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Nakshatras (Lunar Mansions)
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ken, thanks so much for the historical background of the nakshatras, and for filling in the details on Bepin Behari's view of the mansions. I never tuned in very well to Behari's writings, so am happy to know more about his Theosophical background. It's getting more and more difficult to separate the ancient teachings of India's astrology from modern overlays. Of course many of the zodiac basics were imported from the west anyway. This is an interesting study in itself.

It does seem that the mansions are useful mainly for muhurta. I enjoyed reading "Legend of the Southern Cross." I'm always happy when I come across translations of the older writings. But I've always wondered about the expression of the nakshatra stars now that some of them are out of alignment in the 27 mansion scheme.

For example, we know that Arcturus, Swathi's star, is in the same longitude as Spica so is now located in Chitra rather than our modern mansion of Swati. Why do all the modern mansion/nakshatra books place Arcturus in Swati? And what does this mean about the interpretation of that mansion? Likewise there are other misplaced nakshatra stars in the 27 mansion scheme.
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, Therese, it is true that the longitude of some important nakshatra stars is a bit "off."

However, al-Biruni, in his summary of Jyotish at the end of his book on India, remarks that he encountered two different ways in which astrologers noted the nakshatras: One of them was by way of 13.20 degrees, just as in contemporary Jyotish.

But al-Biruni also met astrologers who just marked the nakshatras visually, by naked eye astronomy, with no regard for degrees. This is probably the more ancient way of doing it. It is even possible that Abhijit was tossed out because 27 mansions made a better fit with the 360-degree Babylonian circle.

In fact, some stars have changed over time. The lunar mansion of Ardra is now marked by Betelgeuse, though there is some compelling evidence from the Aitareya Brahmana that Ardra was associated with Sirius in the earliest days.

A number of public buildings have been found in the Indus Valley which seem to be orientated to the risings and settings of Aldebaran (Rohini) and Antares (Jyeshta) at the vernal equinox c. 3000 BC. This would seem to indicate that the nakshatra stars have been important for a long, long time and that the calendar of India has been oriented to the vernal equinox for an equally long time.

If so, the original process of observing the nakshatras would have been solely by way of naked eye astronomy, as the Babylonians had not yet fully developed their sexagesimal system of mathematics or their 360-degree circle.

The archaic nature of the nakshatras can be seen in my translations -- note that the lists all begin with Krittika, which would have been the vernal equinox point around 2400 BC. For some reason, they never adjusted the nakshatras to arrive at a Bharani beginning, even though the vernal equinox would have been in Bharani when that text (the Shardulakarnavadana) was written. After the introduction of the Greek zodiac, they began their count with Ashvini, seemingly in order to harmonize their indigenous system more closely with the Greek zodiac and its 0 Aries beginning.
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In Answer to Varuna's criticisms:

I have practiced Jyotish since 1987, so can hardly be regarded as a strict tropicalist. Neither am I prepared to "stand on a soapbox" as we say in an American idiom, as I find both systems work well as long as we remain with the rules that apply to each system rather than attempting to mix them.

You do a disgrace to the memory of the great scholar David Pingree by suggesting cultural bias and even egotistical prejudice on his part. Many of my friends went to visit him at his office at Brown Univ, primarily with the goal of dicussing Hellenistic astrology. Instead, he wandered off topic, again and again, to India -- always in terms of the deepest affection and love. Of the many languages he spoke, Sanskrit was his first love, and he often wrote that no one could understand the history of astronomy unless they understood India. Fervid attempts by Vedic fundamentalists to discredit him are simply libelous in that regard. I have heard him accused of "hating India" simply because he did not buy into the revisionist (and intensely nationalist) notion that India originated everything at some mystical date thousands of years ago, and that the entire historical record is therefore a pack of lies.

