India developed and carefully preserved an excellent system of astrology. In the 70s it gained popularity in America and eventually throughout the world as "Vedic Astrology," perhaps riding the coat-tails of a larger explosion of interest in Indian culture and spirituality ushered in by ISKCON (the "Hare Krishnas") and similar groups like TM ("Transcendental Meditation").
Yes and no, because there are two different ways to define "Vedic."
The second definition gives a lot of leeway and can therefore stretch to admit some validity in using the term "Vedic Astrology" the way we currently do. But I believe it would be better to stop using the term in this manner because the astrology of modern India is just too significantly different from the astrology described in the Veda itself, even using an inclusive definition of the term Vedic.
Objection: "The Yajur Veda has an appendix called Vedānga Jyotiṣā, which translates to 'Vedic Astrology.' Therefore there is no question that it is an appropriate term."
Reply: Yes, there certainly was some form of astrology in Vedic civilization – and the essentials of it were recorded in an ancient handbook called Vedānga Jyotiṣā. But the astrology defined in that book simply is not the astrology practiced in India today. That book defines how to create calendars establishing the proper times to perform rituals. There is no hint of natal interpretation. There is no reference to signs, houses, or any of the other mainstays of modern "Vedic" astrology. Therefore I maintain that it is misleading to call today's astrology "Vedic." Just because India's astrology isn't really "Vedic" doesn't mean it's not exceedingly excellent and impressive! Why not let it be great on its own two feet and call it what it is, Indian Astrology? The term Vedic Astrology should be reserved for the system of astrology literally defined in the Veda and its direct ancillaries.
Objection: "There are many ancient Vedic scriptures defining Vedic Astrology as we practice it today. For example, the Brihat Parashara Hora Sastra."
Reply: There are certainly many excellent books which define the rules and principles by which modern Vedic Astrology operates. However these were all written in relatively recent history, and the overwhelming majority of their content has exceedingly little in common with the astrology defined in the Veda itself.
As India exchanged with the West, a Judeo-Christian concept of "just believe" invaded and confused how she understands and implements her own guru-disciple process. Many "gurus" now ask "disciples" to blindly and blanketly accept what they teach without asking serious questions. This attitude is anti-Vedic! The entire Vedic corpus of Upanishads is built of inquiry, scrutiny and analysis. If we don't think carefully and ask important questions, knowledge itself falls into disrepair.
The fact is: the books that are the basis for modern astrology in India did not exist before about a thousand years ago. Yes, that is very old, but it falls very short of being "ancient" or "Vedic." The Brhat Parashara Hora Shastra in particular did not exist before the 19th century.1
But again, just because modern Indian astrology is not ancient doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Let it be awesome in its own right – as "Indian Astrology."
Here are the most major differences between ancient and modern "Vedic Astrology:"
Maybe ancient Vedic Astrologers did do natal astrology, but from what we have recorded of that period it is not likely. I have not found any reference to natal astrology in the ancient tales recorded in the Veda themselves, but I have seen many references to it in later branches of Vedic culture as recorded in the Purāṇa and Itihāsa.4 Ancient Vedic Astrology wasn't much about character assessments, personal advice, or predictions about career and fortune.
In Vedic literature, when we hear the astrological details of an individual, it is mostly meant to act as a "timestamp" accurately identifying their place in history, or at least on the calendar of religious and spiritual observance. By saying, "He was born when the stars were in the following position…" an author gives a time code that another astrologer at any point in history can decode and translate into whatever calendar system becomes relevant. Placing events on a historical timeline and in context of the religious calendar was indeed a primary concern for ancient Vedic astrologers.
The theory of natal astrology is that this timestamp can also be decoded to understand the destiny (karma) of the person born at that moment in time, so it is not that ancient Vedic Astrology has no relevance to natal interpretation. The point must be admitted, however, that natal interpretation was not the primary application of ancient Vedic Astrology. However, from the Purāṇa and similar later works we can see that natal astrology did soon become important as Vedic culture evolved.
Nine planets in twelve signs and houses, however, is never mentioned; not in the timestamps of ancient Vedic astrology, nor in the natal interpretations that soon gained importance.5 The astrological points of reference used in ancient Vedic astrology are the 27 fixed stars (nakṣatra), often addressed not by name but by the Vedic gods who rule them.
