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Astronomy for Astrology

The Branches of Vedic Astrology


Jyotish is considered to be one of the Vedangas (part of Vedas) propounded by lord
Brahma by the scientific study of which human beings can accomplish virtue. Jyotish
shastra or the science of Vedic astrology, is a compilation of 4,00,000 verses (vide
Narada Purana, II.50.2). Vedic astrology has mainly three branches Siddhanta (the
principle), Jataka or Hora (astrology for individuals) and Samhita (astrology for
masses).
Siddhanta, also known as Ganita, deals with the mathematical calculations, the
methodology of calculating planetary positions, knowledge about time, place,
direction, lunar and solar eclipses, their rising and setting, planetary movements,
conjunctions, retrogression, etc.
Jataka (Hora) deals with the techniques of interpretation of horoscopes of
individuals.

It

describes

signs,

planets,

their

qualities,

family

situations/

circumstances at the time of birth, arishta (mishaps), longevity of the native,


different dasha systems and their results, profession (sources of livelihood),
ashtakavarga, varied types of yogas, results of planetary positions in different
houses, signs, nakshatras, aspects of planets, planetary combinations, female
horoscopy, circumstances at the time of death, cases of unknown birth time, etc. The
term Hora has been applied to Jataka or natal astrology, as well as to the Muhurta
or electional astrology (i.e., selecting the appropriate moment to commence an
undertaking).
Samhita is that branch of astrology which is related to masses and is a
compilation of varied subjects like the results of rising and setting of planets,
appearance of different types of comets, varied types of chakras, predicting about
rainfalls,

earthquakes,

natural

disasters

and

epidemics,

results

of planetary

movements on kingdoms, nations, masses and commodities, etc.

The Geocentric System


It is a human tendency to refer to other things in relation to oneself. Sitting in a
moving train, we see things passing by the train trees, farms, hutments, etc. A

common question arises in our mind which is the station coming next? At the back
of our mind we do know that it is not the station which is going to come, it is the
train which will reach the next station. Similarly we refer to the rising and setting of
the Sun. But we do know that it is not the Sun which is rising or setting, it is the spin
of the earth which makes it appear so.
Because we feel stationary on the solid earth, the sky seems to spin around us in
complicated ways. In our quest to understand what we see, our ancients had evolved
a most innovative and powerful tool.
As nothing is stationary in the universe, whether it is a satellite or a planet or even a
star, it is convenient to imagine our position in the universe the earth as its
centre and the whole of the universe moving around us in constant motion. Thus
considering the relative positions and movements of all heavenly bodies with respect
to the earth is the Geo-centric system. On the other hand, when we consider the
relative position of planets (including the earth) in respect of the Sun, it forms the
basis of the Helio-centric system. Vedic astronomy and astrology are essentially geocentric in their concept.

The Earth
The earth is spherical and rotates from west to east around its axis. The axis of the
earth is an imaginary line which, passing through its centre, connects its two poles,
the north pole and the south pole. Another imaginary line running across the largest
circumference of the earth, equidistant from its poles and running in an east-west
direction, is called the equator.

The Celestial Sphere


Think of the sky as a great, hollow, crystalline sphere surrounding the earth. Imagine
the stars to be attached to the inside of the sphere like thumbnails stuck in the
ceiling. The sphere takes one day to rotate, carrying the Sun, the Moon, the planets
and the stars from east to west. We know that the sky is not a great, hollow,
crystalline sphere. The stars are scattered through space at different distances, and
it isnt the sky that rotates once a day. It is rather the earth that rotates once in a
day around its axis. It is convenient as a model of the sky. This model of the sky, the
Celestial sphere, is an imaginary hollow sphere of very large radius (infinity)
surrounding the earth and to which the stars seem to be attached. On this imaginary

sphere the celestial equator, the celestial poles, and other reference points are
marked as they are done on the earth; these represent the extensions of the equator
and the poles, etc., of the earth into infinity.

Zodiac
The earth takes one year to complete its rotation around the Sun. From the earth, it
appears that the Sun moves around the earth. This apparent path of the Sun is
known as ecliptic. An imaginary belt of 18 degrees width with ecliptic in its centre is
known as the zodiac. Many groups of stars appear to have been studded on this
imaginary belt. Vedic astrology recognizes 27 such groups of stars called nakshatras.
The zodiac encircles the earth like a circle consisting of 360 degrees. If this circle is
divided into 27 equal parts, each part will be of 13 degrees and 20 minutes arc,

known as a nakshatra. Each nakshatra is further divided into 4 quarters (padas or


charanas), of 3 degrees and 20 minutes arc each.
Twelve divisions of the zodiac will have an arc of 30 degrees each, known as rashis
(or signs).

