Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology
I have been following the debate in these pages and elsewhere regarding the calendrical/ astrological system used in India, the Nirayana or ‘fixed’ zodiac, with its numerous ayanamshas, as opposed to the Sayana system used throughout the world, based on the crosswise division of Equinoxes and Solstices and therefore known as the Tropical Zodiac. I have also contributed articles on the subject that have been published in leading newspapers, since the topic of ‘Vedic Astrology’ has become prominent in the national discourse. However, I believe that the discussion has remained superficial. We have not taken it deep enough, because of which neither side remains convinced of the other’s position.
I am particularly interested in the role of Kashmir in this matter, since in my cosmological work it has been revealed as one of the most vital areas in India for preservation of the Dharma. This will be explained further on. It will perhaps provide new insights regarding the present plight of the community in exile.
One of the main problems is that we approach this profoundly important issue, affecting the whole of Hindu society, from the perspective of the astrology practised today which we assume to be ‘Vedic’. That is, bearing a direct link to the art practised in the Vedic Age. This is the first assumption that has to be dealt with. What is known as Vedic Astrology should actually be called Post-Vedic. If this much were done, we could begin to understand the differences between the two systems – Nirayana and Sayana - when, how and why the former came into being to displace the latter.
The next assumption is that the so-called Western Tropical Zodiac employed world-wide, is not Vedic and was unknown in the Vedic Age. It is further assumed that there is no mention of the twelve rashis of this system in the oldest extant Sanskrit text, the Rig-Veda. However, I am in a position to prove that this assumption is incorrect. In so doing, the arguments on both sides must be rethought. If indeed the rashis of the so-called Western Zodiac are unmistakably present in the Rig-Veda, then the debate takes on a more profound tenor, with far-reaching implications for many areas of scholarship.
The Tropical Zodiac (Sayana) most likely originated in India thousands of years ago. It seems to have been exported from the subcontinent and influenced many philosophical systems and initiatic schools of higher knowledge through the ages in various parts of the globe. But the process of transmutation of energy, or yoga, that we find throughout the Rig Veda and that was clearly rooted in this ancient wisdom is non-existent in India today, because of which this lore is not detected in the Veda though it runs through the entire text. That is, it is not recognised as the same Sayana system with the same twelve symbols that is the basis of the so-called Western astrology. The manner in which it appears in the Rig Veda further reveals that this was a body of knowledge so well known that it was similar to an alphabet. The civilisation was completely familiar with this ‘alphabet’ and its resultant language.
Another point in this context to be stressed is that the Rig Veda was not an astrological text per se, or a zodiacal treatise. Its mantras and hymns of praise used this language; but the purpose of the text was not the transmission of a science. The latter was the objective of texts such as the Vedanga Jyotish. Indeed, this limb of the Veda amply confirms the fact that the Sayana system was the only one employed in the Vedic period.
Science displaces the Sacred
Having established this much, let us move deeper into the question of the true nature of the Sayana Zodiac and system. It is necessary to clarify another assumption in the process, one that is basic to a correct assessment of the ancient lore. To make this assessment we must first clarify that ‘science’, as we know it today and which influenced astrology so thoroughly in the early part of the first millennium, differs greatly from the ancient wisdom with its own science in that the purpose of the latter was invariably to foster the sacred. Science served the sacred. Whereas when a division occurred and astronomy arose as a distinct discipline, that sacred element no longer played its determining role. One of the clearest indications is that the astrologer today is concerned exclusively with predicting the future. Jyotish has evolved over the centuries into a predictive art rather than a system of Knowledge such as we find at the core of the Vedic text. It may still be there, as indeed it is or we would not be in a position to engage in this discourse, but there are few today who are in a position to reveal the true import of those ancient teachings and their applicability today.
In this manner, the art of establishing the Divine Maya, or Measure, as this was understood in the Vedic Age, became undermined by a rising school of thought that gradually lost its connection with the cosmic dimension which, from very ancient times, formed the foundation of the culture. The outcome of this division was that ‘secular science’ imposed its own brand of ‘accuracy’ in measuring cosmic phenomena, with the result that in a very brief span the Pundits lost touch with the knowledge that provided the understanding of just what needed to be measured, and never lost sight of, in order to preserve that cosmic connection intact.
