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History of Indian Astrology | Vedic Golden Age Myth | Horoscope..
Have you heard books such as “Doctrine of Romans”, “Doctrine of Paul” (Greek Origin) or book written by the “Lord of Greeks”? Those are not Christian books but foundational, canonical texts of India astrology. Did you know that Greeks were once called as Rishis by Indian Astrology books and Mahabharata even calls Greeks as omniscient? In this article, Jerry Thomas demonstrates that the Indian astrology is heavily indebted to Babylon, Greece and Rome. If astrology, one of the six limbs of Vedas, itself is heavily indebted to Greeks and others, do we need to even say how hollow is Vedic centric ideology of Hindutva?
See the video and subscribe Sakshi Apologetics Network English YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/ScPKuXgO-4E
Jyotisha or astrology is considered as one of the six limbs or auxiliary disciplines of Vedas. However, jyotisha is not merely horoscope or some divinations as it is popularly understood. Bill M Mak of Needham Research Institute, Cambridge says:
“the prevalent classification of jyotisa works follows the tripartite scheme of ganita (mathematical astronomy), hora (genethical astrology or horoscope), and Samhita (miscellaneous divinations). From the little that is left within the Vedic corpus, we know that jyotisa was originally conceived as a science concerning matters such as agriculture, religious rites and the mantic lore, affairs which fall within the domain of “Vedic priestly astronomers”. As it gradually developed into a specialized and practical science which all traditional pundits were trained into, it is but natural that the materials were classified according to their applications” (Source: INDIAN “JYOTIṢA” THROUGH THE LENS OF CHINESE BUDDIST CANON, Journal of Oriental Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (June 2015)).
If jyotisha has these three classifications, then it follows that by looking at the roots of jyotisha, we are also looking at the roots of Indian Mathematics (a secular subject), as well as at the root of Hindu astrology (a Hindu religious subject). If it can be demonstrated that Indian astrology is heavily drawn from foreign sources, then it may also imply that Indian mathematics might have been heavily influenced by foreign sources (which will be a separate article) and Hindu religion is heavily indebted to foreign sources.
While the primary purpose of the article is to demonstrate the foreign sources of Hindu which practices (namely astrology), it is also intended to set the stage for the next article, basically, the contribution of Indian mathematics. Hence, a major share of the article is focused on what is known as the Golden Age of Indian Mathematics (AD 400 – 1600).
WHO LEARNDED FROM WHOM?
Varāhamihira (AD 505-587), was one of the greatest astrologers of India, who lived during the Golden Age of Indian Mathematics. He wrote impressive works on astrology. One of his work is titled as Brihat Samhita.
In Brihat Samhita, Adhyaya 2: Sloka 14 (Translation by Panditabhusana V Subrahmanya Sastri):
The Yavanas are of low origin. When this science has come to stay with them and when such astrologers are worshipped as sages, how much more should an astrologer of Brahmin origin be?
Greeks were called as Yavanas in the Indian literature. This sloka says that as astrology was well established among the Greeks and therefore, they were also considered as rishis. It is clear from this passage that the ancient Indians knew about Greek astrology and Greek astrologers were respected by ancient Indians. However, the question is whether the Greeks learned astrology from Indians or Indians learned astrology from Greeks or both exchanged their knowledge in astrology. A passage from Swami Vivekananda highlights the controversy.
Swami Vivekananda writes:
Professor Max Müller says in one of his books that, whatever similarities there may be, unless it be demonstrated that some one Greek knew Sanskrit, it cannot be concluded that ancient India helped ancient Greece in any way. But it is curious to observe that some Western savants, finding several terms of Indian astronomy similar to those of Greek astronomy, and coming to know that the Greeks founded a small kingdom on the borders of India, can clearly read the help of Greece on everything Indian, on Indian literature, Indian astronomy, Indian arithmetic. Not only so; one has been bold enough to go so far as to declare that all Indian sciences as a rule are but echoes of the Greek!
