On the Navagrahas
Prepared for the Jyotisha and Ayurveda Conference, Coimbatore India, December 2015
Surya, The Sun
Surya, the Sun, is the both the brightest object in the sky and by far the most constant. The Sun defines and regulates our lives more than any other celestial factor in our existence. It is his energy that feeds us and keeps us alive. We carry out all our activities in complete alignment with the divisions of day and night that are created through his apparent rising and setting. Our very bodies are phototropic: light-oriented and light-dependent. The Sun provides the consistency and stability that governs how life unfolds for all species on our planet (save those very few in the uttermost depths of the oceans). For these characteristics he is hailed King of the Firmament.
From our view on Earth the orbits of every other graha (the grahas are the “planets” of Jyotisha; graha means “seizing”, or “that which seizes”) appear to vary: they speed up and slow down, come into sight and disappear, grow nearer and brighter, then distant and faint. But Surya varies not: he shines every day, “moving” at the same rate of motion, creating and sustaining our lives and informing their structure in time and space. Even at high northern and southern latitudes, where the angle of our axis creates large variations in the length of day and night between the summer and winter, those seasonal differences are entirely consistent year to year.
The Sun is both self-luminous and independent. The other grahas, and many other smaller bodies, revolve around him, but he orbits around no one. His light illuminates the entire solar system, but he depends on nothing to generate his own radiance. He therefore represents our own true nature of freedom and self-luminosity, consistent presence and radiance, and thus is the karaka (significator) for atma, the soul.
Surya’s energy radiates outwards with heat, an archetypal Masculine characteristic. His very presence generates activity, for it is during the day, which he rules, that human beings carry out the majority of their activity. We humans are so completely oriented towards light that vision is our most important sense, our eyes the indriyas with which we structure our perception of our external environments.
The Sun corresponds to Agni Tattva, the fire element, which rules vision, transformation, and will. His season is Grishma (summer); he rules plant matter, especially great trees and forests, the pungent taste, coarse cloth, quadrupeds, the shape of a square, and the eastern direction.
Surya governs pingala nadi, the subtle channel that flows on a person’ right side. This nadi makes possible the expression of dynamism, vitality, and purposeful activity. When Pingala Nadi is over-stimulated anger, aggression, and even violence are but some of the less-desirable results.
Surya Namaskara is a practice that stimulates Pingala Nadi in particular, and simultaneously is an appropriate act of worship to Lord Surya. It facilitates appropriate flow of the five pranas and especially awakens digestive fire. Other suitable offerings to Surya include red wheat, copper and gold, and homa.
Astrologically the Sun rules the soul, the father, masculinity, individuality, charisma and independence. As with Chandra, the Moon, his guna (quality) is sattva. He is the karaka for vitality, prana, fame, and highly placed and powerful people, including kings. He rules gold, textiles, medicine, and agriculture, and careers in prestigious, large institutions like government.
People born with a strong Sun will generally experience vitality in the physical body, display a certain charisma that attracts others to them, be of fixed and steady character, and be generous. Parts of the body that fall under the Sun’s mandate include the heart, brain, arteries, circulation, eyes, cells, health, vitality, pulse, resistance to infection, skeleton, spine/bones, and pitta. Health issues associated with the Sun include eye diseases, bone deficiencies and diseases, dental conditions, heart & circulation problems, fever, neuralgia, inflammations, and immune deficiencies.
Chandra, The Moon
The Sun and the Moon are the two brightest objects in our sky, and appear as King and Queen of Heaven, of equal size and stature, when viewed from Earth. They are a manifestation of the primordial Shiva and Shakti, Yang and Yin, masculine and feminine forces that frame our view of a seemingly dualistic Universe. In our solar system the Sun reflects the astronomical reality of an unmoving, utterly stable center, or bindu, the purusha, while the Moon signifies prakriti, the first evolute of manifestation, moving, dynamic, variable, unstable. She represents the archetypal Feminine, the Shakti that gives rise to Nature’s beautiful, curvaceous, not quite predictable patterns.
