On 'Tropical Zodiac in Vedic Astrology', Part 2


Jun 01, 2012 — INDIA (SUN) —

In the first part of this article we pointed out that the sidereal zodiac was the one used by all people of the known world in classical antiquity, until Ptolemy made the mistake of popularizing Hipparchus' idea of what came to be known as the tropical zodiac. In the West today there is still a school of astrologers who follow the sidereal system, and of course in Vedic astrology it is by the far the dominant system and will continue to be.

We pointed out that in Vedic civilization they had always known about the precession of the equinoxes and because of the Islamic invasion were aware of tropical astrology, but rather than convert to tropical astrology the Muslim astrologers converted to sidereal system. We then began to discuss how the Surya Siddhanta was not used in daily practical calculation and definitely was not used for erecting a horoscope because of the very enigmatic nature of the text, which favored conciseness over clarity, and that without a guru and elaborate commentary, the Surya Siddhanta is unintelligible. We now continue:

Reverting back to the Laura's statements, she writes:

    "NOWHERE in the Surya Siddhanta does it say to use Sidereal Signs and Sidereal positions of planets to erect a horoscope."

As we have shown the Surya Siddhanta is not meant for erecting a horoscope, it is a collection of theorems and formulas. To calculate a horoscope you would use a text in the sarini class such as Makaranda, (today you would use an ephemeris). Secondly the rule for ayanamsa is defined in Surya Siddhanta 3.9-12, the student is expected to know via the oral tradition, that is, his guru's instruction, when to apply it for getting sidereal or tropical position of the various phenomena, not that the Surya Siddhanta has to repeatedly tell you to apply the ayanamsa which by doing so would enlarge the text and detract from its conciseness. The student if he was not clear would consult his guru or a commentary such as Siddhanta Siromani for detailed explanation.

In regard to finding the lagna (ascendant, rising sign) Laura states:

    "It then uses an ayanamsha to convert the planetary positions back to Tropical positions and from there find the Tropical Lagna. After finding the Tropical Lagna the Surya Siddhanta leaves it there. Since it is impossible to find the Sidereal Lagna without the use of the Tropical Zodiac, then it would be concluded that the Surya Siddhanta would mention to convert the Tropical Lagna back to its Sidereal position if that were indeed the method to be used. It does not mention this at all."

The rules for calculating the lagna are found at Surya Siddhanta 3.46-50. It does not at all say to convert anything to tropical system. What she doesn't know is that the "planets" in question is just one planet – the sun. In order to find the lagna one must first know the longitude of the sun. The method for finding the true and mean longitude of the sun is explained in Surya Siddhanta 3.13-20. By using a sanku (gnomen, a stick 12 angulas (finger width) high) one measures its chaya (shadow) as it falls on a circle circumscribed around the sankhu. By doing this and applying various trigonometric formulas one can ascertain the latitude of the place from the chaya, the declination of the sun from the zenith distance, true longitude from the declination and mean longitude from the true longitude. This will always be the sayana (tropical) longitude of the sun because of the very nature of the system and that the whole physical geometry is in relationship to the equinoctial points which move incrementally on a yearly basis (called the precession of the equinox). After the tropical longitude of the sun is found then the rule for finding the lagna is applied (Surya Siddhanta 3.46-50). It is left for the student to know (from his guru) that they should apply the ayanamsa rule (Surya Siddhanta 3.9-12) at the end of this procedure. From what I have described above there is no conversion from sidereal to tropical and just "leaving it there" as the author asserts.

Now from my very brief descriptions of what is involved one can see that this method of finding the lagna from the Surya Siddhanta is very ponderous, complicated and time consuming and requiring knowledge of spherical trigonometry. If this was the method that everyone was required to use for calculating the lagna then we would be better off because we would be rid of so many mathematically challenged "astrologers" (95% of them) who are a bane to humanity. Though it would rid us of the bogus astrologers it would be slow and impossible to do at night. The solution is that methods used in the Surya Siddhanta are distilled down in the karana and especially sarini (ephemeris, etc) texts for quick calculations, even for finding the lagna at night.

