Patterns of Destiny: Hindu Nadi Astrology

University dissertation from Almqvist & Wiksell International, Box 45022, 104 30 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: Like all divination, Hindu astrology (jyotisa) is concerned with central religious issues such as man’s relation to the world, moral responsibility, and the revelation of a coherent divine order underlying human experience. Comprising a descriptive as well as a prescriptive aspect, jyotisa allows for both prediction and the exercise of free will. This double nature enables a seamless union of astrology with the concept of karman, its descriptive aspect referring to ‘fate’ (daiva) or actions of previous lives now bearing fruit (prarabdha-karman), its prescriptive aspect to present action (kriyamana-karman) or ‘human effort’ (purusakara). Astrological divination is based on observation of planetary movements relative to the earth and to the zodiac. By the employment of a hierarchy of interpretative principles, the qualities of a given point in space-time are determined, representing a number of potential life events which by various prognostic techniques are translated into predictions. While some authors ascribe a form of causality to the planets, perceiving them as divine supervisors of karman, others reject causal language in favour of a view of the planets as mere signs, related synchronically to human experiences. Nevertheless, propitiation of the planetary deities for the alleviation of undesired results is a practice universally supported. Occasionally the astrologer himself serves as an object of such propitiation, becoming a full-fledged mediator between man and the divine planets by simultaneously disclosing the fate they dictate and accepting on their behalf the worship intended to remedy any anticipated misfortune. While nadi reading is commonly perceived as a form of astrology, and generally moves within an astrological paradigm, most current practitioners do not base their interpretations on the client’s natal horoscope, but rather on a method of thumb reading. The (alleged) reading of predictions from preexistent texts of supposed antiquity and divine or semi-divine origin is, however, a common characteristic of all nadi divination. The Sanskrit nadi texts examined in the present study – the Gurunadi, Amsanadi, and Dhruvanadi– deal entirely with the interpretation of natal horoscopes. The texts, datable by the astronomical information they contain to the 18th and 19th centuries, originate in the Dravidian language area (as, most likely, does the term nadi itself), and may be seen as representing a common school or style of astrology, known as devakerala. Divided into a number of individual horoscope readings of varying length, the texts reverse the general trend of Sanskrit astrological works to concern themselves only with universals. The readings, generally expressing a mainstream smarta Hindu worldview, are invariably based on minute divisions of the zodiac known as nadi or amsa, a unique feature not found elsewhere in jyotisa literature. The amsas, numbering 150 in each zodiacal sign, are thought to embody certain fixed destiny patterns, which undergo permutations by superimposition on the natal horoscope. This concept of a limited number of predefinable, basic patterns of destiny, to one of which every human being is necessarily born, marks the most drastic deviation of the nadis not only from mainstream Hindu astrology, but also from orthodox teachings on karman.

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