Origins

The first hints of codified astrological knowledge were included as part of the Vedas (circa 1500 - 500 BCE), which comprise the oldest layer of Hindu literature and embody the most ancient and revered Hindu spiritual teachings. These religious texts detailed the performance of religious ceremonies aimed at appeasing the forces of nature and bringing further prosperity, health, safety and meaning into the world of those who inhabited the ancient Indian subcontinent.

Thus, Jyotish (Vedic astrology) had a utilitarian bent in its nascent form: The astrological snippets found in the Vedas were mostly oriented toward practical astronomy—such as timing when to perform a ritual. In this guise of functional astronomy, Jyotish was classified as one of the six Vedanga (auxiliary disciplines associated with study of the Vedas). The earliest known text related to astronomy is the Jyotisha Vedanga dated to 1400 - 1200 BCE.

   Over time the astrological part of this auxiliary discipline developed further. Its foundational text, the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, was written about 700 - 800 CE and remains the most comprehensive and essential reference for natal astrology. Only with the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra does Vedic astrology truly come into its own.


Evolution of the Jyotish Model

Mohenjo-daro in Sindh province, Pakistan - remnants of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization which flourished during the Bronze Age (3300 - 1300 BCE)

Although Vedic religious rites beseeched the succor of a bewilderingly complex panoply of gods and goddesses (literally hundreds), a simple, yet potent, model for reality quietly incubated within the bowels of the endless yagnas (fire rituals) that spanned this era. The two most popular deities at the time were Indra (king of the gods) and Agni (the god of fire). Why, these two out of so many? You may have an intuitive sense of the answer simply by considering their roles.

Indra (Vedic king of the gods) - Sambha temple at Ellora Caves, Maharashtra, India

First, Indra stood tall as the head honcho and greatest warrior among the deities. With mace in hand, he led all battles against the forces of adversity. The most famous tale from the Rig Veda describes his struggle with a gigantic cobra, Vritra (obstacle), that entwined the mountain of life in order to obstruct its healing flow of waters. In typical heroic fashion, Indra smashes his opponent and liberates the waters which can then flow over the lands and nourish all.

Second, throughout the Vedic period, sacrifice and oblation to the gods finds expression mainly in the form of fire ritual (yagna). Agni, being the essence of this element, thus figured prominently in all religious ceremonies. He conveyed the offerings and ensured that they reach their intended divine recipients. 

Okay. Simple enough? What's not so immediately apparent though lies beneath the surface of all the naturalistic themes, adventures and misadventures of the gods. Even back then, some thinkers were out to simplify and consolidate. This took the form of a mystic phrase "the thirty-three divinities" which gets cited a number of times throughout the Rig Veda. These special deities somehow encapsulated the essence of all the many hundreds of goddesses and gods that designated aspects of life in Vedic times. 

Now, there are many ways to model something—whether simple or complex. A general principle says to keep any map as simple as possible without throwing the baby away in the bath water. Here, these thirty-three sparks of divine Light can be neatly sequestered into three groups: one, headed by Indra, for the Adityas (a generic term for the deities in heaven); a second, headed by Agni, for the generative forces of nature (which relate to the five tattvas discussed earlier along with other forces such as the sun, moon and stars); and finally, a third, headed by Rudra (a fierce storm god), for the destructive powers of nature.

What's quite interesting is that the thirty-three deities of the Rig Vedas show up again thousands of years later in the Puranas (Hindu religious literature from 200 - 1000 CE) and even more provoking, these selfsame deities show up in Vedic astrology, even to this day, in relation to groupings of stars called nakshatras. That is, the three archetypes they represent continue to flit in and out of Hindu religious and esoteric literature across the many centuries since their first simplistic formulation in the Vedas. You might wonder if there's something noteworthy here. There is. 

With a touch of research, you will find many models from many religions and cultures that reduce to three factors. Here, the prescription reads: natural forces of nature (Agni; rajas (रजस्); individuation and differentiation); destructive forces of nature (Rudra; tamas (तमस्); inclusion and integration); and harmonious forces of nature (Indra; heavens; sattva (सत्त्व); functional interplay between any two dynamic systems). These ideas, though similar to plenty of other naturalistic models, tend to cut deeper and wider and effectively apply to all areas of life. For a fuller discussion, you can check out our web page about yoga and spiritual practice, Introduction to Neidan Yoga.  


Advanced Jyotish Star Map for Deep Space

Taurus - seat of the Universe

Basic ideas about the sequence of constellations up to and through the door to the universe.