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A Tale of Two Zodiac
BY: Shyamasundara Dasa, Oct 20, 2012 — India (SUN) — Written by Antardwipa Dasa, edited by Shyamasundara Dasa.

Over the course of 2012, a number of articles have been published regarding the tropical and sidereal definitions of the zodiac, and which of these is to be used for Vedic astrological purposes. These publications have mostly urged for a new approach to Jyotish (Vedic astrology); although the authors generally claim that their presentations are actually the most traditional. One such article is, The 12 Signs of the Zodiac, by Vraja Kishor das. Some of the ideas presented therein are misleading, and therefore, for my own edification, and for the satisfaction of those who are knowledgeable, I would like to present the following to the esteemed readers.

For those not familiar with this ongoing discussion, the basic question under debate is, "Where does the circle of the zodiac begin?"
Or, framed in greater detail, "When constructing a horoscope, do we use the longitudes of planets as measured from the position of the sun when it is at the vernal equinox (tropical zodiac) or from a specified fixed star (sidereal zodiac)?"

This question has at times been hidden behind the inquiry as to whether the sidereal Raashi (signs of the zodiac) match the constellations that exist as patterns of stars in the sky. Vraja Kishor presents the argument that there are 13 constellations that make up the zodiac, and that they are of varying sizes; some larger than thirty degrees and some smaller. As such, these constellations do not match the twelve Raashi of the sidereal zodiac. He concludes, therefore, that the zodiac signs (Raashi) have nothing to do with the stars, and as a result:

"Once we realize that the zodiac signs have nothing to do with stars, we don't really feel compelled to use the stars to define where they begin.
In fact we feel quite compelled to use the point where the center of space is, where the equinox is, where the ecliptic crosses the equator."

Although it is unclear what is meant by the term ‘center of space', we shall ignore that and focus on his rejection of sidereal Raashi. Vraja Kishor clearly believes that the Raashi have nothing to do with the stars. This can be seen in another of his articles, Reconciliation of the Tropical and Sidereal Zodiacs, where he states: "There is a sidereal zodiac in Indian astrology, and probably in all ancient great astrological
systems. Yet this sidereal zodiac is not 12 but 28-fold."

We must note, however, that the statements of the Jyotir Ved reveal this assertion to be false, and that there is in fact an authentic 12-fold division of the stars. To prove this, we may begin by referring to the Surya-siddhant 1.28. Vraja Kishor also quotes this verse, and correctly points out that it describes a Raashi as being the geometrical division equal to one-twelfth of the circumference of a circle. Unfortunately, it appears that he has not fully grasped the significance of this.

All circles may be divided in this 12-fold way, with the first 30 degree arc being known as Mesh, the second known as Vrishabh, and so on; covering the 12 familiar names of the Raashi used in Jyotish. This is the standard treatment given to arcs in traditional Indian geometry. Being applicable to all circles, it is nonsensical to claim that the circle of stars is not similarly composed of these same 12 Raashi. Thus, it is irrelevant whether or not the visible constellations match the 12 sidereal Raashi, because the sidereal zodiac is a circle, and therefore it naturally contains twelve divisions known as Raashi.

More importantly though, this verse describing the layout of Raashi on a circle comes immediately after a verse stating that planetary revolutions are to be counted from the end of Revatee Nakshatra. That the Nakshatra are constellations of stars is undeniable and is accepted by all authors. Thus, in Surya-siddhanta 1.27, a specific point amongst the fixed stars is referenced as the point of zero degrees longitude, or the beginning of the circle of revolution, and then in the next verse, the divisions of that circle into 12 Raashi is described. Considering the content and placement of these verses, it is unwise to conclude that the Raashi have nothing to do with the sidereal zodiac, or that sidereal Raashi are not presented in the Vedic texts.

To make this argument even more compelling, we may consider the Sanskrit terminology used. Surya-siddhanta 1.27 states:
tesam tu parivarten pausnante bhaganah smritah
"The planets' revolutions are counted complete at the end of Revatee Nakshatra."

Thus, a Bhagana (planetary revolution) is counted as complete with respect to the end of a constellation of stars, Revatee, which is also known as Paushn. After Revatee comes Ashwinee, and therefore, Ashwinee taken as the first Nakshatra when considering the longitude of planets. Then in verse 1.28, it is said:
vikalanam kala shashtya tat shashtya bhaga uchyate
tat trinshat bhaved raashir bhagano dwaadashaiv te

"Sixty seconds (Vikal) make a minute (Kala); 60 of these, a degree (Bhaga); 30 of the latter is composed a sign (Raashi); 12 of these are a revolution (Bhagan)."

