Astrological References in the Mahabharata
by Nalini Kanta Das, republished from the CVA Journal II.1, June 2007
Narayanam namaskritya, Naram caiva narottamam
Devin sarasvatim vyasam, tato jayam udirayet
“Before reciting, let me offer my obeisances unto Nara-Narayana Rishis,
unto Mother Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning,
and unto the author of all the Vedas, Srila Vyasadeva,
By their mercy, may victory and dharma be revealed.”
The Mahabharata was authored by Srila Vyasa, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, Who compiled the original four Vedas, 18 Puranas, 108 Upanishads, the Vedanta Sutra and its commentary, the Srimad-Bhagavatam. His Mahabharata, which can be translated as “Greater India,” is a supplement to the original Vedas, Lord Krishna’s immortal Bhagavadgita is contained within it.
In undertaking to re-read the eleven-volume, line-by-line translation of Mahabharata rendered by Ganguli (1896), I thought to note all astrological references within. By this, we could see the pervasive use and relevance of astrology in Vedic daily life, learn detailed information on the stars and planets, enjoy the divine stories of these great personalities, and see how great sages spoke of this divine science.
Astrological references are numerous throughout the eleven volumes, though less so in the five books which cover the Kurukshetra war in great detail.
The first reference is in Section 8 of the Adi Parva, as follows:
“And her foster father betrothed the virgin Pramadvara to Ruru, fixing the nuptials for the day when the star Varga-daivata (Purvaphalguni) would be Ascendant.”
Ruru was the grandson of Shyavana, whose father was the great Maharishi Bhrgu. Bhrguji is known as the greatest name in Vedic astrology, and He must have taught the Jyotish science to His son Chyavana. Chyavana accepted Purvaphalguni as the ruling star for the marriage day, as Purva is governed by the planet of marriage, Venus. Yet, most Panchangas mention Purvaphalguni as a cruel star, suitable for evil deeds. From this we can learn, perhaps, that there must be several considerations before accepting any basic astrological conclusion.
Although the word “ascendant” is mentioned, I’m sure it refers to the Moon being in that star at the time, or at sunrise, thus ruling the whole day. Besides the lunar Nakshatra, other things must be taken into account when selecting any muhurtha, such as the weekday, tithi, yoga and karana. We should also check the Chandra and Tarabala (strength of the Moon sign and star for an individual at the time) for a marriage ceremony. Just yesterday, I was informed by an ex-client that she was getting married on Tuesday, a day governed by Mars – plus, the Moon would be in Mars’ sign Aries on that day, just after the gandanta hour of the Moon’s leaving Pisces. I would never have selected such a muhurta for a marriage.
In the Astika Parva, or Section 19 of Adi Parva, the story of Ruhu is given.
“And all the gods at that time of fright drank the amrita with great delight, receiving it from Vishnu. And while the gods were partaking of it… a Danava named Rahu was also drinking it among them in the guise of a god. And when the amrita had reached Rahu’s throat only, Surya and Soma (recognized him and) intimated the fact to the gods. And Narayana instantly cut off with His discus the well-adorned head of the Danava who was drinking the amrita without permission.
And the huge head of the Danava, cut off by the discus and resembling a mountain peak, then rose up to the sky and began to utter dreadful cries. And the Danava’s headless trunk, falling upon the ground and rolling thereon, made the earth tremble with her mountains, forests, and islands. And from that time there is a long-standing quarrel between Rahu’s head and Surya and Soma. And to this day, it swalloweth Surya and Soma (during solar and lunar eclipses).”
The negatives of Rahu are mentioned here, in that he is deceitful, demoniac, generates great fear, is huge in size, and is an enemy of the heavenly lights – the Sun and Moon. It is also mentioned that his headless trunk (which is Ketu) makes the earth tremble. Though it is not mentioned here, it is mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam that Rahu, having been touched by the disc of the all-good Narayana and having drunk the purifying amrita, became purified and auspicious, and was accepted by Lord Brahma as one of the major planets – as one of the godly Planetary Cabinet. Thus in the horoscopes of those with a well-placed Rahu, we often see that they go through a conversion to a more divine nature or to a higher position of administrative power in their lifetimes.
Next, in Section 66 of Adi Parva, we find the following: “It is known also throughout the world that the wives of Soma (the Moon) are 27. And the wives of Soma, all of sacred vows, are employed in indicating time; and they are the nakshatras and the yoginis, and they became so for assisting the courses of the worlds.” Soma or Chandra travels around the universe once a month, staying with each of his auspicious wives for about one day.
