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Tracing the Roots of Jyotish
The ancient science of astrology can be traced to the Vedas around 5000 BCE. The Vedas are among the world’s most ancient and sacred scriptures. The word Veda means knowledge coming from the root vid, to know. The Vedas are books of knowledge said to be the fundamental doctrine of Hinduism. The Vedas were received by the great sages through divine revelation, referred to as sruti and recorded for the benefit of humanity. The Vedas are divided into four books: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. According to Vedic astrologer and historian David Frawley, one of the first references to astrology dates back to the Rig Veda, the oldest of the scriptures. It records a description of the chakra or wheel of 360 degrees placed in the sky by Rishi Dirghatamas, pandit to one of the greatest kings of India, Bharata, the original name of India.
Each Veda consists of four parts: the Mantra-Samhitas or hymns, the Brahmanas or explanations of Mantras or rituals, the Aranyakas or philosophical interpretations of the rituals, and the Upanishads or the art of Self-realization. The division of each Veda into four parts relates to the four stages of human life: student—first 25 years (brahmacharya), householder—25 to 50 years (grihastha), retirement—50 to 75 years (vanprastha), and ascetic—75 to 100 (sanyasa).
There is a subsidiary for each book of the Vedas referred to as the Upvedas: Arthveda is a subsidiary of the Rigved, and relates to the science of sociology and economics. Gandharvaveda is a subsidiary of the Samved, and relates to the arts and music. Dhanurveda is a subsidiary of the Yajurved, and relates to military science, including the martial arts. Ayurveda is a subsidiary of the Atharvaved, and relates to medical science.
The Vedas were divided into the vedangas (ved—knowledge, angas—limbs). These texts embodied the ved purush or cosmic individual. Knowledge of these texts enables us to realize our divine nature as paramatma, the Supreme Soul. There are six vedangas or parts of the Vedas: Jyotish, the study of astronomy and astrology; Kalpa, the study of sacred rites and rituals; nirukta, the study of etymology (origin and meaning of words); shiksha, phonetics; vyakarana, grammar; and chanda, prosody (the study of the structure of poetry, including rhyme, meter, and the patterns of verse forms).
Each of the vedangas is associated with a body part that comprises the ved purush. Jyotish represents the eyes of ved purush, and is an important key to help us realize our true soul nature. Jyotish is the study of the light of celestial bodies. It includes astronomy, the science of the movements of the heavenly bodies and astrology, the study of the influence of the planets on our lives. The rishis and priests of India depended on these sciences, as Vedic rituals were most effective when performed at auspicious times, that is, under the influence of particular constellations. Later, the belief developed that not only the Vedic rituals but all aspects of human endeavor, both individual and communal, were affected by the planetary bodies. Thus, after extensive research, the science of astrology was developed. The two sciences of nakshatra vigyam (or astronomy) and phalit jyotish (predictive astrology) together came to be known as jyotish.