Indian Cosmology : Astrological Mysticism in the The Surya Siddhanta – I

A Panchānga, shown above, is a Hindu calendar and almanack, It presents important dates and their calculations in a tabulated form. It is Jyotisha

Earth is a sphere

Thus everywhere on [the surface of] the terrestrial globe,
people suppose their own place higher [than that of others],
yet this globe is in space where there is no above nor below.

Surya Siddhanta, XII.53
Translator: Scott L. Montgomery, Alok Kumar

Many people who are familiar with Indian Epic the Ramayana, will recall the many deeds of Ravana, including the capture of Sita Less known are the extraordinary feats of King Maya. According to the legend, the Hindu Sun god, Surya, highly specific knowledge of the universe to Maya. The series of treatises on that subject is known as the Surya Siddhanta. It is the most ancient book on astronomy believed to exist and it’s alarmingly accurate.  In the history of astronomy and astrology, it is a key document of inestimable value.

To define our terms, Surya is the Sun of Sun god. Solar deities are ubiquitous for reason that are plain enough. Without the Sun there is neither light nor life.

Siddhanta is a Sanskrit term denoting the established and accepted view of any particular school within Indian philosophy. Literally “settled opinion or doctrine, dogma, axiom, received or admitted truth; any fixed or established or canonical text-book on any subject” (Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary).  Surya (the supreme light) was the main solar deity in Hinduism; and also represents the Sun in India and Nepal. He is one of the core elements of Hindu astrology;  “Surya was the chief of Navagraha and the Classical Planets. He had 3 wives; Saranyu, Yama, and Yami. From northeast India, 11th century CE”. (Curator at National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK)

A sculpture of the Hindu sun-god Surya. The god is in a typical pose holding lotus flowers. Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh, India, c. 1100-1150 CE. (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

It has become increasingly apparent, with the re-discovery of Hellenistic and Arabian astrology that we don’t have all the pieces. Without the study of Persian and Indian astrology, metaphysics and astronomy, we are missing elements that cause the relative break down in later systems. I notice this often in the venerable greek texts, where I’m not alone left wondering what on earth the writer was thinking. Moreover, some of the techniques handed down to us from these sources lack consistent credibility. Some appear to be next to useless after decades of experimentation.

It would be quite impossible of course to do more than provide an introduction to the Indian systems and to point to particularly relevant sources of influence. I believe the greatest synthesis of early astrological synthesis was achieved in ancient Persia. This is only natural as Persia is like a geographical bridge between the Hellenistic, the Babylonian and Indian. This is part I of what I anticipate will be part of three.

Western culture, beginning with the Greeks, developed a taste for, and some ability at, writing more or less objective histories. Cultures who valued reason and logic over the mythological have strong advantages and many disadvantages. Indians did not make absolute distinctions between history and mythology and appear to have been particularly adept at finding a way for reason and mysticism to flourish. The Vedas were never considered ‘fiction’ as such. A linear narrative has no place in this view and in fact, most Indians believe the Vedas have neither a beginning nor an end.  They are immortal. They are spiritual. They offer practical guidance and even mathematical knowledge. At the same time, the age of the universe is the age of Brahma.

The easiest way to realize the difference, which I have admittedly simplified to some extent, is to ground the understanding in the infinite, a reality in which the temporal is subordinate to the infinite in all respects. The infinite is, of course, the source of the temporal, but Western culture became amnesiacal about this a very long time ago. Logical categories can be helpful but they can quickly become nothing more than cookie cutters. This system attempt to reduce the complexities of human existence by making the thing appear to be smaller, more manageable and separate from each other. However, consolation is not always the road to truth.

The Surya Siddhanta is a treatise on traditional Indian astronomy, said to date back over 1500 years and attributed to Mamuni Mayan, a Promethean hero in Tamil culture. There is a vibrant tradition that tells us the work is 2 million years old.  Be that as it may, it forms the basis of the Hindu and Buddhist calendars. Subsequent mathematicians and astronomers such as Aryabhata and Varahamihira frequently referred to it.

In his own work, Pancha Siddhanta, Varahamihira to other treatises: it is, besides the Paitamaha Siddhantas (more or less identical to the “classical” Védanga Jyotisha ) of Siddhantas Paulisha and Romaka(directly inspired by Hellenistic astronomy ) and Vasishta Siddhanta.

