The word horoscope literally means a targeted moment in time. “Hora” is a “moment of time” similar to muhurtha, and “scope” comes from the Greek “skopos” meaning to target. By focusing on a particular moment in time through the “coordinates” of birth time, date and place, the horoscope isolates a particular part of the whole that corresponds to a particular individual, and by reading that moment in time, one is able to “read” the individual. This is the basis of Hindu Astrology. See Hindu Astrology, Foundations.
There are two other commonly heard words used by Hindi speakers to refer to the horoscope. They are kundali and janma patri. A kundali is a circle and janma patri is the “birth page.” In one form or another the horoscope is a circular diagram and so the word kundali is used. It is common to have a person’s horoscope prepared immediately upon birth, hence the idea of birth page. As we noted a horoscope is nothing more than a snapshot of time, which also means that it is a snapshot of the sky. More specifically, it is a symbolic representation of the sky at a particular moment in time. Usually this is the time of one’s birth, but not necessarily so. A horoscope can be prepared for any occasion, the construction of a building, the time of a marriage, the signing of a contract, and so on.
Under the section, The Making of the Hindu Calendar, we mentioned the solar ecliptic. The sun’s path across the sky from east to west and extending about 10 degrees above and below this ecliptic is known as the band of the zodiac. This 360 degree band is divided into twelve 30 degree segments known as the signs of the zodiac, rashis in Sanskrit. The first sign is Aries, which is then followed by Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, and so on. Both Western and Hindu astrology use these signs of the zodiac in the same order. In Hindu astrology, not only is this system of zodiac signs used, but there is also another way of dividing the zodiac and this is the nakshatras system, which divides the zodiac into twenty-seven 13 1/3 degree segments called nakshatras. This adds another level of interpretation to Hindu astrology that is generally not found in Western astrology. We will not be discussing this Nakshatra system of interpretation as it goes into more details than necessary here.
When an astrological chart is prepared, Hindu astrology first calculates the astronomical position of nine celestial influences (see Nava Graha) and then places them on a symbolic diagram called a horoscope. In addition to these nine influences, the sign that is rising above the eastern horizon for the time of the event is also calculated and shown on the horoscope. This is called the ascending sign of the zodiac or the lagna in Sanskrit. This ascending sign then becomes the starting point or first house of interpretation for the chart.
There are different ways of expressing this “snapshot” of the sky. The common North Indian method uses a set of diamond shaped boxes to show the various signs of the zodiac and it is read in a counter clockwise direction. The typical South Indian method uses a system of rectangular boxes that is read in a clockwise direction. There is also a Bengali style that is read in a counterclockwise direction. All these methods do the same thing, namely symbolically show the various celestial influences at a particular moment in time and place, and in their respective signs of the zodiac.
So far as preparing a chart is concerned, the endeavor is simply astronomy, a description or snapshot of the sky. The astrology comes in when we attempt to derive meaning from celestial bodies and their positions in the zodiac. What does it mean to have Mars in Aries or the moon in Leo. What does it mean when Saturn is with Mars in Aries? What does it mean when Jupiter is five zodiac signs after the moon? What does it mean when the sun and Saturn are 180 degrees apart? The answers to these questions constitutes astrology.
Astrology, which involves the analysis of a intricate system of planetary and other relationships and their subsequent interpretations, cannot be adequately described in this short discussion. It is possible, however, to provide a basic understanding of how an astrologer approaches his or her craft, which can be useful if a person ever goes to to an astrologer to have a horoscope prepared and read.
In Hindu astrology the nine celestial influences that are used for interpretation are: the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the north and south lunar nodes (Rahu and Ketu). There are other influences that are sometimes examined, but they are not important for our purposes. In addition to these 9 celestial influences, an astrologer will also examine the signs of the zodiac where these celestial influences are located, the houses in which they are residing, and certain key relationships between these components. In addition, an astrologer will also calculate the planetary periods (dashas) that are used to determine when events are likely to occur in a particular chart. Each of the celestial bodies, plus the signs of the zodiac and the houses carry symbolic meanings that are used to make an astrological interpretation. Here is a brief description of some the symbolic meaning of the celestial bodies, the astrological the signs and the houses of interpretation, which will be useful in understanding how an astrologer makes a reading.
The Nine Celestial Influences (Grahas)
The sun is the soul, the heart, the father, authority, heat, power and ambition.
The moon is the mind, mother, water, coolness, emotions, memory and common sense.
Mars is courage, bravery, sports, competition, maleness, passion, action, war, cuts and burns.
Mercury is intelligence, learning, teaching, speech, expression, communication and writing.
Jupiter is fortune, expansion, wealth, children, religion, philosophy and wisdom.
Venus is marriage, love, romance, luxuries, prosperity, femininity, artistic expression, grace, and beauty.
Saturn is slowness, struggle, discipline, dryness, labor, asceticism, accidents, and chronic disease.
