(Published in the January 2012 issue of Saptarishis Astrology Magazine)
The origin of Vedic Astrology has always been camouflaged in myths and legends. Although the ancient sages had a purpose of doing so but as time progressed the legends started being misinterpreted and the original message began to lose its worth.
People became fanatic followers (signified by the headless Ketu, the south node of the
Moon) of the legends. Questioning (signified by Saturn) and logical analysis (signified
by Mars) became a taboo in the orthodox cults of astrological tradition.
However, this lack of logical thinking itself was the cause of the downfall of this ancient
knowledge. Generations became questioning and when they saw that certain things did
not make sense and no one was ready to answer those critical questions, there was loss of
trust in the ancient knowledge (mistrust signified by Rahu which always taints the true
knowledge signified by Jupiter).
One such question which has baffled the Vedic Astrologers for generations was the
identity of the one of the greatest and most illustrious authors of Vedic astrology called
Parasara. His work, “Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra” is considered to be the bible of Vedic
astrology. Some even crown him with the title of “Father of Vedic astrology”.
Popularly accepted notion about the lineage of Parasara is given as a graphical chart
Brahma, the creator of the Universe and everything in it, having created the Universe
felt lonely (Saturn is the planet that gives the feeling of isolation and fear from it) and
wanted to have someone to share his bounty with. He decided on creating his children
(Jupiter signifies children, joy and happiness and Venus signifies companionship). His
children, although mind-born were born from a specific activity/part of Brahma’s body.
Vashishtha was born from the breath of Brahma. Breath is signified by Saturn as it
Vashishtha had many a sons and most illustrious of them was Shakti. Shakti along with
his many brothers was devoured by a demon when passing through a forest. Here, one
should note that Vashishtha was born of Brahma’s breath and so there is no doubt about
his longevity but Saturn (as signified by breath) is not a kind planet when it comes to
progeny and invariably gives separation from loved ones.
After death of Shakti, Vashishtha became extremely depressed and was at the verge of
committing suicide (another trait of Saturn is depression and suicidal tendencies) when
on advice from Narada (the celestial traveler sage and another son of Brahma), he did
tremendous “tapasya” (again Saturn signifies capability of tremendous penance) and
worshipped the goddess Tara (a Mahavidya, form of the eternal Mother). Tara (removes
the obstruction of Jupiter, which in Vashishtha’s case was death of children) did not
grant him a child but blessed him with an ever illustrious grandson. This grandson was
the great Parasara.
Shakti’s wife, Ardisyanti was then pregnant with his child when Shakti had died.
Vashishtha, one day, heard the infant Parasara chanting Vedic hymns inside the womb
of his mother.
After this event, Vashishtha foresaw the authenticity of Parasara’s gifts and the truth
behind Tara’s blessings. Parasara learned astrology from Maharisi Saunka who had in turn
received instruction from Narada, the son of Brahma.
Once Parasara, on hearing the story of his father’s death, became furious and started a
great penance to destroy all the demons of the world. All demons began to die and finally
on advice from Brahma, Vashishtha had to intervene and pacify Parasara by saying that
his father’s death was destiny and that demons are also as much part of creation as was
humans. Only after the soothing words from Vashishtha did Parasara stop his penance
(some texts say he conducted a great yajna, in other words a fire sacrifice).
This episode clearly shows a dominant Mars (anger) and a soothing Jupiter (obedience to
his grandfather) in Parasara.
Besides being a sage (signified by a predominant Jupiter), Parasara was also a mendicant
(signified by Ketu) who walked with a limp (signified by Saturn).
On one of his journeys across a river, he perceived that it was a propitious time to
conceive a child. Thus, Parasara chose the maiden Satyvati, daughter of a ferryman, to
sire a child with him. Parasara shrouded the ferry with a foggy mist as to hide the
unorthodox intimacy between Satyvati and himself. As a “boon” to Satyavati for
coupling (the orthodox opinion is that there was no physical coupling) with him,
Parasara removed her fishy odor, and replaced it with a sweet smell. He also blessed
Satyavati that she would regain her virginity after the birth of her child. The son born to
them was Vyasa, who later went on to compose 18 Puranas including the epic
Satyavati was later married to the lunar dynasty king Shantanu. It was Vyasa (also called
Krishna Dwaipayan) who was requested by Satyavati to mate with (bless) her daughterin-laws, so that they could have children. This was because Satyavati’s and Shantanu’s
children all died without giving an heir to the royal throne. It was thus Vyasa’s
grandchildren (Parasara’s great grandchildren) who were the Kauravas and Pandavas (the
great Arjuna of Mahabharata who had the Krishna as his charioteer) and who fought on
either side on the great battle of Mahabharata.
