Hinduism Astrology
by
Martin Gansten
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0109

Introduction

The Indian “science of [celestial] lights” (jyotiḥśāstra; also jyotiṣa, jyautiṣa) is composed of gaṇita (calculation) and phalita (prognostication), the former category corresponding approximately to “astronomy” in modern terminology, the latter to “astrology.” The present article deals with phalita, which is subdivided into horā (judicial astrology), based on the casting of horoscopes, and saṃhitā (natural astrology), which includes divinatory techniques not necessarily involving the heavenly bodies. The latter fact demonstrates the theoretical primacy of astrology as the most complex and systematic discipline of prognostication within Indian culture. Judicial astrology, in turn, comprises three main branches. While genethlialogy or natal astrology (jātaka) and catarchic or electional astrology (muhūrta) have Hellenistic roots, the third branch—interrogations or horary astrology (praśna)—may have originated in India, from where it then spread west. A certain amount of astral lore and astral divination did exist in India prior to the arrival of Hellenistic astrology, as is evident from Jaina and Buddhist sources as well as Vedic and post-Vedic texts; but whatever of this indigenous material has survived over the past two millennia has been absorbed into the greater tradition originating in the Hellenistic world. Although the theory and practice of astrology in India has been, and still is, predominantly Brahmanical, Jaina authors are also represented. As no perceptible difference in astrological doctrine exists between the two groups, no attempt has been made below to distinguish between them. The Sanskritized system of Perso-Arabic astrology known as Tājika, on the other hand, forms an independent school and has been treated separately. Compared with research on other aspects of Indian culture, and also with the historiography of astrology outside of South Asia, Indian astrology is a field remarkably neglected by scholarship, despite the fact that horoscopic astrology has enjoyed more widespread and lasting acceptance within India than in any other cultural environment, and continues to do so. As a result, while popular and nonscholarly publications on Hindu or Indian astrology (often misnamed “Vedic” astrology) currently abound, academically reliable secondary sources do not, and the same is true of text editions and translations. For this reason, many of the publications cited below represent the work of a relatively small number of authors, translators and editors.

General Overviews

The few scholarly overviews of Hindu astrology that exist are mostly brief and found within larger reference works on Hinduism; there is no Indological equivalent of, for instance, Bouché-Leclercq’s classic L’Astrologie Grecque (1899). The prolific writings of David Pingree are mainly concerned with the transmission and development of the astral sciences and mathematics (in India and elsewhere) and deal only peripherally with the actual tenets or methods of astrology; nevertheless, Pingree 1981, in particular, is an indispensable resource for any work in the field. Kane 1930–1962 contains more details on the divinatory aspects, while Yano 2003 largely focuses on calendar systems. Türstig 1980 and Gansten 2010 attempt more comprehensive overviews of Indian astrology; Gansten 2011 turns the attention from practice toward practitioners.

  • Gansten, Martin. “Astrology and Astronomy (Jyotiṣa).” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 2, Sacred Texts, Ritual Traditions, Arts, Concepts. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 281–294. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2010.

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    A brief treatment of the history of Hindu astrology and, to a lesser extent, astronomy and calendric systems. Fundamental astrological concepts and their relations to other religious doctrines are discussed in some detail and variant traditions touched on, along with medieval Perso-Arabic influences and encounters with Western modernity.

  • Gansten, Martin. “Astrologers.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 3, Society, Religious Specialists, Religious Traditions, Philosophy. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 217–221. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2011.

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    Discusses the varying status of astrologers within Hinduism and their roles as scholars, religious instructors and ritual specialists, chiefly on the basis of textual sources, from the pre-Hellenistic period up to the 20th century.

  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. 5 vols. Government Oriental Series, Class B, No. 6. Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1930–1962.

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    Contains much information directly or indirectly pertinent to astrology, scattered across what is in reality seven large books (Vols. 2 and 5 each being divided into two parts). The indices at the end of each volume are essential for locating the relevant material.

  • Pingree, David. Jyotiḥśāstra: Astral and Mathematical Literature. A History of Indian Literature 6.4. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1981.

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    A comprehensive introduction, remarkably rich for its modest size, dealing with the literature of Indian astronomy, mathematics and general divination, in addition to the various branches of astrology. The emphasis is on dates and lines of transmission, with only the briefest outlines of actual astrological doctrines.

  • Türstig, Hans-Georg. Jyotiṣa: Das System der indischen Astrologie. Beiträge zur Südasienforschung, Südasien-Institut, Universität Heidelberg 57. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1980.

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    Doctoral thesis aiming at a synthetic presentation of Hindu astrological methodology, regrettably compromised by the author’s idiosyncratic perspective and apparent lack of wider reading (outside of the two works which, in German translation, make up more than half the book: Sārāvalī of Kalyāṇavarman, on genethlialogy, and Vidyāmādhavīya or Muhūrtadarśana of Vidyāmādhava, on catarchic astrology). Includes detailed discussions of calendric material.

  • Yano, Michio. “Calendar, Astrology and Astronomy.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Edited by Gavin Flood, 276–292. London: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470998694E-mail Citation »

    Barely touches on astrology proper, despite the title, but contains valuable historical information on calendar system and the development of planet lore which is of relevance to the study of astrology.

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