Rahu is material desire, dullness, ignorance, laziness, sleep and addictions and ancestral karma.
Ketu is asceticism, spirituality, psychic ability, ghosts, eccentricity and occultism.
The Signs of the Zodiac (Rashis)
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and is ruled by Mars and so has many of the qualities of this planet. Aries is action, impulse, independence, force, self-expression and competition.
Taurus is the next sign and is ruled by Venus. Taurus is the earth, feelings, stability, conservation, relationships and partnerships.
Gemini is ruled by Mercury. Gemini is energy, nervousness, restlessness, intellect, language, artistic ability, and communications.
Cancer is ruled by the moon, which is mind and the mother. Cancer is openness, friendship, sympathy, care, nurturing, emotions, family and the home.
Leo is ruled by the sun and therefore stands for heat, order, harmony, and central control. Leo is ambition, power will, pride, show and drama.
Virgo is ruled by Mercury. Virgo stands for intellect, command of language, nervousness and sensitivity. Virgo is also detail and precision.
Libra is ruled by Venus. Libra is leadership, power, command of ideas and idealism. Libra is reform, revolution, prophets, and even fanaticism.
Scorpio is ruled by Mars. Scorpio is secretive, sensual, sexual and eccentric. Scorpio is both physical and mental, and so stands for martial force as well as psychic force.
Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter and stands for grace, beneficence, completion and harmony. Sagittarius is expansion, morality, justice, philosophy and religion.
Capricorn is ruled by Saturn and therefore signifies hard work, perseverance, tenacity and accomplishment. Capricorn is also power, order and organization.
Aquarius is also ruled by Saturn and tends to exhibit the dark side of Saturn. Aquarius is deviation, occultism, eccentricity, but also includes sacrifice, humanitarianism, ingenuity and faith.
Pisces is ruled by Jupiter. Pisces stands for emotion, expansion, intuition, liberation and imagination. Pisces is also dependance and conservatism.
The Houses of Interpretation (Bhavas)
There are 12 houses of interpretation. The first house is always determined by the place of the rising sign, the second house follows after that, and so on. Each of the houses have the following symbolic importance:
The first house is the house of life purpose and physical existence. It indicates the self, the ego, character, appearance, the head and general well being.
The second house is money, wealth, self expression, knowledge, speech, family and imagination.
The third house shows courage, bravery, efforts, adventures, brothers and sisters, enthusiasm and motivations.
The fourth house shows mother, the heart, land, buildings, comforts, vehicles, happiness and ancestral property.
The fifth house is children, intelligence, learning, destiny, government, investment, romance, and charity.
The sixth house shows health, illness, enemies, litigation, obstacles, subordinates and employees.
The seventh house is the spouse, married life, relationships, partners, and foreign residence.
The eighth house is longevity, death, wills and inheritance, legacy, taxes, occult matters, secrets and sex.
The Ninth house is father, fortune, solutions, religion, philosophy, faith, worship, wisdom and long journeys.
The ten house shows career, fame, worldly power, professional activities, honors, and life purpose.
The eleventh house shows gains, wealth, opportunities, major goals and desires,
The twelfth house is expenditure, loss, insanity, imprisonment, final salvation, the state after death, secret sexual pleasures, and life in remote places.
Planetary periods (Dashas)
Hindu astrologers have observed that life has certain “moods” or “phases,” which are governed by the nine celestial influences. In Sanskrit these planetary periods are called periods (dashas). Every life has a sun period, a moon period, a Mars period, a Jupiter period, and so on. These periods last for different time lengths. A sun period always lasts for six years, a moon period for ten years, a Mars period for seven years, a Venus period for twenty years, etc., so that the total number of years for all the planetary periods is 120 years. Why the length of each planetary period varies and how these planetary periods are determined is a technical matter that goes beyond the scope of this discussion, suffice to say that each chart will have these different planetary periods. The value in knowing the planetary periods is to understand when, for example, the influence of the sun will be strongest in the person’s life and therefore to know when sun related influences are most likely to occur. The same for the moon and Mars, and all the other planets. This helps in prediction. You might compare the idea of planetary periods to music. For a certain time a song may be in the key of C, then the song changes to the key of D minor, and then to another key. During the “C period” the music will have a certain sound and mood, but when it changes to D minor the music exhibits a different sound and mood. In this way a life will go through its different planetary periods and during each period will have a certain tone and mood, so to speak. Planetary periods are also divided into smaller sub-periods and then even into sub-sub-periods. This gives the astrologer even more ability to make predictions. The matter of planetary periods is complex, but at least to know in a general way about these periods will help a person understand how an astrologer reads a chart.