Unlike the Sun, who displays complete constancy and predictability, is self-luminous, shines continually, and apparently moves through the sky on a predictable path at a constant rate of speed, the Moon has mutability built into her very nature. She moves speedily through the sky at a variable rate of motion, changing shape and size swiftly and continuously against the background of the stars. The Moon’s orbit varies in speed because the Moon is subject to two gravitational forces, the Earth and the Sun. Depending on the relationship of these three objects in space the Moon speeds up or slows down, just as our minds are often pulled in two directions. The Moon takes approximately 27.3 days to complete an orbit around the earth, but because the earth is also moving in space, it appears from here that it takes approximately 29.5 days for the Moon to orbit. These orbital rates can vary by as much as 12 and 7 hours respectively. This is why there is not always the same number of days in the two halves of the lunar month.
Rather than generate her own light the Moon reflects that of the Sun, which represents the soul. The Moon therefore represents the manas of the individual, the inner contents of our minds, conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Like the Moon, the human mind is never still, rotating through emotional states, attentions and desires with great speed within the framework of the fixity of the Self/Purusha/Soul. Manas also represents memory, the method we use to organize our understanding of our reality, structure our lives, and store impressions for future use. What a person remembers as being significant will largely be composed of things that confirm the dominant habits of the personality. These repeated and habitual thoughts and behaviours, whether conscious or not, lead to the development of vasanas(mental impressions), thus putting the Law of Karma in play.
The Moon also represents Jala Tattva, the Water Element, particularly as it is expressed as rasa, the flowing juice of reality, the deep sweet cool nectar that nourishes life on all levels. The Sun has a relentless quality to him, but the Moon is always accommodating and ever-embracing, like a loving mother who never tires of her child. The Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth causes the Earth to bulge toward the Moon. Water is more flexible than earth, and the oceans bulge more noticeably than the land; this gives rise to higher tides when the Moon is closer to us in her orbit. Human beings are two-thirds water and our brains are mostly water, which means that Moon’s gravitational pull also affects us strongly. Water as an element corresponds to all desires, tastes, and emotions. Each month the Moon draws nearer to us and becomes full and bright, then draws away from us and becomes small and dark; each month we experience her effects on our minds and bodies as she waxes and wanes. If we pay attention to this cycle we can work with the Moon and learn to accumulate rasa and be more content.
People born under a strong Moon generally have a good capacity to recognize and digest the nutrition that life offers to them. They are healthy eaters both physically and psychically, and tend to naturally see the good in things, and to have good things come their way.
The Moon corresponds to Ida Nadi, the subtle channel found on the left of the body. A soft inviting gaze and a great gentleness come with a functional Ida Nadi. When this channel is clogged, depression and inertia develop along with a chaotic and weird internal dialogue.
The Moon rules pearls, conch shell, moonstone, bronze, Monday, the northwest, the shape of the circle, adornment and beauty. The Moon loves flowers, seashells and perfumes, white rice, milk, coconut juice and other sweet cooling things and these all make good offerings to her. In astrology she rules the common sense, memory, emotions, the mother, food (especially milk, grains and liquids, common vegetables and fruits), salty flavours, nutrition, the night, women, fashion (and new clothes, especially creamy white coloured clothes), water, memory, imagination, habits, receptivity, changeability, the public, and fame/being in public, mass consciousness, and growth, especially of children. This is but a partial list!
Pertaining to the body, Moon rules fertility, bodily fluids (particularly blood, lymph, and synovial fluid), water, nurture, assimilation, digestion, instinctive reflex, stomach, breasts, eyesight, glandular system, shoulders, ribs. It activates both vata and kapha.
Diseases associated with the Moon: lethargy, drowsiness, lung problems, mouth maladies, blood-related complaints, digestive diseases, water retention, and some mental disorders.
