Astrology in ancient India

Al Baruni’s Indica

Indian Astrology is as old as Vedas and Upanishads. It has been vindicated by the connoisseurs that Indian Astrology had already reached its zenith over millennium ago when other forms of occult were no

nexistent. Till now, many ancient astrological works have been translated into different foreign languages. Indian Astrology was famous in ancient times and attracted many a foreign scholar who pursued their astrological research here; Ibn Batuta and Al Baruni were two prominent Arab scholars amongst them.

Al Baruni was a skilled Sanskrit researcher who had arrived in India along with the notorious invader Mahmud Ghaznavi. During his 14 year long stay in India, i.e. from 1017 A.D. – 1031 A.D., he composed a number of astrological works, perhaps the most celebrated being Brahma-Gupta – an astrological treatise translated into Arabic by him, and named Indica.

Eventually, when Al Baruni’s astrological work Indica became famous it gained immense recognition worldwide. A German researcher named Adward C. Shancho got too much impressed with Al Baruni’s Indica and translated the text into German. Through Indica, the people of Germany got introduced to the arousing world of Astrology. The text gained high popularity following which many German scholars visited India and studied Vedic literature. While returning to Germany, they carried a large number of Vedic texts with them which are held in reverence by the Germans till date.

Ancient Foreign Scholars who studied Indian Astrology

Historians and scholars have opined that India had always been a favorite hub for foreign scholars much before the birth of Christ. Yavanacharya was a great Greek scholar and a contemporary of King Alexander who came to India for exploring the genre of Astrology. He was appointed astrologer in the Indian Greek court. Notably his teachings were preserved by king Sphujidhwaja. Vrihayavan Jatak and Laghu Yavan Jatak are the two important books written by him. His expertise in Sanskrit, Arabic, and Greek languages was spellbinding and earned him the name ‘Greek Guru’ amongst his pupils.

Varahamihira or Acharya Mihir – the famous astronomer of ancient India has reverently mentioned Yavanacharya’s contributions made in Astrology in his works- Brihatsanhita and Brihajjatak. Besides the above-mentioned scholars, others who explored Indian Astrology during ancient times were Al Fazari, Yakub- Bin- Tarik, and Abu- Al- Hasan.

An Iranian intellectual and a Navaratna in the court of Mughal Akbar, Abdul-Rahim-Khankhana, was a great enthusiast of Indian culture. He was also a poet and an astrologer by profession. However, being an Iranian, his command over the Sanskrit language was one of his greatest fortes.  His masterpieces on the subject of Astrology include Khet Kautukam and Dwawishd yogavali. These two books act as references to the modern astrologers even today.

Varahamihira’s Meru Stambh

Research on Astronomy was full-fledged during ancient India and numerous observatories were also built up by the ancient astronomers. Very few of them survive today though they were destroyed by invading marauders. Scholars are of the view that around 2200 years ago an ancient astrologer, named Varahamihira, had made an invaluable contribution in the studies of planets and stars. Varahamihira was born at Kalpi in Ujjain. He was one of the nine jewels (Navaratna) in the court of Malwa’s legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya.

Acharya Mihir was also a famous astronomer and mathematician and in the present day there is a village near Delhi called Mehrauli, which is named after him. His elaborate works are recorded in books like Brihad Jatak, Brihatsanhita, etc. All the major astronomical facts and events including earthquake, rain, eclipses, meteor-fall, constellations, planets, and effects of planetary motion are described vividly in his compiled works. Many researchers also claim that Acharya Mihir’s manuscripts inspired the growth of astrophysics in the later years. Mihir’s explanations on the thermal and magnetic effects of heavenly-bodies show how the scholar was ahead of his contemporaries. Panch Siddhantika is another equally important book on Astronomy written by Varahamihira and it contains some remarkable astronomical findings.

It is extremely important to note down that it was Varahamihira who had constructed the famous ‘Meru Stambh’ for conducting research on Astronomy. Interestingly, Meru Stambh is presently known as Qutub Minar the construction of which was initiated by Kutubuddin Aibak in 1192 A.D. and completed by Iltutmish at an unspecified date before his death in 1236 A.D.

Acharya Mihir’s Meru Stambh was a complete symbolic manifestation of the theory of Indian Astrology. The Stambh stood erect in the middle of a lake as an embodiment of celestial world. The 7 storeys stood for 7 planets and these storeys initially had 27 windows representing 27 constellations. Acharya Mihir farsightedness should be applauded at this juncture as he took special measures for keeping the inside of the edifice dark and secluded by using black-stones in its construction.

The elongated building, however, is intentionally made slanted at the angle of five degree with its main entrance facing towards north and its base 16 yards deep. Today, the height of the edifice is 76 yards, less than its earlier height of 84 yards. It is noteworthy to mention that the top storey of the building was abridged by the Britons who conceived the tallness of the building and its prominent slant of the top storey as threats to the structure which could lead to its abrupt falling.