The tactic that served as this divisive tool was to pit the constellations against the zodiac of the ecliptic. It was assumed that only the former could be considered stable or fixed, and hence the circle that could provide the demanded degree of accuracy for the measurer. The fact that this played no part in Vedic lore did not disturb those early pioneers of secular science. Nor were they in a position to know just why that greater circle did not figure in the Vedanga and the Rig Veda. Or did it? My contention is that it did exist, but that it occupied its correct place in the system. I shall provide the proof further on.
This is the core of the problem in the present debate: Nirayana versus Sayana. To receive knowledge of the order we are describing, strict disciplines were required and a practice that resulted in an initiation of a higher order. This demand is still valid. Needless to say, no ‘secular scientist’ can be expected to follow such disciplines. But we must demand it of those to whom we entrust the guidance of Hindu society in questions involving time, destiny and the sacred divine Measure.
Dividing the Indivisible
In very ancient times, the Tropical Zodiac of twelve signs, with their unique symbols and hieroglyphs, is the manner in which the ecliptic was divided into twelve equal portions of 30 degrees each. This circle/ecliptic was further divided into four parts demarcated by the Equinoxes and Solstices, the days and nights of equal and unequal measure, respectively. The ancient texts reveal that utmost importance was given to accurately determining these four pillars. They were, and remain, the balancing points of the planet in its journey along the pathway of the year.
Similarly, for the civilisation the Capricorn solstice (Makar Sankranti) was the single most important segment of the twelve because that was the ‘gateway’ which gave legitimacy to all the rest. Thus, the Makar Sankranti, or the shortest day of the year - the true Festival of Light, as it was known in many ancient civilisations because the ‘light’ begins to increase from that point onward - was the event to locate with accuracy. The two - the shortest day and the Capricorn entry - were indivisible, then as now. The reason is that the Tropical Zodiac never shifts (in time). The zodiacal year begins with the March Equinox and the first sign of the zodiac, Aries, and reaches Capricorn ten months later. Today, as in the Vedic Age. Capricorn (Makar) was not some nebulous region far out in the Constellations; it was, and remains, for India and the world, the December Solstice.
This point is fundamental to bear in mind since the separation of the two is what has engendered so much confusion in Hindu society over the centuries and drawn it slowly away from its Vedic moorings. I shall elaborate this point in the course of this analysis.
When secular science stepped in and proclaimed that the only precision worth its name had to be provided by the constellation Capricorn, rather than Capricorn of the Tropical Zodiac with its immutable December Solstice; or that the shortest day and the north Cardinal Pole derived legitimacy from that heavenly circle in the distant beyond, with no relation to the ecliptic and the Earth’s seasonal measure, the Pundits of the day lost sight of the true sanctity of that ecliptic pathway the planet occupies in her journey around the Sun. They accepted the un-sacred formula of the fixed circle (Nirayana) as the true zodiac. The other, the Earth’s own measure determined by her axial tilt and consequent seasonal shift, was seen to be of lesser importance
because it was assumed to be shifting constantly with respect to that impossible-to-locate, elusive ayanamsha in the far beyond. It was the Zero Point of that greater circle alone that had to be discovered by ‘science’; it would then be a simple process to carry out the ‘correction’ between the zero points of the greater and the smaller and all would be well. Horoscopes, as well as the time stipulated for festivals and rituals, could be considered ‘accurate’ (and hence auspicious) only if they were determined on the basis of this ‘correction’. It is an undisputed fact that this desire to impose an accuracy based on secular science divorced from the sacred has created immense confusion in an area where doubt had never existed. When it is the Cosmic Truth we are dealing with, as in the ancient school, that truth is self-evident. Confusion arises when higher knowledge is absent.
Thus, the fact that this shift and correction process has no sanction in the Veda was explained by the rising belief that secular science was real science. The other was primitive and even mere superstition. This marked the end of the sacred and established only the profane as the measure. Hindu society since then has been gradually distancing itself from the ancient wisdom. This ‘distance’ can be measured by the ‘correction’ in use to provide this secular ‘accuracy’ in order to determine the time and day of the Makar Sankranti, along with other festivals.
