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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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The Fate of Free Will

“Jo hona hai so hoga’’ (What’s meant to be, will be) is a phrase familiar to us all. It accurately describes the fatalistic way of the Indian society. Since birth we are told stories of demons, monsters and evil kings rising to power just to be inevitably slain by Gods and Goddesses. When I was little, the stories meant little more than a face-off between good and evil to me. What really intrigues me about all the stories now, is the sheer grit of the villains. It is a universal timeline of events that destruction follows creation, and new life arises from the ashes of destruction. But the demons in our mythological stories performed such superhuman feats to please Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva that it shaped the way our entire universe was constructed. They underwent extreme physical and mental discomfort in exchange for the boon of immortality. They always succeeded in their endeavours through sheer determination but there was always just one catch that resulted in their downfall ultimately-their ego! Their ego always got in the way. Often times they underestimated women, children and other mortals which led to their destruction. 

Ancient Indian societies primarily believed in predeterminism. Predeterminism is the philosophy that all the events of the past, present and future are already decided by God, fate or an incomprehensible force. Yet the concept of karma is an established recurring theme in all the scriptures. It held me in confusion for the longest time. What if our lives are predestined, so are our thoughts and actions? And if we are destined and designed beforehand by omniscient Gods, then where is the importance of individual choice and why this hypocrisy of karma then? Delving deeper into the Scriptures shed some light on it though. While belief in predestiny finds its roots deep within Indian culture, we believe strongly in the power of human will.

In the classic story of bending one’s fate, Satyavan’s death had been prophesied.  Yet heartbroken at the loss of her husband, Savitri in her grief pursues the God of Death across worlds to the gates of Yamlok. Giving in to her persistence, Yamraj grants her any wish of her desire as long as it isn’t for her husband to return to life. Pondering through her options, Savitri knows how to bend her will to the fate set before her. She wishes for 100 children. Yamraj consents to her wish and continues, only to find Savitri still following him. She explains to the annoyed God of Death that she needs her husband to come back to life so that her wish can be fulfilled. Savitri snatched back her husband’s life from the God of Death himself.

The story talks about the possibility of changing one’s fate by sheer will power, intelligence and perseverance.

Ghor-tapasya of Parvati forced the hermit Lord Shiva himself to a life of domestic bliss. Prahlad’s strong belief in his devotion to Lord Vishnu resulted in the death of a tyrant blessed with immortality. 

This belief has been expressed not just through mythical tales, we have found multiple other channels in our everyday life to exercise this free will to bend fate in our favour. The gods have already decided my dad’s fate. Yet, my mother fasts on auspicious days for his well being.

Vastu Shastra, gemstones, lucky numbers, auspicious colours and astrology which encompasses it all, are all proof of human effort at making a dent of choice on the structure of fate that surrounds us.

Unlike the beliefs of other religions and philosophies, Indian cultures always supported an individual’s debate with their deities. 

Indian scriptures  are impregnated with such tales of victory of free will over fate through belief, hard work, intelligence, and persistence. This intricate to and fro between the belief in a predestined life and the power of human will is a beautiful example of the Indian society trying to emphasise the impact of awareness in our lives.

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Astrology, Fate and Karma

The very essence of astrology is based in determinism; the position of the planets, stars, and moon at the time of our birth, decide our destiny for us. Our natal chart remains the same throughout our lives and never wavers. Once the position of celestial bodies at the time of birth is known, it takes mere moments to figure out the position of the relevant cosmic entities at any moment during a person’s life. Yet, a big part of astrology is about being able to change one’s life. Awareness is astrology’s key companion in this system. Simply knowing what to expect is a big part of the battle. Providing coping mechanisms to deal with loss, trauma, and the challenges of our day to day lives is the foundation to bending our fate through the guiding light of astrology. 

Let’s say a person, Kriti, is told by an astrologer that she could experience a stress-related ailment in a month.

Kriti can decide to get stressed about this information itself. If so, she constantly worries about this prediction and chooses to handle this information negatively. She ends up being sick after a month and blames it on fate.

Alternatively Kriti could choose to make positive changes in her life. If her health is going to deteriorate in a month, she has all of 30 days to sort out all the issues that stress her currently. She also starts taking better care of her health. She exercises, eats better, meditates and communicates better with her loved ones. After all of these positive changes in her life, if she does suffer from an ailment, she would at least be prepared for it. Her hard work would also help her cope better with her sickness. 

If she chooses the latter path, she basically chose to empower herself using the wisdom of Jyotish Shastra (astrology) and be better prepared for her future.

Either way, astrology helped her be aware, what she chooses to do with that information is her doing. It does sound like a chicken and egg situation. If her life was already chalked out for her by the Divine Will, she really didn’t have control over actions either. 