The term ‘Bhagan' has been used in both of these verses. The circle of one revolution of a planet is known as a Bhagan. After being described as beginning at the end of Revatee Nakshatra, it is then said to be composed of 12 Raashi, each of which is 30 degrees. Thus, it is clear that these two verses, when taken together and understood correctly, indicate that the zodiac of twelve Raashi, through which planetary movement is to be reckoned, has a beginning that is fixed in relation to the stars. Hence, it is clearly a sidereal zodiac composed of twelve Raashi.

Furthermore, the term ‘Bhagan' indicates that planetary longitudes are to be reckoned against the background of the stars. ‘Bhagan' literally means ‘the multitude of stars', and thus it indicates the circle of the stars, or sidereal zodiac. That this very same term is used to describe a single revolution of each of the planets indicates that their movements are measured on this sidereal zodiac.

Aside from this, Vraja Kishor quotes other verses from the Surya-siddhanta to establish that a tropical definition of the Raashi is given in that authentic text. Importantly, these other quotations do not nullify the explanation just given. Rather, it must be acknowledged that the Jyotir Ved describes both the Nir-Aayan Chakra (sidereal zodiac) and the Saayan Chakra (tropical zodiac), and that each of these zodiacs is composed of 12 Raashi. Thus, providing instances of a tropical definition does not discredit, nor override, the other statements that present and define the sidereal zodiac.

From the above, it is evident that simply knowing of the existence of the two zodiacs is not sufficient; one must also know how and when to use each appropriately. In this regard, we find in the Surya-siddhanta, 3.10, that the tropical zodiac is described as being used for the determination of Kraanti (declination) , Chhaayaa (the shadow of the sundial) and Charadal (length of time for signs to rise). Of course, other unspecified applications are also implied in this verse by the use of the word ‘Aadikam,' which means ‘beginning with' or ‘et cetera'. Verses 3.46-49 describe some of these other calculations that are made with the help of the Saayan Chakra; in particular, the calculation of the Lagna (ascendant) and Madhya-Lagna (meridian).

What is important to note, is that planetary longitude is not listed amongst the items that are to be calculated using the tropical zodiac. Rather, Jyotir Ved presents the sidereal zodiac as the fixed basis of calculation, and all longitudes are naturally determined according to that measure. This is highlighted by the arrangement of chapters within the Surya-siddhanta: the first two chapters provide all calculations for determining the true longitude of the planets. It is only after such longitudes are calculated, that the topic of Ayanaansh is presented in the 3rd chapter. This calculation (the Ayanaansh) is then used to calculate the tropical zodiac, which in turn is necessary for determination of the other elements mentioned above. Thus, Ayanaansh plays no part in the calculation of planetary longitude, and because of this, it is logically impossible for the tropical zodiac to play any role in the calculation of such longitudes. Thus, the sidereal zodiac is the basis of longitude calculation and expression.

We may add that, by themselves, the terms ‘Nir-Aayan' and ‘Saayan' provide evidence that the longitudes of planets are to be measured against the sidereal zodiac. Before illustrating this, however, it should be noted that some speak of the use of the Saayan longitude of the Sun to calculate the Lagna as some sort of evidence that the tropical zodiac is actually the only correct one. For example, Vraja Kishor states: "The ascendant is by nature tropical, and is the very foundation of a natal horoscope. That the thing upon which the entire horoscope revolves is intrinsically tropical is surely a profound point for consideration."

We agree that one should consider the implications of this method for calculating the Lagna, but not for the same reason as Vraja Kishor. Rather, by careful consideration of the terminology used, one will see that actually it is the sidereal longitudes of planets that are to be used in a horoscope, not the tropical.

It is clear from the astronomical texts that the Lagna is to be calculated by using the Saayan (tropical) longitude of the Sun. There is no confusion about this. The Lagna thus calculated is, however, properly called the "Saayan Lagna."

This can be seen from the Bengali translation of Surya-siddhanta given by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. In the translation to
3.47, which is the final verse in a series that describes the calculation of the Lagna, he parenthetically includes the word ‘Saayan' before ‘vLagna' to clarify what is being referred to.

So, by Surya-siddhanta we calculate the longitude of the Saayan Lagna. Considering, that the term ‘Saayan' means ‘with Ayan', it follows that the Saayan Lagna is equal to ‘Lagna with Ayanaansh' or ‘Lagna plus Ayanaansh'. A natural consequence of this is that the longitude of the Lagna (alone and without addition of anything) is equal to the Saayan Lagna minus the Ayanaansh. [ie. Lagna = (Lagna + Ayanaansh) - Ayanaansh] Thus, the Sanskrit terminology actually makes it clear that the Ayanaansh needs to be deducted so as to arrive at the Lagna that is used along with the sidereal planetary longitudes that were calculated in the previous chapters.