I tend to come across two different attitudes: The Vedic attitude is that all astrology was "revealed" in India thousands and thousand of years ago, and thus all historical records to the contrary are falsifications created in an attempt to discredit India. I also come across the attitude of the Hellenists, who refuse to admit any inventiveness or originality whatsoever on the part of Sanskrit astrologers, and if confronted with something outside their knowledge, will spend days searching for any reference, no matter how trivial, that seems to point to a Greek rather than Sanskrit original for a particular doctrine.

Both of these extreme positions obscure a long and complex process of cultural interchange and syncretism which has been going on since the inhabitants of the Indus were listed as "visitors from Meluha" on the cuneiform tablets of Dilmun. This process of cultural interchange still goes on. After all, Alan Leo's "re-invention" of Western astrology c. 1890 was based largely on his time spent in India; some of his interpretations are simply Jyotish transferred to a tropical zodiac. Before Leo's time, the Eighth House was NEVER called the house of sex. This interpretation seems to be based onLeo's brief and cursory studies of Tantra, which he appears to have misunderstood rather drastically.

So I don't want to reduce discussions to the absurd by taking a fundamentalist stance for either tropical or sidereal, Western or Vedic. The wanderings of astrology along the old Silk Road constitute a cultural exchange of the most complex and important nature.

The entire reason that I went back to school for an MA when I was already in my 50s and majored in Sanskrit was in hopes of collecting previously unkown and untranslated texts (I have four or five now) and to translate at least parts of them in an attempt to shed a bit of light on the actual processes of cultural exchange inherent in the history and dissemination of astrology.

Sincerely,

Ken Johnson
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kenneth Johnson wrote:
Quote:
In fact, some stars have changed over time. The lunar mansion of Ardra is now marked by Betelgeuse, though there is some compelling evidence from the Aitareya Brahmana that Ardra was associated with Sirius in the earliest days.

Actually Betelgeuse is now in Mrigasirsha (mansion of Mars) along with other bright stars of Orion. Ardra has only the feet of the Gemini twins. A number of ancient nakshatra stars are more than "a bit off" in relation to the 27 mansions. So my question remains as to how ruling deities and characteristics of the ancient nakshatra stars are to be applied in today's practice of astrology?

I question if those who write today's astrology books ever studied a map of the sky based on the ecliptic (or observed the sky itself) and noted the actual position of the nakshatra stars in relation to today's mansions and signs of the zodiac? (Problems of the actual identification of nakshatra stars are mentioned in Surya Siddhanta, p. 210 in the Burgess translation (Delhi: Indological Book House, 1977).

This is not to denigrate your book, Ken, which is the text I recommend to anyone who asks about India's lunar mansions. But today's 27 mansions are not the ancient nakshatras. That's the point I am trying to make, because there is a fundamental problem involved in the actual use of the ancient nakshatra stars. Should the supposed influence of the ancient stars even extend beyond their immediate location?

Then exactly what are today's lunar mansions? Are they actually an entirely unique lunar zodiac with specific meanings and application? Should their symbolism match the primary stars within the boundaries of each mansion rather than artificially pinning ancient star meanings on to each mansion? Should each ancient nakshatra star be interpreted only in its actual location, no matter which modern mansion the star falls in when measured in ecliptic longitude? I believe these are important questions that (as far as I know) no one has researched or even thought about.

Then the 27 mansions have become aligned with the navamsas making four "quarters" in each mansion. The navamsa division certainly has nothing to do with ancient nakshatra stars.
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varuna2



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

delete

Last edited by varuna2 on Sat May 04, 2013 7:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 9:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Somewhat off-topic, and very briefly:

Kenneth Johnson wrote:
Alan Leo's "re-invention" of Western astrology c. 1890 was based largely on his time spent in India; some of his interpretations are simply Jyotish transferred to a tropical zodiac. Before Leo's time, the Eighth House was NEVER called the house of sex.