On a single Sanskrit Shloka —
. . . — “The Yavanas are Mlechchhas, in them this science is established, (therefore) even they deserve worship like Rishis, . . .”
— how much the Westerners have indulged their unrestrained imagination! But it remains to be shown how the above Shloka goes to prove that the Aryas were taught by the Mlechchhas. The meaning may be that the learning of the Mlechchha disciples of the Aryan teachers is praised here, only to encourage the Mlechchhas in their pursuit of the Aryan science.
Secondly, when the germ of every Aryan science is found in the Vedas and every step of any of those sciences can be traced with exactness from the Vedic to the present day, what is the necessity for forcing the far-fetched suggestion of the Greek influence on them? “What is the use of going to the hills in search of honey if it is available at home?” as a Sanskrit proverb says.
Source: Complete-Works / Volume 4 / Translations: Prose, THE PARIS CONGRESS OF THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS (Translated from Bengali from a Paris letter written to the Udbodhana.), Vivekananda, Swami. Complete Works Of Swami Vivekananda: All Volume. Kindle Edition.
While one may look at the possibility of knowledge sharing between cultures or transmission being a two-way traffic (as in many other subjects), Vedic-centrism of Swami Vivekananda does not allow Indians learning from Greek.
“The meaning may be that the learning of the Mlechchha disciples of the Aryan teachers is praised here, only to encourage the Mlechchhas in their pursuit of the Aryan science”.
“Secondly, when the germ of every Aryan science is found in the Vedas and every step of any of those sciences can be traced with exactness from the Vedic to the present day, what is the necessity for forcing the far-fetched suggestion of the Greek influence on them? “What is the use of going to the hills in search of honey if it is available at home?” as a Sanskrit proverb says.”
It is this attitude that needs to be refuted. Let us begin the investigation to see if the Indian astrology has borrowed from Greek and other sources.
David Pingree – Major Milestones of Indian Astrology
David Pingree (AD 1933-2005) was a professor of Mathematics and Classics at Brown University. David Pingree studied ancient astrology, mathematics and magic across Asia and Europe and how those were transmitted within cultures and how they changed when it was transmitted from one culture to another. David Pingree’s remarkable contribution with regards to Indian astrology is in demonstrating how the Indian astrology borrowed from Babylon, Greek, Roman sources. Some of David Pingree’s proposals have been contested (e.g. no originality in Indian astrology) and even disproven in the light of new manuscript evidence (e.g. dating of Yavanajataka). However, much of his thesis are valid and useful. David Pingree’s division of Indian astrology in to different chronological periods based on their borrowing is still helpful.
In the paper, INDIAN “JYOTIṢA” THROUGH THE LENS OF CHINESE BUDDIST CANON”, in the Journal of Oriental Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (June 2015), pp. 1-19 (19 pages), Published by: The School of Chinese, The University of Hong Kong and Center for Chinese Language and Cultural Studies, Stanford University, Bill M. MAK writes:
“A more historically rigorous but contentious approach was attempted by Pingree, who classified India jyotisa based on the assumed places of origin of the materials, which fall largely into five historical periods: i) Vedic (ca 1000-400 BCE); ii) Babylonian (ca 400 BCE -200 BCE):e.g. Vedangajyotisa (VJ); iii) Greco-Babylonian (ca 200-400 BCE):e.g. Yavanajataka (YJ); iv) Greek (ca 400-1600): e.g. Aryabatiya, PS; and v) Islamic (ca 1600- 1800). Pingree’s scheme is the fruit of a lifetime’s work dedicated to the comparison of astronomical materials of different ancient cultures, including Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Arabic. While many of Pingree’s arguments are sound and logical, some critics maintain that “the problem of transmission is far too complex to be settled or explained”.