Here is Śrī Kṛṣṇa's astrological timestamp as recorded in the late Purāṇa, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.3.1 & 2):
अथ सर्वगुणोपेतः कालः परमशोभनः
दिशः प्रसेदुर्गगनं निर्मलोडुगनोदयम्
atha sarva-guṇopetaḥ kālaḥ parama-śobhanaḥ
yarhy evājana-janmarkṣaṃ śāntarkṣa-graha-tārakam
diśaḥ prasedur gaganaṃ nirmaloḍu-gaṇodayam
"Fate became endowed with all good qualities and reached its paramount beauty in the birth-star of the unborn. All the stars were peaceful, as were the planets, stellar phenomena, and the directions - which arose in spotless array."
This mentions the "birth-star of the unborn" referring to Aldebaran (or a constellation of stars centered on Aldebaran), called Rohiṇī in Vedic Sanskrit. The deity empowering this star is Brahmā, the motherless (therefore "unborn") creator of the universe.
As you see, the first and foremost concern of ancient Vedic astrology is the "birth-star" – the nakṣatra occupied by the Moon. These stars are addressed in terms of the Vedic gods which empower them. Interpretive meaning in ancient Vedic astrology comes from knowing the qualities and traits of the Vedic gods who empower the fixed stars. It has nothing to do with elements, modes, planetary rulers, etc.
There is mention of direction (diś) and the ascendant (udaya), indicating that the astrology being used at the time had something similar to a house system. There is also mention of planets (graha) along with "stars" (ṛkṣa) and "stellar phenomena" (tāra), but no specific information about them is given except that they were "peaceful." Some argue that only the Sun and Moon are relevant in true Vedic Astrology, but this reference indicates to the contrary.6 In my opinion the Sun and (especially) the Moon were the most important factors in ancient Vedic Astrology, but other heavenly bodies need not be altogether disregarded.
But by reviewing this example, you can come to understand that even in the late Purāṇic period there was no reliance on specific planets in 12 signs and houses.7
Another description of Kṛṣṇa's astrological timestamp is in Harivaṁśa:8
अष्टम्यां श्रावणे मासे कृष्णपक्षे महातिथौ
रोहिण्यामर्धरात्रे च सुधांशोरुदये तथा
aṣṭamyāṃ śrāvaṇe māse kṛṣṇapakṣe mahātithau
rohiṇyām ardharātre ca sudhāṃśor udaye tathā
"[Kṛṣṇa was born on] the great day: the 8th phase of waning part of the month of Śrāvana. Rohiṇī arose with the Moon at midnight."
Modern astrologers look at this and find nothing to interpret, but those well versed in Vedic symbolism could indeed deliver significant interpretations from this, especially if we examine the conditions or look to other texts10 and discover that the combined positions of the Sun and Moon formed a yoga called Harṣa, which indicates being "ready, willing and able to enjoy."
In the entire Vedic library there is almost never a description of horoscopes in terms of planets in signs and houses. Such things are found only in highly interpolated texts or in relatively recent commentaries and works.11 The 27 fixed stars and their deities are the actual backbone of interpretive work in ancient and pre-classical Vedic Astrology.
India has undoubtedly developed an extremely excellent system of astrology, but she did not do it in absolute isolation from the rest of Planet Earth. By no means is that a denigration of the glory of India! In fact, it highlights her glory. One of the most glorious things about India and Vedic culture, in fact, is its openness to plurality. India has a unique ability to very carefully maintain very old traditions while simultaneously being open, plural and inclusive. Hinduism itself attests to this. It is a harmonious plurality of very different religions, sciences and philosophies. It has the oldest roots of any modern culture, and in many ways is the most attractive and vibrant spiritual and philosophical culture in the world even today. For as long as we have historical records, India has had open borders and has especially welcomed philosophical and scientific exchange with other cultures. If we consider the Puranic description of how the Vedas came into their current form we see that it involved many different people working together over hundreds or thousands of years.12 The truly Indian and Vedic way is to embrace knowledge from wherever it comes, and to allow it to develop, evolve and blossom.
Thus the astrologers of ancient India mingled with the astrologers of other ancient cultures. Modern "Vedic Astrology" is a child born from this. From the west came an elaborate method of interpretively using the 12 divisions of the Sun's path over the ecliptic.13 Indians took this into their pre-existing framework which had always been sidereal, being as it was all about the 27 fixed stars, and so Indian eventually developed a sidereal conception of the 12 signs.14 Similarly they acquired various techniques and principles for using these 12 signs interpretively with 9 planets, including the concepts of dignity, subdivisions of signs (aṁśa), aspects between planets, and chronological phases (daśā).