I wasn't aware that Leo had spent time in India; is that mentioned in his wife's biography of him? In any case, as far as I know there is no justification in any Sanskrit text either for connecting the eighth house with sex. It is connected with the sexual organs (just as in the west), but not with the act of coitus, which is assigned to the seventh house.
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I also wondered about Leo's time spent in India. I did a search and found Kim Farnell's biography of Leo on Skyscript. In part:

"...The court case may have been instrumental in prompting the Leo's trip to India later that year. As all good theosophists would, they joined the then president of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant, at the Society's headquarters in Adyar, Madras.
(...)
"The Leos returned to India in 1911, returning on 5 May with Annie Besant and Krishnamurti. They were the first to join the new theosophical organisation that revolved around Krishnamurti, The Order of the Star in the East..."

http://www.skyscript.co.uk/Alan_Leo.html
A list of sources is given at the end of the article, which is quite long.
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is in answer to Therese.

I think the mansions have to be linked with the actual stars, as these are "myths in the sky." Tying them to the actual zodiac will, or course, produce the precessional changes you mention, but perhaps this is why al-Biruni is so careful to mention that some astrologers just tracked the mansions by "naked eye astronomy" rather than relying on the zodiacal divisons of 13.20 degrees.

Consider Rohini and Jyestha. One is the goddess as nymph, the other is the goddess as crone. Both stars are red, and stand in opposition to each other. In ancient times, Rohini, the youthful one, seems to have been associated with the vernal equinox, when the days begin to grow longer (and "growth" is one possible nuance of the word rohini itself). As it says in the Mahabharata: "There was a time when Rohini was the beginning of the nakshtras." Likewise, they had the Crone Goddess Jyeshta at the autumn equinox, when the days grow shorter. This is a myth in the sky, and it is based upon the physical properties and the appearance of these two stars, Aldebaran and Antares.

Another example: Go out and take a look at the sky in the winter. First, you will see Aldebaran rise. After her comes Orion. While Orion is "the cosmic man" in both Egypt (Osiris) and India (Prajapati), what Westerners see as Orion's bow and arrow was seen as his out-stretched arm in India. This relates to the myth of how the god Prajapati chased his daughter Rohini (Aldebaran) through the sky, consumed with lust, reaching out towards her. The gods decided to destroy the world-maker Prajapati so as to prevent the world-shattering crime of incest. So the next thing rising after Orion is Sirius. This is Shiva (Rudra) the Destroyer, and he will shoot his arrow right through the middle of Prajapati (the arrow is Orion's belt).

So how can the meanings of Rohini (Aldebaran), Mrigashira (Prajapati) and Ardra (Shiva the Destroyer) be separate from the way we actually visualize them in the sky? Sure, a star may end up a tiny bit off the actual zodiacal boundaries of the mansion, but it is the meaning, the visual experience of sky, that prevails.

While some, like Schmidt, may argue that the Hellenistic texts are technical manuals altogether and contain no myth (and I am not sure I entirely agree with him on that point), the same cannot be said for the nakshatras. These are stories in the sky. If the computer program says that the Moon is in Rohini, I may not know for sure if the slow movement of the stars has led her to cross the "official" boundaries (I met some old Hawaiians who held up one finger next to a star and said, "In 72 years it will have crossed this finger, and our children will need to know about in order to navigate properly"), but I will take it for granted that the actual myth of the Red Goddess and her love affairs is the relevant theme here, and I will not worry too much if Aldebaran (the physical appearance of Rohini) is a bit off the mark.

In questions which seem to be a conflict between myth and math, I guess you could say that I am clearly on the side of myth.
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And in reply to Martin, it is most definitely true that no classical Sanskrit text connects the 8th with sex. Also correct that it is the 7th. In a few works, you will see cute poetic passages which say that the 5th House includes "the embraces of courtesans," but these texts are somewhat late, and all of them are later than the Arabic invasions, so we might have a bit of the Western 5th House = sensual delights thing going on here.

Actually, the 8th is never associated with sex in Hellenistic or medieval astrology either, and to the best of my knowledge does not even appear in Western astrology until Alan Leo. I did not mean to imply that he was relying upon standard Jyotish interpretations of the 8th House as somehow related to sex -- there were no such standard interpretations.

