The Vedic Signs

by Hank Friedman


[Author's Note: Throughout this article, the example charts use signs in the Sidereal Zodiac, not the Tropical Zodiac.]


Since mankind's earliest days on Earth, the movement of the Sun across the heavens has garnered our rapt attention. We can measure the Sun's path from two different vantage points: in reference to our own position on the Earth, or in reference to its path across the backdrop of the stars. For many purposes, such as hunting, planting and harvesting and other seasonal events, observing the Sun's passage relative to ones' physical location has been of vital importance. The movement of the Sun (and the other planets) across the field of stars has been valued, on the other hand, for selecting propitious times for both mundane proceedings and spiritual rituals, for navigation, and for predicting astronomical events.


Astrologers also use both methods of reckoning. Western astrologers use the seasonal or Tropical Zodiac, where the signs are based upon the annual movement of the Sun in relationship to the Earth. The Tropical sign of Aries begins at the point in the sky where the Sun crosses the Equator going North on the first day of Spring (for the Northern Hemisphere), around March 21st. Vedic astrologers, on the other hand, use the stellar or Sidereal Zodiac, where the Sidereal sign of Aries is determined by the placement of the stars in the Zodiacal constellations of the night sky. For the 21st century, the Sun enters Sidereal Aries around April 15th.


The Tropical Zodiac reflects how the changes of the seasons, of weather, and of light and dark, affect us, while the Sidereal Zodiac reveals our place among the stars, our place in the Universe. Since the signs in both Zodiacs have the same names, and many of the same characteristics, this can confuse astrologers and lead some to believe that one must be right and the other wrong. But in fact, those who use the Tropical Zodiac do so in ways that differ from those who employ the Sidereal Zodiac, and vice versa. It is vitally important to be clear here that all methods of astrology that use either Zodiac can be deep and alive in the hands of a talented practitioner.


But how did the both kinds of signs end up with the same names? The most likely explanation is that during the early years of Western astrology, the Tropical and Sidereal Zodiacs were virtually aligned (at most only a few degrees apart), so that there was little need to distinguish between them. In fact, many Western astrologers today don't realize that the signs they use (i.e. in the Tropical Zodiac) no longer occupy the same space as the constellations that they were originally named for.


For example, if you look up at the night sky when the Moon is in early to the middle of Virgo in a Western chart, visually it will be traversing the constellation of Leo. Astronomers sometimes try to use this fact to deride modern astrology, not realizing that a Zodiac based upon the seasons is just as valid as one based upon constellational positions.


As implied above, the two Zodiacs diverge from each other. Because the Earth is not a perfect sphere but instead is wider at the equator, it wobbles in its orbit, and as a result the seasons and the position of the Sun relative to the Earth shift in relationship to the constellations. In fact, the Tropical sign Aries coincides with the constellation of Aries for only a small fraction of the 26,000 year precessional cycle.


Within Vedic astrology, the difference between the Zodiacs is called the Ayanamsha, which means "falling back portion". Vedic astrologers reckon the beginning of the Sidereal Zodiac based upon specific star positions, with the most commonly used ayanamsha (called the Lahiri or Chitrapaksha ayamamsha) based upon the position of the star Spica as marker of the beginning of the Sidereal sign Libra.


Using the Lahiri ayamasha, the two Zodiacs coincided at 285 AD. The difference between the Zodiacs grows by only about one degree every 72 years. Today, the difference between them is approximately 24 degrees. E.g. a planet at 25 degrees of Cancer in a Western chart is at about 1 degree of Cancer Sidereally, and any planet earlier than 24 degrees of any Tropical sign will move back to the previous Sidereal sign. This divergence continues to increase, and therefore astrologers are having to come to terms with planets being in one sign Tropically and another one Sidereally. Nevertheless, each Zodiac has exceptional value within the astrological system in which it is used.


The purpose of this article is to show how Vedic astrologers use Sidereal signs. (Note: Vedic astrology also makes extensive use of the Sidereal Zodiac in its system of Lunar Mansions, aka Nakshatras. See Linda Johnsen's fine articles on the Nakshatras in The Mountain Astrologer.)


One clear illustration of the contrasting approaches lies in the fact that while Western astrology textbooks usually have delineations of all of the planets in each of the signs, Vedic classical texts do not. The early references only give interpretations for the Rising Signs and occasionally for the Moon signs, and the later texts that offer planet in sign meanings do so by categorizing the planet in the sign of another planet, not it a sign itself. For example: Mars in a sign of Venus, instead of Mars in Taurus or Mars in Libra.


On the other hand, while most Vedic classics interpret the rulers of houses (by house, strength, aspects, etc.) in great depth, this is not commonly done in most Western astrology textbooks. The entire Vedic system of approach, in other words, is oriented towards planets and towards using signs as indicating planetary rulerships, as opposed to focusing on the qualities of the signs themselves.