Later on the same page, we read “And the son of Agni is the handsome Kumara (Mars), born in a forest of reeds. And he is also called Kartikeya, because he was reared by Krittika and others.” This story is explained more elaborately later on, but here we can see that Mars is born from the fire (Agni) himself. The Nakshatra Krittika must also foster the more noble fiery or warrior energies. Kartikeya or Mars was so powerful from his birth that all the demigods came to him and offered him their kingdoms, possibly to avert any conflict with this all-powerful being. Mars, however, said that he didn’t want a kingdom but would accept the role of Commander-in-Chief of the demigods’ armies. Thus, a chart with a good Mars indicates one who fights for a good cause; and a malefic Mars instills fear, conflict, fire, slaughter, etc. For example, Mars was prominent in the horoscope, and was lord of the day, of 9/11.
The birth of Sukra or Venus is described a few paragraphs ahead. “The illustrious Bhrgu came out, ripping open the breast of Brahma. The learned Sukra is Bhrgu’s son, and Sukra, becoming a planet and engaged according to the command of the Self-existent in pouring and withholding rain and in dispensing and remitting calamities, traverses through the skies, for sustaining the lives of all the creatures in the three worlds.”
Here we can learn that a good Venus will be seen wherever there is much rain, produce for sustenance, and freedom from calamity in life. This Sukra has many other qualities and at least two other forms. According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, “Jupiter and Venus are always benefic for all the people of the universe.”
On the following page, we read, “And, O king, Surabhi gave birth to two daughters, the amiable Rohini and the far-famed Gandharvi…From Rohini have sprung all kine (cows).”
This connection with Rohini and cows is very important, as cow is our Mother who gives milk, which sustains us and provides the ghee by which holy sacrifice is performed. As such, cow slaughter was unimaginable to the sages of the previous age, and is an action of the grossest type of ignorance. In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishan is continually named as the Supreme Godhead Himself, and He chose to appear under this wonderful star of Rohini. Of course, He is known as the cowherd boy.
Further on, in Section 113, we read a confirmation of the importance of Muhurhta astrology; “Then selecting an auspicious day and moment, as indicated by the wise for the ceremony, King Pandu was duly united with Madri.” Those who know the Mahabharata are familiar with the semi-tragic ends of Pandu and Madri. This shows that, though we are obliged to find the best muhurta for each purpose, we cannot override our basic life’s destiny as depicted in the birth chart. Pandu died as a relatively young king and father, and Madri voluntarily entered his funeral pyre, which, though prohibited in the current Kali-yuga, is said to bring the wife to heaven to immediately join her husband.
Each tithi or day of the Moon has its particular qualities and influences. “On a certain day of the new Moon, the great Rishis of rigid vows assembled together, and desirous of beholding Brahman (Lord Brahma), were on the point of starting on their expedition. Seeing them about to start, Pandu asked those ascetics, ‘Ye first of eloquent men, where shall we go?’ The Rishis answered, ‘there will be a great gathering today in the abode of Lord Brahma, of celestials, Rishis, and Pitris.”
From this we can see that an Amavasya or new Moon day is excellent for spiritual gatherings; and may be all right for travel for such purposes, though travel on this day for more mundane purposes is definitely discouraged.
The birth of Maharaja Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandava heroes of the Mahabharata, is mentioned in Section 123. “Then the handsome Kunti was united (in intercourse) with the god of justice in his spiritual form and obtained from him a son devoted to the good of all creatures. And she brought his excellent child, who lived to acquire great fame, at the eight muhurta called Abhijit, of the hour of noon of that vey auspicious day of the seventh month (Kartika), viz., the fifth of the lighted fortnight, when the star Jyestha in conjunction with the Moon was ascendant.”
As such, Maharaja Yudhisthira might have been born under Sagittarius ascendant, with the Sun in the eleventh, and the debilitated Moon in the twelfth. These positions might account for this acquiring of kingdom and then having to endure a thirteen-year exile. Others say that he is Capricorn rising, with the Sun in the tenth house, though I fail to see how the eight lord debilitated in the tenth could make one of the emperors of the world. Still others attribute Aquarius lagna to him.
Whatever, he is one of the greatest personalities to ever walk the earth. His birth under the Jyestha Nakshatra, which can be translated as the “first born,” corresponds with his being the eldest of the five brothers – in name and life karma, at least (as true readers of Mahabharata will know that the proud Karna was actually Mother Kunti’s first born).
Speaking of Karna, when he entered the famous tournament sponsored by the teacher Drona to display the skill of his students, he eclipsed the beauty and power of the Pandavas with their guru, which is described thusly:
“And Drona stood, surrounded by the five brothers, the sons of Pritha, and looked like the Moon in conjunction with the five-starred constellation Hasta.” Evidently the Moon in Hasta is wonderful to behold. This also reveals that there was no lack of astronomical understanding in those days of yore (5,000 years ago).
