Sanskrit: jyotiṣa

desi4life

Senior Member
English
Hello,

Sanskrit jyotiṣa can mean both astronomy and astrology. As far as I know, in Vedic usage it referred to a basic form of astronomy in which the position of the stars were used to determine time. But in Classical Sanskrit it came to predominantly mean astrology, which was either derived from or strongly influenced by Greek astrology. Is my interpretation correct? Is the astrology meaning a Classical Sanskrit development or already a part of Vedic usage?

Thanks!
 
  • Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    Well that's very kind of you. I did mean to leave a quick comment as you've not had any proper replies.

    In short: That is my understanding of things as well. However, I have not done the research and I don't really know anything about astrology or classical Indian astronomy. As I'm sure you're well aware there are very many people making claims about Vedic astrology and saying that their astrological practices are taken from the Vedas and all that kind of thing. I honestly haven't done the research to be able to say that those claims are false. They could be, much like the many quotes falsely attributed to the Bhagavad-Gītā. In India it is of course common to claim that things are derived from Vedas or wherever, and I'm sure there are analogous claims made in all kinds of cultures all across the world. However it may be that there are intensely detailed astrological texts in the Vedāṅgas or somewhere else that I'm completely unaware of; unfortunately I honestly don't know. I fear this is much more of a cultural question than a linguistic one and it's just not something I know about.

    However your summary has very well stated my (very uninformed!) understanding.
     

    aevynn

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, Hindustani
    I'm curious, @desi4life and @Au101: What leads you to have this impression of semantic drift of jyotiṣa, from "astronomy" in Vedic Sanskrit to "astrology" in Classical Sanskrit?

    I ask because I would have imagined that astronomy and astrology weren't clearly distinguished in pre-modern South Asia, just as they weren't in the West until the "Age of Reason." Is it not true that any sort of "calculation" involving the stars was labelled jyotiṣa, whether it was science or pseudoscience? Did people writing in Classical Sanskrit (like Āryabhaṭa) use some word besides jyotiṣa for their astronomical calculations?
     
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    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I ask because I would have imagined that astronomy and astrology weren't clearly distinguished in pre-modern South Asia, just as they weren't in the West until the "Age of Reason."

    Certainly possible.

    In answer to your question, Monier-Williams' entry for jyotiṣa goes:

    n. (g. ukthādi) the science of the movements of the heavenly bodies and divisions of time dependant thereon, short tract for fixing the days and hours of the Vedic sacrifices (one of the 6 kinds of Vedâṅga texts), Āp. ; MuṇḍUp. i, 1, 5 ; MBh. xiif. &c.

    And I do vaguely recall having read that Indian astrology was, as desi4life has it, "either derived from or strongly influenced by Greek astrology." They are certainly remarkably similar from what very little I know of either.

    As I say I honestly haven't looked into this at all, I can say only that desi4life's summary accords with what I've heard but it's not something I can comment on authoritatively.
     

    desi4life

    Senior Member
    English
    I'm curious, @desi4life and @Au101: What leads you to have this impression of semantic drift of jyotiṣa, from "astronomy" in Vedic Sanskrit to "astrology" in Classical Sanskrit?

    I ask because I would have imagined that astronomy and astrology weren't clearly distinguished in pre-modern South Asia, just as they weren't in the West until the "Age of Reason." Is it not true that any sort of "calculation" involving the stars was labelled jyotiṣa, whether it was science or pseudoscience? Did people writing in Classical Sanskrit (like Āryabhaṭa) use some word besides jyotiṣa for their astronomical calculations?

    As far as I know, the Vedic Sanskrit references to jyotiṣa were in accordance with the definition provided by Monier-Williams, which would be a form of astronomy. From my understanding, the Vedic usage of jyotiṣa did not refer to the effect of heavenly bodies on humans, horoscopes, or any of the other characteristics of astrology. This expansion of the definition of jyotiṣa to include astrology, from my understanding, seems to be a much later development coinciding with Indian-Greek interaction.
     

    aevynn

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, Hindustani
    Ah, understood, thank you both :) I had misinterpreted the OP slightly. The hypothesis being proposed is that the semantics of jyotiṣa broadened to include Indo-Hellenic astrological ideas. That certainly sounds very plausible, but I also have no knowledge about this.

    Based on just the Monier-Williams entry you've shared (and the little I've read elsewhere about Vedic preoccupation with rituals and sacrifices), I continue to be a little hesitant about using the word "astronomy" with its modern sense to describe Vedic jyotiṣa. I see that Monier-Williams uses the word "science," but surely a clear and modern philosophy of science did not exist in the Vedic period, and...
    Monier-Williams said:
    n. (g. ukthādi) the science of the movements of the heavenly bodies and divisions of time dependant thereon, short tract for fixing the days and hours of the Vedic sacrifices (one of the 6 kinds of Vedâṅga texts), Āp. ; MuṇḍUp. i, 1, 5 ; MBh. xiif. &c.
    Wikipedia said:
    The primary goal of astronomy is to understand the physics of the universe. Astrologers use astronomical calculations for the positions of celestial bodies along the ecliptic and attempt to correlate celestial events with earthly events and human affairs.

    ---
    Unrelatedly:
    In India it is of course common to claim that things are derived from Vedas or wherever
    This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I woke up to yet another one of these in my WhatsApp notifications this morning... -_-"
     

    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    Based on just the Monier-Williams entry you've shared (and the little I've read elsewhere about Vedic preoccupation with rituals and sacrifices), I continue to be a little hesitant about using the word "astronomy" with its modern sense to describe Vedic jyotiṣa. I see that Monier-Williams uses the word "science," but surely a clear and modern philosophy of science did not exist in the Vedic period, and...
    The same thought occurred to me about the use of the word 'science' as well.
     
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