The above figure shows rising of the Sun in the eastern horizon. The line passing through the
centre of the Sun is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun created by its revolution
around the earth during its annual journey. The group of stars, referred to as the nakshatras,
are the fixed reference points in the zodiac used to locate the position of the Sun, the Moon
and other heavenly bodies. All the planets considered in Vedic astrology for the purpose of
interpretation, do not decline beyond the belt of the zodiac. They may be on the ecliptic or
towards the north or sourth of the ecliptic depending on their latitude with reference to the
ecliptic.

For example, the orbit of the Moon is inclined at an angle of 5 degrees to the ecliptic. The
Moon does not go beyond 5 degrees on either side of the ecliptic. The orbit of the Moon cuts
the ecliptic at two point. In its orbit, when the Moon is on the ecliptic while moving from south
of ecliptic to north, this point is known as Rahu or the ascending node of the Moon and when
the Moon is on the ecliptic while moving from north of ecliptic to south of ecliptic, this point of
intersection

is

known

as

Ketu

or

the

descending

node

of

the

Moon.

The point of sunrise with respect to the observer keeps changing during the year. If A is the
point of sunrise when the Sun is at vernal equinox (around March 21 every year), the point of
sunrise will appear to move northwards till it reaches the summer solstice (B) on or around
June 21. from this point it will start its southernly journey (Dakshinayana) during which it
reaches the autumnal equinox (again A) around September 23 and further until it reaches
winter solstice (C) around December 22. At this stage it starts its northward journey
(Uttarayana).

Tropical Zodiac
The most crucial point in the division of a circle is to know the starting point of the
circle. The point where the ecliptic cuts the celestial equator is known as equinox.
There are two such equinoxes the vernal equinox and the autumnal equinox. When
the Sun is passing from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, it cuts
the equator at vernal equinox. When the division of the circle of the zodiac is with
reference to vernal equinox as its starting point, the zodiac is referred to as the
Sayana (or tropical) zodiac, the divisions of this zodiac into twelve equal parts are
the Sayana rashis, and the positions of planets in this zodiac represent the Sayana
longitudes of the planets.

The Precession of Equinoxes


If we could watch the sky for a few hundred years, we would discover that the north
celestial pole is moving slowly with respect to Dhruva (Polaris) star. The celestial
poles and the celestial equator, supposed to be the fixed reference marks, are
moving very slowly because of the slow change in the direction of Earths axis of
rotation. This slow top-like motion is called precession. Earths axis sweeps around in
a cone, taking almost 26,000 years for each sweep.
Precession is caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Moon. Because
earth is not a perfect sphere it has a slight bulge around its equator Sun and

Moon pull on it, trying to make it spin upright in its orbit. This forces earths axis to
precess.
The result of this precession is that vernal equinox, the cutting point of the ecliptic
and the celestial equator, drifts westward on the ecliptic by an approximate angle of
51 seconds of an arc each year. So we have a new vernal equinox every year and
hence a new staring point of the Sayana zodiac. This results in the shifting of the
Sayana signs.

Sidereal Zodiac
The Vedic system does not depend on this shifting zodiac and relies on a fixed point
on the zodiac as its starting point. There is no clear cut demarcation of this starting
point in the zodiac. Some consider this point to be 180 degrees opposite to the

Chitra nakshatra. Some consider it to be slightly to the east of the Revati nakshatra,
while still others opine differently.
When the division of the circle of the zodiac is with reference to the Vedic starting
point, the zodiac is referred to as the Nirayana (or Sidereal) zodiac, the twelve equal
parts are the Nirayana rashis, and the positions of planets in this zodiac represent
the Nirayana longitudes of the planets.

The angular difference between the vernal equinox and the Vedic starting point of the
zodiac is known as the Ayanamsha. When the Vedic starting point is with reference
to Chitra nakshatra, the Ayanamsha is refered to as the Chitrapaksha Ayanamsha.
According to this system the first point of Sayana zodiac and Nirayana zodiac
coincided in the year 285 A.D. The corresponding value of this Ayanamsha on
January 1997 is 2348'56".