Of these five stages proposed (it can be reduced to four as well with clubbing of second and third stage together as cultural exchanges with Greeks had happened even before Emperor Alexander), we will primarily focus on the third stage (as there are explicit books devoted even then on this subject – a period of Aryabhata, Varāhamihira, Bhaskara I, etc). However, a few comments are in order. There has been much debate on the dating of Vedangajyotisa and its contents.
Dating of Vedangajyotisa: Some of the Vedic-centric scholars have attempted to date vendangajyotisa to BC 1300. Let me quote Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University.
Autochthonous Aryans The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts, Michael Witzel, Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Volume 7 (2001), Issue 3
“Another favorite item brought forward for an early date of the Vedic texts has been the date assigned to the Jyotisa of Lagadha, a Vedanga text attached to the Rig Veda tradition (a later version exists in the Yajurveda tradition as well). Since this is an appendix to the Veda, virtually all other Vedic texts must predate it. Its date, however, hinges on that assigned to the solstice as described in this text. The basic question is the same as in the case of the Krttika equinox: whether the description as given in the Jyotisa is also the date of the text in which it is transmitted. Again, this would mean to date the text according to its earliest item.
Sastry (1985: 15) agrees as far as the date of the Jyotiaa text itself is concerned and adds the observation that its astronomical system is the same as that taught in the Gargasamhita, which Pingree (1987: 295) places in the 5th or 4th centuries BCE. However, one of its constituent parts, the Yuga Purana, which mentions the post-Alexandrian Greeks, was dated by Mitchiner (1986: 82) only to the end of the last century BCE.
Further indication for a late date of the Jyotiaa is that the language of the text is post-Vedic, which lets Sastry assume that it was redacted by someone belonging “the last centuries BC” (1985: 12). However, it must be added and stressed that the text is actually composed in late Epic language. It has not been noticed that it does not only have the typical long compounds, but also those with tat– as first part, and many metrical ‘space fillers’ such as tu, caiva, tatha, tathaiva ca, eva ca, api ca, which must necessarily be part of the very composition. The particle vai occurs once, however not, as usual in Vedic, in second position of a sentence or Pada but at the end of a Pada (along with eva ca!). This agrees with late Epic practice, as seen in Mbh. 12 and Ram. 1 and 7 (Witzel, in prep.).”
In other words,
- Dating of the text should be according to its earliest item in the text (of course later items can be dismissed as interpolations as per convivence)
- Similarity between the astronomical system of Vedanga Jyotisa and Gargasamhita, a book that explicitly acknowledges Greek proficiency of astrology (Gargasamhita) should be overlooked. Gargasamhita contains the same sloka that was referred initially in Brihat Samhita
- Vedandga Jyotisa was composed in the late Epic language which would be make it a candidate for the last centuries of BC. Of course, that must be assumed as redacted and not the period of composition!!!
We would leave the controversy over Vedanga Jyotisa with those brief comments for time being and would examine the foreign materials that are explicitly acknowledged. We will return to Varāhamihira whom we quoted initially from Brihat Samhita.
At this point, since a similarity between Gargasamhita and Vedanga Jyotisa has been cited, let me also point out the difference between Gargasamhita and the previously vedic content.
Bill M Mak, in his paper titled Greco-Babylonian Astral Science in Asia: Patterns of Dissemination and Transformation, writes about Gargasamhita:
If Babylonian astral science plays a vital role in its Hellenistic counterpart, and if the Indians were in contact with the Hellenistic world even before Alexanderʼs campaign, it would not be inconceivable to find Babylonian elements in the early Indian astral sources. Since Mesopotamia was in fact geographically closer to India and was culturally dominant in Eurasia before the rise of the Greeks, one would reasonably expect some form of contact between the Indians and the Babylonians, whether directly or mediated by other intermediary cultures. It was under such assumption that Neugebauer and Pingree engaged in the comparative analysis between Babylonian astronomical and astrological materials and their Indian counterpart. As Neugebauer was a mathematician, he was interested mostly in the mathematical elegance in an astronomical system. The Babylonian astronomical system is characterized by the use of twelve-part division of the celestial sphere as coordinate (zodiac signs),the use of sexagesimal unit and an arbitrary division of a synodic month into thirty “days” in the lunar table. For the first two, since they are not present in the entire Vedic corpus, chronologically they were most likely transmitted to India as part of Hellenistic astral science. For the last feature, it finds a correspondence in the Indian concept of “tithi,” that is, the arbitrary division of a synodic month into thirty parts.