These terminological subtleties are usually missed by the casual reader of Shaastra; partly due to the incorrect approach that they take and partly due to the esoteric presentation of the texts themselves. However, both of these causes for misunderstanding can be eradicated by studying under the guidance of a bona fide teacher. Indeed, this is the prescribed manner in which the Shaastra is to be approached. Thus, for those who neglect the teachings of previous authorities, the verses of the Vedic scriptures are impenetrable. For this reason, we must follow our revered preceptors in order to understand what is actually being given.

This is nicely illustrated by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura's translation of Surya-siddhanta 3.17–19. Therein, the process is described for calculating the corrected longitude of the Sun from the shadow of the sundial. This is stated by our most esteemed translator as being the Saayan longitude of the Sun; which is natural as the size of the shadow on the sundial changes according to the sun's movement on the tropical zodiac. While this is straightforward, the potential misunderstanding arises in the final verse of this section, where a further process is described for finding the mean longitude of the sun from his corrected longitude. In this verse (3.19), the corrected longitude of the Sun is simply referred to with the pronoun ‘tat', meaning ‘that'. Thus, it may appear to be referring to the very same Saayan corrected longitude that was used in the first half of the Shlok. However, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura places the word ‘Nir-Aayan' in parentheses to show that the measure being referred to is the corrected longitude of the Sun without the addition of the Ayanaansh.

Thus, after dealing with Saayan longitude, the Surya-siddhanta again reverts to the use of Nir-Aayan longitude in the same verse, without any definite specification of this use within the verse itself. Without the guidance of a learned teacher, this reversion is easily missed. Thus, we should conclude that when the Surya siddhanta is studied under the authority of one who actually knows the subject matter, then all such topics are easily understood by the student. In contrast to this, it is due to a lack of proper training that the present trend towards incorrect conjectures is manifesting amongst today's astrologers.

Furthermore, within Vedic astrology, the sidereal zodiac is established as the fixed zodiac. Because it is considered fixed, it naturally follows that it is the basis upon which all measures of movement are considered. The tropical zodiac, on the other hand, is not fixed, and therefore, it is not the appropriate circle upon which to measure the longitude of planets. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in his Bengali translation of
the Surya-siddhanta, 3.11, confirms the movable nature of the tropical zodiac. Therein, he states in connection with the calculation and measurement of the Ayanaansh:
antaraansh parimaane Kraanti Vrtta chalit haya
"By the degrees of difference the circle of the Sun's declination has moved."

Thus, he has described that it is the Kraanti Vritta (the circle of the Sun's declination) that moves. This Kranati Vritta is the tropical zodiac. As such, the sidereal zodiac is fixed, and the tropical zodiac moves with respect to it. Being of changeable longitude itself, it is not appropriate to consider the tropical zodiac as the basis for measuring longitude. Therefore, it must be the sidereal zodiac alone that is employed as the circle of longitude for describing planetary movements and constructing horoscopes.

This fixed nature of the sidereal zodiac is also presented in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. For example, in 5.22.11, it is said:
tata uparistad dwi-laksha-yojanato nakshatraani merum dakshine naiva kaalayana Eeshwar-yojitaani sahabhijitasta-vinshatih.
"There are many stars located 200,000 Yojan (1,600,000 miles) above the Moon. By the supreme will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are fixed to the wheel of time, and thus they rotate with Mount Sumeru on their right, their motion being different from that of the sun. There are 28 important stars, headed by Abhijit."

Herein, the Nakshatra are described as being fixed to the wheel of time. The reason for their fixity is also given; it is the will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus, it is established by the Lord that the sidereal zodiac is a fixed measure of the wheel of time. Being the sole fixed measure of this movement, it is a natural consequence that they remain the reference point to which all other movements are made.

Like the other planets, the Sun moves with respect to this wheel of time, as can be seen from Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5.22.2:
sa hovaca
yatha kulala-cakrena bhramata saha bhramatam tad-asrayanam pipilikadinam
gatir anyaiva pradesantaresv apy upalabhyamanatvad evam
nakshatra-Raashibhir upalaksitena kaal chakren dhruvam merum cha
pradakshinen paridhavata saha paridhavamananam tad-asrayanam sooryadinam
grahanam gatir anyaiva nakshatrantare rasy-antare copalabhyamanatvat.

