By Robert Currey
Something unusual happened in India in January 2016. For over two thousand years, Astrology in India – sometimes called Vedic or Hindu astrology – has been on a separate trajectory from Western Astrology. However, Indian and Western astrologers met at a large conference in Kolkata. The experience promises to open up an era of constructive collaboration.
While on the sub-continent astrology has kept a revered role in society and its traditions have been preserved, Western Astrology has spread to become a counter-culture that is increasingly fragmented. Western astrologers have specialised and diversified into various branches of astrology, including ancient, traditional, psychological and scientific, to name but a few of many categories.
Both traditions consider the Sun and the Moon as planets. However, most Western astrologers work with ten ‘planets’ including the outer planets and Pluto. Some also include dwarf planets such as Chiron. In traditional Vedic Astrology, or Jyotish, there are nine ‘planets’. In addition to the visible planets, Vedic horoscopes include Rahu and Ketu – the nodes of the Moon (eclipse points).
The Indian signs of the zodiac are loosely based on the constellations that lie along the ecliptic (the path of the sun), which is divided into twelve equal sections. The Western zodiac is calculated from the position of the Sun at the March equinox. So 0° of Tropical Aries is the point where the ecliptic and the celestial equator meet in the east. Due to the apparent movement of the stars relative to the seasons, known as the precession of the equinox, the two systems now diverge by about 24° – a gap known in Sanskrit as the Ayanamsa.
It is not known exactly how astrology spread, although there were millennia of intellectual cross-pollination between Europe and Asia. This exchange occurred via the bustling sea trade from ancient and Hellenistic Egypt with the ports of India and overland via the Silk Road network through Mesopotamia and Persia branching out into India. Warfare also played a part with conquerors such as Alexander the Great spreading and extracting intelligence on celestial technology on his journey from Macedonia.
Traditionally, Eurocentric historians favoured a narrative that the intellectual tide flowed only from west to east, with credit going to legendary Greek polymaths. However, in recent decades this orientalist view has been discredited by evidence.
Historians now consider that many key mathematical concepts, such as the first imaginary number zero, emanated from India.[i] It turns out that the term Arabic numerals is a misnomer. Our universal modern numbering notation could have become known as Indian numerals if we attribute credit to the source.
The Indo-European linguistic links give us glimpses of a much deeper and more ancient shared knowledge. It is hard not to see a connection between the English word Star and the Sanskrit and Hindi words Tara or Sitara even though they evolved 5,000 miles apart. Sanskrit terms such as Nakshatra for 27 (or 28) asterisms transited by the moon, Axtar in Pahlavi and later Setarah (star) in Persia, Ishtar (Venus – the morning star) in ancient Mesopotamia and aster (star) in Greek provide an etymological trail of this common intellectual heritage.
Vision of an Inclusive Astrology
One man had the vision to see that from this diversity something greater could emerge. Under the inspired leadership of Gopal Bhattacharjee, founder of the Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology in Kolkata, moves towards inclusivity took a step further with the 26th Indian Astrological Conference.
Dr Bhattacharjee opened the conference by stating that western and eastern astrology are two sides of the same coin. If, as some science historians claim, Astronomy was the father of science, Astrology is the mother of science. From this illustrious pedigree, eastern and western astrology are twin sisters: siblings with a shared love and dedication to interpreting meaningful patterns in the sky to help us understand our place in the universe.
Each year, Dr Bhattacharjee has invited a growing number of western astrologers to speak. This year the presenters included an exceptional seventeen astrologers from overseas. A few are Vedic Astrologers or those who embrace both eastern and western systems. What was interesting was how so many western astrologers found areas of astrology that work on both systems. [ii] Naomi Bennett (USA) addressed the controversial topic of Precession that has divided the two systems. Alex Trenoweth (UK) introduced the audience to a “badly behaved planet”, Uranus – a relatively modern discovery (1781) that is not included in the Vedic tradition.
Besides Dr Bhatterchajee, there were many eminent Indian speakers, including Professor G.B. Forbes from Mumbai, AV Sundaram from Hyderabad and former Supreme Court Judge, Justice S.N. Kapoor who spoke eloquently on the Nakshatras. In addition, the conference was graced by a government minister and a university chancellor.
Bollywood Glamour mixes with Sacred Ceremony
Compared with western conferences, the Indian conference had a great deal more panache, glamour and ceremony. The show was opened by Bollywood star, Mahaima Chaudhury. She was followed by a spectacular musical floor show that rivalled Cirque de Soleil.
For the final day, western speakers were provided with exquisite and colourful Saris and Sherwanis for the men. In addition, a tiara is awarded to the ‘astrologer of the year’. This year the coveted prize went to Sharon Knight from the UK who was ‘crowned’ by last year’s winner, Alex Trenoweth. For the first time in the conference’s 26-year history, Sharon received a standing ovation for her talk. Lifetime achievement awards were given to Aleksander Imsiragic and Robert Currey. All this provided colourful and dramatic photo opportunities for publicity and circulation on social media.
The hope is that this annual international gathering will play a pivotal role in a revival of this ancient practice of cross-pollination. Under the sunny haze of Kolkata – the city of joy – and to the distant accompaniment of honking horns, western and eastern astrologers can schmooze, drink tea and learn from each other. This was not so far from what their ancient magi scholar predecessors would have done on the quayside in the busy sea ports and in the high towers, the market places and the courts in the riverine civilizations.
[i]Bulliet; Crossley; Headrick; Hirsch & Johnson (2010). The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Volume 1. Cengage Learning. p. 192. “Indian mathematicians invented the concept of zero and developed the ‘Arabic’ numerals and system of place-value notation used in most parts of the world today.”
[ii] Of the seventeen astrologers from overseas, a few, such as Ehsan Khazeni (Iran) and Dr Sanjay Pandya (South Africa), are Vedic Astrologers. Some, Laura Boomer-Trent (UK), Aleksander and Dr Lea Ismiralgic (Serbia) embrace both eastern and western systems. Most of the western astrologers found areas of astrology that work on both systems. These included Midpoints (Julian Venables – UK), Sect and Triplicity (Sharon Knight – UK), Astro*Carto*Graphy (Robert Currey – UK), Solar Arc Progressions (Richard Fidler- South Africa), Mars Retrograde in Mundane Astrology (Nick Dagan-Best – Canada), Secondary Progressed Lunar Cycle (Michelle Gould – USA), Mundane forecasts using Eclipses in Astro*Carto*Graphy (Ema Kurent – Slovenia).
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