Or to highlight Bill M Mak the use of twelve-part division of the celestial sphere as coordinate (zodiac signs),and the use of sexagesimal unit are absent in Vedic literature and could be borrowed from Babylon sources.
We will now focus on the third stage of Indian Astrology in David Pingree’s chronology.
THIRD STAGE OF ASTROLOGY (GOLDEN AGE OF INDIAN MATHEMATICS): BORROWING FROM THE GREEKS
Varāhamihira (AD 505-587), as mentioned previously, was one of the greatest astrologers of India, who lived during the Golden Age of Indian Mathematics.We had previously quoted Varāhamihira’s Brihat Samhita and discussed Swami Vivekananda’s interpretation of it. We will now discuss about Panca Siddhantika, another significant work of Varahamihira.
Varāhamihira wrote Pancasiddhantika (or the five doctrinal schools of astrology). What are those five? We will be quoting from Pancasiddhantika of Varhamihira, with translation and notes by T S Kupanna Sastry unless otherwise indicated.
Pancasiddhantika Chapter 1: 3 – The five Siddhantas of which the work is a compendium, are the Paulisa, the Romaka, the Vasistha, the Saura and Paitamaha. Of these five, the first two viz the Paulisa and the Romaka have been commented upon by Latadeva.
Now Varahamihira compares the accuracy of each of five schools with the chief of the five angas in astrology tithi (others being vara, naksatra, yoga and karana). And he says:
Pancasiddhantika Chapter 1: 4 The tithi resulting from the Paulisa is tolerably accurate and that of the Romaka approximate to that. The tithi of the Saura is very accurate. But that of the remaining two (viz the Vasistha and the Paitamaha) have slipped away (from the real).
Let us now look at what these are:
- Paulisa Siddhanta or Doctrine of Paul – A Work of Greek Origin
Krishna Venkateswara Sarma (KV Sharma 1919-2005), was a distinguished Indian historian of science. In his entry onPaulisa Siddhanta in “Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures by Helaine Selin (eds)”, Page 3496, he writes:
“Paulis´a, of Greek origin, is the originator of the Paulis´a Siddhānta, one of the five systems of astronomy of the early centuries of the Christian era. These were selectively redacted in the Pan˜casiddhāntikā of Varāhamihira, the prodigious Indian astronomer-astrologer of the sixth century AD. According to a traditional verse attributed to the sage Kās´yapa, Paulis´a is one of the 18 originators of Indian astronomical systems. Al‐Bīrūnī, the Persian scholar who sojourned in India from 1017 to 1030, stated that Paulis´a Siddhānta was written by Paulus‐ul‐Yunani, i.e., “Paulus, the Greek.” Probably the Hindus prepared an Indianized Sanskrit Paulis´a Siddhānta on the basis of the Greek work. This original Sanskrit work is no longer available, and neither is the commentary on that work by Lāṭadeva, which was referred to by Varāhamihira in Pan˜casiddhāntikā I.3. However, the redaction of the Siddhānta in Pan˜casiddhāntikā is fairly full and provides ample details about the nature and contents of the work. The Paulis´a system has certain things in common with the Romaka Siddhānta and with the Vāsiṣṭha Siddhānta, two of the other systems redacted in Pan˜casiddhāntikā.”
One of the five canonical texts of Indian astrology is of Greek origin. While the modern scholarship doesn’t agree with the identification of Paul with the Paul of Alexandria as the medieval Al Biruni did, we can be sure that it is of Greek origin.
