed that when planets moved through specific group of stars, they gave specific results.

 

Thus the stars can be grouped together. In other words the Zodiac is divided into segments, based on the asterisms (group of stars) or Nakshatras . The word Nakshatras has two meanings - Na (Not) and Kshatra (destroyed). This means permanent or indestructible. It also has another interpretation lunar mansion - Na (Moon), Kshetra (mansion), Na-kshetra is different from Na-kshatra). The idea of the lunar mansions was derived at a later date for a specific purpose.

 

Each Nakshatra is named or reckoned by its principle star (yogatara ). For mathematical calculations the position of the primary or principle star is given. The 27 asterisms are like the many stations on the apparent path of the planets or the ecliptic. In another words the zodiac of 360 degrees can be divided into 27 equal slices of 13 degrees 20' each. This is the lunar zodiac, the most ancient zodiac of the world.

 

In essence there are two zodiacs - the lunar which is the most ancient zodiac and the solar which is relatively of later origin probably. These are two different means of classification of the Zodiac . The lunar follows the nakshatra system and the solar follows the Rasi (sign) system. The lunar/ nakshatra system is also known as the night system and the solar/ rasi system is known as the day system . This is simply because, during the day the Sun' is the predominant object in the sky whereas the other planets and asterisms are observed during the night. The Sun is the King of the day sky while the Moon is the king of the night sky. During the ancient times most of the astronomical observations were done in the night sky thus conferring more importance to the lunar zodiac. .

 

The moon is attributed a prominent role due to its dominant presence in the night sky. It has been observed that each day the moon moves from one Nakshatra to the other. It is as if the moon, the king of the night sky is spending each night with one of the 27 wives! The moon remains 24 hours and 18 minutes in each Nakshatra. Thus each cycle of the moon takes 27 and 1/3 days.

 

The 27 nakshatras by virtue of being observed in the 8 degree ecliptic are known as the Zodiacal Nakshatras. The others are considered Non-zodiacal. The Non-zodiacal Nakshatras cannot be classified under the term lunar mansions since the moon does not spend time in the non-zodiacal nakshatras. Predictive astrology generally deals with the zodiacal nakshatras and not the non-zodiacal ones.

 

The Zodiac can be divided into twelve equal signs of 30 degrees each, as the sun moves across the ecliptic circle of 360 degrees. These 12 equal signs of the zodiac are the 12 rasis (heaps). This is the solar zodiac . When we try to integrate both the solar and lunar zodiacs, we have 2 1/4 Nakshatras in each of the 12 rasis.

 

For practical purposes generally the non-zodiacal asterisms are not considered.

 

Non Zodiacal Nakshatras

 

The word Nakshatra is used to mean that which cannot be destroyed. A few non-zodiacal asterisms are mentioned below:

•  Agni (tauri)

•  Prajapati (aurigal)

•  Agastya ( canopus )

•  Lubdaka or Mriga Vyadha [sirius]

•  Trisanku (Centauri)

•  Vishvamitra (southern cross)

•  Saptarishis (the Great Bear)

•  Dhruva (The Pole Star)

 

The Puranas (ancient mythological texts) recount stories about these non-zodiacal nakshatras, which reveal Astronomical phenomena.

Zodiacal Nakshatras

These are the lunar mansions, which were originally 28 including a short span intercalary hypothetical nakshatra called 'abhijit'. But for practical purposes, only 27 nakshatras are considered.

The Rishis attributed characteristics and deities to the nakshatras, which made it easy for humanity to focus on and invoke the energies of these deities. An ancient vedic text (Taittiriya Brahmana I.5.1) of the Yajurveda describes the nakshatra and the presiding deities. Bhattabhaskara Mishra's commentary is helpful in understanding it further. Each nakshatra has a presiding deity (devata) and a particular power (shakti). The shaktis have an effect above, an effect below and the final effect of or result of all the factors. This imagery is very helpful in comprehending the nakshatras and their roles.

 

No

Nakshatra(Star)

