The Authenticity of BPHS
How Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra became Gospel
Ever since 1984 with the publication of the first volume of Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra (Parasara, 1984) with translation and commentary by R. Santanam, Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra (henceforth BPHS) has been successfully marketed to Vedic astrologers in India and abroad as the preeminent text on Vedic astrology. Ranjan, the publishers, described it as: "The Gospel Book of Hindu Astrology with Master Key to Divination" (I coined the term "Vedic Astrology" but had not yet popularized it until 1988). This reputation was further cemented when Sagar published their superior edition of the same work with translation and commentary by Sriman Girish Chand Sharma (Parasara,1994).
The idea that one gets, especially for followers of Lord Krsna's Vedic culture, is that the modern edition of BPHS is a very ancient text dating back to the beginning of Kali-yuga (3102 B.C.). Hence, the views set forth in the BPHS are seen by many as sacrosanct, infallible and on par with sacred scriptures like the Vedas or Srimad Bhagavatam. And, hence BPHS is often quoted as pramana -- authoritative evidence -- in Vedic astrological discourse. But what is the real status of BPHS and the implications to Vedic astrology?
When I first started studying jyotish in India in 1977-1983 there were very few classic texts easily available in English. The main authors to have translated texts were V. Subrahmanya Sastri to whom we owe translations of:
(Most of which have been pirated after his demise.) B.V. Raman though a prolific author did not translate many books but the ones he did were important in particular Prasna Marga. His grandfather B. Suryanarayana Rao translated and commented on several important classics including Brhat Jataka, Jaimini Sutras and Sarvartha Cintamani. This is not a complete list of translators and titles.
I remember from my early days of study that the "big five" main classical texts that the scholars in The Astrological Magazine eulogized and encouraged one to read and study were:
We note the absence of BPHS.
In The Astrological Magazine we read that in South India, especially Kerala, one was not considered a scholar of jyotish unless he had memorized both Brhat Jataka and Prasna Marga not BPHS. Brhat Jataka was considered to be the jewel among astrological literatures and indeed in my early days of study there were many translations and commentaries on Varaha Mihira's Brhat Jataka. I have already mentioned the translations of V. Subrahmanya Sastri and B. Suryanarayana Rao, another excellent translation was by Swami Vijnananda. A less valuable translation (in my opinion) was that of N. Iyer which was later pirated and repackaged as authoured by Usha and Shashi. Much later P.S. Sastri also did a translation of Brhat Jataka. Indeed Brhat Jataka and its author Varaha Mihira were so famous and adored by the Jyotish Pandits that when it came to eulogize Dr. B.V. Raman he was honored by calling him the modern Varaha Mihira. BPHS as one can see from my narrative so far was hardly mentioned or popular.
First Encounter with Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra
Whereas today BPHS would be one of the first books a new student would be recommended to purchase I had barely heard of it what to speak of seen it. It was not until my third year of intense study did I stumble upon BPHS in a university library in Kolkata in 1980. I came across it by accident when I spotted it in the card catalogs. When the clerk returned with the book I was enthralled and spent a long time looking through it and taking notes.
The copy of BPHS I got in Varanasi.
The book was a translation of some important chapters (not a complete translation) by N.N. Krishna Rau and V.B. Choudhuri, published in 1962. It was not well printed but the content mattered more to me than the form it was in. I recall I was especially happy because for the first time I could read an explanation of how the shodasavargas were to be used. I had been trying to use shodasavargas since 1977 and had even written a computer program to calculate them but was not really sure how to use them as no texts up to that time gave instructions on how to use them. I was also intrigued by the idea that the author, Parasara Muni, had indicated that each of the planets was an expansion of a different incarnation of Lord Krsna. I was determined to get a copy of this book. Unfortunately only about a thousand had been made by mimeograph copying almost 20 years earlier so it would be very hard to come by and no book sellers had heard of it.
By my good fortune I was introduced by a friend to an old brahmana, Pandit Dvivedi, from Varanasi who said he had a copy of the same book and would give it to me. I made arrangements to stop in Varanasi on my way to Vrndavana in August 1980 and acquired the book which I still have to this day. I studied the book diligently especially the use of the different vargas.
At that time while I was living in Kolkata (1980- May 1981) I was studying Vedic astrology with Sriman Harihara Majumdhar. I asked him what his opinion was of BPHS, I remember that he startled me by saying that unlike other well known texts BPHS started appearing only recently in the 1930-40s and that there was no standard version in Bengali. It was not till much later that I understood the significance of his statement.
In 1982 I was living and studying jyotish in Bangalore and Thiruvanantampuram. I recall having a discussion with my astrology teacher Sriman B.G. Sashikanta Jain regarding which system of house division should be used, one choice was for unequal house division based on statements of BPHS another was for Bhava = Rasi based on Brhat Jataka 1.4. The thing that I remember was that I was wondering how these two texts could give different views.
Later in 1982 I was discussing with my jyotish guru, Sriman B.G. Sashikanta Jain, about the lack of classical works translated into English. We made up a list of desired texts including BPHS. I then I wrote a letter to Mr. Goel one of the owners of Ranjan Publications in Delhi submitting my desideratum. I never got a reply but I was more than pleasantly surprised when Santanam's translation and commentary on Hora Sara came out later that year and 2 years later they came out with Santanam's translation of the first volume of BPHS. And, later Santanam translated and published a steady stream of texts, many of which had been on my list.
