Archives for category: Stellar obsession
moon days

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The Gregorian calendar that we use in India to get along with our lives in the modern world is like a mask  traditional India wears. The lunar calendar is the face behind it. What is fascinating is the ingenious marriage of the two as it has evolved in the lunar calendar for the traditionalist called the Panchang. While each of its pages displays a month of the solar calendar with dates as per the Gregorian calendar, it is impressive to see how with each Gregorian date, in the square for it is entered all manner of information on the passage of the lunar date and its astrological significance and the lunar defined festivals which are not merely stellar and astrological events but deeply religious ones.

Hindu spirituality and the stellar world are coterminous. Hindu mythology and cosmology move hand in hand each reflecting and strengthening the other. For the Hindu, the birth of the cosmos was after all a metaphysical event as much as a physical one. In the Beyond Beyond state, the Universal Unconscious Mind for a moment experienced an egotistical consciousness, triggering creation. Thus myth and math combine and while a pragmatic determination of  days is derived from calculation of degrees and their sub division in the movement of the Moon and the Sun through the constellations of the Zodiac, the material fact governing the passage of material time in the material lives  of people, there is also the metaphysical significance attached to these stellar passages based on the mythology and cosmology of the Vedas and the scriptures.Thus the gods acquire a stellar context, while the planets, a mythological one, with mythological reasons for their placement. 

At the back of my mind therefore I have always been aware of that lunar date for addressing those issues but never really enquired who fixed it and how. Most Pundits and astrologers get their information from the Almanac while the public, from the dates given in the Panchang calendar but they rarely bother to find out how these dates get fixed. A lunar day can begin at any time during the Gregorian day and likewise end at any time with no regularity. Therefore festivals never arrive on the same Gregorian date each year. Sometimes there are two and on rare occasions even three lunar days during one Gregorian day. Intrigued and confused I decided to find out and called a reputed astrologer home to get to the heart of the matter. He warned me that it would be beyond my comprehension but I insisted that he give it a try. The following is the result of that.

Days of the month according to the Hindu Almanac begin with the first day after the full moon, Purnima and continue for fifteen days till no-moon, Amavasya. This is the phase called Krishna Paksha ( dark as Lord Krishna). Then commences the remaining half of the month when the Moon is in ascent called the Shukla Paksha. The thirty lunar ‘days’ of the two halves in terms of our solar month gets compressed into 27/29 days depending on the movement of the Moon. When a Tithi begins at sunrise it is co-terminous with a solar day but sometimes a Tithi can extend into more than a solar day even extending into the third solar day. Tithis extending into several solar days are considered inauspicious for certain activities like marriage.

The principle for determining a lunar day is acutely complex but with full astronomical logic. Simply put, the lunar day or Tithi is determined by calculating the difference in the longitudinal locations of the Sun and Moon in the Zodiac at 5.30 AM on any solar day. The figures for the location of the Moon are subtracted from the figures for the location of the Sun to arrive at the difference in degrees, which is then divided by 12. This is because it would be recalled, the Moon is deemed to traverse one Tithi every time it moves 12 degrees from the Sun’s location. From the resulting figure is subtracted 15 ( lunar days). The balance figure indicates the Tithi on a particular solar day in the Gregorian calendar.

samrat yantra

Giant Sun Dial 1800 A.D. Jaipur

iPhoto Library

Jai Singh II the Astrologer King who built the observatory

The Panchang has two sets of tables in regard to the Tithi. One provides the location of the Sun, Moon and other planets at 5.30 AM on days of the Gregorian calendar, throughout the year. The time 5.30 AM has been adopted as mean time. The second set is specific to a city and provides the exact time of sunrise and sunset which varies from place to place. This information is necessary because the Sun is the principal heavenly body in astrology and is also the ‘witness’, much as fire is the witness in ritualistic fire worship of Yagyas. The daylight hours are the hours of the witness and therefore the span of time from sunrise to sunset become crucial as all auspicious activities must take place during this time. Furthermore before the advent of standard time for all India, it was the practice to calculate Tithis from place to place based on the time of sunrise and sunset. One Hindu king even went as far as building a grand open air observatory in the city of Jaipur in the 18th century to determine the precise movements of the Sun.

