Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer - by James Braha
Reviewed by Marianne Jacuzzi
M.A., E-RYT-500, CVA Visharada, CVA Kovid
Originally published in 1986, James Braha’s classic, Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer, introduced Vedic Astrology to western readers. Few westerners up to that point had been able to penetrate the often mystifying language of the Indian classics. Braha’s book created a bridge, initiating what was to become a veritable flowering of Vedic Astrology in the West.
Timing is all! Braha travelled to India in 1982 and then again in 1984. Each time destiny presented him with a boon, the opportunity to study with a renowned Indian Jyotishi. As an avid student of western astrology, Braha understood the value of the western system. But his study with Indian masters revealed to him the superior predictive techniques Jyotish offered. After months of intensive study, his learning took shape as a book, which when published synthesised and categorised the Hindu system of astrology for the western mind. With Braha’s clear, contemporary prose style, western readers soon grasped the power of Jyotish as well. That first edition remained the seminal text for westerners interested in learning Jyotish for many years.
Once again, timing is all! Published in 2020, this revised and expanded edition offers to what is today a well-established community of Vedic Astrologers in the West something quite unique. Braha does not mince words as he explains the difference between the two. Fresh out of study with his Indian mentors in1986, he transcribed as faithfully and thoroughly as possible everything he had learned. Now, after thirty-four years of reading charts, he has opinions. With two hundred additional pages and some sections completely rewritten, this is a new book. In it, Braha explains not just the nuances of actual practice—how to read the subtleties, how to synthesize and analyze—but also what works and what doesn’t. And the voice of experience speaks bluntly.
I’ll warn readers of this new edition. Anyone attached to the purity of ancient tradition could be offended. Braha has discarded as useless some time-honored dicta. For instance, vargottama and neecha bhanga raja yoga have not in his experience proved reliable. And many other classical teachings he uses in modified or selective ways. Though his unorthodox statements startled me at first, what he says in his preface gave me pause: “When I wrote (the first edition), I had analyzed several hundred horoscopes. By now, 2020, that number is over 10,000.” Clearly, his vast experience speaks with an authority that warrants attention. And the caveat he adds speaks volumes about his sincerity, humility, and tireless search for truth. For whenever he hears of an experienced astrologer adhering to techniques he has found useless, he returns to study them anew.
Since Braha originally wrote for an audience of western astrologers, he begins with an exposition of the differences between the two systems, elucidating the sidereal zodiac, the ayanamsa, the South and North Indian chart styles, and the equal house and bhava chart methods for delineating houses. Diagrams and charts make these explanations crystal clear, as does Braha’s engaging prose style.
As an introduction for beginners, with or without knowledge of western astrology, this book ticks all the boxes. Its large format makes all charts readable, helpfully presented in both Northern and Southern style. Its organized sections, comprehensive inclusion of the basics, illustrations, and diagrams, but most of all its lucid and personable writing style make it a pleasure to read as well as a useful reference to return to often.
After sections for each of the grahas, bhavas, and rashis, with descriptions and indications that bring them to life, Braha introduces the principles basic to chart reading. Planetary friendship schemes, planetary powers, house rulership, types of houses, dristis, shad bala, raja yogas, retrograde, combustion, and more receive clear explanation, along with helpful charts as learning tools. For example, instead of just defining planetary aspects, Braha presents a sample chart and lists all the aspects that each graha makes, providing the beginning student with a useful exercise to test comprehension.
A chapter on upayas explains the theory of mantra and gemstones as remedies, including once again Braha’s time-tested experience that sometimes counters received teachings. For instance, Braha does not agree that gemstones for benefic grahas ruling dusthana houses always do harm. He has found that a graha’s fundamental nature supersedes any negativity it might carry by ruling a challenging house. And so in the sample chart he analyses for gemstone prescriptions, he recommends a diamond (Venus) for a Leo ascendant. For mitigating afflictions and strengthening blessings, he gives a mantra for each of the grahas, along with its translation and a pronunciation key.
True to his initial promise, synthesis and analysis essential for accurate chart reading are the highlights of Braha’s revised edition. The extensive “Planets in Houses” section begins with another important caveat, not usually mentioned in these methodical lists of interpretations. He clarifies that the descriptions he gives are necessarily made in isolation, and so in many cases will be wrong! “The art of prediction is a risky business for an astrologer,” he admits. In actual charts, innumerable factors must be weighed and blended. Braha carefully delineates for each house the significance both of its lord’s placement in each bhava as well as the effect of each of the nine planets residing within, yet he emphasizes that modifying factors like aspects, dignity and friendship will alter those indications.
He proceeds to demonstrate just how that happens for each unique chart in the wonderful section, “Horoscopes of Famous People”. Though short chapters on Vargas, Nakshatras, and Ashtakavarga follow, his chart analysis of famous people is the most substantial section of the book, and to me—the most valuable. He provides a deep and nuanced interpretation of fourteen charts, demonstrating how all the indications and rules he gave earlier become qualified when applied to real-life charts. Human nature is complex, its expression modulated over time as myriad influences, both celestial and terrestrial, weave into that original matrix, the karmic blueprint that the natal chart portrays. Braha’s skilled analysis remains forever true to that complexity, where nothing is black or white, where the forest appears as a distinctive pattern without the integrity of a single tree being lost.
Braha recommends to those wanting to learn the art of Jyotish to reread the section of horoscope analysis ten to fifteen times. He says it’s the closest thing possible to learning directly from a guru. I for one will follow that advice! It’s all there, the art of synthesis conveyed in fluent, captivating language. Lyndon Johnson’s talent for scheming and manipulation; John Lennon’s music, marriages, and murder; Marilyn Monroe’s sex appeal; Donald Trump’s raw power—all that makes for riveting reading! But it’s not just pleasure on offer. With each interpretation, Braha shares so much of his extensive knowledge and the innumerable tips he’s learned over the years.
This newly conceived edition of Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer is once again destined for a prominent place in the list of contemporary classics. Providing a comprehensive and user-friendly introduction to Vedic Astrology for beginners, it could serve both as an initial textbook for courses and a handy reference guide for the budding astrologer’s shelf. However, even experienced astrologers could benefit from Braha’s superb horoscope Interpretations. The experience gained from reading over 10,000 charts commands attention from all genuine seekers of truth.