The legend surrounding Parasara’s death has him being devoured, consumed, or merging
into a pack of wolves (Mars), his escape from them thwarted due to his limp.
We find records of Vashishtha in Ramayana, an epic story on the life of prince
Rama, as being the Kula Guru (Guru of the lineage) of the solar dynasty
(also called Ishwaku dynasty).
The accepted birth date of Rama is January 10, 5114 BCE. Vashishtha taught Rama and
Rama regarded Vashishtha as his Guru.
We find records of Vyasa, the son of Parasara, in Mahabharata, an epic story on the
battle between the cousins of the lunar dynasty and life record of Krishna, as being the
father of Pandu, Dhritarashtra and Vidura. Vyasa was a contemporary of Krishna and
there are numerous encounters between the two and Krishna bowing down to Vyasa as
an acknowledgement of his learning and spiritual powers. The accepted birth date of
Krishna is July 21, 3228 BCE. There is however, some controversy on the month being
June or July and the year being either 3228 BCE or 3227 BCE. However, that question is
not of importance here.
If we were to believe the story of lineage of Parasara as the one stated above, we would
see a span of 4 generations in almost 2000 years. This somehow doesn’t seem correct based on scientific theories of life expectancies. Even if humans lived much longer (100-120 years) in ancient times, this span of time does not make much sense.
There is another question on the accepted lineage of Parasara.
Vishwamitra and Vashistha were contemporary sages. There are numerous stories about
the encounters between Viswamitra and Vashistha in the puranas and the itihas
(Ramayan and Mahabharata). The great lunar dynasty king Dushyanta married
Shakuntala, the daughter of sage Vishwamitra and the celestial nymph Menaka.
The lineage of Dushyanta is given below:
– Bharata, son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala
– Kuru, founder of the city of Kurukshetra.
– Riksh II
– Shantanu married firstly Ganga and secondly Satyavati.
Thus we see that, in round about the same time span, we can account for eighteen generations from the time of Vishwamitra to that of Shantanu and only four generations from Vashistha to Vyasa!
This does indicate that something is not correct in the lineage of the “historical” Parasara.
The “Historical” Parasara
Thus, we see that, there are two levels at which we can approach the identity of
Parasara; one is based in a long standing mythos, the other found through more Tempirical means (i.e. carbon dating of extant Parasahri texts, analysis of the
Sanskrit style of the texts etc.).
We already discussed the more orthodox origin of the lineage of Parasara.
Another idea that Parasara was not simply one single historical personage or mythic
being of theistic lineage, but rather a powerful archetype of a Jyotishi hierophant who,
along with his eager disciple Maitreya, has influenced many successive generations of
teachers and students, especially those who consult the Brihat Hora Shastra Parashara
(BPHS) as a foundational text. Perhaps carbon dating of the oldest extant copy of the
BHSP might subvert a literalistic reading of Parasara’s life and the alleged antiquity of
the BPHS, one which dates its origins around 3,000 BC (the so called “Vedic” era). Was
it an astrologer named “Parasara Bhatt” or “Ramakrishna Bhatt” who collected
(complied) astrological lore from separate Indian traditions and then organized them in
what we now call the BPHS? Why does the BPHS contain technical astrology terms of
Hellenistic origins (i.e. Kendra, Kona, Apoklima), if it’s a book of “immortal” teachings
of divine revelation?
To look into this from a different perspective, we need to look at a more technical work
called Adbhutasagara by the king of Bengal Vallalasena (early 12th. century CE).
In this book, the author clearly notes the views of other past and contemporary
astrologers on astrological revelations and more so on astronomical calculations.
Some of the following verses have been attributed to Parasara.