We should also remember that until recently astrologers did not have an international clientele who accessed them via the Internet. Only with the spread newspapers and the telegraph from the late 19th century onwards have astrologers spread their reach. For most astrologers before the late 19th century and well into the 20th century most of their clients would be locally born. I recall the first time I tried to have my horoscope done in 1977 in Hyderabad that the astrologer could not properly calculate it especially my lagna, because he had never done the chart of someone who was not born in India.

One of my main astrology teachers, Sriman B. G. Sashikanata Jain of Bangalore, with whom I studied from 1981-83 was a specialist in prasna sastra. This meant that the lagna to be calculated was always for the same city Bangalore. And since the client was sitting in front of him expecting an answer it had to be done quickly. Since all his clients came to him in Bangalore he only had to calculate the lagna for one place. What he did was to get a very large book and for every day of the year he made a table for what times the lagna would change on that day. Not only the lagna but also the change of navamsas within that lagna were tabulated. Since the Vedic day begins at sunrise and the sidereal position of the sun would be known for that day every year it was easy to calculate what the times for each lagna and navamsa would be using the rules in karana and sarini texts. Even today his son uses this old hand written book as a backup for calculating the lagna if his computer is not available.

The point being that the author Laura Barat has no experience of the ground realities and how traditional Vedic astrologers used the principles found in the Surya Siddhanta on a day to day basis. And from this lack of understanding of the text and cultural matrix it comes from she and those she is echoing have come up with all kinds of inaccurate notions. Living in obscure parts of the universe 10,000 miles from India and without any gurujana to guide them leads to such conclusions. This shows why one needs to have a guru so that one does not go on wild goose chases.

As in all aspects of Vedic culture what is written is only a small portion of the teachings the rest comes from the oral tradition of the Guru-Sishya interaction. Tradition is also a very important pramana (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.19.17) you simply cannot learn any subject by reading a book, and this is even more so with Vedic subjects. As Srila Prabhupada would explain that one cannot become a doctor just by reading some medical books. The tradition of using sidereal system going from Guru to Sishya is very clear. This is also the tradition of my param guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura who was a Jyotish Acarya; he first published his translation and commentary on the Surya Siddhanta at the age of 16! And he was also the first to do a bija samskara on the text to ensure greater accuracy. He also wrote a translation and commentary on Siddhanta Siromani and several other texts.

Laura continues: "Tajika techniques, which originated in Tajikstan, an ancient Persian culture, are the originators of Greco-Roman astrology and thus, modern day Western Astrology."

I'm afraid not. Rather so-called Persian astrology lying between India and the Mediterranean is an amalgam of Hellenistic and Vedic astrology. Early Hellenistic writers like Dorotheus of Sidon were translated into Persian. At a much later time Middle Eastern writers like Abu Masshar, and Massha Allah were translated from Arabic into Latin. And regarding Tajika, those who do use Tajika in India us a sidereal zodiac not tropical.

Laura writes:

    Modalities of the Rasis (Signs)

    Another valid argument for using the Tropical Zodiac and confirming the relationship of Rasis to the intertwined movement of the Sun and the Earth is the modalities of the Signs. Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn are called moveable signs. Their common characteristic is change and their beginning heralds a change in the Sun's movement. At 0 degrees Aries the Sun crosses the equator on its way North, changing from the Southern hemisphere to the Northern hemisphere.

    At 0 degrees Cancer the Sun changes from moving North to moving South. At 0 degrees Libra the Sun crosses the equator on its way South, changing hemispheres and at 0 degrees Capricorn the Sun begins to move North. If the Rasis were sidereal and not based upon the Sun's movement in relation to the Earth, there is no valid reason why these particular signs would herald change.