"Sri Shukadev clearly answered: When a potter's wheel is moving and small ants located on that big wheel are moving with it, one can see that their motion is different from that of the wheel because they appear sometimes on one part of the wheel and sometimes on another. Similarly, the signs and constellations, with Sumeru and Dhruv Lok on their right, move with the wheel of time, and the antlike sun and other planets move with them. The Sun and planets, however, are seen in different signs and constellations at different times. This indicates that their motion is different from that of the zodiac and the wheel of time itself."

Here, it is noteworthy that the Raashi and Nakshatra are described as moving with the wheel of time. As we saw above, it is the stars that are fixed to this wheel, and consequently moving with it. Therefore this verse indicates that the Raashi and Nakshatra are being defined in relation to the stars that are fixed to the wheel of time. Hence, in Srimad-Bhagavatam, a sidereal definition of the Raashi is also given.

The sun, in his orbit, moves through these sidereal Raashi in the course of a year. Thus, a year of the Sun is being defined with respect to the fixed, sidereal zodiac. Additionally, this verse states that the motion of the planets is different from that of the zodiac. As such, the zodiac being referred to cannot be based on the orbit of any of the planets, including that of the sun. It must therefore be the zodiac that is made of the stars; the sidereal zodiac. Considering these points, it is again evident that the sidereal zodiac is the fixed reference point from which measures of movement are considered, and this is the conclusion presented within the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Furthermore, in 5.22.5, we find the following:
atha sa esa aatmaa lokaanaam dyav-aprthivyor antaren nabho-valayasya kaalachakra  gato dwaadash maasan bhunkte Raashi-sangyaan
samvatsar avayavan maasah paksh-dwayam diva naktam ceti sapadarksa-dwayam upadisanti yavata sastham ansham bhunjit sa vai ritur ity upadisyate samvatsaravayavah.

"The Sun god, who is Naaraayan, or Vishnu, the soul of all the worlds, is situated in outer space between the upper and lower portions of the universe. Passing through 12 months on the wheel of time, the Sun comes in touch with 12 different signs of the zodiac and assumes 12 different names according to those signs. The aggregate of those 12 months is called a Samvatsar, or an entire year. According to lunar calculations, two fortnights - one of the waxing Moon and the other of the waning - form one month. That same period is one day and night for the planet Pitri Lok. According to stellar calculations, a month equals two and one quarter constellations. When the Sun travels for two months, a season passes, and therefore the seasonal changes are considered parts of the body of the year."

Here it is stated that the sun god passes through twelve months on the wheel of time, and in so doing passes through the twelve Raashi beginning with Mesha. It has already been established that the stars are fixed to the wheel of time, and hence the sidereal Raashi are also fixed to the wheel of time. Therefore, the 12 divisions of the wheel that are being referred to in this verse must also be measured with respect to the stars. Consequently, the division of zodiac into twelve Raashi that is being described is sidereal.

Furthermore, in this verse it is said, "According to stellar calculations, a month equals to 2 1/4 constellations. " The Sanskrit terminology for ‘two and a quarter constellations' is ‘sapadarksa-dwayam' and many of the authorized commentators make notes regarding this. Srila Sridhara Svami, Srila Vijayadhvaja Tirtha, Srila Viraraghava Aachaarya, Srila Jiva Gosvami, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Öhakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura all state that with regards to solar measures, a month is the time taken for the Sun to cover two and a quarter Nakshatra. Thus, there is no doubt that solar time is measured with respect to the Sun's movement against the stars, and that the twelve Raashi are also defined according to the same stars. Srimad Vijayadhvaja Tirtha is very explicit with regards to the Raashi, and he states in his commentary:
krittikaa-pad yukt-Ashwinee bharanyau mesh ityaadi kramen boddhavayam
"It should be understood that Mesh is Ashwinee, Bharanee and the first quarter of Krittikaa. The other Raashi follow similarly."

Thus we have shown that the Vedic scriptures describe a sidereal zodiac consisting of 12 Raashi that remain aligned with the fixed stars, and that the calculation of solar time is based upon the sun's movement through this fixed zodiac. Similarly, the movement of all other planets is calculated in the same way.

At this point, it should again be noted that the Srimad-Bhagavatam does provide descriptions of the tropical zodiac. There is however, no need for me to quote these as Vraja Kishor has done so nicely. But as mentioned above in relation to the Surya-siddhanta, evidence in favor of a tropical zodiac does not refute the evidence for the sidereal zodiac, as both the sidereal and tropical zodiacs are factual and are described in the Vedic literatures. The important point is using them for the correct purposes, and from the above statements of Srimad-Bhagavatam and Surya-siddhanta, it is clear that the sidereal zodiac is the correct basis for measuring planetary longitude.