Mangala or Kuja, Mars
Scarlet Mars is an outer planet, meaning his placement from the Sun is further than ours on Earth. This makes him the first of the three true grahas who can affect a bhava/house over a considerable length of time. Mars is on average 228 million km from the Sun, and takes an average of 18 months to make his orbit, meaning an average of 1 ½ months per rasi (constellation). Among the names for Mars is “the crooked one”, an appellation describing the apparently crooked way he moves through the sky. His orbit can appear from our view to be retrograde, or moving backwards from his normal direction, for long periods due to the relative speed of our own orbit to that of Mars. This can result in him taking up residence in a house (bhava) for up to 7 months. This “crookedness” in his orbital progression gives him the reputation of being unpredictable. Unpredictability is a valuable characteristic for a military leader, and appropriate for Mars in his designation as the Commander-in-Chief. When Mars is particularly close to earth in his retrogression his red hue takes on a brilliant glow, and his presence then cannot be mistaken for any other body in the sky. Indeed at such times he resembles the Commander in Chief of the Army, shining forth with the tejas (power and glory) needed for battle.
People with a strong Mangala will display physical strength, courage, brash temperament, ambition and generosity. They will tend to remain youthful in looks and behaviour, and may exhibit the impetuosity of youth as well. The youthfulness and passion associated with Mangala give sexual passion and expression also. Mars is the graha most readily signifying anger and violence in thought, speech or deed.
The astrological significations for Mars include: strength, siblings, use of force, and use (or misuse) of willpower. His guna is tamas, and he is the karaka for deformed people, and for the use of heat, violence, and strategy. Like Surya, his varna (class) is Kshatriya. He rules careers in the military, police and paramilitary, cutting professions like surgeons and butchers, and professions those that make use of heat, including chemistry, smelting metals, and the like. Athletes, engineers, and other traditional male-dominated work is ruled by Mars. Copper is his metal, and he presides over dhatu (mineral matter).
Mangala corresponds also to Agni Tattva, the fire element, like the sun, but the transformation is more associated with sthula (physical, gross) manifestation, like the smelting of metals. He also shares the Grishma (summer) season with Surya. He rules thorny trees and plants, the bitter taste, quadrupeds, the shape of an hourglass, and the southern direction.
Parts of the body under his domain include majja (bone marrow), and muscles. Health issues associated with Mangala include fever, ulcers, bile, boils and other inflammations, including haemorrhoids, smallpox, measles, and liver diseases. Sexual disease and injuries and surgeries round out the health significations.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and so from our view on Earth he is never far from the Sun. In fact Mercury can never be more than one rashi away from the Sun, and because of this close association with the significator for the jiva (soul), Mercury represents buddhi, or intellect. The rapidity of Mercury’s orbit around the Sun (at approximately three months) is mirrored in the natural rapid motion of the intellect from one subject to another.
Because Mercury’s orbit is so much faster than ours, and because he always is close to the Sun, he is frequently retrograde, and frequently combust. These two factors provide the changeability that is a key characteristic of Budha and is reflected in many of his significations. In one story it is said that Budha can change from male to female, and back again, making him a kind of hermaphrodite. He takes on the characteristics of whatever planet he is associated with, and so can act as both a benefic and a malefic.
Budha is considered the Prince, heir apparent to King Surya and Queen Chandra, in a lovely placement of the intellect relative to the soul and mind. Mythologically Mercury is in fact the son of Moon, born of an illicit union after the Moon kidnapped Tara, who was actually married to Brhaspati (Jupiter).
People with a strong Mercury usually hold value for learning and apply themselves to scholarship, fine arts, oratory, mathematics and logic. There is often a versatility and adaptability to changing circumstances, and well-developed sense of tact. There is a marked tendency to youthful looks and demeanour throughout life.
Astrologically Mercury rules speech and worldly knowledge, maternal uncles, volatility and changeable nature, reasoned thought. He is considered to be of neuter gender. In keeping with his adaptable nature, his guna is rajas. He is the karaka for merchants, translators and editors, writers, publishers and all professions where communication is central. He rules astrology and astrologers, and jobs involving numeracy and computation, including accounting and computing-related fields.