But I like to believe that even if she was fated to fall ill, her actions after she acquired the information were solely her decision. Vedic philosophy supports my claim. Vedas preach ‘A Balanced Universe.’

Light-darkness, creation-destruction, good-evil, fate-free will, all play an equally important part in all our lives, it’s this delicate balance between these opposing forces of nature that keeps the universe going.

Astrology, the all-seeing eye of the Vedas is a gift to humanity which has stuck in this dilemma of predestiny and free will. It brings about self awareness in a person.

If divinity is in us and we are divine, we just need to be aware of it to be able to access this divinity within us. If so, we may realise that the Divine Will is a part of us, it is a part of our free will, our thoughts and actions. What we really need to fathom is that our free will is an equally important part of the Divine Will that we call fate.

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Let’s Be Creative with Science

When I was little, Sundays were always a day to remember. Filled with afternoon intellectual science quizzes with Dad, surfing through mythological television shows with Grandma, and constructing sand castles with my brother. These were the times to remember, as well as the time to learn. Every Sunday we would take a break from regular toothpaste and make homemade toothpaste with pure mustard oil and salt granules. My Dad taught us the benefits of natural ingredients though all I really cared about was how good it tasted.

The turnaround

Twenty years later amid one of those “Kya aapke toothpaste mein namak hai?” (Does your toothpaste have salt in it?) commercials, I reminisced of the times when I used hing (asafoetida) for my upset stomach and ash to wash hands during camping trips. Salt in toothpastes, dirt and ash in soaps and beauty packs, everything is making a comeback.

Especially science in nature.

The first to take advantage of this were the big western conglomerates as they spread across metropolitan areas throughout India. Even though they earlier sold to us the idea of how their products, infused with chemicals and packaged in bright colors were the only way to go. According to them, their products were cleaner, more efficient and revolutionary against the ancient homeopathic ways of medicinal India.  While there were definite improvements in our infrastructure and society through western integration and globalization, there were caveats to chemicals and cons to conformity.

Two sides of a coin

While Western science gave us modern medicine it created resistant strains of microorganisms, becoming increasingly elusive to contend against. It gave us faster means of transportation while slowly killing the planet that we live on. It gave us means to produce more food while polluting the very soil our food comes from. What else did western science get wrong? What else did it ignore or hide from the world to feed its capitalistic hunger? What else did our ancestors have right from the very beginning?

The three pillars of ancient Indian society – Ayurveda, Yoga and Astrology

The three aspects of life that humans have been attempting to illuminate are: Body, Mind and Soul.

The betterment of these three is what we have all been working towards since the hunter-gatherer era blossomed into its cycle of renaissances. Ancient India pioneered the movement in providing guiding tools for all its human counterparts to achieve the same. And it began with an insight into the body.

Ayurveda (Wellbeing of the body)

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Image Source: Pixabay

Ayurvedic disciplines sparked never before seen natural remedies for a plethora of bodily disorders as well as a systematic maintenance using products that didn’t come from a factory across the ocean, but in the soil and gardens of our Mother Earth. They worked slowly, steadily and permanently.

Yoga (Wellbeing of the mind)

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Image Source: Pixabay

Though we often think of health and wholeness as it pertains to our hearts and lungs and BMI, the yogis have always known that true wellbeing begins with the mind. Yoga as it has been accepted in todays definition in a spiritual and postural exercise and routine began back with the Vedas in meditation. A quintessential combination of oneness in mind as well as in body breathes back beyond the days of the yoga mat and into something much deeper within. Where one cannot exist without the other.

Astrology (Wellbeing of the soul)

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The constructs of Indian astrology dates back to just after the onset of Yoga itself. Some say it is the keystone that unites the other two pillars together. Ancient Indian societies basking under zero light pollution skies and with zero dank memes to distract them, fled to the stars in the search for answers which can conclude the birth of Astrology. These pillars are the foundation upon which the holistic nature our ancestors had towards life as it stands today.

After decades of foreign ideologies attempting to harmonize our practice, Western science ultimately accepted its framework. Yoga, as we all know after initially being dismissed as an Eastern societal hocus-pocus has been accepted and proliferated across a growing global market. Repackaged and supplemented, split into various forms and fed to the masses as a new age, comprehensive and life-changing workout. The ayurvedic discipline itself has become a selling point through an incessant branding and though we are unable to escape its watered-down availability as a top shelf commodity, its accessibility speaks of the true constitution of its effectiveness.

The same principles of awareness and expansion apply to astrology. Struck across by many as a pseudoscience, countless followers throughout the world come to know the possibilities and fruits of the answers it provides.

Patterns in astrological texts were considered a scientific means from the Indus Valley to South East Asia and from Greek communities down to the Iberian peninsula for centuries. Even within the realm of the scientific method, ‘reality’ is more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Art and science can coexist

Astrology is considered as much an art as it is science by its practitioners as was by its founders. That must have been difficult to understand for western science which functions through highly linear argumentation. It was either ‘for this’ or ‘for that’ with which nonbelievers embezzled from us the freedom to be creative with our sciences.

