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Jyotisha: Vedic Astronomy vis-à-vis Vedic Astrology

Jyotisha is a Sanskrit term that in the ancient Vedic society had stood not only for Vedic astrology, but also for its ‘inseparable’ other-half, Vedic astronomy. However, on account of the ravages of time, especially with the coming of the British Raj and the subsequent new avatar of the Western civilization, in the form of the relinquishing of God and the concomitant apotheosis of science & technology; a somewhat unfortunate bifurcation between Vedic astronomy and Vedic astrology had to come to pass.

‘Hindu astronomy’, on account of its new dependence on the very desirable technological tools coming from the West, shifted its allegiance away from the Vedic ethos; while Hindu astrology, which had no such advantage to derive from the new technological avatar of the Western civilization; retained its allegiance to the Vedic tradition, with its unmitigated through and through spiritual out-look.

Thus today, while Vedic astronomy is more in the nature of an ancient relic and has passed on into its new technological and secular avatar of ‘Indian astronomy’; Vedic astrology by contrast, still continues to be very much the Jyotir Vidya that it always was, namely, an Isvara-centered or Devatas-centered system of spiritual-learning, devoted to a deeper philosophical understanding of human life, karma and destiny. What was originally a Devatas-centered system of integral knowledge in ancient times, namely Jyotisha; gradually suffered a bifurcation ever so slowly and imperceptibly, that in the end, both branches began to give the impression of being two ‘independent disciplines of learning’. However, the continued inevitable dependence of Vedic astrology upon astronomical data, through the use of the Ephemeris [a table of planetary positions, for a whole year, on a day to day basis]; created confusion – with no one knowing with consummate clarity any more, how Vedic astrology exactly differed from Vedic astronomy.

And we might add that in the absence of a clear insight and understanding, with regard to the nature of these two branches of Jyotisha; Vedic astrology became vulnerable to the criticisms of the rationalists, who became the champions of the day in an emerging Western technological civilization – as there were not a sufficiently large number of competent men of Vedic learning, who could take on headlong, these ill-founded criticisms and repulse these attacks of the spiritually-indifferent rationalists.[See also Sec. 6 of Part VI]