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Jyotish: Some Unique Features

Vedic Astrology, or Jyotish, originated from the Vedas, the sacred texts of ancient India, where the insights of enlightened rishis and sages many thousands of years ago illuminated timeless truths of our existence. Yoga, Vedanta, meditation, Ayurveda and tantra all stem from this same root, and like Jyotish understand life as a spiritual journey. Based on precise astronomy and inspired vision, Jyotish traces the journey of the soul through time. It is an unbroken tradition, rooted in the ancient past and evolving over the centuries into the refined practice it has become today. 

When asked the question, "What's your sign?" most people think to answer according to the Sun signs of Western Astrology. In India, however, that answer would be different. First of all, one's Sun sign according to Jyotish would most likely be different. But even so, the answer to that question would not be the Sun sign at all. It would be the constellation rising on the horizon at the moment of birth (which changes about every two hours) or the nakshatra (lunar constellation) of the Moon (which changes about every 24 hours). The Sun, on the other hand, remains in a sign for a month.

Since most people have at least a rudimentary understanding of Western Astrology, this page will explain some of the unique features and important differences of the Vedic system.

Tropical and Sidereal Zodiacs:

Western Astrology uses the tropical zodiac, where 0° Aries always coincides with the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. Vedic Astrology uses the sidereal zodiac, where the signs (rashis) correspond to the actual position of the constellations in the sky. So 0° Aries in the Vedic system aligns with the stars forming the constellation of Aries. Because of a complex astronomical phenomenon called the "Precession of the Equinoxes", the equinoxes occur at a different point every year in relationship to the position of the stars. Around the year 285 CE, the two zodiacs aligned, a phenomenon that occurs every 25,000 years, approximately. Because of a wobble in the rotation of the earth, the position of the equinoxes moves very slowly backwards in its relationship to the stars. Every 72 years, the equinoxes move back about one degree, so that today the difference between the two zodiacs is around 23°. This difference is known as the ayanamsha, and currently (2014) the vernal equinox occurs around 6.5° Pisces. This means that on the first day of spring, the Sun is actually in the constellation of Pisces, not Aries! And in 10,271 years, the first day of spring will be in Libra, 180° opposite from 0° Aries in the tropical zodiac. Thus, Vedic Astrology places the planets in the signs that correspond more accurately to the position of the stars in the heavens. It is important to understand that the two zodiacs refer to these different points of orientation and measurement. Obviously, the sky itself is the same. But in Vedic Astrology, the signs correspond to the actual constellations; in Western Astrology, they do not.

Nine Planets:

Each of the nine planets in Jyotish represents a distinct archetypal energy. This is its shakti. Together they comprise the totality of primal energy manifested in the cosmos. This is Ma Shakti in her entirety . . . or Prakriti or consciousness in action or the visible face of Shiva . . . or however you understand the totality of possible expressions of consciousness through time and space. Much more than physical bodies in the sky, the planets (grahas) are configurations of subtle energy. Jyotish understands them as deities. Planets are divine beings, sentient and powerful on the astral planes of existence. Each has a unique knowledge to teach, and all of them are ultimately good, because all ultimately lead to spiritual liberation. Problems arise when karmic blocks prevent or distort the soul from receiving their blessings. The path to spiritual realisation can be long and meandering, but its culmination is the destiny of every soul.

Graha (planet) means "grasper" in Sanskrit; it is an astral force that grasps our consciousness or dominates our being. Each graha influences everyone in a unique way, depending upon the planetary configuration of their chart. Each graha has a mundane as well as spiritual expression too. Depending upon the evolution of the soul, the expression of the graha's shakti will be more or less refined. A Jyotish reading can help you understand how these energies grasp you. It can teach you to work with them in a more positive way, for both enhancement of life experiences and spiritual advancement.

Of the nine planets, two are luminaries, the Sun and Moon. Five correspond to the five visible planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And two, Rahu and Ketu, are actually mathematical points, the Nodes of the Moon, or the places where the ecliptic (the path of the earth around the Sun) intersects the orbit of the Moon around the earth. Rahu is the north node, Ketu the south. The outer planets do not figure into classical Jyotish, though some modern Jyotishis may look at them in certain situations. Through the rich mythology of India, these nine planets come alive, their qualities and characteristics taking on each a vibrant persona. Think of developing a personal relationship with the grahas. This is the most efficacious way to work with their energies.

