(Above graphic is from William Levacy’s “Vedic Astrology, Simply Put”. Used with grateful permission from the author.)
The Nakshatras are the twenty-seven 13°20’ segments of the sidereal zodiac signs that represent the lunar mansions. They have been used in India since ancient times and are mentioned in the Vedas, where they have the status of heavenly lights. While the Nakshatras are mentioned and a few are named in the oldest Rig Veda, it is the Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda that give the complete list of them. Interestingly these lists begin with Krittika, the 3rd located with the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus. Perhaps this is indicative of the Nakshatras dating back to the Age of the Taurus when the vernal equinox occurred near the Pleiades or in Krittika. “The Atharva Veda (XIX. 7.2) places the ayana or solstice in Magha (Regulus or early Leo) reflecting a date of before 2000 BCE.1”
In addition to a ruling planet, the Nakshatras also have a ruling deity. These are the oldest of the Vedic gods which is another statement to their antiquity. In fact in the Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra, the oldest text on Vedic Astrology, the author, Maharishi Parasara, mentions the Nakshtras before he mentions the signs. The Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra, is written in dialogue form between the Sage Parasara and his disciple Maitreya, who is of the Brahmin caste. Parasara says, “O Brahmin, listen to the account of the placement of the heavenly bodies. Out of the many luminous bodies sighted in the skies, some are stars; yet some are planets. Those that have movements are the Nakshatras.2” Therefore it appears that the lunar zodiac developed before the solar zodiac in India for Parasara did not say those that have no movements are the signs. The twelve signs represent the twelve months of the year of the solar calendar because the Sun spends one month in each sign during Earth’s yearly orbit around the Sun. The twenty-seven Nakshatras represent the twenty-seven days in a lunar month because the Moon spends one day in each one during the 27.3 days it takes the Moon to circumnavigate all 360° of the zodiac. These are not twenty-seven equal twenty-four hour days because the Moon’s speed is not consistent. The length of time slightly shorter or longer than one day that the Moon spends in each Nakshatra is based on the length of time it takes the Moon to travel 13°20’ across the sky.
Mythologically, the Nakshatras “are the daughters of Daksha Prajapati, a great cosmic progenitor, specially charged by the celestial creator, Brahma, to assist him in the cosmic evolutionary process. Out of the numerous offspring born to Daksha, his twenty-seven daughters who married the Moon became the repository of astrological influences.3” Chandra, the Moon, spends one night with each of his wives. His favorite wife is Rohini in the constellation Taurus near the star Aldebaran where the Moon is exalted.
The view of this lunar zodiac from an eastern culture is a bit different than our view of the solar zodiac from a western culture. Like any ancient meaning of the sky, the Nakshatra meanings came about through observation, but what is perhaps different is that the Indian observations were spiritual ones. Naksh means “to approach, attain.” Atra means “here.” So Nakshatra translates to “attain here.” The Nakshatras came about as a spiritual means to commune with the cosmos, to connect our human minds to the cosmic mind.
Indian Astrology or Vedic Astrology or Jyotish, as it is called in India, is considered a spiritual science with sister sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda. Here is the mindset of the ancient Hindu’s in the development of their astrology:
The signs are called rashis, which means “heap, volume, collection.” A rashi represents a collection of karma that is passive. So each sign represents particular types of karmas related to the meaning of the sign, but the signs aren’t dealing karma, they are collecting it in a passive way. In fact the zodiac wheel of signs is the Kala Purusha. Kala meaning “time” and Purusha meaning “spirit” as the passive spectator of Prakriti, which is nature and matter, the form that springs forth from spirit. Kala Purusha also means the “Supreme Being that is the soul, officer or attendant of the universe.” Vishnu’s is often depicted as the embodiment of the Kala Purusha where Aries is his head and Pisces his feet. Vishnu is the “preserver,” Shiva the “destroyer,” and Brahma the “creator” in Hindu trinity. In case this aside is interesting, the female trinity of their counterparts or consorts is Saraswati (Brahama), Lakshmi (Vishnu) and Parvati (Shiva). Kali and Durga are aspects of Parvati.
The planets are called grahas, which means “to grasp, catch, seize, obtain.” So the planets grasp or obtain the passive karmas of the signs they are in. Early I quoted Bepin Behiri stating the Nakshatras are the repository of the astrological influences. A planet in a Nakshatra is obtaining from that Nakshatra’s repository of astrological influences. So we get a planet in a sign grasping the collection of karma that dispenses the fruit of the karma through the Nakshatra. To the ancients in India the highest duty in life was the spiritual aspect that included worship, meditation, and the yogic way of life that comes from the Vedas. Since the Nakshatras are the dispensers of karma, they were created for worship purposes. So we have signs as passive collectors of karma, the planets that seize the karma and the Nakshatras that dispense the fruits of the karma from their repository. Since each Nakshatras has a presiding deity, they are the mansions of the gods.
However, interestingly “kshatra” is the name for the warrior caste and it also means “power.” “Na” means “not” so the Nakshatras are not warriors and they are not power. To me this means the Nakshatras don’t have the power to create and wield karma like a celestial weapon, but rather they just dispense what we are owed from our own action (karma means action). While the lunar mansions are presided over by the most ancient Vedic gods and their powers, the Nakshatras are not the gods nor are they their cosmic powers. Rather they represent the repository of the astrological influences most akin to their presiding deity where their cosmic powers are dispensed from. Nakshatra as “to approach or attain here” is about approaching the mansions of the gods to attain the power to understand our karmas as we connect our human mind to the divine cosmic mind through spiritual practices.
The placement of the Moon in a Nakshatra of the lunar zodiac is one of the five limbs of the Vedic Calendar, the Panchanga. Panch means “five” and anga means “limbs.” The planets also represent a limb of the Panchanga by the week day they rule. The sun signs of the solar zodiac are not in the Panchanga. The other three limbs are based on the 29.5 day synodic cycle of the Sun and Moon via the lunar day,half day and the yoga which represents the degree angle of their phase.
Therefore the spiritual worship of the Nakshatras extends to Muhurta, which is electional astrology, where we choose the appropriate Nakshatra to “attain here” the fruits of what we are electing. In Muhurta it is important to elect a time to begin or undertake something important under the appropriate Nakshatra that will dispense the fruit of the action that is being undertaken. In India worship or offering always precludes or coincides with the act. Vedic Astrology is really a highly spiritual astrology about communing with the divine through the Nakshatras.
I look forward to bringing you more of the Nakshatras in our sky watching sessions at the Sky Astrology Conference.
1The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansions of Vedic Astrology, Harness, Dennis, Lotus Press, 1999, p xvii
2Brihat Parasa Hora Shastra, Parasara, Maharshi, translated by R.Santhanam, Ranjann Publications, 2009 edition, Chapter 3 Sloka 2-3.
3Myths & Symbols of Vedic Astrology, Behari, Bepin, Lotus Press, 2003, p 169