That is not to say that the signs lack meaning. As you can see from the section below, the signs have rich and detailed significations. But these are secondary to their planetary owners. For example, if a planet is in its sign of exaltation, a Western astrologer sees it as strong. A Vedic astrologer, however, immediately looks at the strength of the planet that rules the exaltation sign, and if that planet is weak, then the exaltation would carry little weight. Similarly, if a planet is in the sign opposite to its exalted sign (which Western astrology calls Fall and Vedic astrology debilitation or neecha), then again the Vedic astrologer looks at its dispositor, and if the ruler of the debilitation sign is strong, then the debilitation is not only ameliorated, but can in fact indicate remarkable abilities. This way of thinking, about the profound effect of dispositors upon planets, is a central and valuable approach in Vedic astrology.


B. The Vedic Rashis


The Vedic term for astrological sign is rashi, which means a heap of stars. While modern Western astrology is very theme-based, with all of the qualities of Taurus, for example, clearly correlating with each other, Vedic astrology is more non-linear, with no attempt to merge the various meanings of each sign into coherent themes.


The fundamental fact is that Vedic astrologers conceive of and use signs differently than Western astrologers, and that the differing sections of space actually have divergent meanings. We see this in the classical Vedic interpretations of the signs. In Mantreswara's 16th century classical work, Phala Deepika1, the sign Aries is seen as associated with fear of water, for example, a quality not typically ascribed to Tropical Aries in Western astrology. (See the following table for all of the signs)


Unique Meanings of the Rising Signs in Vedic Astrology

Aries

round eyes, weak knees, of poor appetite, concealing facts, and sexy

Taurus

heavy thighs, sacrificing, happy in middle - end of life, enjoys young women

Gemini

fond of dance & music., likes being indoors, sexually indulgent, a mind reader

Cancer

henpecked, many friends, walks fast, few sons, owns many houses, wealthy

Leo

large chin, reddish eyes, obeys his mother, wanders in hills, angry at trifles

Virgo

drooping arms & shoulders, few children, takes advantage of others' wealth

Libra

spiritual devotee, intent on being first, brave, two names, merciless in arguments

Scorpio

lotus marks on feet, sick early in life, separated from parents, honored by rulers

Sagittarius

short, always engaged in work, destroys his enemies, won over by kindness

Capricorn

weak legs, vitality, lazy, affairs with older women, wanderer, lucky, shameless

Aquarius

greedy, clever at causing hurt to others, fond of perfumes, fluctuating finances

Pisces

drinks a lot of water, scholar, sharp vision, fond of his wife, grateful, very lucky



Additionally, while the three modes: Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable, are associated with the same signs as they are in Western astrology, they have their own names and meanings in Vedic astrology. Cardinal signs are called Moveable, and indicate travel and restlessness, Fixed signs keep the same name, but indicate the unlikelihood of travel, while Mutable signs are called Dual, and indicate alternating between the first two styles.


As you can see in the table below, rashis or Vedic signs, are classified in many unique ways, expanding upon the meaning of each sign.


Vedic Classifications of the Signs



As you can see from the table, the rulership of each sign corresponds with the sign rulerships used in Western astrology until the 20th century. The symmetry of paired rulers is a beautiful thing to observe (click here to see Figure One: The Symmetry of Sign Rulerships) and Vedic astrologers were very careful, even after they introduced additional points into the chart, not to disturb this rulership scheme.


The abodes listed in the table are a few of the many physical locations associated with each sign. These locations were used for a variety of purposes, including choosing where to build a house, and the finding of objects. The three dosha come from the field of Ayurveda, and are used to assist astrologers in the diagnosis and cure of disease, and in making nutritional recommendations. Pitta has a firey quality indicating temper, heat, and assertion; Vata has a windy quality indicating sensitivity, nervousness, and susceptibility to cold; and Kapha has a watery quality indicating heaviness, lethargy, and slow-ness.


The signs' directions are used for Prashna (Vedic horary astrology) and Vastu (the Vedic counterpart of Feng Shui), while the fertility attribute addresses the likelihood of having children. The way a sign rises has been used to assess whether the conditions at the time of birth are favorable or unfavorable.


One additional classification of the signs is central to the Vedic concept of the aims of life. There are four basic aims of life, Dharma, which indicates integrity and life purpose and corresponds to the Fire signs and houses (houses 1, 5, & 9), Artha, which indicates livelihood and security needs, and corresponds with the Earth signs and houses (houses 2, 6, & 10), Kama, which indicates involvement in relationships and the pursuit of pleasure , and corresponds with the Air signs and houses (houses 3, 7, & 11), and finally Moksha, which indicates the goal of enlightenment and the lessons in letting go, and corresponds with the Water signs and houses (houses 4, 8, & 12).