- Romaka Siddhanta or Doctrine of Romans
T S Kupanna Sastry on the Commentary of Pancasiddhantika Chapter 1: 3 says “Surya himself, being born among the Yavanas by the curse of Brahma, taught the science to Romaka and Duryavana in the city of Romaka, and Romaka propounded it as the Romaka Siddhanta.”
So, another of the five canonical texts of Indian astrology is of Roman Origin.
- Doctrine of Asura
Surya Siddhanta, like many other Sanskrit texts would have undergone changes.
In Surya Siddhanta Chapter 1:2-3 (Translation by Lancelot Wilkison and Revised by Pundit Bapu Deva Sastri) we read:
“Sometime before the end of Krita Yuga, a great demon named Maya, being desirous of obtaining the sound, secret, excellent, sacred, and complete knowledge of Astronomy, which is the best of the sciences subordinate to the Veda, practiced the most difficult penance, the worship of the sun. The self delighted sun, being gratified at such (difficult) penance of Maya, bestowed on him the knowledge of the science of astronomy which he was enquiring after”.
The point to be noted here is that the origin of Surya Siddhanta is not Brahmanical in nature but by Rakshas or demons of India (whoever you identify them in the history).
In fact, now itself we can conclude that there is a huge borrowing from Greek and Roman Sources. It is beyond dispute. However, let me show another major text in Indian Astrology – Yavana Jataka.
Yavana Jataka (The horoscope of Greeks)
With regards to the dating and authorship, Bill M Mak have made some critical comments. In the paper The “Oldest Indo-Greek Text in Sanskrit “Revisited: Additional Readings from the Newly Discovered Manuscript of the Yavanjataka, published in Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, Vol 62, No 3, March 2014, Bill M Mak writes:
“The Mathematical idioms, the general content as well the technical concepts utilized in the texts suggest that it was most likely an original attempt by the Indianized Greeks to amalgamate Greek astral science with the Indian one based on a pre existent tradition in India. The work was most likely conceived in Sanskrit by an author who was conversant both in Greek and Indian astral science and was certainly greatly familiar with the Indian culture and the Sanskritic tradition. From a philological point of view, the Yavanajataka (YJ) could be dated between 22 CE to early seventh century, with the likelihood of somewhere between fourth and sixth century as suggested by various evidences. While it may not be the oldest jyotisa text extant in Sanskrit, its contents remains to be of great interest to scholars of different fields.”
Bill M Mak is arguing that this was written by Indianized Greeks incorporating both Greek and Indian astrology and not a translation. It must be noted that in the previously edited, Yavana Jataka, the text itself claims to be a translation from Greek to Sanskrit rather than anything in the original. Unless, the text is an interpolation, Bill M Mak arguments must be weighed against the testimony of the text itself.
Yavana Jataka Sphujidhvaja, Chapter 79: 60, David Pingree Volume 2 (Translation) University of Harvard.
Previously Yavaneśvara (the lord of the Greeks), whose vision of the truth came by favor of the Sun and whose language is flawless, translated this ocean of words, this jewel-mine of horoscopy, which was guarded by its being written in his tongue (i.e. Greek), but the truth of which was seen by the foremost of the kings…(in the year) 71; (he translated) this science of genethlialogy for the instruction of the world by means of excellent words.
Now, even one goes by Bill M Mak, it is clear that the Yavanajatka have borrowed from Greek astrology which is again very clear from the reference to Greek authorities in the text itself.
Yavana Jataka Sphujidhvaja, Chapter 2: 50, David Pingree Volume 2 (Translation) University of Harvard.
These Horās whose purpose resides in (the determination of ) the thoughts, places of origin, and qualities (of natives), are described by the Greeks by means of illustrations wherein their forms, insignia, and ornaments are successively given. They have names in accordance with their natures.
Thus, irrespective of whether the work is a translation of Greek book into Sanskrit (both in words and context) or an original Sanskrit work by Indianized Greeks, it is obvious that Greek astrology have been heavily incorporated into the text.
