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On the Authenticity of the (Modern)

Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra - Shyamasundara Dasa


http://www.shyamasundaradasa.com/jyotish/resources/articles/bphs.html

This article first appeared in the July and August, 2009, issues of The Astrological eMagazine,
Bangalore.
Get the PDF version of this article in German.
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 didn't coin the term "Vedic Astrology" my
guru maharaja did, but I did popularize it in 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:

Brhat Jataka

Brhat Samhita

Jataka Parijata

Sripatipaddhati

Phaladipika

Uttarakalamrita

Shatpanchasika

Prasnajnana

Jataka Tattva

Jatakadesamarga

Jatakalankara

Sanketanidhi

Horasara

(Most of which have been pirated and republished after his demise by others claiming to be the
authors.) 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:

Brhat Jataka

Jataka Parijata

Phaladipika

Saravali

Sarvartha Cintamani

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 (modern) 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.
In order to discredit the antiquity of the BPHS some persons have commented that there were
many Parasaras in antiquity and that Varaha Mihira didn't mean Parasara Rishi, father of
Vyasadeva, it was some other Parasara.
We reply first by asking who are these many other Parasaras they are referring to that Varaha
Mihira would consider as a great authority in Jyotish?
We secondly note that Varaha Mihira identifies exactly which Parasara he means by identifying
him as being the son of a particular Rishi, that is akti, who himself was the son of Vasista.
Varaha Mihira in Brhat Jataka 7.1 calls him aktipurva, that is, having akti as a forefather.
aktiprva: prva m. having akti for a forefather', patr. of Parara VarBr S.M.M. William's
Sanskrit-English dictionary.
So there is no doubt who Varaha Mihira thought he was quoting. Modern western-centric
scholars 1500 years later with no access to his material are doing a disservice by such neocolonial etic approach to the study of the history of Vedic astrology.

Why is this significant?


Bhattotpala lived in North India on the same latitude as Ujjain (Mihira, 1986, p.560). Bhattotpala
finished his commentary on Brhat Jataka on 888 Saka which is either 833 AD (Vikram) or 968
AD (Shalivahan) (Mihira, 1986, p. 68). This was before the Islamic invasion of India with
attendant destruction of libraries, places of learning, decline of scholarship and general decline of
Krsna's Vedic civilization in North India.
His writings indicate that he had at his access many ancient works of jyotish, many of which we
only know about because he quotes them in his commentaries (Mihira, 1986, pp. 17-19). It
seems that he had access to various royal libraries in North India particularly Ujjain which was
the native place of Varaha Mihira. Yet despite his living before the general destruction in the
wake of the Islamic invasion and having access to a vast quantity of jyotish literature he was
unable to see let alone acquire Parasara Hora quoted by Varaha Mihira. How then is it that we are
able to get it 1000 years later with all the difficulties and loss associated with the passage of so
much time?
Therefore there is great doubt as to the authenticity of the modern BPHS.

Importance of Brhat Jataka


In South India Brhat Jataka (and its commentaries) is held in the highest esteem, not BPHS.
Why? Because of its many ancient commentaries by Bhattopala and others especially the
Dasadhyayi of Talakkulathur Govindam Bhattathiri.
Visnu Nambudiri (fl. 1649 A.D.) the author of Prasna Marga, considered the master piece on
Prasna literature, states the following, with notes by B.V. Raman (note the complete absence of
any mention of BPHS):
Stanza 28. "Brhat Jataka by Varahamihira, though short, is a very suggestive treatise pregnant
with ideas. Though difficult to be comprehended by even intelligent persons, yet with the aid of
the commentaries of Bhattotpala and others, it is possible to understand the book.
NOTES: Compare Varaha Mihira's own admission, ... meaning that his work is "concise, of a
variety of meter and full of meaning."
Stanza 29. "One wearing the garland of Varahamihira in his neck along with the necklace of
Krishneeya can win laurels in any astrological assembly. [sic]
NOTES : Brhat Jataka deals with horoscopy and Krishneeya with Prasna. One well acquainted
with these two books can, according to the author, safely claim good scholarship.
Stanza 30. "An astrologer who wants to make predictions should specially study Dasadhyayi
carefully.
Stanza 31. "Without a thorough study of the Dasadhyayi, it would be difficult to make correct
predictions. So say the learned.
Stanza 32. "One, who attempts to predict without studying the Dasadhyayi, would be like a man
trying to cross an ocean without a boat.
Prasna Marga 1.28-32 (Nambudiri, 1991, pp. 19-21)

No Ancient Commentaries on
Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra
Another reason that casts doubt on the veracity of the modern BPHS is the complete lack of any
ancient commentary on the text. The oldest commentary known to me is that of Devacandra Jha's
Hindi commentary from the first half of the 20th century, that is, less than 100 years old. More
recently are the previously mentioned English translations and commentaries of Santanam and
Sharma.
In the preface of the first volume of his translation Santanam mentions that he had access to the
following published texts:

