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Taaraka Blog

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Measuring the Universe

The Vedas are like a chest full of treasure, brimming with precious words. The words are precious because they not only talk about living a good and wholesome life but also tell us how to go about living it, the best way humanly possible. So, it is only obvious that Jyotish Shastras is a big part of the Vedas; 4,00,00 verses to be precise.

Got to respect the patience and perseverance of our ancestors!

Fun Fact:  Vedanga means ‘a part of the Vedas’

It comes from Ved (Vedas) + Ang (a part of)

According to the Hindu scriptures and mythology, Vedic astrology was propounded by the creator, Lord Brahma himself. It seems befitting that the creator of the Universe would himself provide tools to his living creations to study his inanimate creations so that they could use this knowledge for leading a better life.

Thank God for that. Literally!

Studying just the astronomy behind Vedic astrology is by itself very interesting because it gives us an insight into a world more ancient than Yo Grandma!

Let’s embark on a magical journey of human effort to measure the Universe.

There are 3 branches of Vedic astrology-

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SIDDHANTA 

This most ancient branch of astrology is also called Ganita, literally meaning Mathematics. It basically deals with the chores of Astrology. Studying and recording planetary movements, their positions, solar and lunar eclipses, is a part of Siddhanta.

JATAKA (also called HORA)

It involves studying and interpreting the horoscope of an individual. It describes the circumstances of the birth and death of a person and everything in between job, family, friends, success, failures and more.

The term Hora is applied to –

Jataka– Natal astrology 

Muhurta– To select an appropriate time for commencing a task

Mundane – Events that affect nations and planets

SAMHITA

Digest and collection of codes or rules of any branch of knowledge are called Samhita. This branch of astrology deals with codified rules applied directly for predicting and describing the events. It is interesting to know that there are many forms of astrology, prevalent worldwide, which do not involve the birth chart of individual or place. Palmistry, Shakun Shastra, Prashna chart, Palm Leaf reading, etc. are examples of what are all studied and predicted through under the Samhita branch of astrology.

THE GEOCENTRIC SYSTEM

Remembering the kindergarten wisdom, “Sun rises in the east and sets in the west”?

That’s wrong! The earth spins on its tilted axis around the Sun so the Sun ‘appears’ to rise in a direction labeled as the east.

The human tendency is to refer to objects in relation to oneself. While traveling in a train, we ask, “Which station is coming up next?”

No station is coming up to us, our train is moving to the next station, which remains where it is located. Even the landscapes that ‘pass us by,’ do not pass us by. Our train passes by them. Similarly, we feel stationary on our beautiful, fast-spinning planet.

And thank Lord Brahma for that! I can hardly stand carnival rides, imagine being aware of spinning at a mind-boggling speed of roughly 1600 km/hour.

Our stationary perspective makes the sky seem to spin around us in a highly confusing manner so our Vedic ancestors came up with a brilliant tool to study and make sense of these complicated movements. They assumed that the Earth was the center of the Universe.

Eureka! The geocentric system of the Universe was made. It simply assumes that all the other satellites, planets and stars move around our centrally-located Earth in constant motion. Their position relative to that of Earth’s eased the process of tracking the position and movements of these celestial bodies with seemingly chaotic movements.

This view, however, is effective because astrology deals with the interaction between the rest of the Universe and us here on Earth.

GEOGRAPHY OF EARTH FOR BEGINNERS 101

AXIS

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Take a huge kebab skewer. By huge, I mean celestially huge. Large enough to skewer all the planets in our Solar system and make planet-kebab.

Now insert this skewer into the Earth through the North Pole. If you keep pushing the skewer down south in a straight line, the skewer will come out the opposite end through the South Pole. Now instead of an imaginary kebab skewer, use an imaginary line to do the same, it is this straight line that connects the north and south poles and runs through the center of the Earth that is called the axis. <will be good to mark north and south pole>

EQUATOR

Imagine cutting the Earth in 2 equal halves horizontally. The big imaginary knife I use to cut the Earth this way cuts it along the equator. The equator is just another imaginary line running across the Earth, equidistant from both the poles in an east-west direction.

At this juncture, it is relevant to quote Ken Robinson!

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 “Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.”

We are going to be using a lot of our imagination for understanding our ancestors’ interpretation of the world beyond our planet to make our lives easier and for the blessed tool that astrology is.

THE CELESTIAL SPHERE

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All of this is quite easy to understand if we just think a little out of the box or in this case, think in a crystalline sphere.

Imagine that the sky is colossal crystal sphere and the Earth floats right in the center of it.

The stars are all stuck on the inside of this globe, like glow-in-the-dark star stickers that we stuck to our ceiling as kids.