As if the aforementioned were not enough, we may also quote from the writings of Varaah Mihir, who lived some fifteen hundred years ago. He wrote extensively on all areas of Vedic astronomy and astrology, and in his Brihat Jaatak, 1.4, he states:
mesasviprathamanava rksacharanah chakra sthitarasayah
"The signs of the zodiac, Mesh etc., are represented successively by the 9 Pad (quarters) of the several Nakshatra commencing with Ashwinee."

Here, this great authority clearly states that the Raashi are each composed of nine quarters of the Nakshatra. This is equal to two and a quarter Nakshatra, which is the same measure as "sapadarksha-dwayam" that was quoted above from Srimad-Bhagavatam. As previously stated, everyone accepts that the Nakshatra are groups of stars. Thus, the Raashi, as defined by Varaah Mihir, are divisions of the sidereal zodiac.

While this is clearly in support of the authenticity of the sidereal Raashi, some may claim that by Varaah Mihir's time, knowledge of the true nature of the Raashi had already been lost. Indeed, Vraja Kishor has posited that some time in the last two millennia, astronomers in India forgot how and when to distinguish between the two zodiacs, and as a result of this ignorance, began to describe Raashi according to the fixed stars. He has suggested that, due to the decline of knowledge in Kali Yug, astronomers and astrologers in India "became locked into thinking that the tropical measurements and the stars were identical."

However, this proposition is not supported by the writings of Varaah Mihir; an author of such repute that astronomers and astrologers have been studying his writings ever since he penned them. In his Brihat-samhita, 3.4, Varaah Mihir states:

"If the sun should change his course before reaching Makara, he will bring evil in the west and south; and if he should do so before reaching Kartaka, he will bring evil in the north and east."

In this text, Varaah Mihir is describing the directional changes that occur at the solstices. These changes in the northward and southward movement of the sun are fixed in relation to the Raashi of the tropical zodiac; as it is in relation to the solstices and the equinoxes that the tropical zodiac is defined. Therefore, the Sun always turns north at the beginning of tropical Makar.

However, in this verse it is described that the change from southward movement to northward movement can occur before the sun reaches the beginning of Makar Raashi. The Makar Raashi being referred to must, therefore, be the sidereal Raashi, as it cannot be the tropical counterpart. It is clear from this that Varaah Mihir correctly distinguished between the two zodiacs, and as such, his definition of the Raashi as being sidereal was not a case of a lack of knowledge on his part.

Therefore, at a time when the sidereal and tropical zodiacs were closely aligned, this renowned author was describing Raashi as being fixed according to the stars and that the tropical zodiac was moving with respect to them. This is the same conclusion that we have drawn from the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Surya-siddhanta.

Finally, even though the Ayanaansh was small, perhaps even zero, during Varaah Mihir's life, it is clear from his writings that he was fully aware of both the sidereal and tropical zodiacs, and did not confuse one with the other. His ongoing fame has ensured that his writings have remained prominent till the present day; including his distinguishing between the sidereal and tropical zodiacs. Indeed, his works are still considered to be essential studies for anyone who is serious about learning the science of astrology. This is very significant evidence that Vraja Kishor's ‘decline in knowledge' theory is patently wrong.

In conclusion, it is foolhardy to claim that the Jyotir-veda does not use a sidereal zodiac that is divided into twelve Raashi. Rather, we have shown that an authentic sidereal zodiac certainly existed in the Vedic astronomical and astrological tradition. Furthermore, we have seen that it is this zodiac that is the fixed basis upon which planetary movements are measured. Therefore, it is the sidereal zodiac, and not the tropical zodiac, that should be used for constructing a horoscope, as the longitudes of planets are properly measured only on the sidereal circle.

Having established all this, we are now in a position to respond to the following question posed by Vraja Kishor Das:
"Beside force of habit, injured pride, the paralysis of shock, or fear of change – is there anything that would stop us all from embracing the unequivocal tropical definitions of the zodiac found in all the ancient and classical literature of the world?"

By the grace of Guru and Krishn, we can confidently answer that the statements of Shaastra and the previous Aachaarya safely stop us from making such a grievous error.

About Antardwipa Prabhu (by Shyamasundara Dasa)
He is a qualified Medical Doctor, and has a Masters degree in Education, he was principle in the ISKCON's Australian gurukula. Currently he teaches English, mathematics, and Jyotish (astrology and astronomy) at the Bhaktivedanta Academy in Sridham Mayapura He is also the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium's consultant for Vedic Cosmology He has studied both Puranic and Siddhantik astronomy in depth and is currently doing his Master's degree in Astro-physics at James Cook University, Australia.



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Created on 05/18/2008 and Updated on 10/24/2012