What is the Difference between Vedic and Western Astrology? 23 Degrees, Nakshatras, and Sidereal Zod
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
23 Degrees, Nakshatras, and Sidereal Zodiac
Twenty-three is my quick answer to the question: "what is the difference between Vedic Astrology and Western astrology?" I don't mean to be cryptic, but 23 degrees is literally the difference between the Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs. It is called the Ayanamsha -- in Sanskrit ayana meaning solstice and amsha meaning portion -- and it refers to the difference between Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs. The zodiac is a ring of constellations often referred to as signs, such as Aquarius, Leo, Scorpio and Taurus. It is a cosmic clock around which our solar systems operates and how astrologers measure cycles of time. Most people do not realize that there are two distinct zodiacs. Vedic astrologers use the Sidereal zodiac and Western astrologers use the Tropical zodiac. The Sidereal zodiac is based on observations of planets lining up against the backdrop of the fixed stars. It is oriented to the center of the galaxy. On the other hand, the Tropical zodiac is based on the relationship between the sun and earth. It is oriented to the equinoxes. In Western astrology the spring equinox sets the beginning of the Tropical zodiac at 1 degree Aries, even though the sun is astronomically traveling in the light fields of Pisces. In other words, it does not correspond to observable position. Vedic astrology is called Jyotisha in Sanskrit, meaning the science of light, and Vedic astrology describes how the light emitted from the stars effects us. When Western astrology was in its early stages, the two zodiacs may have lined up; but over time the two moved apart approximately 50 seconds per year to the current 23 degrees of separation (even that number is debated, but the standard of India, the Lahiri ayanamsha is 23 degrees 10 seconds). Vedic astrology is considered by scholars to pre-date Western astrology and is the only system that has accounted for the precession of the equinoxes. What is the precession of the equinoxes? The answer to that involves another occurrence of the number 23 (those familiar with the enigma of 23, like LOST and RAW fans, may find this amusing). Because Earth's axis is tilted 23° 27' in its orbit around the sun, its equatorial plane is tilted with respect to the ecliptic plane, the plane created by Earth's orbit. These two intersecting planes create an intersecting line called the vernal axis that occurs on the first day of spring, or Vernal equinox. As the Earth spins on its axis, its axis wobbles (precesses 50.3 seconds of arc per year or 1 degree every 71.6 years) very slowly over a period of about 24,000 to 26,000 years. As this occurs, the pole of the Earth inscribes an arc in the heavens called the precessional arc. The Earth's pole aligns with different stars throughout the precessional period. The current pole star is Polaris. Approximately 13,000 year ago it was Vega, one of my favorite stars. Earth's precessional cycle is also referred to as Earth's Great Year in the alchemical tradition, World Ages, or Yugas in the Vedas. David Frawley describes it a one year in the life of humanity. In Vedic astrology there is a line of thought that suggests this 24,000-26,000 cycle (and even wobble of the earth itself) maybe be generated by a grand cycle of our sun with a companion dark star. Modern astronomy is studying this possibility as well. The ancient Vedic seers divided up the cycle into four world ages: the Satya(Truth or Golden), Treta (Third or Silver), Dwapara (Third or Bronze) and Kali (first or Iron) Ages. Each age describes a stage of awareness for mankind in which consciousness ascends, descends, and ascends in unending cycles perhaps due to the influence of this yet to be discovered companion star. Although New Age philosophers have described humanity as entering the Age of Aquarius, astronomically speaking that will not happen for approximately 300-400 years. According to Vedic thought, the cycles of ascending and descending consciousness are connected not only to our rotation around a companion star, but also our cycle around the galactic center. According to David Frawley, "Vedic astrology orients the zodiac to the galactic center, or the central galactic sun, whose influence comes to us through fixed stars of the constellation Sagittarius." The galactic center is like our cosmic belly button -- it is sometimes called Vishnunabhi, or the navel of Vishnu-- the point from which our galaxy grew and expanded. Many ancient cultures studied and recorded their observations about this area of the night sky, including the Mayans whose calendar marks an astronomical event of our winter solstice aligning with the galactic center in 2012. It's like the earth's pole or antenna will be aligned and open to receive message from the source itself. [H]ohm is calling. One of the most brilliant developments of the ancient Vedic seers was to further divide the zodiac into more identifiable parts. They did this by creating the Nakshatra system. In Sanskrit Nakshatra means lunar mansion. As the moon travels through the entire zodiac in 27-28 days, the ancient seers ascribed a Nakshatra for each day simplifying its location. Although too vast a subject to go into in this post, it is interesting to point out that the name for the Nakstratra that marks the galactic center is Mula, meaning root or source. Another difference between Western and Vedic astrology is the modern use of non-observable planets and asteroids. As a Neo-Vedic astrologer I do consider some of the outer planets when I look at a chart, but I tend to be more interested in the fixed stars and Nakshatras. I marvel at how Western astrologers bring in new astronomical discoveries to their chart interpretations. Basically I see Western charts as a map of the same terrain as a Vedic chart, but indicating different types or levels of information. It's like comparing a topological map with a road map. I don't need to know the difference of elevation between Broadway and 3rd Avenue, but I might like to know the street number of Benaroya Hall. It all depends on what type of information one is seeking. Vedic astrologers come from a tradition and philosophy that focuses on the four aims of life: dharma (purpose), arthra (attainment), kama (desire),and the most important moksha (liberation). Western astrology is enriched by many diverse traditions and the information gleaned from it may be quite extensive and more suited for the modern mind. But for me, I've always been drawn to the stars in the night sky and have felt them speak to me in the language of light. And as Jyotisha is the science of light, it is the tool and filter I use to translate this information. For a good video overview on precession click here.