Thus, the measure of the degeneration could be said to be the equivalent of the difference between the shortest day of the year and the current 23-day late Makar Sankranti. Secular science had succeeded in separating the inseparable. The consequences for such a civilisation, so thoroughly rooted in the cosmic process, are immense. In the course of this analysis, we shall look more closely at this unholy development and discuss its effects on the Sanatan Dharma, and in particular on Kashmir.
The Earth’s Divine Measure
The constellations were an afterthought. The ancient wisdom did not require a fixed sphere of stars in the manner we know them today. We have positioned the signs and symbols of the Tropical Zodiac in the heavenly surround, and in our obsession with evolving an accurate and unsuperstitious science we have closed out the true wisdom. To a certain degree, the West is guilty of the same sin; but India’s responsibility is far more significant since Vedic civilisation was destined to be preserver of the Knowledge through the ages and for the entire planet.
As the ecliptic of our solar system was divided into equal 30-degree segments, so too the larger heavenly sphere required the same division. Only in this way can the Hermetic dictum, as above, so below, make any sense. The larger celestial vault, for the purposes of the sacred sciences, must be divided in twelve parts irrespective of the constellations held within those segments. Fanciful projection of the twelve animal symbols onto those segments, as is the vogue in astronomy, in some cases overlapping with no clear distinction between constellations/signs, was a later development, when science and the sacred had parted ways. It formed no part of the ancient-most Veda.
However, there is one element that has always been fundamental: the zero point of each. This is where the Makar Sankranti enters. In other words, there is indeed a point in time when the Precession of the Equinoxes brings into alignment the zero point of the greater circle (constellations, or sidereal zodiac) with the beginning of the Tropical Zodiac, Aries, when the day and night are of equal duration. That is, the March Equinox. This is a measurement derived from the Earth and her position within the solar system. Only measurement of the Equinoxes and Solstices was of deepest concern to the Vedic Seers.
From that point of alignment, at the slow rate of 72 years per degree of celestial longitude, the zero point of the sidereal zodiac moves away from the inner, Earth measure. Because of a slow gyration our planet makes on her axis, like a spinning top, the plane extending from her equinoctial alignment slowly moves away from this convergence in a clockwise fashion. It is an immensely important celestial phenomenon, as if the Earth were tracing her own ascendant, or lagna, onto and through that greater circle in a backward motion, determining thus the famed Astrological Ages her civilisations pass through.
A clear explanation of this issue is required because in coming to an understanding of the rationale behind these cosmic phenomena and their bearing on Vedic rituals, we will better understand why the ancients had no use for anything other than determining the shortest day of the year, or the Makar Sankranti.
The Tropical Zodiac zero point (March Equinox), Aries, remains fixed each year for the Earth, and from this measurement the opposite September Equinox and the Solstices are derived. This crosswise axis in time is the Earth’s contribution to the cosmic harmonies. Her own immutable, eternal truths, as it were. But the sidereal point (of the same name, Aries), projected into the greater celestial sphere, is seen to move in a clockwise motion away from this inner circle’s zero point. It takes 25,920 years for that sidereal zero point to complete one full round of the heavens; properly speaking, for the Earth to complete one full gyration of this tilt on her axis, etching out this circle in the heavenly vault. In other words, our Tropical Zodiac is really the constant. It is unchanging within our Earth year.
The cosmic phenomena known as the Precession of the Equinoxes, or this equatorial plane the Earth projects onto the vault of heaven, which we must also divide into 12 equal segments, is slowly and steadily increasing the distance between the two zero points. The Earth’s Equinoxes and Solstices remain fixed and immutable; the slow, gyrating movement on her axis like a spinning top engenders the Precession of her Equinoxes and through this the passage of the Astrological Ages are determined. That slow gyration and the celestial degree in the constellations it points to is not pertinent to individuals. It has bearing only on entire civilisations within the larger passage of thousands of years. It is therefore ludicrous to seek to establish that distant and unrelated ayanamsha as the foundation for all horoscopic calculations and the time for festivals and rituals. With the accumulative passage of time over the centuries, the result has to be an unparalleled confusion.