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Another early 18th century sundial at the Jaipur astrological observatory

Let us now try and calculate a Tithi to make the issue clear. According to the Panchang on 25 July 2003 ( the date on which I consulted the astrologer about the manner of fixing Tithis) the Tithi at Jaipur was Ekadasi, the 11th lunar day. On that day the longitudinal location of the Sun and Moon are given as follows   

  Zodiac Sign                  Degree

                      ( Rashi )                   ( Ansha )                   

Moon            1 (i.e. 12+1=13)            18                   

Sun                      3                                8

                                                                                                  ___________________________________

                                                                                                        subtract            10                                  10

NOTE: Each Zodiac Sign has  30 degrees of the 360 degrees of the Zodiac ( 12 Signs x 30 = 360)

The above indicates that on 25 July 2003 the Moon having traveled through the first Sign, Aries, was now in Taurus second Sign of the Zodiac having completed 18 degrees out of 30 degrees of Taurus. The Sun having traveled through the third Sign Gemini was in the fourth Sign Cancer having completed 8 degrees out of the 30 degrees of Cancer. The difference in the positions of the Sun and Moon was 10 Signs which is 10×30 degrees = 300 degrees. Add to that the difference in degrees which was 10, equalling 310 degrees. As the lunar calendar is divided into two phases of 15 days we subtract 15 days from no-moon to full moon (180 degrees) and are left with 130 degrees. Every time the Moon moves 12 degrees from the Sun it constitutes a Tithi. Dividing 130 degrees by 12 we get 10.8 days after the full moon. Thankfully this tortuous excersise is done by experts and the Pundit or the common man does not have to turn his hair grey doing it.

On 25 July therefore at 5.30 AM the major part of the 11th Tithi would have passed and only 0.2 of that Tithi would carry into the day until 8.58 AM at which point the 12th Tithi, Dvadashi would commence. Thus on the 25th July two lunar dates would occur, the eleventh and the twelfth. The twelfth would in turn terminate on the 26th at 10.42 AM. The above shows that lunar dates can occur at any time during the solar date and carry into the next solar date. The precise times of commencement and termination of Tithis are crucial for predictions of auspicious and inauspicious times for events in a Hindu’s life, for drawing up his horoscope, commencements of festivals and timings for prayers and even engaging in commercial activity. The Panchang provides all such information from city to city and are therefore an invaluable necessity for regulating such activities.

Now that we know what a Tithi actually is let us turn to their classification, to learn how some are auspicious and others not so. The basic principle is the strength of the Moon. It is generally auspicious when in full strength, five days either side of full moon, moderately so in between and inauspicious as it reaches no-moon status for five days on either side of no-moon.

The Tithis are classified in groups of three, into five categories : Poorna, Rikta, Jaya, Bhadra, and Nanda.

The Poorna Tithi implies that it is full, complete, all embracing and generally positive in conferring good effects. (These astrological interpretations based on Vedic injunctions are what one may call forecasts of a general nature for the multitude, equally applicable to all. The particular astrological forecasts for an individual of course will have to rely on his individual horoscope)  The 5th, 10th, and 15th tithis are Poorna, which includes the full moon day, Purnima falling on the 15th tithi of Shukla Paksh. There is a traditional practice of leaving some milk in a metal salver in the open on such nights so that the auspicious rays of the full moon may empower the milk which is consumed the next day ensuring good health and fortune. The ruling planet of Poorna Tithis is Jupiter who confers riches, growth and strength. For religious and auspicious activities these are the best Tithis, particularly if they fall on Thursdays, whose lord is also Jupiter.

As against the Poorna, there are the empty category called Rikta, denoting want, impoverishment, weakness and scarcity. No celebrations or activities for gain should be undertaken on these Tithis. They are the 4th, 9th, and 14th Tithis. Their lord is Saturn, distant from the Sun and therefore a dark planet of want. A Rikta falling on a Saturday is particularly inauspicious.

Another category is Jaya signifying victory and courage. These fall on the 3rd, 8th and 13th. Here again the best Jayas are the 13th of Shukla Paksh (ascendant phase) and 3rd of Krishna Paksh ( descending phase), somewhat auspicious being the 8th of Shukla and Krishna and least auspicious are the 13th of Krishna and 3rd of Shukla. Lord of Jayas is Mars, therefore the best Jayas would be those that fall on Tuesdays, whose lord again is Mars. In activities where victory is desired, like in battle, legal conflict etc, Jayas are the best days to launch such activities.