Jyotish is a complete and integral system based upon these nine planets. The number nine is significant, and contributes to the elegant mathematical symmetry of Jyotish:
9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9 = 108
9 planets x 12 signs or houses = 108, sacred number of cosmic wholeness in India, and sacred number to many other traditions as well.
The distance between the Sun and the earth and the Moon and the earth is 108 x their respective diameters. 
The diameter of the Sun is 108 x the diameter of the earth.
There are 27 nakshatras, lunar constellations, and each planet rules three of them: 9 x 3 = 27.
The 27 nakshatras spread over the 4 elements: 4 x 27 = 108. 
The Ninth Division or Navamsa is the most important divisional chart, and each sign of 30° divides equally into 3° 20' to form it: 9 x 3° 20' = 30°. 
In our Hindu-Arabic numeral system, 9 is the total number of basic digits. The sum of the digits of 108 is 9: 1 + 0 + 8 = 9. 
108 is divisible by the sum of its digits:108 ÷ 9 = 12. 
Indeed, the nine planets travelling through the twelve signs comprise the whole of manifest existence! The Vedic system forms a complete mirror of reality.

Twelve Signs, Twelve Houses:

Just as the planets are the archetypal energy, the 12 signs are the medium through which this energy expresses. You can think of the signs as functioning like lens or diffusers. They alter the quality of the planet placed in their field. Each sign embodies an elemental nature (fire, earth, air, water) and an energetic state (chara or moveable, sthira or fixed, dwishwabhava or changeable). The total possibility of these combinations is 12 (4 x 3 = 12). This establishes the basic quality of the sign, but the ramifications for each sign beyond this foundation are vast and complex.

The houses are the areas of life in which this energy manifests. Also vast and complex, the 12 houses encompass all possible life situations. They correspond to the four aims of life (purusharthas), which are dharma (purpose), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). As the planets fall within the houses, they form specific combinations depending upon the angular relationships they create. These combinations are called yogas, and they contribute significantly to how the karma will express itself.

Nakshatras and Tithis:

Jyotish uses both a solar and lunar calendar, and the nakshatras belong to the lunar. There are 27 nakshatras or lunar constellations. The Moon's cycle around the earth takes approximately 27 days. This is called the sidereal cycle of the Moon, and each day of it the Moon resides in a different constellation, called a nakshatra. Each nakshatra is 13° 20' of arc, and that amount multiplied by 27 is 360, the total number of degrees in a circle. Not just the Moon, but all planets in fact reside in a specific nakshatra. The nakshatras belong to the primordial root of Vedic Astrology and open up a whole new dimension of meaning. Again, their significance becomes clear through a rich mythology.

The Moon has another cycle too, called the synodic cycle. This cycle refers to the Moon's phases, waxing from new to full and then waning from full to new. The synodic cycle is approximately 29.5 days, which rounded off become 30. The 30 divisions of the synodic cycle are called tithis. The tithis add yet another layer of meaning, and are particularly significant in planning activities.


Vedic Astrology has a powerful predictive dimension, which is based not just upon the transits of planets through time but also upon the cycles of life, called dasas. This feature is unique to Jyotish. The nakshatra the Moon is in at the moment of birth determines the mahadasa that starts the life. Each mahadasa corresponds to a certain planet, and these dasas then unfold in a specific order, each lasting a specific amount of time, during which the karma promised by that planet ripens. As the birth chart reveals a potential, the dasas determine when that karma will manifest. It is a complex system, as there are many levels of sub-dasas, which can pin down the manifestation of karma to a very precise time frame.

Divisional Charts:

Divisional charts are another complex feature of Vedic Astrology. If the time of birth is very accurate, the birth chart can be divided into supplementary charts. You can think of it like a tree, with the birth chart being the trunk and the divisional charts being the branches. All the branches refer back to the trunk and depend upon it for their existence. The divisional charts provide a kaleidoscopic vision into various aspects of life, offering yet another layer of meaning. They corroborate or modify what the birth chart promises.

In the case of twins, for instance, where the birth charts are obviously very similar, the difference in time between the two births can make for significant differences in the higher divisional charts. In this way, the karma for the two lives diverges. Though twins share many characteristics, they each have a unique life path to fulfill. Calculating these charts accurately, however, requires extremely precise birth times.

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