Starting Longitude Sign-Deg- Min

Lords

1

Aswini

Aries -00-00

Ketu

2

Bharani

Aries -13-20

Venus

3

Kritika

Aries -26-40

Sun

4

Rohini

Taurus -10-00

Moon

5

Mrigasira

Taurus -23-20

Mars

6

Aridra

Gemini -06-40

Rahu

7

Punarvasu

Gemini -20-00

Jupiter

8

Pushya

Cancer-03-20

Saturn

9

Aslesha

Cancer -16-40

Mercury

10

Magha

Leo-00-00

Ketu

11

Poorvaphalguni

Leo -13-20

Venus

12

Uttaraphalguni

Leo -26-40

Sun

13

Hasta

Virgo -10-00

Moon

14

Chitra

Virgo -23-20

Mars

15

Swati

Libra -06-40

Rahu

16

Visakha

Libra -20-00

Jupiter

17

Anuradha

Scorpio-03-20

Saturn

18

Jyehsta

Scorpio -16-40

Mercury

19

Moola

Sagittarius -00-00

Ketu

20

Poorvashadha

Sagittarius -13-20

Venus

21

Uttarashadha

Sagittarius -26-40

Sun

22

Sravana

Cap rico rn-10-00

Moon

23

Dhanshita

Cap rico rn -23-20

Mars

24

Satabisha

Aquarius -06-40

Rahu

25

Poorvabhadrapada

Aquarius -20-00

Jupiter

26

Uttarabhadrapada

Pieces -03-20

Saturn

27

Revati

Pieces -16-40

Mercury

In summary every horoscope has 12 rasis (signs), 9 grahas (loosely translated as planets) and 27 nakshatras - constellations. The interrelationship of these three factors reveals an ocean of information on which the entire edifice of astrology is built.

 

NOTE: The following can be treated like additional reading material and is optional

 

Before ending this article I should acquaint the reader with the close links between the Veda, Purana, Agama and Hinduism in general. So I will digress a bit here. The Veda, Purana, Agama, Jyotish and most Hindu practices are closely linked to both astronomy and astrology. Even the devatas (deities) are nakshatra rupas (of the form of Nakshatras). The specific forms (including Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha) and rituals of various deities have a definite astronomical basis. Knowledge of astronomy as well as astrology is very crucial to unlock the secrets of the Veda. I will cite a few instances here.

 

While Varahamihira describes Aquarius as a man carrying an empty pot, one cannot agree with him. We all know how much he was influenced by the Yavanas or Greeks (I do not imply that foreign influences are bad or anything of that sort; but in this context one needs to keep it in mind as it has a different import contextually). I am inclined to believe that originally the Vedic tradition could NOT have been a man carrying an empty pot on his shoulders. Look at any star atlas. Aquarius is invariably symbolized as a man holding an inverted water pot and pouring the water down on earth. Doesn't it sound familiar? That IS VARUNA! The Rig Veda (V.85. 3) describes Varuna thus, "Varuna lets the big cask, opening downward, flow through the heaven and earth and air's mid-region. Therewith the Universe's Sovereign waters earth as the shower of rain bedews the barley".

 

Is there further reason to support Varuna as the symbol of Aquarius? Varuna is the deity for Satabhisha (Lamda aquarius) and is riding the crocodile (makara-capricorn). And what of the Indian idea of waiting for transits through Dhanishta Panchakam, waiting for the 'KUMBHA VRISHTI'? So Aquarius is not just A MAN with an EMPTY water pot, but VARUNA with an INVERTED POT POURING WATER down. Thus Makara (Capricorn) when treated as a crocodile could be the vahana (vehicle) of Varuna. Remember the crocodile and goddess Ganga ?

 

Likewise for most rasis. Another example would be Tula (Libra). Some of the qualities of Libra seem to be derived more from the following, than from Venus or it being the seventh sign. What is it that BALANCES, about Libra? Apart from the idea that the ecliptic branches off (vi+sakha) to the south, from Visakha (Vi + Sakha), or that the days and nights are equal, when the Sun is in Tula , there seems to be something more. Who are the presiding deities of Visakha? Indra and Agni. While the shape of Visakha is round and can be interpreted as the Vedic fire altar, or even the pan of the scales of a Balance, (the symbol of Libra), something else needs our attention -the story of Sibi Chakravarti.

 

Emperor Sibi, an epitome of Dharma, who weighed ( tula ) himself in the scale/pan to satisy the falcon and protect the dove. And do you remember who actually the dove and falcon, who came to test Sibi's sense of Dharma, his sense of Justice, were? INDRA and AGNI. The very deities who rule Visakha! So Libra's association with a sense of justice, judges etc comes not just from the scales/balance, but from the symbolism of the story of Sibi probably.

 

So too with the other nakshatras. I have just cited two examples from a few that come to mind. But a word of caution is needed. While it is becoming increasingly popular for some western vedic astrologers (and Indian too) to use the symbols of the naksatras in interpretation, quite often it is done very loosely! Look at how some use Bharani! A SIGN and SYMBOL are NOT the same. Using the symbol as a sign is worse than not using it at all.

 

Most myths and deities of the Puranas and Itihasas seem to have an astronomical basis too apart from the archetypal significance. I sometimes feel that even the deep-rooted archetypes too have some unconscious origin in the skies. Are we not "the stuff of the stars come alive"? Are they not part of our identity with the One? Don't we carry the Universe within us, within our minds? It is probably due to such deeper reasons too that mythology and astronomy will continue to fascinate us in this unconscious attempt to seek the forgotten identity with the Cosmos. While it is true that both myth and astronomy hold a crucial key to unlock more secrets, doing so will require a more thorough knowledge of the Vedic and Puranic literature (or sometimes even Myth from other ancient cultures from across the globe, to see the links) as well as Astronomy and astrology. Quite a tough job!