Continuing to the bottom of page 308 in Volume I of the hardbound version, we see, “The Pandavas set out on the eighth day of the month of Phalguna (February), when the star Rohini was in the ascendant.” Since the star Rohini is symbolized by the cart, evidently it is not a bad star for beginning a journey, although its usual connotation is the bringing of produce to market. We might learn something from the mention of the eighth tithi. The eighth is, of course, a place of suffering and death, and of the lunar days, the eighth and fourteenth can be ominous, particularly the fourteenth day of the dark Moon.
Sage Parasara has written a chapter on remedial measures for even taking birth on that day of 14th tithi. The journey the Pandavas undertook on the eighth tithi was to Varanavata, where Duryodhana and his evil allies planned to burn the Pandavas to death in the house of lac.
Duryodhana et al were so evil that they were not just trying to destroy their “political” rivals; they intended to burn Mother Kunti along with them. Duryodhana himself was a partial incarnation of Kali, sent from the lower planets to disturb the righteous – just as the Pandavas were of the opposite quality, being the divine progeny of the gods.
A few pages ahead, we also see mention of this fourteenth tithi, wherein Vidura states, “Go thou unto the Pandavas and accomplish their good…Purochana will set fire to the door of thy house on the fourteenth night of this dark fortnight. To burn to death those tigers among men, the Pandavas, with their mother is the design of that wicked wretch, the son of Dhritarashtra.”
Next, we see a reference that contradicts modern astrological law. “Vaisampayana continued, ‘Then the illustrious Vyasa, addressing Yudhisthira the just, said, ‘This day is an auspicious day, O son of Pandu! This day the Moon has entered the constellation called Pushya. Take thou the hand of Krishan (Draupadi) today, thyself first before thy brothers!” Evidently Pushya is such a wonderful Nakshatra that it is even good for marriage. Perhaps, however, since so many calamities ensued for the Pandavas and their common wife, people have since become hesitant to marry under Pushya.
Those familiar with the story know that the mass slaughter of the Kurukshetra war was brought about because of the egregious sin against Draupadi, who was forcibly dragged, half-dressed, and in an inured state, and hideously insulted in the view of the entire royal court. Even the great devotee and yogi Bhismadeva had to die on the battlefield because of his not vocally objecting to her abuse.
The final astrological reference in Volume I reads thus: “Narada continued, ‘As soon as those festivities (of the asuras) came to an end, the brothers Sunda and Upasanda, desirous of the sovereignty of the three worlds, took counsel and commanded their forces to be arranged. Obtaining the assent of their friends and relatives, of the elders of the Daitya race, and of their minister of state, and performing the preliminary rites of departure, they set out in the night when the constellation Magha was in the ascendant.’”
These asuras or rakshashas were bent on domination of the universe, regardless of the murder and mayhem they committed to do so. It is later said, “the Sun and the Moon, the Planets and Stars, and Constellations, and the other dwellers in the Firmament, witnessing these acts of Sunda and Upaqsunda, grieved deeply. Subjugating all the points of heaven by means of cruel acts, the asura brothers took up their abode in Kurukshetra, without a single rival.”
I was recently in Sri Rameshwaram on the holy day of Shivaratri, by the Lord’s grace. This holy place has relationship to Lord Rama, Who appeared in the Treta yuga, two million years ago; and Who is the incarnation of Lord Krishna. Readers of the great Ramayana are familiar with the story. On the wall of the ashram where we were staying were recent satellite photos, which clearly depicted an underwater line of large boulders connecting Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka. This was the floating bridge which allowed the monkey army to march to Sri Lanka to attach Ravana and retrieve Sri Sitadevi. So even modern science has confirmed the “story,” as recent archaeological finds have confirmed the underwater existence of Lord Krishna’s ancient city of Dwaraka.
Thus, the mention above of the Sun, Moon, planets and constellations “grieving” on the over-taking of the universe by the Rakshasas, and their committing grievous sins against humanity, the animal kingdom, and the Earth Herself, are not allegorical stories. They attest to the personal nature of the Creation and the planets themselves.
This proper personal conception is given by mother Draupadi herself, in her prayers to Lord Krishna, entreating Him for protection, upon the Pandavas and her being exiled into the forest. Draupadi said
“And, O chief of all beings, Thou art the refuge of all royal sages, devoted to virtuous acts. Thou art the Lord of all, Thou art omnipresent, Thou art the soul of all things, and Thou art the active power pervading everything! The rulers of the several worlds, those worlds themselves, the stellar conjunctions, the 10 points of the horizon, the firmament, the Moon and the Sun, are all established in Thee. And, O mighty-armed one, the morality of creatures, the immortality of the universe, are established in Thee! Thou art the Supreme Lord of all creatures, celestial or human! Therefore it is, O slayer of Madhu, that impelled by the affection Thou bearest me, that I will relate to Thee, my griefs!”