He knew just enough about Tantra to confuse some of its major premises. By associating sexual orgasm with "death of the ego personality," or as the French would say, "le petit mort," he came to think that sex and death should be in the same place.
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 6:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ken, it isn't precession that has changed the position of the ancient nakshatras. It's the relatively new boundaries that were set when the equal 27 mansions came into being. (I have no idea when that was.) So my questions remain unanswererd.

Contemporary books are not based on the visual experience. They're based on a misunderstanding of where the stars actually are in the sky (and where they always were). Somehow I don't think you're quite understanding what I'm trying to say.

Does anyone else wonder about the misalignment of the stars and their myths in today's mansions? Should the myths remain with the old nakshatra locations rather than be associated with the new mansions which aren't where some of them are located today?

Should Arcturus be associated with Swati when it's in the middle of Chitra, for example? Or does today's Swati have an entirely new meaning unrelated to Arcturus, perhaps because the Southern Cross lies within its boundaries? (There is no doubt in my mind that it's Swati that has given tropical Scorpio it's occult and mystical reputation.) Then the constellation of Libra lies in Vishaka, and that is a very different mansion from Swati. Those two mansions basically split tropical Scorpio in two.

What seems to have happened (in my observation) is that many of today's manson traits have developed through observation and folklore and don't have any real relationship to the nakshatra stars themselves. This isn't true in all cases since a number of the old nakshatras do fall within today's mansion boundaries of the same name.

But to me it makes no sense to continue to discuss a mansion in terms of stars that lie elsewhere. This really is a question of the location of fixed stars and constellations. If we don't understand the ecliptic location of stars, then we have a nice romantic sounding system that has no basis in the actual sky. Co-risings or course can give us a different picture, but those depend on one's location on the globe.

Wondering,
Therese
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 7:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kenneth Johnson wrote:
In a few works, you will see cute poetic passages which say that the 5th House includes "the embraces of courtesans," but these texts are somewhat late, and all of them are later than the Arabic invasions, so we might have a bit of the Western 5th House = sensual delights thing going on here.

I'd be very interested in seeing a reference for that, if you have one. The Indian reception of medieval Perso-Arabic astrology is a current research interest of mine.
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 7:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Therese Hamilton wrote:
Ken, it isn't precession that has changed the position of the ancient nakshatras. It's the relatively new boundaries that were set when the equal 27 mansions came into being. (I have no idea when that was.) So my questions remain unanswererd.

According to Prof. Michio Yano (I haven't checked this for myself, but I have no reason to doubt him) the 27 equal mansions go back to the Taittirīya-saṃhitā. Difficult to be precise about dates, as nearly always in India, but it's definitely BCE, so quite a while ago.
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Therese, you are perhaps the seventh or eighth individual I have encountered -- including some from India itself -- who have expressed frustration and difficulty re: conflicts between the mathematics of the nakshatras and their visible appearance in the sky.

Every astrologer has her or his own "tool kit," and none of us can use every single available tool. If you tried to use the Vimshottari, Yogini, Chara and Kalachakra dashas all in a single reading, you would be likely to lose the thread of the person's dharma in a mass of contradictions. So what do we do about it? We add the ones that work for us to our own "tool kit" and ignore the rest. Of the many techniques available in Jyotish -- from the Varshaphal to the Ashtakavarga to the Shad Bala and so on -- I have never met anyone, even pundits from India, who used ALL of them.

If the mathematical inconsistencies of the nakshatras prove intensely bothersome to you, my own suggestion would be to simply leave them out. While I have known some astrologers from India -- notably Chakrapani Ullal -- who made abundant use to the nakshatras in their readings, I have known others -- especially K. N. Rao -- who seldom or never even mentioned them. If they cause you a great deal of difficulty, you don't really need to use them. While some Jyotish texts, notably Brhat Jataka, Phaladeepika and so on, have chapters devoted to birth in the nakshatras, Parashara does not.