An excellent example of a person with strong dharma, because he has planets in their own Fire signs in Fire houses, is Paul Newman. Renowned for his integrity, he has Jupiter in Sagittarius in the First House and Mars in Aries in the Fifth House. On a more shadowy side, Charles Manson's charisma gave him tremendous influence over others, and he had Venus and Mercury (lords of Air houses) as well as the Sun and Jupiter, all in Venus' sign of Libra, in the 7th house. He manipulated and seduced his followers with drugs and sex, powerfully playing upon their pursuit of pleasure.


C. The Strength and Stability of Planets


Both Western and Vedic astrologers see planets as strong in their own signs and signs of exaltation, and weak in their sign of debilitation. While Western astrologers also see planets as weak in the opposite sign(s) to the one(s) ruled, Vedic astrologers do not.


Besides using Exaltation and Debilitation as indicators of planetary strength and weakness, Vedic astrologers group planets as friends, neutrals, and enemies to each other. When a planet is in the sign of a friend, it is strong (but not as strong as when in its own sign or exaltation). When a planet is in the sign of an enemy, it is weak (but not as weak as in debilitation). When a planet is in the sign of a neutral planet, its strength is mediocre (i.e. average).


Table of Planetary Friendships


Planet

Friends

Neutrals

Enemies

Sun

Moon, Mars, Jupiter

Mercury

Venus, Saturn

Moon

Sun, Mercury

Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn

None

Mercury

Sun, Venus

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn

Moon

Venus

Mercury, Saturn

Mars, Jupiter

Sun, Moon

Mars

Sun, Moon, Jupiter

Venus, Saturn

Mercury

Jupiter

Sun, Moon, Mars

Saturn

Mercury, Venus

Saturn

Mercury, Venus

Jupiter

Sun, Moon, Mars


To use the above table, it is important to note that the signs of exaltation, ownership, and debilitation supercede the considerations in the table. E.g. even though the Moon is a friend of Mars, Mars is debilitated in Cancer. Similarly, even though Jupiter is a neutral planet for Venus, Venus is exalted in Pisces.


Knowing the strength of each planet is of major importance. It allows Vedic astrologers to determine the most influential planet in any configuration (the strongest planet has the greatest effect, although very weak planets can have potent disruptive effects). Jyotishis also need to assess whether any of the positive combinations in the chart (the positive yogas) are of real consequence. The rule of thumb is that for a yoga to significantly lift up the quality of a person's life, at least one planet in the combination should be strong. In Tom Hanks' chart, for example, Venus in its own sign of Taurus in the Tenth House is a major indicator of his fame and success. In fact, Hanks has three planets in their own signs and two others exchanging signs in his chart (which gives them strength). (Yogas are discussed at greater length in the next section of this article.)


Another way that signs are used by Vedic astrologers is to assess the stability of planets. (Other causes of instability are planetary wars – where planets are within a degree of each other, retrogradation, combustion, and the New and Full Moon.) When a planet is in its sign of exaltation or debilitation, that planet becomes unstable, exaggerated in influence, and therefore the themes of the houses it occupies, rules, and aspects as well as those of the planets it aspects become destabilized. A good example is the chart of Adolph Hitler. In his seventh house, he had the exalted Sun in Aries – as well as a planetary war between Venus and Mars – and his primary relationships, the people he was closest to, and he himself, were very unstable, and he and his generals were exaggerated in self-importance.


D. The Network of Rulerships.


Perhaps the most important use of the signs in Jyotish is their role in house rulership. As aforementioned, the rulership systems in both ancient Western and in Vedic astrology are identical. The employment of house rulers in delineation, however, is more developed in Vedic astrology than anywhere else.


In Jyotish, combinations of two or more astrological factors (called yogas) create conditions that either raise or lower a person's life beyond the ordinary. A yoga can be as simple as a planet strong by its sign placement in one or more specific houses. Or it can be as complex as a series of several different criteria that must all be met. Thousands upon thousands of yogas are defined in classical Vedic texts, and the majority of these yogas use sign rulerships in their specifications. E.g. in Harrison Ford's chart, it is the ruler of the First House in the Tenth House (in its own sign) that is one of the major indicators of his fame.


Please remember that in Vedic astrology, as in ancient Western astrology, each house was equivalent to one sign, so the terms sign and house became quite interchangeable. This is called the Whole Sign House System, in the West, or a Rashi chart, in Jyotish. For example, if the Ascendant occupies any degree of Taurus, the entire First House becomes the sign of Taurus.


The intricacy and importance of the network of house rulerships in Jyotish cannot be underestimated. To have the ruler of a supportive house (all houses except 3, 6, 8, and 12) in a challenging house (especially 6, 8, or 12), indicates challenges for the themes of the positive house. For example, Marilyn Monroe had her Fifth Lord in the Eighth House, and she had many pregnancies, all of which were terminated by abortion.