    The fixed Rasis, Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius, represent the Sun being steadfast and resolute on its course. The dual Rasis, Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces, represent the Sun losing momentum on its course and getting ready for a new beginning. This is why these signs are energy transformers. The dual signs are steadfast and resolute just enough to get the job done but are also flexible enough to allow for necessary change.

    Again, there is no reason for the aforementioned Signs to carry any of these qualities divorced from the fact of the Earth's relationship to the Sun. Just having a certain constellation of Stars behind the Sun does not automatically bring these characteristics, especially if such "constellations" do not carry consciousness as they do not per Parasara. The qualities are ONLY explained by the Sun's motion relative to the Earth.

This is the least compelling of Laura's arguments and really make no sense at all. It appears to be because as an apostle of the tropical system she has not quite understood what the main proponents of the tropical system are saying. Here is a clearer statement by a famous tropical astrologer Steven Forrest. After describing how the motion of the Sun affects the seasons, he writes (emphasis mine):

    Astrology really has nothing to do with the stars themselves. It is based solely on these variations in light, or, more simply, on the seasons. But what about Aries and Taurus and Capricorn? Those are constellations. They are stars. If they really have nothing to do with astrology why do we talk about them?

    Millennia ago, astronomer-priests noticed that on the morning of the day when light at last began to make inroads into the darkness, the sun rose into the stars of Capricorn. The constellation served as a convenient visual marker for the location of the sun along the ecliptic [the path of the sun through the zodiac]. Such knowledge helped our forebears in practical ways, such as timing the planting season. The convenience turned out to be temporary.

    Due to the slow wobble in the earth's axis, the position of the sun on the first day of winter gradually shifted backward through Capricorn toward the constellation Sagittarius. Traditions die slowly, though. The priests were accustomed to saying that when earth entered winter, the sun entered Capricorn. They kept right on saying it, even when Sagittarius was truly the winter's constellation.

    This slip-up produced no serious problems for astrology itself, but it has been hard on public relations. Astronomers are fond of saying, ‘Even if there were something to astrology, all you Arians were really born with the sun in Aquarius [it should be Pisces], so you are reading the wrong sign.' The problem here is one of communication. When an astronomer says ‘Aries,' he or she means a certain group of stars. To the astrologer, Aries means something entirely different. It refers to a certain phase in the earth's orbit around the sun, or, more simply, to a certain season.

    Seasonal changes, then, not stars, are at the heart of sign symbolism. Through variations in the length of night, we mark four critical points that help us divide the circle. Infinity is broken down into four phases, each with its own distinctive character. We call these four phases elements. [5]

He goes on to explain these elements in terms of the seasons.

    " . . . The first element arises in the equilibrium of light and dark, but at a time when light has the momentum, when light is increasing. Astronomically, this moment is called the vernal equinox, but most of us know it simply as the first day of spring. Astrologically, the vernal equinox symbolizes the birth of the element fire. This is the principle of action. Like spring time, its spirit is one of out rushing energy, charging into the cosmos, shattering all that stands in its way. Uncompromising invincibility of purpose-that is fire." [6]

What Mr. Forrest is basically saying is that the signs of the tropical zodiac derive their meanings based on the seasons of the year which are determined according to the sun moving through the equinoctial and solstitial points. Thus, according to tropicalists, Aries has its unique qualities because it is a spring sign, and the qualities of spring animate this sign. And, similarly Cancer has its unique qualities because it is a summer sign, Libra a fall sign and Capricorn a winter sign. The Western tropicalists thus firmly believe that, "Astrology really has nothing to do with the stars themselves." And, "Seasonal changes, then, not stars, are at the heart of sign symbolism."

