Astrology has been a well-established intellectual discipline in India since the early Vedic age, combining the study and observation of celestial bodies (stars and planets), mathematical calculations to ascertain their precise positions in space at any given point of time and the effect of such planetary configurations on the life of an individual born at a particular point of time. The Arab traveler, Al-Beruni, who visited India in the early 11th century AD, had observed, ?If a person wants to earn the title of jyotishi (astrologer), he must not only know the scientific or mathematical astronomy but also astrology.?
The first part of the book explains how astrology in India constituted the study of celestial bodies and the method for calculation of planetary configurations at any given time (known as ganit or mathematical jyotish).
The second part comprising the effects of planetary configurations on human life, (known as phalit or predictive jyotish) explains how the earliest references to certain basic concepts of jyotish are available in the Vedas, especially in the Rigveda and other ancient texts (the Brahmanas and Samhitas) of the Vedic era, when planets in their respective orbits and the fixed sequence of day and night followed each other as well as the sequence of change of seasons on earth were attributed to the Sun. However the references in the early Vedic literature were scattered and haphazard and it was only in the Vedang Jyotish, compiled in the 12th century BC by a scholar named Lagdh, that astrology became a systematic study. The original text is however lost but references to a commentary written on it by a scholar named Somakar are found repeatedly in the subsequent texts.
The Vedang Jyotish contains detailed methodology for preparation of the Indian almanac (Panchang), study of the mean speed of motion of different planets and the timings of commencement and end of a particular tithi (lunar date). It also explains the northern and southern declination of the Sun and contains the names of 27 nakshatras (asterisms) dominating the 12 rashi or constellations.
The book under review says that after the Vedang Jyotish no verifiable work appeared till the 5th century AD. It was the period between the 5th century and the 10th century AD that truly monumental works of jyotish appeared by stalwarts like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Kalyan Verma, Brahmagupta, Sripati Bhatt and Bhaskaracharya ? whose Siddhant Shivoma in AD 1166 became very popular. In the Vrihad Jatak, a leading work on predictive astrology, Varahamihira says, ?Only that person can call himself an astrologer who is well versed in the five leading schools of thought, i.e. Surya, Pitamah, Vashishta, Romak and Pacchis Siddhanta.?
The author of the book is a civil servant and has been seriously pursuing astrology. He says, ?Concept of theme is central to the study and practice of jyotish.? According to the Indian tradition, time is divided into eternal time (kaal) and measurable time (samay). Talking about the Panchang, which is a register of days, weeks and months of the year with astronomical events, it is prepared with reference to the particular place where the jyotishi is based. Panchangs contain longitudes and latitudes of prominent cities and towns so that the larger clientele can use it across the country or abroad by resorting to simple calculations to convert the astronomical events as per the local coordinates of any place. The process is called charantar.
The chapter on horoscopes (janam patrika)?a diagram showing the relative position of stars and planets at the time of an individual'sbirth?explains the Indian tradition of making horoscopes since the Vedic age, calculation of time of birth and geographical coordinates of the place of birth, the planetary position, the tradition and contemporary techniques of preparing the north Indian and south Indian types of horoscopes.
The chapter on interpretation of horoscopes on the basis of the relative position of stars and planets makes for interesting reading. The basic tenets for interpretation of horoscopes are the samhitas (compilations) and sutras (formulae) attributed to ancient Hindu seers such as Bhrigu, Parashar, Garg, Vashishtha, Jamini, etc, and the author says, ?The first available authentic, standard text however is the Vrihad Jatak of Varahamihir.? The 12 bhavas, sthanas or grihas (houses) of the Lagna Chakra are explained as also the effects of rashis. The special planetary combinations like Chandra Yoga, Raj Yoga, etc. in a horoscope throw light on the type of life an individual would lead.
The author seems to consider the Vrihad Jatak as the gospel of astrology and says that the rules of astrology ?are so concise and unambiguous that if one horoscope is taken to a hundred (properly and systematically prepared) different jyotishis, each one shall give a strikingly similar interpretation.?
In all, this is an attempt to recapitulate the rich scientific and mathematical base of jyotish and present the subject in its truly academic perspective.
(N.N. Ojha, B-29, 14 Ironside Road, Kolkata-700 009.)