There is no intelligent doubt about this because:
Indians are an extremely smart, scientific, intuitive and artistic people. Schools attributed to Jaimini and Parashara developed elaborate and amazingly useful interpretive systems incorporating what they gained from their exchanges with other astrological cultures. The astrology of modern India is very relevant to anyone who wants to become thoroughly learned and capable as an astrologer, because it represents what such a highly skilled people have developed after taking the best parts of astrological culture they gathered from the rest of the world, and linking it to their own rich astrological, philosophical, and spiritual background.
Still, you may, like me, find it even more enlightening and beneficial to seek the very roots of the ancient Vedic system itself. I feel that the real jewel of Vedic astrology lies in deeply understanding the Vedic deities who empower the 27 fixed stars of the undoubtedly ancient Vedic sky.16 Gaining that symbolic foundation will take you on a grand adventure through the Veda, Purāṇa and Mahābhārata. Then you could explore how phases and solar angles combine with the Moon (and perhaps other planets) in these stars to provide a rich and useful interpretive resource for natal and non-natal application.
There are many obstacles, but I think the greatest barrier to Indian astrology being a truly monumental blessing on the world is that the translations of its authoritative and classical works into English are atrocious. To be successful, such works would require excellence in Sanskrit, English, communication, and astrology; but the authors who have published translations thus far rarely have expertise in even one of these areas. Books written in English on Vedic astrology by modern authors are fluff in comparison to the classics. At best they lack scholarship and depth. The very few exceptions to this rule are almost always dry or poorly worded. However, I am confident that if we turn more attention towards Indian astrology, the quality of its understanding and presentation will dramatically improve.
I would like to close this article by sharing with you what I personally feel are excellent parts of Indian Astrology worthy of deep exploration. My list will proceed towards what I feel are the most important things Indian Astrology has to offer humanity.
The vimśottarī daśā ("120-year Phases") is a popular and useful system of timing events. The downside of being popular is that there is lots of misinformation about it. Still, it's potential as a timing technique is profound. There are also more than a dozen other similar systems to explore in Brhat Parashara Hora. That book also offers a unique way of interpreting transits, called aṣṭaka-varga, which certainly appears to be worth a careful exploration. India has also preserved the techniques of Persian solar returns very carefully, and any student of Persian astrology and solar returns would be happy to avail themselves of it.
India's focus on sign-subdivisions expanded into a very impressive and well developed school of interpretive techniques. In addition to other roles played by the subdivisions, each one can stand as a chart within the main chart, pertaining to a specific house and area of life.
The Brhat Parashara Hora's method of calculating degree and planet-specific aspects is outstanding. Each planet has a different "vision" of the sky, with unique lines of sight that fade in and out of focus gradually from degree to degree.
The Brhat Parashara Hora Shastra's method of ṣaḍ-bāla using more than a dozen factors to determine how forceful a planet is in a nativity is outstanding and of great practical merit. The effects of potent planets are more dominant and profound than the effects of impotent planets.
Classical dignity depends largely upon the relationship between the "host and guest" (the planets who own and occupy a sign, respectively). Indian Astrology has an unchanging baseline of relationships between the various planets, modified on a case-by-case basis by the current planetary positions. The baseline interplanetary relationships are fascinating and reveal much about the planets themselves. It is supplemented with rich Indian mythology, too.
Further, in classical India, dignity is not solely based on the primary zodiac sign but on several sub-divisions of the sign. In the Indian System a planet in a sign can have up to 150 different dignity-affecting placements, depending on its degree and minute! The Brhat Parashara Hora provides an excellent mathematical formula for calculating dignity across many subdivisions.
I personally feel that the relatively unknown kernel of indigenous Vedic astrology is at least equal in worth to all the astrological schools that developed in India, combined. Awaiting our discovery and exploration is a rich and deep array of 27 gods in 27 fixed stars, each with an extensive mythology imparting interpretive import.
Corollary to these stars is an eloquent system of finely measuring and interpreting lunar phases. Indian thoughts on relationship compatibility and electional astrology are rooted in these 27 stars and – though very poorly presented to the world thus far – are very worthy of exploration.
Essentially the 27 Vedic stars open a doorway to a completely "new" non-zodiacal system of astrology!