Parasara I (1500-1400 BCE)
The translation of the verse is thus – “autumn is the period when Sun stays within the
starting point of the nakshatra (fixed star) Dhanishta and the end point of the nakshatra
Revati. During spring the Sun stays within the end point of Revati nakshatra and the end
point of Rohini Nakshatra. Sun stays between starting point of Mrigasira nakshatra and
the middle of Aslesha Nakshatra during the dry season of summer; middle point of
Aslesha and end point of Hasta during monsoon. From the starting point of Chitra to the
middle of Jyeshta it is Sarat Ritu and from the middle of Jyeshta to the end of Sravana it
is Hemanta Ritu.”
This is a very technical quote dealing with the position of the Sun in terms of the fixed
stars (nakshatras) per season in a year.
However, something remarkable to note in the quote above is the indication of winter
and summer solstices with respect to the relative position of the Sun.
Sun is at the beginning of the Dhanistha nakshatra during winter solstice and in the
middle of Ashlesha nakshatra during the summer solstice.
Taking into account the precession of the equinoxes, this event would have been possible
only between 1500-1400 BCE.
Parasara II (around 1100 BCE)
Another quote attributed to Parasara is found in the text, which says – “If Uttarayana
starts before Sun touches the Sravana Nakshatra and if Dakshinayana starts before the
sun touches Aslesha star then great fear could happen.”
This verse indicates that during the said time-period, winter solstice took place when Sun
was in Sravana nakshatra and summer solstice when it was in Aslesha nakshatra. This
could have been possible somewhere around 1100 BCE.
Thus, we see the two quotes attributed to Parasara clearly indicates that both the
Parasara’s referred to in the book were not the same individual but different individuals
in different time-periods.
Parasara III (around 626 BCE)
Yet another quote is attributed to Parasara which stands out in the book and it is worth
analyzing – “Know that the Uttarayana starts at the end of Uttarashadha”
From the above quote, it is almost evident that during the said time-period winter
solstice occurred when Sun was at the end of Uttarashadha nakshatra and summer
solstice occurred when Sun was at the 3rd pada of Pushya Nakshatra. This would have
been possible only around 626 BCE.
From the above quotes, which may look contradictory to one who assumes that the
Parasara referred to in the quotes to be a single individual, it comes out clear that
Parasara rather than an individual was a seat of astrological reverence which was
occupied by individuals who may have belonged to a single tradition. The above quotes
also precisely indicates that ancient sages were aware of the fact of “precession of the
equinoxes” and knew the method to apply the corrective measures to take the deviation
In the above reference to the classic Adbhutasagara by Vallalasena, I have discussed a very
astronomically technical subject to point out the individuality of the Parasaras mentioned
in the quotes. The explanation of these terms is out of scope of this article and advanced
readers are free to contact me for any clarification on this subject.
Vishnu Puran and Srimad Bhagvatam clearly state that each age has its own Vyasa. If that is accepted then the probability of such a case with Parasara is also very much possible.
A very important clue about the prevalent jyotish (vedic astrology) tradition is given the
classic authored by Parasara himself – Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra. The classic is
written in a form of a dialogue between two individuals, one the Guru as Parasara and
the disciple or student as Maitreya.
The meaning of the word “Maitreya” is also very interesting. He is referred to as a
universal friend, one who shows the path of righteousness to the world. He is also called
the next Buddha or even Yeshwa (Jesus).
Could it be that Parasara of the classic as the Guru and Maitreya as the student are roles
that anyone can fit into? Is it possible that Parasara is like a title or seat of honor rather
an individual? We know from ancient classics that there surely were more than one
Parasara, historically. They could have belonged to a same tradition, a tradition where
one among the “Maitreyas” (meaning student, signified by Mercury) evolved as a
“Parasara” (Guru, signified by Jupiter) for the next generation.
Since Jyotish is an oral tradition, the value of the “Parasara/Maitreya” as hierophant
(guru) – disciple archetype, irrespective of the historical truth or antiquity of such a
pairing, can exist as a “living link”, a transpersonal “container” of biological urge, desire,
and accumulated inquiry- uniting cultures and generations of astrological scholars. Each
generation participating in the archetype is altered by what has “come before” and in
turn shapes or effects what will come to be.
However, irrespective of the fact that Parasara was an individual or a tradition or a seat
of astrological power, he surely deserves our utmost respect for putting together the bible
of Vedic astrology and giving us the path to begin the endless journey of jyotish.
Other classics attributed to Parasara are Dharma Shastra (Book on importance of religion
and ethical code of conduct), Parasara Samhita and Parasara Smitri.