Budha is above all else a graha of dualism, mutable from one characteristic to another. He expresses this mutability in the instant it takes for one thought to turn to another, for one type of verbal expression to change to another. In a Mercury-dominant chart, when for example he owns the ascendant, this dualistic nature can include changeable body shape, emotional structure and patterns, and changeable preferences in home, career, love, food, and other self-nurturing activities.
Mercury represents Prthvi Tattva, the earth element, which rules smell, and his creatures are birds. His season is Sharad (autumn), he rules fruitless trees, mixed tastes, wet cloth, the shape of a triangle, and the northern direction. He is tri-doshic and his colour is the green of parrots and emeralds.
The body tissues ruled by Budha are skin and physiological nerves, and health issues include skin problems and diseases, speech disorders, rapid breathing, tremors, tics, nervous habits and problems of the mind.
Guru or Brhaspati, Jupiter
Jupiter, along with Mars and Saturn, is an outer planet, far beyond the asteroid belt. His distance from the Sun results in an orbit that takes approximately twelve years to complete. This length of time is symmetrical with our orbit around the Sun, which takes twelve months to move through the twelve constellations that make up the ecliptic. Another symmetry is the cycle in which both Jupiter and Saturn return by transit to the same constellations they inhabited sixty years previously. This is marked by the Samvatsara calendrical cycle of sixty years, and contributes to the reasons we consider the age of 60 to be a major milestone in a life. It is also a fundamental reason why the now almost mythical lifespan of 120 years is regarded as the age of completion. These stately progressions of Guru provide the basis for the breadth of view that is his domain.
Because Jupiter can be in any of the twelve rashis relative to the Sun/Surya, he has the capacity to see reality from many views. He is thus known as the Guru of the Devas, and is considered the planet of both wisdom and grace, exactly as we acknowledge these qualities in a guru. Jupiter, as teacher of all, rules expansion of all things, starting with spiritual knowledge and happiness, but including expansion of wealth and artha in general, and more prosaically, expanding waistlines.
People with a strong Jupiter will exhibit a philosophical temperament irrespective of their position in life. They will be fair and honourable in their dealings, exhibit understanding, awareness and perspective, as well as a healthy fleshiness of body, and will be generally pleasing to those around them.
Astrologically Guru rules intuition, children, teachers and spiritual preceptors, ethics and honour. He shares with the Sun and Moon the sattva guna. He is a karaka for peers and proper people, along with Venus, and is the wise Minister in the planetary cabinet. As the most trustworthy of all planets, he rules the Treasury, and so is associated with careers in finance and accounting, banks, investors and speculators. His role as Guru leads to careers in philosophy, law, oration, teaching, writing and counselling, and work related to foreigners and international affairs. Guru corresponds to Akasha Tattva, the space which holds all manifest reality. His bodily dhatu is medas (fat), the season is Hemanta (winter), he rules fruit-bearing trees and beings that are able to move (jiva). His taste is sweet, his cloth conservative, his shape an ellipse, and his direction northeast.
Parts of the body that fall under his domain include the area of the belly, brain, liver, pancreas, glycogen and general balance. Health issues include obesity, diabetes, tumours, enlargement of the liver, jaundice, ear problems, and apoplexy.
Shukra, or Venus
Like Mercury, Venus is closer to the Sun than are we on Earth, and will therefore on some occasions come directly between Earth and the Sun. At such a time Venus can be seen as a small black spot on the orb of the sun. To observers on earth, Venus is the brightest permanent object in the night sky, even though his size is only that of Earth’s. The brilliance of Venus is due to the reflecting power of its atmosphere, which is dense, with clouds of sulphur dioxide making a complete circumnavigation around the planet every four days. Venus cannot be more than 48 degrees away from the Sun, as viewed from Earth, and Venus is thus named the Morning Star and Evening Star in societies throughout the world.
This Morning and Evening Star essence brings Venus to one of his strongest associations, as his brilliance corresponds to the time of greatest sexual alertness for men (in the early hours of predawn) and women (in the early hours of dusk). Thus one of his names is Shukra, which means both semen and the colour white (in honour of his brightness). A deeper relationship to Shukra emerges via his possession of the Mrtasanjivani Vidya, which gives the capacity to bring the dead back to life.