The book Surya Siddhanta has clearly been reworked more than once. However. it is not impossible that there was a volume with the same title from the Mauryan Empire, providing a date sometime in the third century B.C. in southernmost, including what is now Sri Lanka.

Of immediate interest to the student of the history of astronomy and astrology, we are provided with rules allowing us to assign to the stars movements in accordance with their position in the sky. It provides the positions of several different stars of the lunar nakshatras and even addresses the calculation of the solar eclipse.

In the upcoming series of article, I intend to look closely at some core elements in the Surya Siddhanta in light of astrological theory. Onew such element is the importance of the Nakshatras.

Hindu Metaphysics – Yantra Mandala illustration

The Introduction to the work tells us that “The Surya Siddhanta is at the top of this class of revelations. It was revealed to Maya an Asura, in all probability an Assyrian or rather a Babylonian.” (See Surya-Siddhanta (11935)    The Assyrian and Babylonian element is not at first very obvious, but as the work progresses we find some markedly interesting parallels. much of it in the realm of what is these days referred to as visible astrology, the periods and phases of the planets and more. Yet The work itself tells us that the Surya-Siddhanta was “revealed more than 2,164,960 years ago, that amount of time having elapsed, according to Hindu reckoning, since the end of the Golden Age” (p.I)

It is these massive periods that have left many astronomers aghast, although the late Carl Sagan was fascinated by them. We do, after all, look through a glass darkly and the ordinary human mind is not equipped to deal with concepts such as infinity or to fully grasp the significance in the knowledge that the light of stars that died a million years ago that hasn’t reached us yet. What we are seeing in deep space is the distant past.

The antiquity of the transmission is calculated using the Nakshatra system – the matching of an asterism at the very point at which it would have to have occurred in this system.:

“In calculating the conjunction (yoga) of a planet and an asterism (nakshatra), in determining the setting and rising of a planet, and in finding the elevation of the moon’s cusps, this operation for apparent longitude (drkkarman) is first prescribed.” (p. 190)


  1.  Cf. Bhāskarācārya, Bapu Deva Sastri, la traduction en anglais du Surya Siddhanta, Lancelot Wilkinson (ISBN 3-76481-334-2lire en ligne [archive])
  1. This painting from a manuscript depicts the Sun and Moon. The deer is associated with the moon in Indian culture and often used to symbolize the Moon in pictures. Image by British Library (copyright CCO 11,1 Creative Commons).

Spring Equinox / Nouruz – 2017

Wishing Everyone a Great Spring Equinox / Nouruz The Chart is Set for GMT.

The celebration of the New Year in one way or another is virtually universal, although what is recognized as the new year differs. In the Western world, including that of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Winter Solstice is central in the Northern Hemisphere. Some forms of European Paganism take Samhain or All Saint’s Day as the marker for the New Year.  In Mithraism, the Winter Solstice, while Zoroastrianism, often conflated with Mithraism, takes the Spring Solstice and Entrance of the Sun into Aries, the Sun’s place of Exaltation

In Mithraism, the Winter Solstice, while Zoroastrianism, often conflated with Mithraism, takes the Spring Solstice and Entrance of the Sun into Aries, the Sun’s place of Exaltation

Reporter Shuka Kalantari records the sounds of a Persian New Year’s celebration at her friend’s home. Jumping over the fire is a symbolic gesture to start a fresh new yea

Traditional Astrologers always use 00°Aries. This calculation holds a very important place because it’s considered the Chart of the Year. The planet or luminary with the greatest Essential and Accidental Dignity is the Lord of the Year (LOY).  This year, the Sun is overwhelmingly the LOY! If the chart were cast elsewhere, where the Sun were below the horizon, and perhaps in a cadent house, it would not be surprising to find another body take his place as LOY.

Because this chart is of greatest use in the GMT Time Zone and with a northerly latitude, it speaks most obviously to the UK. I invite you to reproduce this chart for different regions. However, no matter where it is, that tight conjunction of the Moon and Saturn by itself doesn’t bode well.

Apadana relief depicting Armenians bringing wine to Nouruz in Persepolis

Nevertheless, this is no time to be worrying.  Nouruz has things in common with Easter, such as fertility (including eggs) and the theme of resurrection – the triumphant return of the Sun is all its blazing glory. These are metaphors to be sure.