The outer sphere gained legitimacy from the inner, or the Earth’s divine Measure. It was a measurement moving from a central innermost point to the outermost. We could even say, from the inner Eye of the Rishi outward to the beyond. In this manner the sanctity of the Earth and her special place within the cosmic harmony was upheld. And of all her continents the sanctity of Bharat Mata was further upheld in that this sacred bhoomi was the point from where all divine Measuring could be done. Without that ‘centre’, in the true and ancient sense of the word, no unification could be seen to come about between the two zero points of the larger and the smaller. With this made clear, the role of Capricorn and Bharat in this act of sacred measuring will now be discussed in depth, together with Vishnu’s own act of ‘measuring out the universe’ with his three famous strides, which irrefutably confirm the ancient wisdom.
The ‘Western’ Zodiac in the Rig Veda
Of Vishnu now I declare the mighty works, who has measured out
the earthly worlds and that seat of our self-accomplishing he supports,
he the wide-moving, in the threefold steps of his universal movement.
That Vishnu affirms on high by his mightiness and he is like a terrible LION
that ranges in the difficult places, yea, his lair is on the mountain-tops,
he in whose three wide movements all the worlds find their dwelling-place.
Let our strength and our thought go forward to Vishnu the all-pervading,
the wide-moving BULL whose dwelling-place is on the mountain,
he who being One has measured all this long and far-extending seat
of our self-accomplishing by only three of his strides.
He whose three steps are full of honey-wine and they perish not
but have ecstasy by the self-harmony of their nature; yea, he being One
holds the triple principle and earth and heaven also, even all the worlds.
May I attain to and enjoy that goal of his movements, the Delight,
where souls that seek the godhead have the rapture; for there in that highest step
of the wide-moving Vishnu is that FRIEND of men who is the fount of sweetness.
Those are the dwelling-places of ye twain which we desire as
the goal of our journey, where the many-horned herds of Light go travelling;
the highest step of wide-moving Vishnu shines down on us here
in its manifold vastness.
(RV, I, 154, Sri Aurobindo’s translation)
Many in the community of Kashmiri Pandits will be familiar with these verses, the only praises to Vishnu in the Rig Veda. However, what is not known is that the Seer, via Vishnu’s three famous ‘steps’, is describing the Rashichakra in use today outside India. The discovery of this unmistakable reference is what has to carry this debate to a deeper level.
The reader must note the symbol-figures used to describe each ‘step’. The first is the Lion, the second is the Bull, and the third and ‘highest’ is the Friend.
In the so-called Western Zodiac these figures are three of the four FIXED signs. The Fixed Quality corresponds to Sattva of the Gunas, in the order Rajas, Sattva, and Tamas. Or
else, in another categorisation, the Fixed Quality was PRESERVATION of the trinity Creation, Preservation, Destruction/Dissolution, or Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
To my knowledge before my work appeared in print in the early 1970s, no astrologer in the West, and certainly none in India, had made the above connections between the zodiacal signs, their Qualities, the gunas; and then with the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and Creation, Preservation, Destruction. Yet the correspondence is inescapable to anyone with insights into the true zodiacal lore and its irrefutable connection with Indian tradition. Indeed, without this insight very little of the role Kashmir plays in this unfolding would have been discovered.
Lest any doubt remain of the correspondence between these symbols and those found in the ‘Western’ Zodiac, thought to have been introduced into India in the first millennium, I will quote from Chapter 12 of a Christian text, The Revelation, also called The Apocalypse, of St John:
7. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. (Chapter 12,7.)
Note that the same symbols were used by this Christian visionary many centuries after the Vedic Age. John is believed to have composed the text on the Greek island, Patmos, around 70 AD. This reveals that these particular symbols/signs bore a very special significance. They were incorporated into a hallowed figure of antiquity, the Sphinx, consisting of lion, bull, man and eagle. There is one such figure of the same family, which stands out among all the rest: the Sphinx at Giza in Egypt. This colossus, known now to be much older than previously believed, is formed of two of Vishnu’s ‘steps’, the Lion and the Friend (Man).