People born with a strong and well-placed Venus will generally have a deep appreciation for diverse art forms, including dance and music, painting, sculpture, handicrafts and architecture. They may themselves present some characteristics of physical beauty, and will generally appreciate adornments, whether on the body or in the home and workplace. A capacity to love and be loved in the sensual realm is often present.
Astrologically, Venus rules the spouse, love, marriage, beauty, comforts, and sensuality of all types. His guna is rajas, and his temperament is accommodating, valuing peace and harmony at any price. He is the karaka for semen and ovum, and by extension of ojas, and for peers and proper people in society. He rules careers in music, acting, poetry, jewellery, perfumes, hospitality, confections, fashion, and those dealing with beautiful products.
Venus corresponds to Apah Tattva, the Water Element, which rules taste and the ability to dissolve and regenerate, and is the element in which life manifests. His season is Vasanta (spring), he rules plant matter, especially floral trees, the sour taste, decorated and strong cloth, two-legged beings, the shape of an octagon, and the southeastern direction. Along with Jupiter, Venus is a minister in the planetary cabinet, but is considered shrewd rather than wise.
Parts of the body that fall under Venus’ mandate include the pelvis, internal sexual organs (ovaries, uterus, prostate), kidneys, glands, cheeks, mouth, and kapha/vata doshas. Health issues that are associated with Venus include sexual, gynaecological, and urinary diseases, sexual dysfunctions, and glandular and kidney disorders and diseases.
Shani, or Saturn
Lord Saturn is the planet visible to the naked eye that sits at the greatest distance from the Sun in our solar system, in fact some 1.42 billion km from the Sun, and so his pathway through the sky is both the slowest and the faintest of the planets. This position also makes him the shadowy dark bookend to the light of the Sun. Indeed, he is the son of the Sun, born of the Sun’s second wife Chaya.
His orbit around the sun takes a full 29.5 years, and the infamous Sade Sati, when he traverses the rashi of the Moon and the rashis on either side of the Moon takes seven and a half years. Because of the great distance of his orbit from us, and the length of time he remains in any one rashi or house, his ability to act as the means for expression of karma is unparalleled.
His light is faint and of a cold white colour. Compared to any of the other planets, Saturn has little light from the sun to reflect back, and he is therefore associated with darkness, old age and infirmity. His brother is Yama, the god of death, and Shani therefore has a close association with that great and final transition.
Because of his slow and inexorable pace, he touches our lives with deliberation and thoroughness. He is the Dharma Raja, the graha responsible for ensuring that we learn to conform to our personal path through life (svadharma). While in the modern era, even in India, conforming to one’s own dharma is often conceived as a limitation on personal “freedom”, in fact freedom is found only in the presence of dharma. The essence of Saturn lies in the truth that he will get the job done, irrespective of the difficulty, as when, during Ravana’s ascendancy in Lanka, when all the planets had been captured, and placed face down on the stairs leading to the throne, Shani pleaded with Hanumanji to turn him over, just enough so he could cast his glance on Ravana. Even Hanuman was afraid to expose himself to Saturn’s gaze, but Shani promised to avoid hurting him as much as possible. Hanuman did, and Shani did, and Ravana was immediately incapacitated, leaving the way open for Hanuman to incinerate Lanka with only a tail singed from the eye of Shani.
People born with a strong and well-placed Saturn will express the best kind of self-discipline, be able to persevere at difficult tasks, and be able to probe deeply into whatever commands their attention. He is therefore associated with ascetics, sannyasis, and researchers of all types.
Astrologically he rules grief, sorrow, and suffering; old, sickly, widowed, foreign people and subordinates; and work involving metals, hair, industrialists, leather, mines, civil servants, stone workers, scientists, traditionalists, husbandry, medicine, and land.
He indicates mineral matter and the shape of a four-paned window, and has strength in the west. He is of vata dosha and Vayu (air) element. In the planetary cabinet Saturn represents servants. He has a predominance of tamas guna, and represents the astringent taste. Saturn has an emaciated and long physique, a dark complexion, honey-coloured eyes, is windy in temperament, has big teeth, is indolent and lame, and has coarse and rough hair.