Zoroastrianism is almost certainly the oldest monotheistic religions, with roots in  Sumer, Babylon, Assyria,  Persia, India and Central Asia.   Today, it is also celebrated in Afghanistan Azerbaijan, Russian Federation Kazakhstan Uzbekistan Pakistan and Turkey.

That Nouruz survives after thousands of years and calculated at the same time of year, testifies to its extraordinary power. Zoroastrianism is famously optimistic and the eternal flames are kept in her temples. This fire festival is one of sheer exuberance, joy, and gratitude. The Sun is the bringer and origin of life

Revelers jump bonfires and eat ashes to celebrate the first day of Spring and the Sun in his Exaltation.

“All evil vanishes from he who keeps the Sun in his heart.” – Indian proverb

Sacred Science & Materialistic Literalism

Pythagoras - Detail from Raphael's "School of Athens"

Pythagoras – Detail from Raphael’s “School of Athens”

Considering the extreme distaste modern scientists have for dogma, they can be surprisingly dogmatic. Of course the greatest minds realize there is not a single means of perception and the same phenomena can be seen and understood in different ways without being wrong. For example, The Vedas show a remarkable wisdom and understanding which may fairly be called sacred science. Yet the hubris of modern scientists often finds the term sacred science to be oxymoronic.

There is a persistent and pernicious belief that real intelligence began with the Enlightenment . Whether of not this is wilful ignorance, it is blind to the extraordinary wisdom and what I would call sacred science which is older by thousands of years. Much of it is only now being understood by modern people.

However, much of the common parlance of scientists suggests a teleological sensibility, For example, I recently watched a wonderful documentary on marine life at 15,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Philippines. .

Essentially all life forms at that depth have a luminescence comparable to the terrestrial firefly. Then the marine biologist in charge stated that a jelly fish like creature had a red stomach so that other life forms couldn’t see luminescence in the stomach.

That statement is in fact teleological. It is telling us that this trait exists for a reason and is therefore not the result of random mutation. The Oxford English Dictionary defines teleological as an “explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.” The sense that there is meaning and purpose in the universe beyond what is virtually blind chance has been ridiculed by the term “Intelligent Design.”untitled

While the vast majority of astrologers would want to distance themselves from biblical literalism with a fear of science, the term itself is well conceived. Every time a scientist finds herself explaining creation by the purpose they serve, she betrays a split in consciousness.

There has been a hoax circulating for many years suggesting that Einstein was supportive, even admiring, of astrology. It’s a moot point in any case as there is no evidence that Einstein ever studied astrology. I cannot think why he would. However, for those of us who dostudy astrology, his scientific and philosophical views seem familiar and harmonious.

In an interview with Alfred Stern in the Contemporary Jewish Record 8  (June 1945 pp. 245-249,  Einstein tells us that he is “not a positivist. Positivism states that what cannot be observed does not exist. This conception is scientifically indefensible, for it is impossible to make valid affirmations of what people ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ observe. One would have to say ‘only what we observe exists’, which is obviously false.” ~

This video addresses these issues in an intelligent and respectful way.*


Modern materialist thought tends to be childishly literal, finding ancient systems of though such as astrology to be mere superstition or worse. Ironically, the greatest minds who lay the basis and furthered the cause of science were also serious astrologers. These include Galileo, Nicolas Copernicus and Sir Isaac Newton to name but a few. Wisdom and science were never so much at war as they have been since the European 18th Century

*I would like to give credit for the creator of this video, but have regrettably been unable to establish provenance beyond the VideoPress stamp. If you have this information, please contact me.

Ancient Astronomy & Cosmology : Sun Temple of Konark

From the Cult of  Apollo to Plato’s Phaedran Charioteer to the Egyptians and Hindus the Solar Chariot drawn by seven horses  has been a central metaphor not just of the passage of the Sun, but of Cosmic harmony itself. This entire temple is layered with cosmic symbolism .

The temples is oriented on the East – West Axis overlooking the Bay of Bengal.

Pisces – A Bridge Between the Worlds

Matsya_avatarI have wanted to write a short piece on Pisces for some time. There have been a few reasons holding me back, not least the fact that I’m a solar Pisces and could be considered biased.

However, I have no interest in elevating Pisces beyond its station. That would serve no useful purpose. I also find my self at odds with one or two classical writers. In any case, my argument holds true for all signs to a greater or lesser degree.