This personal conception is again confirmed by the great sage, Narada, in section 11 of Volume 2, as he described the assembly halls of the great demigods to Yudhisthira Maharaja:
“Listen to me, o child, as I tell thee of the assembly house of the grandsire (Lord Brahma); that house which none can describe…and Asgastya of great energy, and Markandeya of great ascetic power, and Jamadagni, and Bharadwaja, and Samvatra, and Chyavana, and exalted Durvasa, and the virtuous Rishyasringa, and illustrious Sanat Kumara of great ascetic merit and the preceptor in all matters affecting Yoga; Asita and Devala nad Jaigishavya acquainted with truth; Rishava, Ajitasatru, and Mani of great energy, and the science of healing with its eight branches – all in their personified forms, O Bharata; the Moon with all the stars and the stellar conjunctions; Aditya (the Sun) with all his rays; the winds; the sacrifices, the declarations of purpose, the vital principles – these illustrious and vow-observing beings in their personified forms; and many others too numerous to mention, attend all upon Brahma in that mansion…the 20 tribes of the Gandharvas and Apsaras, as also their seven other tribes, and all the lokapalas, and Shukra and Brhaspati, and Budha, and Sangaraka (Mangala), Sani, Rahu, and the other planets…these and many other Goddesses wait upon the Creator of all.”
Thus the planetary Deities are all devotees of the Lord who execute His will in distributing the deserved karma to us souls who inhabit the material body and universe.
Next, in section 25 of the Digvijaya Parva, Muhurta is again mentioned, as Arjuna addressed his brother Yudhisthira:
“I think, therefore that what should now be done, is for the swelling up of our treasury. I desire, O best of monarchs, to make the kings of the earth pay tributes to us. I desire to set out, in an auspicious moment, of a holy day of the Moon, under a favorable constellation, for the conquest of the direction that is presided over the Lord of treasures (viz., the north).”
Ahead in section 37, we see the devoted Yudhisthira praising the Pandavas’ divine friend, Lord Krishna:
“The Sun, the Moon, the constellations, the planets, all the principle directions, the intermediate directions, are all established in Krishna. As the Agnihotra is the foremost of all Vedic Sacrifices, as the Gayatri is the foremost of all metres, as the king is the foremost among all men, as the ocean is the foremost among all rivers, as the Moon is the foremost among all constellations, as the Sun is foremost among all luminous bodies, as Meru is the foremost among all mountains, as Garuda is the foremost among all birds – so, as long as the upward, downward, and sideways course of the universe lasteth, Kesava (Krishna) is the foremost of all the worlds, including regions of the celestials.
This Sisupala is a mere boy and hence he knoweth not Krishna, and ever and everywhere speaketh of Krishna thus (badly). This ruler of Chedi will never see virtue in that light in which one that is desirous of acquiring high merit will see it. Who is there among the old and the young, or among these illustrious lords of earth, that doth not regard Krishna, as deserving of worship, or that doth not worship Krishna.”
Space may not allow us to go on here, which is somewhat sad, because just 20 pages ahead of the last reference, is a great discussion on destiny, Fate, free will, and God’s control of everything. Yet this is also a nice place to end our discussion, with reference to Lord Krishna, because the Mahabharata and indeed, all the Vedas are simply describing His glories and reminding us of him.
vedias ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
Vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham
“By all the Vedas, am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of the Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
His pastimes, especially those executed with His dear friends and devotees like the Pandavas and Draupadi, are extremely relishable. They give us a taste of the nectar which our eternal soul craves. If the soul is personal, then it has all the qualities of being, knowledge, love and desire; qualities which we see pervertedly reflected through the material body. The Mahabharata is full of these qualities in their pure form. Mahabharata fulfills our spiritual thirst, depicting the victory of the devoted, righteous Pandavas through their trials with the rajasic and tamasic energies and personalities in the material sphere.
Hopefully this article will be continued.
Thanks for listening. Maharaja Yudhisthira ki jaya ho!
P.S. – One last pastime! Enunciating the slaughter that would ensue from the mistreatment of the five brothers and their Lord Krishna, Arjuna said “There are, with us, many aged Brahmanas, versed in various sciences, of amiable behavior, well-born, acquainted with the cycle of the years, engaged in the study of astrology, capable of understanding with certainty, the motions of planets and conjunctions of stars, as also of explaining the mysteries of Fate, and answering questions relating to the future, acquainted with the signs of the Zodiac, and versed with the occurrences of every hour, who are prophesying the great destruction of the Kurus and the ultimate victory of the Pandavas.”
Nalini Kantha Das (aka Tom Hopke) is a Vedic astrologer who has practiced actively since the 1970’s. He has produced two extremely well-received books, How to Read Your Horoscope and The Divine Path of Prediction. Nalini is a highly regarded teacher, noted for the clarity of his workshops and his personal humility. His experience in this field is vast and he is considered one of the foremost Vedic Astrologers in the West.