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Sidereal and Tropical Zodiacs

Originally published in Gochara, the BAVA Journal, March 2017, updated June 2017

This article provides some support for the use of either the Sidereal or the Tropical Zodiac in Vedic Astrology by pointing out that both signs (rashis) and Nakshatras have been traditionally interpreted based on their stars and the seasons (the Tropical Zodiac starts. of course, from the Vernal Equinox and is thus purely orientated to the seasons and disregards the stars). It also provides a caveat for the novel idea of using one Zodiac for the signs and another for the Nakshatras by reminding the reader of the deep integration between the rashis and the Nakshatras in traditional Jyotish.

In Jyotish, we use the sidereal zodiac for birth charts and the tropical zodiac for matters pertaining to the weather. Both zodiacs are entirely valid and the precession of the Vernal equinox, which defines the difference, has a key role in the destiny of mankind. Indeed, in his book Brhat Nakshatra, Sanjay Rath explains that there is a dasha system - the SaptaRishi Dasha - that is based on the precession and is used for studying very long term trends. The third level of this dasha changes every ten years and the next change is in 2019 from Ashwini to Revati. This change involves a gandanta and we have waited for many years since this teaching came out to see what drama might occur in 2019. Now we know that Brexit and a possible 2nd Scottish Independence referendum could occur that year. No doubt many more changes may occur around the world.

One Vedic Astrology teacher has espoused the novel concept that, as he considers the Nakshatras sidereal and the rashis tropical, both of these are to be used simultaneously in the chart in the different zodiacs. This is partly based on his interpretation of the Surya Siddhanta that computes sidereal positions for the grahas and then converts them to tropical for certain calculations such as computing the Lagna. In the Spring 2016 edition of Gochara, I showed how the interpretations of the rashis that are related to the weather must logically have arisen in North India. Because some concepts about the rashis are related to seasonal factors, some people seize on this to say that the rashis are therefore tropical. They then insist that the Nakshatras are inherently sidereal.

This misses several key points. Firstly, the Nakshatra interpretations are also related to the process of planting, reaping, storing and consuming grain. For example, Shatabhishaj is the time when the grain was traditionally wrapped in herbs and stored so it may become medicinal. Professor Subrahmanyam, who lectured at BAVA several years ago, explained this cycle Nakshatra by Nakshatra. Therefore, both Nakshatras and rashis have a seasonal interpretation and they both also have a more fixed sidereal one.

What is bizarre to traditional Jyotish is if one tries to use sidereal Nakshatras with tropical rashis. Consider gandanta: this is where the rashi and the Nakshatra both end in the same degree. With both the Nakshatra, the rashi and all the vargas ending at the same place, it creates a huge gap. That is what we mean by gandanta. If the rashis are floating and the Nakshatras are fixed, all the gandantas are gone. One could make a lot of such arguments. For example, why are the fire signs associated with Dharma, the earth with Artha, etc.? One answer based on standard Jyotish principles is that Dharma, Artha, etc. are defined on the four padas of each Nakshatra. Each Nakshatra has four padas and these are defined as being in the order Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. If Aries and Ashwini start in the same place, then all fire Navamshas coincide with Dharma padas, all earth Navamshas coincide with Artha padas, etc. The student of Jyotish is so steeped in this association, that he may not ask for the derivation but without it, one could construct arguments for different assignments just based on the rashi lordships.

One can ask questions like 'Is Jupiter exalted in Pushya?' Pushya is the place of the Sapta Rishis, the seven great gurus of mankind, and Brihaspati (Jupiter) is the devata of the Nakshatra. Pushya is already moving into tropical Leo. Then will Jupiter be exalted there and debilitated in Aquarius or has he ceased to reach his peak in his own favourite Nakshatra? Is Saturn debilitated in Bharani? The Purnanas describe the humiliation of Shani (Saturn) in the story of how his father favoured his half-brother Yama, lord of Bharani, over him. That is why Yama is worshipped to overcome the negatives of Saturn. If Bharani goes to Taurus, is Shani now debilitated in Taurus and exalted in Scorpio? If so, given the critical nature of the exaltation and debilitation lords, the nature of society would change drastically. Shri Krshna is adored for having his Lagna and Moon in Rohini in the centre of Taurus. What becomes of that? At that time that degree of Rohini was in tropical Pisces.

Consider the Vimshottari dasha. As anyone who has studied this knows, especially if they have read the last chapter of the book Yoga of the Planets, the whole basis of the interpretation of Vimshottari is based on the equality of the navamsha and the Nakshatra pada. If, for example, Mrigashira was not split equally between Taurus and Gemini, then the whole system is broken especially the Tara Bala, which many Jyotish texts rely on so heavily. In fact the glory of the number 108 is that it marries the Nakshatras and the rashis through the numbers 9 and 4 (12x9 = 27x4). This gives rise to the ninth house as that of the father and the fourth as that of the mother. If we abandon the link between the rashis and Nakshatras, the whole root of our rashi chart interpretation is gone. (Brhat Parashara Hora Shastra, when discussing the effects of the ninth house, refers in verse after verse to the father of the native. In the chapter on the tenth house, there is no such mention even though the 10th is 7th from the 4th. This makes sense because the mother's experience of her husband will not necessarily coincide with the experience of the child with her father.)

If Magha drifts out of Leo then where is the king's throne? If Magha is not in Leo, how is it the royal sign? The mere rulership of the Sun is insufficient as without the throne, one cannot call oneself the king. Leo may be considered part of the rainy season that starts in Cancer but it is also the lion and that is the pattern of stars of sidereal Leo. In fact, every sign is named after the pattern of its stars. There is nothing tropical about the signs in this. As one thinks more about it, it becomes clear that virtually the whole rationale of Jyotish is lost if we let the rashis float away from their Nakshatras.


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