My intent is constructive and corrective. I’m writing as a Traditional astrologer who knows that valuable elements of the Tradition have been lost I would like to make some small attempt to correct that.

It is “every astrologer’s duty to avail himself, with the utmost of understanding, of all knowledge that is applicable to the science, whereby to arrive at the true and correct explanations which alone can bring the improved technic that will enhance Astrology’s value to society.” (Nicholas DeVore: Encyclopaedia of Astrology)

The crux of the matter is an obvious problem with Traditional astrology. It tends to fall down and fail us when it comes to the spiritual and the emotional.  I have chosen the Sign Pisces to demonstrate what I mean for fairly obvious reasons — a particular spirituality and emotionality are strong in Pisces.

This process is deeply ironic because Traditional astrology evolved in a highly spiritual tradition. It wasn’t materialistic but I see elements of the art that are becoming so. Much of Medieval astrology shows astonishing ignorance of true spirituality. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s universal, but it is pervasive. This is not actually part of the tradition. It’s something the tradition lost along the way and needs to be reclaimed. . Let’s take a look at what Vettius Valens has to say about the sign PiscesDetail, fish, fountain Piazza Navone, Rome Italy

Pisces is the celestial sign which is feminine, moist, quite wet, bicorporeal, with many offspring, mossy, scaley, sinewy, humpbacked, leprous, two-formed, mute, motile, with rough skin, in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other southern.  It is moist, downward-trending, servile, changeable, with many offspring, bicorporeal, sociable/lewd, with some limbs missing, the cause of wandering, varied.  Men born under this sign are unsteady, unreliable, changing from bad fortune to good, sexy, theivish, shameless, prolific, popular.

As a whole, Pisces is cool and breezy.  By parts it is as follows: the first parts are temperate, the middle moist, the last destructive and worthless…

If you didn’t know what Valens was describing, I’m not at all sure that *human being* would be the first thing to come to mind.  Although there are one or two half truths in his description, he is spectacularly lacking in ability when he tries to describe a complete human., albeit a hypothetical one.. .matsyafish

There is nothing  in what he says that’s really of any use to us at all, unless of course we want a Pisces to jump from a tall building.. In any case, once someone has made the statement that Pisceans are “humpbacked, scaly” thieves who “have some limbs missing” and are “worthless”  it’s very hard to take him seriously.

That is not to say that Valens was not the conduit for some Hellenistic thought and techniques that many find useful. It merely tells us he has no grasp of his subject matter in this case and many others. It has been suspected that Valens was not a practising astrologer and these sorts of things strengthen that hypothesis.  Moreover, the same can be said for his description of  all the signs. I have discussed Valens in relation to Aquarius already. It doesn’t sound like he’s describing authentic archetypes or human beings.

By way of comparison, let’s see what William Lilly has to say:

Pisces is of the Watry Triplicity, Northern, cold Sign, moyst, Flegmatick, feminine, ; nocturnal, the house of Jupiter, and exaltation of Venus, a  Bycorporeal, common or double-bodied Sign, an idle, effeminate, sickly Sign, or representing a party of no action.

I find his description to be correct and believable in all respects. I have no difficulty believing the writer is actually an astrologer with useful information. However, I do not find it complete by any means. The core and essence of  Pisces is its otherworldly spirituality that only *looks* like a party of no action. I suppose one could say the same of virtually any monk or poet  No credible human being has ever accused Pisces of being shallow. There is nothing of the selflessness or finely tuned nervous system, but then Lily’s main work appears to have been Horary. . There is certainly nothing about self sacrifice, Avatars or Messiahs.  This is part of the other side of Pisces missing from many traditional sources, but not all.

I just read an article by a fine astrologer who nevertheless claimed that Jupiter “struggles” in Pisces. I wonder if any traditional astrologer has made the same argument about any other planet in his or her domicile?  How can it be that the Greater Benefic rules such a sign?

David Frawley cites a short hymn to Jupiter:” I worship Jupiter the teacher of the gods and the seers, who has the luster of gold endowed with wisdom, the ruler of the three worlds.” (Astrology of the Seers p. 26). Obviously there is no “struggle” for Jupiter here. This fits Pisces and Sagittarius very well. Frawley’s longer section on the Sign Pisces is a fair balance of positive and negative, weaknesses and strengths.

