The word "horoscope" actually has a Sanskritic basis. “Hora” is
a “moment of time” similar to muhurtha, and “scope” comes
from the Greek “skopos” meaning to target, and so a horoscope
is literally a targeted moment of time. This is what I call
a snapshot of time. By focusing on a particular moment in time
through the “coordinates” of birth time, birth date and
birth place, the horoscope isolates a particular part of the
whole that corresponds to a particular individual, and by reading
that moment in time, one is able to “read” the individual.
This is the basis of astrology. There
are two other commonly heard words used by Hindi speakers to
refer to the horoscope. They are kundali and janma patri. A
kundali is a circle and janma patri is the “birth page.” The
horoscope is a circular diagram and so the word kundali is
used. It is common to have a person’s horoscope prepared immediately
upon birth, hence the birth page. As we noted a horoscope is
nothing more than a snapshot of time, which also means that
it is a snapshot of the sky. More specifically, it is a symbolic
representation of the sky at a particular moment in time. Usually
this is the time of one’s
birth, but not necessarily so. A horoscope can be prepared
for any occasion, the construction of a building, the time
of a marriage, the signing of a contract, and so on.
Under the section, The Making of the Hindu Calendar, we mentioned the solar ecliptic. The sun’s path across the sky from east to west and extending about 10 degrees above and below this ecliptic is known as the band of the zodiac. This 360 degree band is divided into twelve 30 degree segments known as the signs of the zodiac, rashis in Sanskrit. The first sign is Aries, which is then followed by Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, and so on. Both Western and Hindu astrology use these signs of the zodiac in the same order. In Hindu astrology, not only is this system of zodiac signs used, but there is also another way of dividing the zodiac and this is the nakshatras system, which divides the zodiac into twenty-seven 13 1/3 degree segments called nakshatras. This adds another level of interpretation to Hindu astrology that is not found in Western astrology. We will not be discussing this Nakshatra system of interpretation as it goes into more details than necessary here.
When an astrological chart is prepared, Hindu astrology first calculates the astronomical position of nine celestial influences (see Nava Graha) and then places them on a symbolic diagram called a horoscope. In addition to these nine influences, the sign that is rising above the eastern horizon for the time of the event is also calculated and shown on the horoscope. This is called the ascending sign of the zodiac or the lagna in Sanskrit. This ascending sign then becomes the starting point or first house of interpretation for the chart.
There are different ways of expressing this “snapshot” of the sky. The most common North Indian method uses a set of diamond shaped boxes to show the various signs of the zodiac and it is read in a counter clockwise direction. The typical South Indian method uses a system of rectangular boxes that is read in a clockwise direction. There is also a Bengali style that is read in a counterclockwise direction. See the illustrations. All these methods do the same thing, namely symbolically show the various celestial influences at a particular moment in time and place, and in their respective signs of the zodiac.
So far as preparing a chart is concerned, the endeavor is simply astronomy, a description or snapshot of the sky. The astrology comes in when we attempt to derive meaning from celestial bodies and their positions in the zodiac. What does it mean to have Mars in Aries or the moon in Leo. What does it mean when Saturn is with Mars in Aries? What does it mean when Jupiter is five zodiac signs after the moon? What does it mean when the sun and Saturn are 180 degrees apart? The answers to these questions constitutes astrology.
Astrology, which involves the analysis of a intricate system of planetary and other relationships and their subsequent interpretations, cannot be adequately described in this short discussion. It is possible, however, to provide a basic understanding of how an astrologer approaches his craft, which can be useful if a person ever goes to to an astrologer to have a horoscope prepared and read.
In Hindu astrology the nine celestial influences that are used for interpretation are: the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the north and south lunar nodes (Rahu and Ketu). There are other influences that are sometimes examined, but they are not important for our purposes. In addition to these 9 celestial influences, an astrologer will also examine the signs of the zodiac where these celestial influences are located, the houses in which they are residing, and certain key relationships between these components. In addition, an astrologer will also calculate the planetary periods (dashas) that are used to determine when events are likely to occur in a particular chart. Each of the celestial bodies, plus the signs of the zodiac and the houses carry symbolic meanings that are used to make an astrological interpretation. Here is a brief description of the symbolic meaning of the celestial bodies, the astrological the signs and the houses of interpretation, which will be useful in understanding how an astrologer makes a reading.
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