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A Small Glimpse of India's Jyotish Traditions

by Andrew Foss (December ACVA News featured Jyotishi)

Jyotish is to be found in all corners of India and each area has its specialities where certain techniques have been highly developed. Some places are famous for their depth of knowledge. Kerala Jyotishis are especially brilliant in Prashna. First they memorise Brihat Jataka of VarahaMihira and then study Prashna Marga. As far as I gathered from spending quite a lot of time with the astrologers there, Brihat Parashara was little known until recently, though many other texts are there. One pandit told me that he would advise students to practise pranayama for ten years before starting on the Vidya (Jyotish studies). Mantra practices are also key.

Andrew Foss, Ph. D.In Tamil Nadu, there are astrologers who are expert in answering questions just based on the breath. Of course, now these things are quite widely studied. I understand that Dr BV Raman and his family are of a Brahmin community who came to Karnataka from Andhra Pradesh, which is a great seat of Vedic wisdom. Slightly to the North of AP on the East coast is Orissa where Adi Shankaracharya established the Math (Ashrama) for protecting the Rig Veda. It is also the place of the greatest Surya temple (Konarka). In Puri they guard perhaps the only existing copy of the full text of Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra with 108 Chapters. Unfortunately, almost no one has access to it. I will say more about Orissa's traditions below but first I want to mention Bengal, just to the North of Orissa, where a great school of Jyotish has existed. Bengal is the place of Kali and the worship of the Goddess in her various forms is a critical part of Jyotish remedies. Western and Northern India, Nepal and Tibet have their deep traditions also.

My guru belongs to a group of Brahmins who were forced to leave Somanatha in Western India due to constant invasions. The great Shiva temple of Somanatha was established by Lord Krishna, so perhaps that led them to travel to Puri in Orissa on the East coast where a great centre of worship of Krishna in the form of Lord Jagannatha exists.

500 years ago in 1510, Swami Achutyananda took birth. He became one of the PanchaSakha or five friends of the great Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Swamiji was of exceptional brilliance in the Vedic arts and sciences and became the astrologer to the king of Puri. He authored hundreds of books and established schools of astrology and other Vedic sciences in Orissa and beyond. The lineage of Pandit Sanjay Rath traces directly from Swami Achutyananda, the teaching being passed down within the Brahmin families unbroken over this vast stretch of time. The gurus of this tradition have passed down the secrets of Parashara and Jaimini through the traditional training of the youngsters. At the age of nine, a young person would get their principal spiritual initiation (Gayatri). Then they would study the Vidya for 16 years finally graduating as a Jyotishi around 25.

This framework of study is based on the Jaimini Upadesha Sutras which has 4 Adhyayas (chapters) each with 4 Padas (sections). In principle, each of the 16 Padas is studied for one year. That is about one week for each sutra. From that, one can infer the depth of the knowledge deeply encrypted in the sutras. Brihat Parashara was also studied in parallel along with other texts. Each Adhyaya of the Jaimini Sutras is associated with one of the Vedas and requires specific mantras to stabilise the knowledge. As the knowledge of many difficult combinations is acquired, the remedies for that are also taught.

Obviously, for adults wishing to study, 16 years is somewhat impractical so Sanjay has reduced it to five years (one Adhyaya is too long to condense in one year of study). Even that may seem a long time but there is a huge amount of material and much time needs to be devoted to integrating what one learns (see jaiminischolar.org). Maharishi Jaimini is a genius par excellence. My experience after completing the class for the last sutra was quite indescribable.

Parashara's teaching, being a Shastra, is not encrypted. The secrets are hidden in plain sight, but still, without a guru, much will be missed. It is a very established Vedic principle that one must have a guru to study the Shastra. Jaimini wrote in Sutras and this kind of teaching is highly encrypted so the need for guidance from an exponent of the lineage is essential. Not even the greatest mind could fully and correctly decipher these formulas without guidance. Jaimini is related to Ketu and he has hidden the knowledge too well. A sutra may be very short but many layers of meaning can be derived with a very wide application. Some layers will be taught directly by the guru, but the student will be expected to meditate on the sutra and find the finer truths, which are verified with the guru leading to more teachings. This in itself is a powerful practice as is reading and dwelling on the shlokas of Parashara. Because of this, a good grasp of the Sanskrit alphabet is vital. Fortunately, it is not hard to learn the letters, though reading and pronouncing takes practice.

In the end, the Vidya makes the Jyotishi. It is the Grace of the Rishis. We may think they are persons of old fables but that could be a mistake. Studying this knowledge awakens the relationship with the Rishis. Swami Achutyananda, a fairly recent exponent, said that he would remain in the Shunya (void) after leaving the body. As it happens, one can go and consult him even now. It is believed that he speaks through an oracle near Konarka. In this place a Brahmin has a set of copper and silver plates and when someone asks a question respectfully, writing actually appears on the plates (see garoiashram.org). Those belonging to his tradition are often given a mantra, while all receive very pertinent advice.

My friend and colleague James Kelleher has also been to the oracle and told me one especially amusing anecdote. A person visited the oracle but no reply was given to his question. The plate reader asked him to if he had committed any disqualifying act like eating of meat on that day, but no. So they asked again. Still no response. Finally he said he could try only one more time. Then a single line appeared: 'Swami has gone to Puri, back in four hours'.

Andrew Foss Biography
Andrew Foss has a Ph.D. in Computing Science and is also an Oxford physics graduate with publications in Nature and other leading scientific journals. He is the author of the book High-Dimensional Data Mining and a forthcoming book on the mantras of the grahas. He enjoys a deep love of music, art and poetry and has more than 30 years experience studying and teaching the Vedic wisdom around the world. He is the Founding President of the British Association of Vedic Astrology, Editor of the BAVA Journal Gochara and is a Certified Jaimini Scholar. He was given the Jyotish Ratna for contributions to Jyotish. He has developed the unique, easy and powerful software Shri Jyoti Star that has become the first choice amongst the leading Vedic Astrologers around the world. Andrew is married and lives with his family in Virginia, USA. Andrew's website: http://www.vedicsoftware.com

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