It's a choice. I like 'em. Others don't. Like any other astrologer, you will construct the "tool kit" that works best for you.
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2012 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ken, you are begging the question and being somewhat condescending. I'm not asking these questions for myself, but in the interests of a better and more honest astrology for everyone. If the 27 mansions are a separate entity from the ancient nakshatras, then we need to explore that possibility.

I'm not asking you or anyone else to dispense with Indian mythology. But the myths need to be in their proper location in the stellar scheme of the sky. They cannot be artificially placed elsewhere for the sake of creating a nice mythological scheme of measurement, which is what is currently happening in the modern books.

I'm quite convinced that the 27 mansions are a reality, and constitute the evolution of astrology through the ages reflecting our developing human consciousness. We have much more to learn about them, and I'm working on research projects in this area now. But (as I said before) the old nakshatras are only partly related to these 27 divisions. For those who don't have Surya Siddhanta, it seems that Burgess still has the latest word on the 28 nakshatras and 27 mansions:

It will be at once noticed that while in a former passage (ii. 64) the ecliptic was divided into twenty-seven equal arcs, as portions for the asterisms, we have here presented to us twenty-eight asterisms, very unequally distributed along the ecliptic, and at greatly varying distances from it. And it is a point of so much consequence, in order to the right understanding of the character and history of the whole system, to apprehend closely the relation of the groups of stars to the arcs allotted to them, that we have prepared the accompanying diagram....
(Surya Siddhanta, p. 207 in the Burgess translation (Delhi: Indological Book House, 1977).

It seems (according to Burgess) that the nakshatras represent specific areas of the sky while the identifying stars are termed "junction stars:"

"The stars of which the text thus accurately defines the positions do not, in most cases, by themselves alone, constitute the asterisms (nakshatras); they are only the principle members of the several groups of stars--each, in the calculation of conjunctions (yoga) between the planets and the asterisms...representing its group and therefore called..."Junction-star" (yogatara) of the asterism." (p. 207)

(The term "junction star" is somewhat misleading as we tend to associate a junction with the boundary between two areas rather than as a central marker.)
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Kenneth Johnson



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Posted: Mon Aug 20, 2012 1:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Therese, I had not intention of being condescending. In point of fact, I do know many astrologers from India who don't use the nakshatras in their work. An astrologer's tool kit is typically made up of the technqiues that work well for them personally. I myself gladly toss out anything that refuses to yield to my experiments; for example, I can't get Varshaphal to work for me worth beans, so I simply use other methods of prediction. If a certain technique is giving me problems, I just switch to one which feels easy and natural to me and gives good results. I don't see how that sort of strategy in our profession can be considered condescending.

The nakshatras have occupied their current boundaries for quite a long time, at least since Minaraja (c. 325 CE), though Martin cites an earlier source, the Taittiriya Samhita, which I have not yet explored but which I hope I can find somewhere -- thanks for the reference, Martin. That there were 28 nakshatras at one time is clear -- the Mahabharata reference I cited earlier is explicit on that point, and all the earliest lists I have been able to examine give 28.

Eventually one reaches a point where all is confusion -- if there were 28 nakshatras, they could not have been 13.20 degrees each, thus causing difficulties regarding some of our most cherished concepts, inc. the idea that 27 mansions of 4 padas each will equal the Hindu magic number 108. Personally, my own feeling is that the references in the Atharva Veda as well as in many of the Brahmanas suggest that they were originally marked by naked-eye observation, as these tremendously early dates would seem to be earlier than the adoption of sexagesimal Babylonian math. In his massive book on the Indus script, Asko Parpola tried to push the nakshatras back to about 3200 BCE, though it is only fair to say that many or perhaps even most of his colleagues disagree with him.

In my own head-scratching moments about the mansions, I have often wondered if all the mathematical formulae are nothing more than a rather unsuccessful attempt to quantify a system which was once based entirely upon observation -- but if I were to suggest such a thing to some of my Vedic colleagues, I would not only experience "condescension" but most likely be burned in effigy.
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