It is very easy to demonstrate, via the method of reductio ad absurdum, that this proposition of the tropical astrologers is untenable. Simply stated, according to first principles astrology is a mantic science applicable to everyone born on this planet. Thus, it should be equally applicable to people born south of the equator. But south of the equator the seasons are reversed. In the southern hemisphere when the Sun enters tropical Aries it is the first day of fall not spring. Similarly, Cancer is a winter (not summer) sign, Libra a spring (not fall) sign, and Capricorn a summer (not winter) sign. According to the tropical astrologer's definition of equating sign to season this leads us to the absurd conclusion that south of the equator we must reverse the meaning of all the signs. Thus according to them someone born in Australia with the sun in Aries actually has the qualities of sun in Libra! Tropical astrology, to be logically consistent would have to have a separate, mirror image, system of astrology for the southern hemisphere. We note however that tropical astrologers do not do this. They read a southern hemisphere chart the same as they do a northern hemisphere chart. Thus they can't maintain the logical consistency of their own axioms. Therefore we must conclude that the theoretical basis of the tropical system of astrology is not elegant, logically consistent, or intellectually satisfying.


In conclusion we have shown that even in the West in ancient antiquity the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman astrologers till the time of Ptolemy used the sidereal zodiac. That in modern times there is a school of Western sidereal astrology whose founding father, Cyril Fagan, revived the ancient Babylonian system. We demonstrate that technical tropical astrologers concerned about accuracy realize the need to use sidereal position of planets in regard to transits of slow moving planets like Saturn and especially in regard to solar returns. That the Surya Siddhanta had a much more accurate precessional rate than the Greeks had. That the followers of Vedic cultures always had knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes documented as far back as 3000 BC and they never lost this knowledge. That even though the Muslim conquerors ruled India for 800 years their own court astrologers who were originally tropicalists took up the sidereal system of those that they had vanquished rather than the other way around because it was superior. We also briefly explain the four divisions of mathematical astronomy and that the Surya Siddhanta is a collection of formulas and rules not to be used for practical daily work like erecting a horoscope. That it is purposely written in such a way that to understand it requires the guidance of a guru along with elaborate commentaries like the Siddhanta Siromani. We demonstrate using the rules found in the Surya Siddhanta how the lagna is found using sanku and chaya and that the opposing views are erroneous in their conclusions. We also demonstrate that the opposing author is not aware of the ground realities of how an astrologer would calculate the lagna in their actual daily practice. We assert that Tajika system of astrology is not the source of Hellenistic astrology and modern western astrology. We also demonstrate that the tropical astrologer's contention that meaning of the signs are tied to the seasons leads to an absurdity when considering that in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed thus revealing the internal inconsistency of the theory. It is our contention that Vedic astrology, the system of astrology used by the followers of Vedic culture always has been and will continue to be sidereal. But we recognize that as the Kali-yuga progresses many divergent and heterodox views will emerge and that it is our duty to protect and properly convey the ancient traditions for future generations despite these perversions.

Your humble servant

Shyamasundara dasa
krsne matirastu


[5] Forrest, pp. 30-31.

[6] Ibid., p. 31.


Burgess, E., 1860, The Surya Siddhanta, A Test-book of Hindu Astronomy, editor Gangooly, P., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Chakravarty, A.K., 2001, The Suryasiddhanta -- Bibliotheca Indica Series No. 321, Kolkata, India: The Asiatic Society.

Fagan, Cyril, 1971 (first edition), Astrological Origins, St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications

Forrest, Steven, 1984, The Inner Sky: The Dynamic New Astrology For Everyone, New York: Bantam Books.

Hand, R., 1986 (thirteenth printing), Planets In Transit, Glouster, MA: Para Research, Inc.

Madhavan, Dr. S., Modern Astrology, 2012 January, February, Bangalore, India: Agrany Publications.

Neugebauer, O., and Van Hoesen, H.B., 1959, Greek Horoscopes, Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society.

Siddhanta Sarasvati, Bimal Prasad, 2007, The Surya-Siddhanta and Siddhanta-siromani, editor Danavir Gosvami, Noida, India: Rupanuga Vedic College.


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