However, Vishnu’s ‘steps’ are three and not four, as in the above text. Left out is the sign Scorpio whose higher symbolism is indeed the Eagle, - as it figures in The Revelation. The question is, why was this sign/symbol left out of the Rig Veda verses? It is because Vishnu’s measuring begins from that sign, the sign of the Eagle, precisely his vahana, Garuda.
Can there be any doubt remaining about the Vedic correspondence of these symbols? But there is much more contained in these simple verses.
Vishnu ‘steps’ into the present Age
The fact that Vishnu’s act of measuring (and St John in The Revelation also) moves in a backward or clockwise motion through the Zodiac indicates that it is the Precession of the Equinoxes he is measuring, the clockwise movement derived from the axial tilt and gyration of the Earth’s equinoctial plane, described above. Vishnu is thus measuring the passage of the Astrological Ages, spread across thousands of years. He measures out his own signs of Preservation in this precessional movement. Because that is when the evolutionary Avatars such as Shri Ram and Shri Krishna appear. Only during the Zodiacal Ages of PRESERVATION can his own emanations take birth.
In the Vedic verses, Vishnu’s ‘three steps’ carry us through the Age of Leo (the Lion), the epoch of Shri Ram, and the Age of Taurus (the Bull) and the appearance of Krishna. None can deny that the bovine creation held a special place in the symbolism of Krishna’s manifestation. Just as the attributes of the sign Leo fully conform to the details of Shri Ram’s mission.
However, there is the third and ‘highest step’, which indeed provides further proof that the Rig Veda is describing the Rashichakra used in the West. The Seer calls this highest step the Friend, not the Man as the others have done. All astrologers know that the corresponding sign, Aquarius, falling as indeed it does in the ‘highest’ quarter of the wheel, among its other attributes in the horoscope, is known as the sign of FRIENDS. Mitra is the godhead of this quarter, whose Sanskrit name means ‘friend’.
But there is an even more important aspect to these Vedic verses to note. This ‘step’ falls in our very own Age of Aquarius, - the period of the 9th Avatar of Vishnu. The godhead’s three sacred steps, measuring out the universe, thus cover nine of the twelve signs and a period of approximately 15,000 years, from the age of Ram to our present times.
In my view, what the extant Rig Veda reveals is that at a certain point the Knowledge of thousands of years ago, a Golden Age perhaps prior to the 7th Manifestation of Ram Avatar, had to be preserved, written down, recorded, rather than just an oral transmission. This seems to have been necessary when the Realisation described in the Hymns would no longer be preserved through an individual yogic accomplishment. There was a period of darkness to ensue and the Realiser would have to hide his or her light. Therefore, what we are dealing with is an ancient body of Knowledge preserved only in India in its more complete form. That is, though the Vedic Realisation has faded into the background and other yogas have taken preference over the ancient way, Bharat is still home to Hinduism that can lay claim to the four Vedas as the seed-foundation of its culture. Considering the tumultuous times the Earth has known during this period of 15,000 years, and that any trace of this ancient teaching was completely banished from cultures beyond the borders of Bharat Mata, this preservation, however imperfect, has been no mean feat.
Thus, the purpose was served by passing on these fragments of that special Knowledge in the form of hymns, praises of the cosmic energies, mantras, such as the Gayatri Mantra. And one such special fragment that needed to be preserved was the verses to Vishnu, the only ones to this godhead in the collection. Evidently, it was important to have this particular knowledge passed on to future generations. Indeed, they have served us well at this point in time in the current controversy: Nirayana versus Sayana. But more significantly, they pass on the knowledge of the last of the Ten Avatars and the time that they must take birth on Earth.
The essential key that had to be preserved and passed on for the purpose of preserving the Dharma involved the appearance on Earth of Vishnu’s emanations. Of the ‘three steps’ (emanations), two have come and gone. We have the Epics of these Avatars to inform us of their mission and place in the history of the subcontinent. And both Epics are as faithful to the symbols of the Sayana Zodiac as Vishnu’s own ‘steps’ have proven to be. Their missions are described accurately by this hallowed and universal Cosmic Script, for universality is the key issue if Bharat is destined to be the Guru of the world.