Without going much into the technical aspects of Indian astrology, one can safely conclude that Indian astrology had heavily borrowed from the foreign sources. At this point, one must ask themselves whether Swami Vivekananda’s argument that Brihat Samhita, Adhyaya 2: Sloka 14 have any substance other than jingoism of vedic-centric ideologist. I repeat the relevance portion of Swami Vivekananda’s passage for your convivence “”meaning may be that the learning of the Mlechchha disciples of the Aryan teachers is praised here, only to encourage the Mlechchhas in their pursuit of the Aryan science” untenable. It is about learning from Greeks and Romans.
As we conclude, let us look at how the author (or one of the authors) of Mahabharata saw Greeks.
All Knowing Greeks: Mahabharata
In the Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva, Section 45, translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, Greeks (Yavanas) are called as omniscient or all-knowing people while describing about people of various nations.
I quote the relevant portion below (https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08045.htm):
“The Magadhas are comprehenders of signs; the Koshalas comprehend from what they see; the Kurus and the Pancalas comprehend from a half-uttered speech; the Salwas cannot comprehend till the whole speech is uttered. The Mountaineers, like the Sivis, are very stupid. The Yavanas, O king, are omniscient; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy. Other peoples cannot understand. The Vahikas resent beneficial counsels; as regards the Madrakas there are none amongst those (mentioned above.) Thou, O Shalya, art so. Thou shouldst not reply to me. The Madrakas are regarded on Earth as the dirt of every nation. So the Madra woman is called the dirt of the whole female sex. They that have for their practices the drinking of spirits, the violation of the beds of their preceptors, the destruction of the embryo by procuring miscarriage, and the robbing of other people’s wealth, there is no sin that they have not. Fie on the Arattas and the people of the country of the five rivers. Knowing this, be silent. Do not seek to oppose me. Do not let me slay Keshava and Arjuna, having slain thee first.‘”
We can make sense of this exaggeration about Greeks as omniscient only if we accept much of our astrology (and thereby mathematics which was associated with astrology) have heavily borrowed from Greeks. If they were called as Rishis and even omniscient, it was because they gave Indians something which amazed them.
It is interesting to trace how these Greeks and Romansdiscarded the spurious part of astrology but developed the mathematics in it. We know from the Holy Bible that many of the Greeks themselves rejected the magic books when they heard the Word of God. However, one person requires special mention – Bishop Isidore of Seville.
Bishop Isidore of Seville: Winnowing Astrology and Separating Its Chaff from Grain
Isidore of Seville (AD 560 – 636) was the Archbishop of Seville, and an eminent scholar. Among the works of Bishop Isidore, De Natura Rerum (On Nature of Things) and the Etymologiarum Libri XX (Etymologies) have relevance for our discussion. Bishop Isidore built on the Christian theological idea of two books of God – nature and the Holy Scripture (Bible).
In the paper titled “Isidore of Seville: Cosmology and Science” published in the journal “Publications of the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, vol. 85, p. 157-162” Arpad Kovacs has meticulously pointed out the contribution of Bishop Isidore in the development of modern science and specifically on redeeming astronomy from the clutches of horoscope and divinations. The article is fully available at : http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2008POBeo..85..157K
I quote one relevant paragraph:
“He wrote explicitly about the difference between astronomy and astrology and condemned the later insofar as it aimed at predicting individual characteristics of men or making conclusions about the state of their bodies and souls. In fact, he may be the first author to make the distinction. I have no information of any earlier author and Tester claims Isidor to be one of the first writers without giving an example of others (Tester, 1987, pg 19.)”
In other words, Bishop Isidore’s writings one has the true foundations of modern astronomy. It is such writings that helped the future scientists to progress in the correct direction. Needless to say that Bishop Isidore’s careful distinction was the result of him following the Holy Bible which had already condemned astrology without condemning the mathematics. All glory to God for His divine revelation – The Holy Bible.