In Babylonian times and beyond, the constellation was known and named. In Babylon as well as China, the primary concern was calendrical and focused on the position and phases of the  stars rather than constellations ( Glendow Origin of Zodiac p. 28).

Pisces is among the oldest recorded constellations. – and this in spite of the fact that the physical constellation is quite unremarkable and comparatively faint. It was first named the Tails or Shiny Tails. The association of the fish with Christianity is a much later attribution and has in many ways confused the original significance .

The Fishes is a symbol that appears to precede the constellation. They show up in myths that are very similar , even though from vastly different cultures. As such we can fairly call it an archetype. The theme of redemption in one form or another is at the heart of each on the stories.

vishnu matsya

Vishnu – Matsya

The Ikhthyes (or Ichthyes) were a pair of large Syrian river fish who rescued Aphrodite and Eros when they were fleeing from the monster Typhon. Another version of the myth says that the two gods disguised themselves as fish to escape the monster, or that the fish assisted in the birth of Aphrodite. In another version of this myth, the fish “Pisces” carry Aphrodite and her son out of danger. In all versions of the story, they were placed amongst the stars as the Constellation Pisces. It doesn’t mater in the end because one way or another two fish saved Aphrodite and Eros and then became the constellation of the Fishes.

Paul Klee - Around the Fish - Note the Various Symbols

Paul Klee – Around the Fish – Note the Various Symbols from Pentagrams, Cross and Vesica Pisces

Here’s a bit more on the ubiquitous Fish from the deep archetype.  Salmon were sacred to the ancient Celts,  sometimes referred to as the Salmon of knowledge or wisdom. If you caught one with your hands and held it up to your ear, it would whisper wise ranns to you.

Salmon leaping from a river were symbolic of self-transcendence. The Salmon at the bottom of a well is a well known image to anyone familiar with Celtic spirituality. Wells and springs had a special significance as a means to communicate with the waters of the earth. The natives of the Pacific Northwest where I live take the Salmon as on of their main totem animals

Pisces Symbol derived from Vesica Piscis

Pisces Symbol derived from Vesica Piscis

Indian, Greek and Persian astrologers had a great deal of contact  during the greatest days of Alexandria.

According to Hindu belief, it is a Fish who is Matsyu  that warns Manu of the impending flood, urging him to store all manner of grains in a boat. We learn that Matsyu is among  the primary manifestations of  Vishnu. Manu escapes with the “Seven Sages”  and the Fish then pulls and protects the boat until the mariners are safe and the grain is planted on dry land. Matsya may be depicted as a giant fish, or with a human torso connected to the rear half of a fish.

Vishnu as Matsya Returning the Vedas to Brahma

Vishnu as Matsya Returning the Vedas to Brahma

In later versions of this story, the Sacred Vedas are hidden by a demon whom Matsya slays. Manu is again rescued and the holy scriptures recovered.

To find out what Indian astrologers think of the sign, I consulted Vedic astrologers.  Apparently Indian astrologers remember what the Western tradition had forgotten or discarded.

Some of the themes for Pisces were: The veils-scales between Two Worlds  and similarly the Bridge-Pathways to the world of the Ancestors and Private Guidance toward the development of personal, interior Wisdom and Compassion (Guru).  Private, sentient guidance across the bridge from material, waking life to meditative, astral dream life. The contrast, particularly in relation to Valens, is enormous and substantial.

There is  of course much of the standard Piscean traits listed such as: “emotional, expansive, intuitive, and imaginative…. they can be amorphous, hard to pin down … tend toward emotional disorders and have sensitive nervous and digestive systems.” (Frawley p. 125)

These insights are genuinely helpful because they embrace the whole person: body, mind and soul. This is what is lacking in much of  Traditional Western Astrology as understood and practised in the third millenium.

Somewhere along the way the integral spirituality of  Traditional astrology was discarded. It is not lost however. I was very much impressed with Ibn Arabi’s Mystical Astrology and we are amongst several cultures who do not have spiritual amnesia. Indian astrologers have maintained a high level of awareness in this regard. It’s important to know your roots.

If you take the living archetypes out of astrology all you have is dry method, capable of telling you where you lost your credit card, but doing precious little for the soul. Read Plato on the Forms and you may never see the archetypes n the same way.738194_517251011638684_1237929645_o