There is an even more important factor to note. Since the zero point of the Sidereal (Constellation) Zodiac, so very many light years away, is impossible to locate with any degree of precision, the appearance on Earth of the Avatar of each Manifestation, - the 7th, 8th, and so on - served as the means to refocus the lens, as it were. Or better said, to align the hands of that great Cosmic Clock describing the passage of the Astrological Ages, so that confusion, darkness, unknowing, could be dispelled and Hindu society could indeed lay claim to having roots in veda, knowledge.
There is no other means to attain this accuracy and to focus the Lens since that distant zero point can never be known indisputably, accurately, except through revelation, shruti. And this can take place only when Vishnu’s emanations descend upon Earth and adjust, by their own births in our Earth time and their yogic achievements, that cosmic Timepiece according to the true veda. If we fail to recognise that achievement, we are left with numerous ayanamshas, each one seeking to lay claim to an accuracy that can never come about through unenlightened means. They may serve in predictive astrology, an un-Vedic enterprise, but they can never parallel the sanctity of the ancient Veda or find sanction for their calculations in that sacred Source.
This is especially true of our times and the third and highest ‘step’ of Vishnu. Due to the split between science and the sacred, the coming of the 9th Emanation is of paramount importance in order to draw together what has been torn asunder across the centuries. The coming of the 9th Avatar is a singular event because his 9th Manifestation is the time when convergence is attained. The two zero points joined in the beginning of this 9th Manifestation - 234 BC - an event that occurs only once in 25,920 years. Thereafter, they slowly moved away from each other, as time and cosmos demand.
These Emanations can only appear in the astrological ages Vishnu has indicated in the Rig Veda verses: Leo, Taurus, Aquarius (our epoch). It is not likely that there will be an 11th after the Ten in the Age of Scorpio/Eagle, first because Vishnu has not indicated this in the Scripture; second, the work of our current 9th Manifestation must usher in the Golden Age. The Earth will not require this intervention. But if this mission fails, if the Dharma is lost and the sacred thread through these vast` corridors of time is finally severed, then there will be no further need of an Emanation. ‘Time’ will have come to an end for the Earth. Her higher destiny will have failed to manifest. The ‘prize’ is therefore the highest the Aryan Warrior can ever attain because the entire planet is his or her field at this stage in the evolution of the species. Naturally there will be turmoil and strife, as we are experiencing, because the Dharma either conquers now or is lost forever.
In Part II, we will discuss the special position Kashmir holds in this 9th Manifestation, as foreseen thousands of years ago. And given this singular stamp of destiny, it is reasonable to assume that the question of the correct measure of things may need to find its resolution in that sacred land itself, through those who for centuries have been known as Preservers of the Dharma.
The term ‘secular’ is employed in this text not entirely in the current sense but more specifically to denote a discipline that strives for knowledge for its own sake and not in function of the Sacred. That is, devoid of a ‘higher purpose’.
In the Rig Veda this fourfold division is known as Twashtri’s Bowl.
 The original order of the cosmic formula was rajas, sattva, tamas. Only in this series could the Cosmic Script be read and applied correctly. Several thousand years ago this order was shifted to become sattva, rajas, tamas. It would be the same as saying PRESERVATION, Creation, and Destruction, for the trinity of the three Godheads, instead of their known order. Clearly a cacophony. In shifting the order the correspondence with the cosmic harmonies was lost, accompanied by a predictable loss of the Knowledge.
This was not the Buddha, whose birth was over 2000 years before Vishnu’s ‘highest step’ into our present Astrological Age of the Friend (Aquarius). Therefore, he cannot be included in the Line of the Ten Avatars of Hinduism, as is currently done. But Buddhist tradition does hold that Lord Maitreya (the ‘Friend’) will appear on Earth 2500 years after the Buddha’s passing. Indeed, those 2500 years carry us precisely into the present Age of Aquarius, the ‘friend’ of the zodiac.
 This theme is treated extensively in my books, The Gnostic Circle, The New Way, Time & Imperishability, (Aeon Books).