Then we have the Bhadra category concerned with charitable and welfare activities. These fall on the 2nd,7th and 12th. Here again the most auspicious Bhadras are the 12th of shukla and 2nd of Krishna. the least auspicious are the 2nd of Shukla and 12th of Krishna. The ruling planet of Bhadras is Mercury and the best Bhadra would be the one falling on Wednesdays whose lord is Mercury.

finally there is the Nanda category falling on the 1st, 6th and 11th Tithis. Their lord is Venus and they denote pleasurable activities. These Tithis are appropriate for inaugurations and entertainment. The best Nandas fall on Fridays, Venus’ day and the most auspicious Nandas are the 11th Tithi of Shukla Paksha and 1st Tithi of Krishna Paksha.

This is how the curious Tithis rule the lives of Hindu traditionalists and often even those who are not but who wish to be on the right side of the stars, just in case. 

jantar mantar

Sun Dials at the famous 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory Jaipur.

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Credit: indiamart.com 12 zodiac signs surrounded by 27 Nakshatras (Asterisms) through which the moon passes each lunar day

India’s culture and civilization have always displayed an intriguing obsession with stellar phenomena. The Hindu infatuation with the movement of the planets, the Zodiac and the Asterisms is quite unique, deeply affecting social behaviour, religious observances, fasts and festivals, ritual and customs and even commercial and trading activities. More plausibly, it has also been the basis for determining the passage of time and fixing the duration of a day, a month and the year in the Hindu lunar calendar at a time when the benefits of modern time scales and calendars were not available in ancient India.

hindu priestWhile other cultures are not unfamiliar with astrology, there is a fundamental difference in the manner in which it is treated by other established religions. Generally it is viewed with suspicion if not hostility as a heterodox discipline at variance with religious dogma and therefore to be clubbed with heretical beliefs like witchcraft. In Hinduism, on the contrary, it is given unequivocal scriptural sanction, incorporating astrological practices within the very rituals of worship. Thus the planets themselves are included in the pantheon of deities and find a place in ritual worship, with some temples even being dedicated to them. It is therefore not surprising that Hindu clerics and the priesthood are required to be proficient in Astrology if they are to discharge their religious duties effectively. thus in India we find that the Pundit and the astrologer are more or less synonymous. This is not the case with priests of other religions.

panchang

Almanacs in a shop

The Hindu lunar calendar is in fact an exercise in Astronomy, providing forecasts in Almanacs meticulously accurate and prepared for every major city covering the zones in their vicinity, on a daily basis the precise time of sunrise and sunset and movements of the planets, Zodiacs and Asterisms ( Nakshatras) down to the minute. This becomes invaluable information for religious and social observances and ‘prohibitions’ for the lay man and the cleric.

Let us then take a peek into this India to see what happens on a daily basis in the lives of its denizens:

asasasasasas

Shani Dev

We begin at a traffic light where we have halted our vehicle when it turned red. A boy comes running up holding aloft what looks like a small stainless steel bucket full of mustard oil. Not the usual street urchin demanding alms so persistently. In the oil in the bucket sits a metal deity. The boy calls ‘Shani Dev Shani Dev’ ( Lord Saturn). As it is a saturday, Lord Saturn’s day, we are expected to drop some offering into the container to ward off inauspicious events waiting to happen to us in the course of the day. Lord Saturn is known popularly to cause many painful trials on his day ( for our evolution). We have just glimpsed a planet arriving at a traffic road light – close encounter on a busy Indian street on a quite ordinary day!

mangal_bhagwanThen again when looking for a spouse for your daughter you may discover that the prominence of Mars in her astrological chart makes her into what is called a ‘Mangli’ (Martian). A serious disqualification as  it could result in the premature demise of a prospective spouse. Such an  astrological chart sent for ‘matching’, a necessity in arranged Hindu marriages, gets promptly rejected unless the prospective groom is also a ‘Martian’ when the two defects cancel each other out. Another close encounter, this time with Mars in an Indian home.