I believe that the greatest blessing India offers to astrology is not directly astrological. India's unparalleled metaphysical refinements present a philosophical foundation for astrology that is extremely sublime, empowering, real, and deep.
The Vedic understanding of karma as a marriage of freewill and fate puts a resounding resolution on debates concerning this topic. Essentially, human beings are "adults" of the universe and are therefore held responsible for their free choices. Responsibility for the use of our freedoms is what generates inescapable fate. The vast plethora of extremely well developed spiritual and moral paths developed in India and recorded in Vedic literature provides practical tools by which an individual can stop fighting with their fate – embrace it as the loving correction and reward of their universal mother and take firmer grasp of their freewill, liberating themselves from habitual responses that perpetuate the wheel of destiny.
For whatever reason your gaze may turn to India, may the goddess Śrī Rādhā bless your endeavor with its ultimate fruit. Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Read Vic DiCara's book:
1Although written as a discourse between two people of the Vedic time period (Parāśara and Maitreya), most scholars believe that the original version came together after 600 AD and represented a compilation of select portions of previous but relatively contemporary works. In the 10th century Bhattotpala identified it as being a lost work. In the19th century a scholar gathered whatever pieces of the book could be found and rewrote it. Thus the copy we have today contain modern texts based on scraps that are most likely younger than the 10th century.
2"Philosophical" astrology defines the conceptualization of time itself, dating the universe and the unfolding of its various ages.
3Though, to be honest, even that is often challenged by "Vedic astrologers" using non-classical planets.
4For example, Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.12.12-31 describes natal astrologers making predictions regarding King Parīkṣit.
5There are very few exceptions that I am aware of, and it exists only in a North Indian version of Rāmāyaṇa. Therefore it is very likely to be an interpolation. Another exception is the Garga Samhita, but that books is widely considered riddled with interpolation.
6One may counter-argue that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the relatively recent culmination of the Vedic literary effort. However, we see astrological reference to the planets in ancient Vedic calendars, which have weeks of seven days, named for seven planets.
7In fact Bhāgavata Purāṇa explicitly defines the tropical zodiac with 12 divisions in 5.21.2. This means that the book is certainly aware of such an astrological framework and still chooses not to use it in relation to interpretive astrology.
8Viṣṇu parva 4.14
9Months are named differently in different periods of history, and in different regions of India. The main difference is that some start the month from the full moon and others from the new moon. Thus other sources refer to the same date as the month of Bhādra.
10Like Garga Samhita (1.10.27-28), although that work is discredited for critical considerations as highly interpolated.
11For example, relatively recent book (Kha Manikya) ventures a modern description of Krishna's horoscope: "Taurus Rising with the Moon and Ketu. Sun, Venus and Jupiter in their own signs. Saturn, Mercury and Mars exalted." A few centuries ago the great spiritualist Viśvanānth Cakravartī essentially ratified this presentation by quoting it in his commentary on the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. In very modern times various persons – probably unaware of this ratified opinion – have ventured their own ideas of the houses and signs of Krishna's horoscope.
12Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.4.14-26
13Ancient India probably did also divide the Sun's ecliptic into 12 portions, anchored on the solstices and equinoxes. This method is described throughout the Purāṇa like Viṣṇu and Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and is defined in the astronomical authority Sūrya Siddhānta. Historians date these to a classical period, but the undoubtedly ancient Ṛg Veda also makes reference to the Sun's circular path having 12 major divisions (as well as many other ways of dividing it). But there is no evidence that ancient and pre-classical Vedic astrologers used this system for anything other than constructing agricultural calendars.
14I personally feel this is a mistake which became standardized in relatively recent history and must be abandoned. I have written elsewhere on the lack of logic in a sidereal twelvefold zodiac, and established unequivocally from Surya Siddhanta and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam that the original Indian astrologers considered the zodiac to be tropical.
15The "North Indian" style of drawing a chart (and the derivations thereof) come from Persia. The so-called "Vedic" terminology for many essential concepts pertaining to the houses is still in Greek, just spelled and written in Sanskrit letters. For example, kendra and trikona have no Sanskrit etymology, they are Greek words: kentron and trigonon. Other terms, for example pertaining to the 12 signs, are direct translations of the same concepts in the Persian and Greek systems.
16These 27 or 28 are defined explicitly in the oldest Veda, such as Ṛg.