 Similarly, to have two supportive house rulers together in the same house portends particularly well for not only the themes of both houses ruled, but also even more so for the house occupied. In other words, the ruler of a house carries its themes into the house it occupies and aspects. In Harrison Ford's chart, his 1St , 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th lords are all in the 10th, as indicators of great 10th house success, but because the 12th lord is also there, he had many obstacles on the road to fame and fortune. Fortunately for him, the strongest planet was the 1st and 10th lord, the aforementioned Mercury.


While this discussion of house rulerships may seem daunting, it actually becomes quite easy to apply. If the ruler of a challenging house is strong (and in a house other than one it owns) then the themes of house occupied by it become significantly obstructed. For example, if the 6th house lord (indicating adversaries and illness) is strong, then one's opponents or illnesses are likely to be significant. One can even compare the strength of two house lords. E.g. If the 7th house lord is stronger than the 1st house lord, the person is likely to marry "above themselves". In Princess Diana's chart, her 7th house lord (Venus in Taurus) was significantly stronger than her 1st house lord (Mars in Leo).


Exploring the chart of a famous person may further clarify the Vedic way of using the signs in a chart. The chart of Marilyn Monroe, previously mentioned, illustrates several principles. Click here to see Figure 2: The Chart of Marilyn Monroe.


Let's start with Saturn in Libra, because it is the strongest planet in her chart. It is the lord of houses 7 and 8, and it is located in the 4th house. As Lord of the 7th, we see that it represents her partners, who indeed were exalted in the eyes of the World (including Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, J.F.K, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and many others). That same strong planet, Saturn, in the house of home and mother (the 4th house) expressed itself as the 8th lord when her mentally ill mother tried to smother her, and her mother was later taken away to a mental institution. It is not generally desirable to have a strong 8th lord, as its strength magnifies 8th house themes, which can include incest, rape, sexual scandals, emotional challenges, and addictions – all of which played a major part in her life.


This powerful Saturn also aspects the First House (Vedic astrology emphasizes the backwards square or 10th aspect of Saturn), and Marilyn experienced a profound sense of isolation wherever she went.


Her Sun, on the other hand, is in a weakened position, in the sign of its enemy Venus, and as the 2nd lord, Marilyn lived in rinky dink apartments, had a "party line" (shared) telephone, and had huge money battles with the studios, even though she was famous and a great money-maker for them.


Marilyn Monroe has a powerful "passion combination" in her chart. Venus as lord of the 4th is opposite Saturn as lord of the 7th, and Saturn is both very strong (exalted and retrograde) and both sources of its strength also indicate instability. This combination explains both her widespread sexual activities and the impermanence of her primary relationships. Saturn's destabilizing influence upon both her 4th house and her 4th lord Venus also accounts for her having lived in over 45 different residences in her life.


Even though neither Jupiter nor Mars have much strength (both are in neutral signs), and they are placed together in the 8th house, their rulership of the 9th and 10th houses (respectively) creates one of the most profound yogas for success, which certainly manifested in her life. Note that her fame came from being a sex symbol, i.e. an 8th house theme.


Finally, Mercury in Taurus has both strength and weakness. (Note: in Vedic astrology, if a planet is both strong and weak, both are seen to manifest, instead of nullifying each other.) Mercury is in the sign of a friend, Venus, giving it strength, and very close to the Sun (combust), which weakens it. Marilyn was known to those close to her as having an excellent mind (showing Mercury's strength), but was often misperceived by the general public as being ditsy. (The gifts represented by planets in combustion are often either difficult to express or unseen by others.)


Note how, in the entire delineation of Marilyn Monroe's chart, the signs were only used to determine planetary strength and house rulerships. This is how Vedic chart analysis is typically done.


Vedic astrologers use the Sidereal signs effectively using methods that differ from those used by many modern Western astrologers. Jyotishis do not focus on the psychological makeup of the sign occupied by each planet, like many Western astrologers do, but instead place their attention on how planets are strengthened or weakened by the signs they occupy, and what signs and houses they rule.






1. PhalaDeepika Translated by S.S. Sareen Sagar Publications 1992


Chart Data for the Article:


Credit for providing the astrological data for this article goes to AstroDatabank.


Diana, Princess of Wales July 1, 1961 7:45 pm Sandringham, England


Harrison Ford July 13, 1942 11:41 am Chicago, IL


Tom Hanks July 9, 1956 11:17 am Concord, CA


Adolf Hitler April 20, 1889 6:30 pm Braunau, Austria


Charles Manson November 12, 1934 4:40 pm Cincinnati, OH


Marilyn Monroe June 1, 1926 9:30 am Los Angeles, CA


Paul Newman January 26, 1925 6:30 am Cleveland, OH




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