Body parts under his sway are skin, colon, intestines, teeth, joints, hair, white blood corpuscles, and the body tissues of skin, muscle, nerves. Diseases associated with Saturn include paralysis, gout, rheumatism, arthritis, stones, flatulence, chronic illness, skin diseases, nervous system problems, pain in legs, and toxaemia.
Rahu and Ketu, the Nodes
Rahu and Ketu, the Nodes, have no physical reality, being instead mathematically calculated points on the ecliptic. Despite this, the Nodes exert an influence on human reality that is so enormous that they enjoy full status as grahas in Jyotisha.
The Moon’s orbit varies 5 degrees from the ecliptic (the ecliptic being the apparent path of the Sun as viewed from Earth). This means that the Moon intersects the plane of the ecliptic twice each year, once while moving to the south and once on its return towards the north (both are relative views from Earth). These two points of crossing mark Ketu and Rahu respectively. The two points are always 180 degrees from each other, and are not stationary in space but have a mean motion of about 19 degrees in a year because they are marking the motion of Earth and the Moon in relation to the Sun. To make matters yet more confusing, this pathway is in the opposite direction to the orbit of the other grahas. The apparent revolution of the Nodes around the earth takes approximately 18 months in each rasi, and just over 18 years for a complete transit of the zodiac, and so as with slow moving Shani and Guru, Rahu and Ketu have impacts that are deeply felt in whatever houses they are affecting.
The reason for such stress on the point of intersection of the ecliptic is because when Sun, Moon and Earth all line up either a solar or lunar eclipse is created. Because the Sun represents the light of the soul and Moon the functional mind, the effects of Rahu and Ketu are dramatic in both the physical and more subtle realms. These effects, and the predictability of their “orbit”, causes the Nodes produce a minimum of two of both solar and lunar eclipses each year, and as many as five of each, with a maximum of seven total each year, either four solar and three lunar or five solar and two lunar.
Because eclipses are both sudden and yet perpetual events, the Chaya Grahas rule the themes of unexplained sudden change in status of anything, and also the inevitable progress of all people towards moksha, the last and highest of the purusharthas. All manner of shadow-filled or smoke-obscured realities fall under the authority of Rahu and Ketu. In contrast to Surya, with his steady and noble temperament, the Nodes are excitable, idiosyncratic and explosive. In general, Rahu is considered to be more materialistic in nature and Ketu more spiritually transformative. This is because it is Rahu who reaches out to grab the Sun or Moon, and Ketu through whom they pass as their light is returned.
The most famous yogas relating to Rahu and Ketu are Kala Sarpa Yoga and Guru Chandala Yoga, both of which will be explained in the pre-conference workshop.
Astrologically the Nodes have no rulership within the Kalapurusha. Along with Saturn, they rule old, sickly, widowed, divorced and foreign people. Their guna is tamas, and they share status as the indicators of the army (Rahu by his shape of a line representing the moving army, and Ketu representing by his shape of a flag the standing army). They are mutually in charge of odd, unusual and socially unacceptable professions and jobs, including magicians and circus performers, drug dealers and dispensers of alcohol, assassins, prostitutes, prison guards, criminals of all sorts, and revolutionaries. Rahu rules paternal grandparents and Ketu maternal grandparents.
The Nodes have no gender, body tissue or tattva, though Rahu does have authority over hands and Ketu over legs, and both have responsibility for extrasensory perception. They share with Saturn dominion over ugly, intoxicating, poisonous and parasitic plants and trees. They also rule insects, reptiles and rodents.
Health issues associated with the Nodes include epidemics, hysteria, phobias, epilepsy, complaints involving poison in general (and poisonous bites for Ketu), addictions of all sorts, possession states, pain in the legs, and for Rahu, palpitations of the heart. The list of “negative” significations attributed to the Nodes must be balanced with their association and responsibility for moksha, for which change and movement away from the socially dominant patterns of society is essential.