Jyotish – Indian Astrology?

This article originally appeared on my blog http://lifeofpradeep.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

I recently went through the talks by Dr. N Gopalakrishnan of the Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage (IISH) on the topic of Jyotish on YouTube in Malayalam. I have been listening to some of the talks he has given on the Bhagwad Gita on Amrita TV and admire him for having an opinion and expressing it clearly. He also has consistently maintained what he’s said over several talks – made some mis-quotes. I wanted to put down some notes before I forget the talk.

Jyotish is not to be compared with astrology as put up in the West. Jyotish is one of the 6 literatures (called Vedangas) presented below the Vedas. Jyotish is the 6th Vedanga. It is composed of three parts – astronomy, mathematics and prediction. Of these, the sections on astronomy and mathematics are pure sciences and is borne out by modern astronomy and mathematics. As an example, the fact that the Earth is spherical, that the Earth rotates around its axis, the fact that the Earth is tilted at 24 degrees (as against the current value of 23 degrees 26 minutes – which he misquotes as 56 minutes – which is still fantastic given that this measurement was made in 700 AD or so), the diameter of the Earth and so on. He further clarifies that the word graha is not to be interpreted as planets – but as “holders”. Given this change in interpretation, he says clarifies many things. He suggests that the word taragraha (that which a star holds, by virtue of gravitation and such) is the correct word for planet.

The part where talks about predictions. He say that this is absolutely not based on Science. The grahas have been given attributes. There does not seem to be any plausible scientific reason for the wide range of attributes given. For Jyotish, he says the question is not whether it is scientific or not. He says that it is not scientific. The question to be asked here is whether it is useful or not. Dr. Gopalakrishna suggests that if we find it useful, we must use it and discard it if we don’t. Do either very freely.

Dr. Gopalakrishna says that a true Jyotisha will take some time to calculate and understand some of the science and mathematical aspects of Jyotish and hence, one must not believe the ones who profess instant calculations. The birth chart prepared in Jyotish is a fairly accurate representation of the position of the Moon at the time of birth and location of the birth and accordingly the placement of the grahas. He suggests comparison with the star charts used by National Physical Laboratory.  These calculations, he claims, take in the region of 10-15 minutes unless done with the help of a computer – which helps determine location and time and generates ephimeris. However, it is after this that the non-scientific prediction part starts.

This non-scientific prediction seems to get better with lots and lots of practise in many people that Dr. Gopalakrishnan has known. In a select few, the practise has become so much that only what they say happens (this section seemed exaggerated to me).

In the question and answer section, various questions were raised off him. The most interesting one was how to select a Jyotisha given the Doctor’s suggestion that many of them were just out there to earn money of falsehood. He suggests people at high ranks with a great educational qualification. He suggests that to get a good Jyotisha one must try as hard as trying to get a good doctor to treat one’s ailment.

I am interested in reading counter-points to some of his arguments. There are a few slips in the facts that he states. But his talk does seem logical, when presented like this.

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