From this point onward, BPHS became the "bible of astrology" replacing Brhat Jataka as a primary authority on the premise that BPHS was the older text. I also followed this trend. However I was somehow disturbed by what I perceived to be a focus only on BPHS and the demise of the tradition of studying other classics especially Brhat Jataka among the younger astrologers especially those who got into astrology via the internet and had never visited India.
Doubts about Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra
In the summer of 1999 while reading B. S. Rao's annotated translation of Brhat Jataka with commentary of Bhattotpala (Mihira, 1986) I came across an interesting point in his commentary to the 7th chapter.
In Brhat Jataka 7.1 Varaha Mihira directly refers to Parasara Muni by the name of Saktipurva (son of Sakti). Later in Brhat Jataka 7.9. Rao mentions that the learned commentator Bhattotpala laments that while he has a copy of Parasara Samhita he was unable to acquire a copy of Parasara Hora which Mihira refers to in Brhat Jataka 7.1. This struck Rao as significant because it now made him doubt the authenticity of Jataka Candrika which is supposedly an abstract of Parasara Hora but much later than the time of Bhattotpala. On this basis Ajay Mitra Sastri (Shastri, 1969, p. 449) also doubted the authenticity of Laghu Parasari and BPHS.
Why is this significant?
Importance of Brhat Jataka
No Ancient Commentaries on BPHS
Why are commentaries important?
Brhat Jataka commentaries
How to tell what is authentic in BPHS
Absence of Jaimini
Click on picture to read these omitted sections
Confusion created by "Jaimini" material in modern Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra.
We previously mentioned that the Jaimini material inserted into the modern BPHS was done by someone who didn't properly understand Jaimini Sutras. We would now like to briefly take up this subject.
My guru for Jaimini Sutra, Sriman Iranganti Rangacarya, translator and commentator of Jaimini Sutramritam with more than 40 years experience in Jaimini system, directly told me to strictly ignore whatever so-called Jaimini material is found in BPHS because it will simply lead to confusion and contradictions. One example should suffice to see what quagmire one can end up in.
Argala as defined in the Jaimini School according to ancient commentaries can only be applied to a specific planet which has achieved a certain status by virtue of very clear criteria. I list them in increasing order of importance (Jaimini, 1995 p.12):
1. A planet who aspects Janma Lagna.
2. A planet who aspects both Janma lagna and its 7th house.
3. The lord of the sign occupied by the Moon aspecting Janma lagna or Moon sign. He is called Kevala.
4. The lord of the sign occupied by the Moon aspecting Janma lagna and Moon sign. He is called Yogada.
5. A planet aspecting Janma Lagna in Rasi chart and Navamsa lagna in Navamsa chart or Drekkana Lagna in Derkanna chart. Also called Yogada.
6. A planet aspecting Janma Lagna in Rasi chart and Navamsa lagna in Navamsa chart and Drekkana Lagna in Derkanna chart. Also called Yogada.
Rahu and Ketu can not be aspecting planets in this scheme. Aspects are strictly according to Jaimini system.
In 1, 5 and 6 instead of Janma Lagna it can be 5th or 9th but it must be applied consistently, by that I mean it must not be mixed together such as 5th in Rasi and 9th in Navamsa. It has to be 5th or 9th in both.
Thus according to classical Jaimini School argala is only to be applied to what Sriman Iranganti Rangacarya calls the "aspecting planet." Whereas, in the so-called "Jaimini system" found in BPHS, argala is applied indiscriminately to all planets and houses alike.
It would be beyond the scope of this essay to go into further comparison between the actual Jaimini system and what is found in the modern BPHS. To mix the two is to simply court disaster. One very senior astrologer who had mixed the two sources confidentially told me that he had been studying Jaimini system for more than 20 years and found it full of contradictions and confusions, he lamented that: "I have wasted 20 years of my life studying Jaimini."
What to speak of the confusion that arises if you mix the real Jaimini system with what is represented as Jaimini system in BPHS even more confusion will arise if the student of Parasara system mixes in Jaimini methods indiscriminately. P.S. Sastri warns "If the student of Parasara's text is not careful, he will mix up the two systems and get himself in contradictions and confusions." (Jaimini, 2006, p. i)
And, Sriman Iranganti Rangacarya jokingly illustrated to me the effect of mixing Jaimini and Parasara. Once there was a Telegu speaking man who also knew Sanskrit. A debate was going on. At one point the proper answer to a question was "horse." The man was so excited that when he answered the question he mixed up the Sanskrit word for horse asva with the Telegu word for horse gurru and his answer came out as gasva which was neither Telegu or Sanskrit and he lost the debate. So Iranganti Rangacarya told me this is the result of mixing Parasara and Jaimini. We again note that those texts like Uttara Kalamrta and Jataka Tattva that did try to blend the two system took a very conservative approach and only took from Jaimini (arudha and atmakaraka) what could be easily assimilated into Parasara system and nothing (like Jaimini aspects) that would clearly contradict the tenets of Parasara.
We have only touched on the more obvious interpolations there are more but it is beyond the scope of this article to go into further detail.