How astrologers derive meaning from these symbols is logical and easy to understand. What would it mean, for example, if Mars, the planet of conflict and war, was in the fourth house of home along with the moon, the planet of mother and mind? This would suggest troubles with mother, troubles in the home and disturbances of the mind. Instead of Mars what would it mean if Jupiter was in the fourth house along with the moon? This would suggest prosperity in the home, happiness with mother, and peace in the mind. What would it mean if Saturn and Mars, the planets of struggle and conflict, were together in the 10th house of career? This would suggest conflict, delay, and struggles, yet the drive to success in one’s career. And what if Mars was in the seventh house of marriage? This would suggest war and conflict within the marriage and perhaps even divorce. And what if the moon or Jupiter, positive influences, were in the seventh house instead of Mars. This would be good for marriage and suggests happiness and children. These examples are simple and straight forward, but life is more complicated than this. What would it mean, therefore, if the moon and Jupiter were in the seventh house of marriage along with Saturn or Mars? In this case we have good influences mixed with evil influences. Would this mean some good and some bad effects? But how much good and how much evil? And when would the good occur and when would the evil occur? Would the marriage even survive? Would a second marriage also have these mixed effects? Now the matter becomes complicated and only the careful and experienced analysis of a trained astrologer can sort these influences out and make an informed opinion about the marriage. Astrologers have many mathematical systems to measure the strengths of these influences and to determine the times in life when these influences, both positive and negative, will be in force. Even though more detail on this topic goes beyond the scope of this discussion, the reader, at least, has an idea of how an astrologer approaches his craft. There is a lot of learning that goes into a sound astrological interpretation.
Gems and Pujas
Once a chart has been analyzed and a reading given, it is normal to find both negative and positive influences within a chart. Even a “good” planet may bestow negative results and a “bad” planet can bestow positive results under the right conditions, and so a client may want a way to diminish these negative effects or increase the positive influences. In Hinduism there are many ways that this can be attempted, but the two most common ways are through the wearing of gems or the performance of puja. The idea behind the wearing of gems is as follows. Every planetary influence has both a positive and negative side. The moon, for example, is generally a positive influence, but it also has a negative side, dark emotions and insanity. Mars is generally not a positive influence. It is war and conflict, but it is also courage and strength–good qualities. So even Mars has a positive side. In general, planets that are strongly positioned in a chart bestow their positive side and planets that are weakly positioned bestow their negative side. Each planet is also associated with a certain gem stone (and even a metal and a color, etc.) Jupiter is yellow sapphire, the Moon is white pearl, Mercury is green emerald, Mars is red coral, and so forth. By wearing the gem of a particular planet one increases the power of that planet and thereby brings out the positive qualities of that planet. If the moon is weak in a chart, one could increase the power of the moon by wearing a pearl. A yellow sapphire would increase the strength of Jupiter; an emerald would increase the effect of mercury; a diamond would do the same for venus, etc. The gem would also be put on at a time when the influence of the respective planet is highest. For example, a pearl, for the moon, would first be put on during a Monday, the moon’s day. A diamond would be put on for Venus on Friday. In this way, you can often get a good indication of a person’s astrological condition by noticing the kinds of rings they wear. People will often wear multiple rings for various astrological reasons.
The idea behind an astrological puja is as follows. If it is determined that Mars is a enemy in a particular chart, in other words, Mars exerts a negative influence, then a puja for Mars could be performed. During the puja, symbolically Mars is invited and treated as a guest and shown all respect and honor by being bathed, fed and given gifts, etc. In other words, one way to neutralize an enemy is to make him your “friend.” The idea behind a puja is to invite your enemy over for a “visit” and make him your friend by honoring him food and gifts and thereby decreasing his negative influence over you. The appropriate gem, a red coral in the case of Mars, may also be put on during the Mars puja. And of course, the puja would be performed on a Tuesday, Mar’s day. These kinds of astrological pujas are called Nava Graha pujas and they are commonly performed within Hinduism. By far the most commonly performed astrological pujas are for Saturn, Mars and Rahu, the three most “cruel” of celestial influences.
The Uses of Astrology
Hindu astrology is a vast subject and in these short pages I have tried to explain in simple terms the basic workings of astrology, how an astrologer makes an interpretation, and some of the techniques that astrologers use to affect positive change. In the hands of an experienced astrologer, astrology can be a powerful tool for good. It can give insights into one’s character, into one’s strengths and weaknesses, and into the subtle forces around us, but like any tool it must be used with discretion and caution, and it has limitations. An immature astrologer can cause havoc in the minds of parents by telling them of a child’s future diseases, divorce and even premature death. On the other hand, an astrologer can see hidden talents and encourage parents to cultivate these strengths within their child. An astrological chart can be used to understand the basic psychology of a couple and thereby help a troubled relationship. It can give a partner insight and strategies in dealing with a difficult relationship. But astrology can also lead to dependency, and to a situation where a person avoids taking responsibility for one’s life. So like most things in life it has positive and negative aspects. It is to the credit of Hinduism that it has managed to keep within its fold an ancient discipline such as astrology. As the world continues to develop and move ahead it is good that there are traditions like Hinduism that preserve and even keep thriving one of the oldest of all human pursuits.