Vector gold circle with the signs and the constellations of the zodiac

Astrology first mentioned in the Vedas

Astrology was incorporated in ancient education system as one of the prime subjects including lessons on Astronomy, planetary motions and other allied subjects. Forecasting the future event with various astrological interpretations was in vogue during this period.

Historians argue that the four Vedas (Shrutis or revealed scriptures) were perceived and written by the great sages between 4000B.C. – 2500 B.C. However, the Rigveda is the oldest amongst all and is also called first book ever written by a man. There are reasonable evidences which go to prove that Astrology was a major subject contemplated by the ancient sages.

For instance Rigveda comprises the names of zodiacs and planets while in Yajurveda the names of constellations or nakshatra are vividly talked about.

As mentioned in Atharvaveda, it was Sage Gargya who first made successful attempts in visualizing and presenting a concrete path of zodiacal divisions in the outer space. Besides the above facts, productive discourse on 28 constellations or nakshatra, Milky Way or akash ganga, and the great bear (saptarshi mandal) also find its roots in various ancient Indian scriptures. In a path breaking event, the Indian astronomers first conceptualized the twelve months and the six seasons.

The seven colors reflected by the sun-rays as unearthed by the modern physicists was an already established fact in ancient India. The concept of ‘Sapta Rashmi’ or seven colors of the sun-rays had been elaborated by the ancient sages in the text Taittiriya Samhita.

Astrology as in Ancient Indian Scriptures

After the Vedic age came the Ramayana era (Treta Yuga) followed by Mahabharata era (Dwapara Yuga). It is said that, Sage Valmiki, the author of Ramayana, was also an astrologer of the highest stature and in his works he has explained in detail the planetary motions and their influence in human life. The demon king of Lanka, Ravana, was also an expert astrologer. There was no one in his peer group who could challenge his astrological forte. Ravan Samhita is a validation of Ravana’s astrological pursuits in understanding the game of stars and planets. Ravan Samhita has been a source of reference for many earlier astrologers, and it’s believed that even today no one can beat its reliability and brilliant citations.

Apart from the above mentioned astrologers there were many other sages such as Vashishth, Vishwamitra, Manu, Yagyavalkya, etc. in the Treta Yuga who passed on their knowledge on Astrology to future generations. The notion of stars and their radiation was first explained by Sage Yagyavalkya in his memorable work Yagvalkya Smriti.

The episode of the occurrence of a lunar eclipse during the war of Mahabharata vindicates the presence of astrological theories during Dwapara Yuga. Again, the astrological terms including different constellation, planets, Rahu, Ketu and their effects are also explored accurately in the epic.

Other enlightened souls who came to this world before the Christian era and imparted their knowledge on Astrology were Kashyap, Narad, Garg, Vyas, Atri, Parashar, Marichi, Chyavan, Yavan, Bhrigu, Shaunak Lomesh, Paulastya, etc. Science has made outstanding progress in the past hundred years. With the inventions of scientific instruments such as radars and telescopes, scientists and scholars today have taken the discoveries made by the ancient sages to the next level.

The Resurgence of Astrology in India

As we come closer to Indian history, the social upheavals and political invasions between 500 B.C- 500 A.D posed biggest threats to the conservation of the ancient astrological knowledge. Foreign marauders who encroached upon the Indian land for their political motifs not only plundered the riches of India, but also vandalized the mass manuscripts which were invaluable treasures of this holy land. Shattered in the hands of foreign marauders were the astrological manuscripts and observatories set up by ancient astronomers for planetary observations.

Simultaneously, the invaders who valued Indian manuscripts took away these invaluable treasures to their homeland. Invaders who stripped India off her wealth were many, and archeologists have found many ancient astrological treaties being translated into different languages including Arabic, German, Roman and French. The silver lining of this story is that many an invader has preserved the translated scripts in their respective museums.

Aryabhata, the renowned astrologer, astronomer and mathematician from Patliputra who lived around 6th Century B.C. took over the mammoth task of reviving the lost glory of Indian Astrology. Born during 47 A.D, Aryabhata received his formal education in Patliputra, which was a leading educational center of those times. He is recognized for many scientific works, however, the most prominent among those are – Aryabhattam, Tantraand Dasha Geetika.

Bhaskaracharya (1114–1185) was another famous Indian mathematician and astronomer. He had already discovered the theory of gravitation much before Newton’s law of gravitation became known to the world around a millennium later. The following Sloka mentioned in Siddhant Shiromaniproves this point-

aakrisht shaktishch mahitaya yat,

swastham gurum swami mukham swashaktya;

aakrinvatetatpat neeti bhati,

same samannat kta patitwayam rave;

Meaning – The earth has gravitational force and hence it attracts. The force is greatest at its surface but as the distance increases this force starts decreasing. If a heavy object and a light object are simultaneously dropped from a height, both the objects would reach the earth at the same time. Planets and Earth move due to gravitational (intra) force working on each other.