This entire snow globe spins from east to west in one day and so does the Sun, the Moon, all the planets and stars.

This model of the Universe is called The Celestial Sphere.

Now, let us extend the imaginary kebab skewer aka Earth’s axis in a straight line in both directions. Where this axis pierces the celestial sphere in the north and south are the celestial north and celestial south poles respectively.

Similarly, the projection of Earth’s equator into space forms the celestial equator.

ZODIAC

Nakshatra is not just a diamond jewellery brand that Aishwarya Rai endorses and zodiac signs are not just about reading horoscopes to impress your crush.

Only if our ancestors knew what we do with the knowledge that they so painstakingly gathered after years and years of hard work! I am sure they had crushes too, I think they would be proud.

Going back to our world of imagination-

The Earth takes one year to revolve around the Sun, but we’re geocentric so it seems that the Sun moves around the Earth. The path that the Sun follows is called the Ecliptic.

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The Sun moves along the ecliptic in the celestial sphere and the area in the sky 8° north and 8° south of the ecliptic has all the stars, planets and the Moon. 

The Zodiac is again an imaginary belt surrounding the Earth on all sides with the apparent path of the Sun running right through its center.

This belt is studded with many groups of stars out of which Vedic astrology recognizes 27 groups. These 27 groups of stars that lie in the zodiac are called Nakshatra.

We divide and group everything around us simply for the ease of understanding, counting and tracking so our ancestors divided the zodiac in different ways-

Division of the zodiac in 27 equal parts where each part is called a nakshatra (each part is of 13°and 20 min arc)

Division of the zodiac in 12 equal parts of 30° arc each where each part is called a Rashi (or sign)

The 27 groups of stars that Vedic astrology recognises, Nakshatra are fixed reference points in the zodiac and are used to locate other celestial bodies in space.

To break down the skies for an easier understanding, none of the celestial bodies considered in Vedic astrology lie beyond this 16° belt of the zodiac. They may either be on the ecliptic itself or 8° north or south of it. The orbit of the moon is inclined at an angle of 5° to the ecliptic. 

Remember Rahu and Ketu? The demons from our grandmother’s favorite mythological TV soaps?

This story talks about how Rahu and Ketu came into existence but they are just imaginary points in the celestial sphere. The orbit of the Moon cuts the ecliptic at 2 points.

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Rahu: In its orbit when the Moon is on the ecliptic while moving from south to north, this point is called Rahu or ascending node of the moon.

Ketu: The point of intersection of the moon and the ecliptic while the moon moves from north to south of the ecliptic, is called Ketu or 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 the 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 southerly journey (Dakshinayana) during which it reaches the autumnal equinox (again A) around September 23 and further until it reaches the winter solstice (C) around December 22. At this stage, it starts its northward journey (Uttarayana).

TROPICAL ZODIAC

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We have been discussing imaginary and real circular and spherical shapes, movements and orbits and ‘a circle has no beginning or end,’ hence representing infinity. But it was crucial for humans to define a starting point of this circular zodiac belt so our ancestors picked more imaginary points as the starting point.

The point where the ecliptic passes through the celestial equator is called an equinox, there are 2 such equinoxes:

Vernal equinox

Autumnal equinox 

Vernal equinox – When the Sun passes from the Southern to the Northern  Hemisphere of the celestial sphere, it cuts the celestial equator at the Vernal equinox.

Sayana (Tropical) zodiac considers the vernal equinox as the starting point of the circle or belt of the zodiac. When this circle is divided into 12 equal parts, each part is called the Sayana Rashi and the position of planets in this zodiac represent the Sayana longitudes of the planets.

THE PRECESSION OF EQUINOXES

The Universe and the laws of physics are super bizarre and interesting. Precession is one such an interesting phenomenon. Like most of us junk food lovers, the Earth too has a slight bulge around its middle, making it an imperfect sphere. The gravitational force of the Sun and the Moon pulls on the Earth to make it spin upright in its orbit causing precession.

As a result of the precession, the vernal equinox, 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 starting 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.

It uses different nakshatras as references for a starting point of the zodiac circle. Some schools of thought 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 zodiac circle is divided with reference to the Vedic starting point (whichever it may be), the zodiac is referred to as Nirayana (Sidereal) zodiac, 12 equal parts are the Nirayana rashis, and the positions of planets in this zodiac represent the Nirayana longitudes of the planets.

AYANAMSHA

Ayanamsa is the Sanskrit term for the amount of precession. In astrology, it is the longitudinal difference between the Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs.

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 referred to as the Chitrapaksha Ayanamsha or Lahiri 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 in January 2019 is 24°07’05”.

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