1. Sri Venkateswata Press, Bombay, partly rendered in Hindi.


2. Hindi translation by Sitaram Jha (Master Khelari Lal, Varanasi edition)
3. Hindi translation by Devachandra Jha (Chaukambha edition)
4. Hindi translation by Ganesa Datta Pathak (Thakur Prasad edition).
And, that he chose the version of Sitaram Jha as the basis for his translation.
Girish Chand Sharma gives no information regarding what text he translated.
N.N Krishna Rau in the preface of his (1962) translation of BPHS only mentions the Sri
Venkateswata Press edition that he says was published 35 years earlier (1927) and seems to be
the basis of his translation as no other source is mentioned.
It thus appears that all of these editions are of recent not ancient vintage.
Why are commentaries important from a historical perspective?
Commentaries ensure that the corpus of the material in the text stays intact and allows us to track
changes in the text. For example we know that the Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters and 700 verses
because all the commentaries from ancient to modern have the same number. If someone were to
publish an edition of more or less than 700 verses it would be immediately detected as spurious.
But if a work has no commentaries then we can not know if there have been any changes to the
text unless there is some other system (such as ghanapata) of keeping the text from changing.
Brhat Jataka commentaries
We can have reasonable faith and trust in the authenticity of the present version of Brhat Jataka
because there are a number of commentaries on this text some of them very ancient. These
commentaries preserve the text and its structure in a way that is hard to do without
commentaries.
Shastri (Shastri, 1969, p. 26) gives the following information about commentaries on Brhat
Jataka:
"Alberuni (1.158) informs us that the Brihajjataka was commented upon by Balabhadra who
flourished sometime before Utpala (Bhatattopala)."
Shastri then goes on to mention seven other commentaries some without the name of the authors.

Jagaccandrika aka Cintamani aka Vivrti by Bhattotapal

Jataka-vivarana by Mahidhara

Nilotpaliya -- not certain of the author

Prakasa by Nityaprakasa Suri

Dasadhyayi [Talakkulathur Govindam Bhattathiri]

Nauka aka Hora-vivarana aka Varahamihira-hora-tatparya-sagara

Subodhini

Kalyanraman adds:
"Brhat Jataka ... is stated to have more than twenty commentaries in Sanskrit itself, like
Mudrakshari, Subhodhini, Sripatiyam, Bhatttopalavritti, besides, those in other languages.
Dasadhyayi is one of such commentaries in Sanskrit, by Talakkulathur Govindam Bhattathiri.
Perhaps next prominent one is Vivaranam of Rudra." (Kalyanraman, 2007, p. 203)
A recent Sanskrit commentary on Brhat Jataka is
Apurarthapradarsika by A.N. Srinivasaraghava Aiyangar, published by Adyar Library, Chennai,
in1951.
How to tell what is authentic in
Brhat Parasara Hora Sastra?
How to tell what is authentic in BPHS and what has been interpolated by later authors?
The first thing to consider is that Varaha Mihira refers to many previous and contemporary
authors:
"Varaha Mihira was an encyclopedic writer and naturally he refers to a host of earlier or
contemporary authors not only on astronomy and astrology but on various other subjects also.
His equally learned scholiast Bhattotpala persistently styled him as 'the redactor of the entire
Jyotihsastra,' and the author himself makes his position clear in [Brhat Samhita] 9.7. He declares,
'astronomy and astrology are the sciences based on Agama; should there be any difference of
opinion (among ancient writers), it would not be proper on my part to put forward my view only;
I shall, however, state the majority view.' The result is excellent, and his works form a valuable
treasure-house of information about works and authors he consulted. His works assume still
greater importance from the fact that they are the sole source of our knowledge about many
works and their authors, but for these references, might have irrecoverably been lost to us."
(Shastri, 1969, p. 424)
In the same chapter Shastri gives a list of all authors consulted by Varaha Mihira for composing
Brhat Samhita pointing out that Varaha Mihira quoted Parasara many times (Shastri, 1969, pp.
447-449).

And, in Brhat Jataka (particularly chapter 7) Varaha Mihira names many previous scholars whose
works he is familiar with these include but are not limited to: Maya, Yavana, Manitha, Parasara,
Satyacarya, Visnugupta, Devasvami, Siddhasena and Jivasharma.
As "the redactor of the entire Jyotihsastra" it would necessitate Varaha Mihira's extensive
familiarity with the works of the authors he names. Since he extensively quotes from the works
of Parasara including his Parasara Hora Sastra we can presume his familiarity with its contents.
Varaha Mihira has extracted from these works the essence of what is important in Jyotish (Brhat
Jataka 1.2) hence a comparison of the contents of Brhat Jataka and the modern BPHS may give
us some clues as to what has been interpolated into the later.
We should also like to say that while a study of the Brhat Jataka will prove helpful in our search
for the real BPHS it should not be our sole guide. There is Satyajatakam by Satyacarya which is
still extant and was held in esteem by Varaha Mihira. Some works of the Yavana writers who also
predated Mihira are still extant. And Hora Sara and Saravali will also be very helpful. These texts
were all before the era of Bhattotpala. After his era I would suggest that we can also gain insight
into the real BPHS from Sarvartha Cintamani and Jataka Parijata which were written relatively
shortly after the era of Bhattotpala and in a region of India that had yet to experience the
disruptions of the Islamic invasion and attendant destruction of libraries. So it is possible that
these scholars had access to the real BPHS.
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