For these highly developed ancient societies, it was often a blend of ‘this’ and ‘that’ which proved to be the most creative approach to science. It led the ancient societies of Sumeria, Egypt, Babylon into making such marvellous discoveries and breakthroughs that we still hold true today. The wheel, the sundial and the forge are a few of the fundamental examples that exist because of the artist’s experimentation, belief, and approach to reason.

Numerous sundials, temples and buildings were constructed to house worship and the study of the cosmos. The biggest example of this blend and balance between science and art is the conceptualisation and erection of the Pyramids of Giza. The capability to achieve the exactitude of their geocentric position, structural integrity and immense size of pyramids still baffles the experts when using sheer logic alone.

It cannot explain really how something so monumental could have been built thousands of years ago without modern knowledge and technology. Quite simply put, the cosmos dictated our lives for the ancient societies, so the stars and planets became Gods; an identity placed upon them to attribute their movements and interactions upon our chemical nature. The world was balanced just right.

Science wasn’t a strict set of rules that lacked imagination, it was a percentage of art and a percentage of common sense that brought about an equilibrium to the world. Not everything had to be broken down into systems and structures of rationale, somethings were just acquired because they worked, moulding the world into the world we have today.

Towards a better society

Just as ayurveda and yoga have helped hundreds of millions of people, the science of astrology has brought about the art of our coexistence with our cosmic identification of the elements.
Studying the night sky painstakingly and recording the patterns of celestial bodies is the science. Deducting the effect of these same celestial bodies on us is the craft. Astrology has the facility to aid awareness and make better informed decisions concerning our lives both now and in the times to come. If something helps humanity, it simply does!

It is now up to us to ask if we had got it right in the first place, to conduct the search both within and around. And like the Sundays constructing sandcastles with my brother, the pillars of our spiritual arts built within the sandbox of the scientific landscape has shaped the very world we live in.

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The Birth of Astrology

‘The Ancient Ones,’ let’s call them that because it sounds mysterious and fun.

A blog about astrology should be full of fun and mystery. Isn’t it?

But really, I am just referring to our ancestors, way back in time, but humans just like us, with an inquisitive mind and a thirst for knowledge in this extremely chaotic and confusing world.

”What to binge watch next on Netflix?”

”What to do over the weekend?”

”Should I continue eating donuts like there is no tomorrow or should I be scared of diabetes because my dad is diabetic?”

These are the questions that bug me and my generation when my mind is idle. Those are also the days when all of us regular people end up thinking about life, it’s meaning and other such questions. Don’t we?

Well, ‘The Ancient Ones’ could not browse memes when they got bored. They could not jump in a car and go to a cafe whenever they got restless. They could not have heated arguments about Friends V/S HIMYM. Sad!

Aside from the fact that they died super young because of lack of modern medicine, ‘The Ancient Ones’ had a lot of time on their hands and way fewer distractions. Hence, they did all sorts of other things like performing grand rituals everyday, write epics, make from scratch everything from food to furniture, judge people excessively and think about things that we rarely give any thought to.

That brings me to what this blog is really about. The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, China and India have been practicing the art of studying the Sun and planets and their influence on human affairs and in turn other worldly events since 2nd millenium BCE.

I feel that they knew that the human race wasn’t evolved enough to figure out the meaning of life so they looked up to the cosmos to find answers to these very important questions.

‘The Ancient-er Ones’ had already noticed that the planets, Sun and other stars all had a pattern to their movement so they started recording them. Comparing the movement of celestial bodies to the various natural phenomenon occurring on our planet led to the recording of time, tides and seasons. This gave our ancestors an upper hand at being able to predict the ‘mood of nature’ which had been a complete mystery up until then. They were able to predict most natural occurrences with more precision which in turn helped them with the most vital part of human survival and settlement – Growing and harvesting Food Crops.

Every other necessity was easily met with because these societies were rich. However, the growing population needed food in surplus which needed water to grow. Being able to predict timely rains or a delay in the monsoons thus became a necessity for settled colonies.

But just like the modern weather department, they were wrong at times. It was really easy to blame it on angry Gods and evil spirits. So, that’s that!

Celestial bodies were Gods that decided the fate of the vast planet Earth and everything that went on here so why couldn’t these same observable Gods not decide the fate of humans too?

It was obvious to The Ancient Ones that if they could study the cosmos and predict the next rainfall, they could also study the same to figure out if The Ancient One – Chandra, would be able to have another baby or if it was okay for The Ancient One – Mansukh, to go for his work trip or if it would be inauspicious for him.

For the first time, ancient humans, in their quest for the meaning of life, chose to look up to the cosmos for answer.

Astrology was born.