On another quite ordinary day you irritably phone the contractor at your building site to esquire why the labourers, plumbers and electricians have failed to turn up. With some annoyance he retorts, ”don’t you know?” Know what? It is neither a weekend nor Sunday, no national holiday, no festival  either, nothing? He explains with some exasperation, ”Sir, It is Amavasya – a No-Moon day which is inauspicious, a day on which labourers and handymen don’t work. They may work on weekends and Sundays even but not on Amavasya which occurs once a month without warning on any Georgian calendar – you better arm yourself with a lunar Hindu calendar. This time close encounter with the Moon on a work site!

ketu

Ketu

rahuDuring lunar and solar eclipses all auspicious activity is suspended. There is no question of going out to watch the phenomenon through dark lenses, the family remain huddled indoors till it passes, particularly pregnant women. Evil forces are abroad then in the shape of the demons Rahu or Ketu ( titans who drank the cup of nectar but were cut asunder to prevent it having its effect of immortality reserved for the gods – Rahu now a bodyless head and Ketu a headless body) who, though astrologically only lunar nodes, are deemed to be planets in their own right capable of causing great harm. particularly when they ‘swallow the luminous heavenly bodies the Sun and the Moon during eclipses. After the eclipse, purification baths and fasts are in order to cleanse the body and spirit of the evil that has just passed; another close cosmic encounter.

But cosmic events are not generally ominous. every full moon,( Purnima). important festivals and celebrations gladden the spirit. The birth of great personages like the Buddha and guru Nanak of the Sikh faith happen to fall on the full moon. However on the fourth day after No-moon one never looks at the misshapen planet for if you did a great misfortune like burglary would occur in ones home.

kumbhThen you have the  great religious gatherings or super pilgrimages at the confluence of certain rivers when millions from the four corners of the sub-continent congregate for a holy dip under a unique configuration of stars at a given moment at the great festival of Kumbh, to wash off sins and gain spiritual and material credit . This happens when the Sun the Moon and Jupiter arrive together in preordained constellations every twelve years. This commemorates the tussle for the pot of nectar, the Kumbh, which emerged from the celestial churning of the oceans by the gods and Titans. In the ensuing struggle some drops spilled onto the earth. these mythical spots become the centres of pilgrimage for millions of devotees. Aside from the pilgrims, retinues of mendicants and naked fakirs belonging to well established esoteric orders surviving over millenia in remote corners of  India and the high Himalayas arrive on horseback, elephants and chariots, resplendent with spears, gleaming tridents, unsheathed swords and caste marks on their bodies and foreheads, for the holy dip. Some are stark naked on horseback, having shed all attributes of ego, including garments, others bejeweled in silken robes of saffron and white, yet others, as a mark of containing their passions are known to walk with their phalli bandaged and tied to their wastes. It is a sight from pre-history and attracts foreign tourists in droves.

makar sakranti`But India’s stellar obsession is not confined to social, religious or festive occasions. commercial activity also come within its ubiquitous embrace. The practical and down to earth broker may advise you to postpone a sale or purchase of stock not because of market forces arising from commercial considerations like the possibility of a reduction in the bank rate or likelihood of anticipated foreign investments or say India-Pakistan tension on the border – he will insist that you wait till the fourteenth of January. The month before the fourteenth is ‘Malmaas’, an inauspicious phase which ends on the thirteenth. The fourteenth is a most auspicious day celebrated as the great festival of ‘Makar-Sankranti’ or ‘passage into Capricorn’, passage that is of the Sun. It marks the moment the Sun at the southernmost point from the equator begins on its journey northwards. thus far the nights have grown longer during winter and the days shorter. From the fourteenth begins the process of longer days and shorter nights. More Sun means more growth in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Maker Sankranti marks the moment of transition, the northern swing of the Sun, Uttarayan as opposed to Dakshinayan, the southern swing commencing in July on Kark ( cancer)Sankranti. Makar Sankranti has its latent effect on the stock market as many traders commence maximum trading on that auspicious day.To celebrate the day people fly kites from rooftops all over the cities, families picnic on roofs. The day is so auspicious that Governors and even Prime Ministers have been known to postpone oath taking ceremonies to assume charge till the arrival of this day.

male with earringsSometimes the influence of the distant stars is to be found in the most curious of places, an ear lobe. The piercing of an ear lobe is not merely for wearing earrings. Often in rural areas one finds that men also sport earrings. It is believed to ward off the blemishes in one’s horoscope The effect of the presence of the demonic lunar node Ketu in certain houses of one’s chart could result in being bitten by snakes, scorpions and dogs. the piercing of the lobe replicates the ‘bite’ and pre-empts it with a prophylactic warding off of the evil portent.

Thus it becomes crucial to have the Pundit draw up horoscopes at birth and thereafter to monitor the charts through the seasons and events of one’s life to take advantage of stellar events and be forewarned of ominous portents by taking adequate steps to counter them through prohibitions and corrective rituals and prayer.

Indeed the place of Astrology is assured in India and astrologers do a roaring business. There are now many computerized astrological centres throughout the country with their hands full.

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