One day, a young friend of mine showed his eagerness to learn Jyotish. He had no access to traditional Pundit, Guru, or Vedic Astrology School hence books could only help him. He was only familiar to some names and traits of 12 sun-signs that usually print in every second magazine and popular website. Looking his sincerity and seriousness, I promised him a list of best available astrology books.
But when I browsed and scanned the plethora of available Vedic astrology books, I was surprised and disappointed. Among hundreds of modern Jyotish books, only few can be labeled authentic, structured and simple. This is especially true for the books that address beginners. My endeavor to search the best available books for Jyotish beginners produced this write-up. This is NOT a review of “5 Best” or “Top-5” Vedic astrology books. It is mainly a suggestion for newbies what to read at first, second, third, fourth and fifth level.
Knowing astrology is different from writing for astrology. A good astrology author is not necessarily a good predictor, and, a good predictor is not necessarily a good astrology author. Here I am not challenging the authenticity of noted astrologers. Any popular name having credit of dozens of books may be a good astrologer for his friends and clients, but a failed author on the merit of authentic, structured and simple writings. Similarly, it is also possible that a very good astrology author is an unsuccessful predictor for his friends and clients. On the other hand, there are lot of unsung Jyotish kings in India who have large number of clients and disciples, but they never wrote a single article, not to speak of scribing astrology books. A prudent eye can discern the difference between good predictor, good teacher and good author.
If the question is about choosing an astrology book for tyro, then one must go for a good author whose writings fulfill the merit of certain criteria. This selection of 5 best introductory books is based upon of following three criteria.
There are few other barometers, including; presentation, price, and availability. But these secondary measures are partially considered. This guiding review mainly relies upon authenticity, coherence and simplicity.
Authenticity connotes standard of theoretical and practical foundation of Jyotish. Although, astrologers in India have been differ each other for centuries, but as a whole, there is a widespread consensus on fundamentals.
Western authors on Indian astrology mainly lack authenticity. The reason probably lies in their rational approach. Not always but usually they first simplify an esoteric dictum or oriental principle and then misidentify and mingle it with other concepts. There are many authors who have mixed the modern Western astrological concepts with ancient Indian teachings. In this regard, William R. Levacy, Ronnie Gale Dreyer, Andrew Bloomfield and Howard Beckman are few names to mention. Many students find “Beneath a Vedic Sky” of William Levacy, a helpful book. In fact, it is very popular title among novices who love spoon-feeding. William Levacy made the subject simple perhaps simpler. But in making things simpler, he mixed up modern Western observations with ancient Indian concepts. The mismatch effect of planets in signs and houses is the most misleading aspect of “Beneath a Vedic Sky”. Definitely, it is a right of every writer to present his or her views. But a writer on Indian astrology should clear what are traditional teachings of Jyotish, what are borrowed concepts, and what are author’s own observations and hypothesis. Without references, reasons and examples, a hotchpotch of different ideologies is enough to derail a new learner.
Coherence is the logical and orderly consistency between different parts. Although, Indian authors value authenticity but their writings on astrology often appear incoherent and unstructured. This is probably on account of their more intuitive and less rational historical background.
Noted astrologer K.N. Rao is the founder of India’s largest astrology school, and I have always appreciated his research-oriented astrological projects and interesting articles. But I will never suggest his book “Learn Hindu Astrology Easily” to a beginner. It is more like a collection of class notes and simply lacks coherence and structure. Father of modern Indian astrology, B.V. Raman also wrote a book for novices. It is “Astrology for Beginners”. However, brevity of this book rendered many concepts incomprehensible and abstract. Hence a new comer of Jyotish should also avoid this title of B.V. Raman. Instead, his “Hindu Predictive Astrology” is a comprehensive survey of Jyotish. N.E. Muthuswamy’s book “A Course in Indian Astrology” provides detailed descriptions of astrological concepts with the aid of classical dictums, examples and exercises. Unfortunately, the incoherent chapters and incomprehensible transliteration of Sanskrit jargons and stanzas abate the utility of his book.
Besides coherence and structure, there is an important issue of presentation that can make or mar a good title. G.S. Kapoor’s small book “Learn Astrology: the easy way” is indeed very lucid and quite structured, but it is poorly typed and printed. If publisher pays more attention on typeset and page material, and author adds some more examples and illustrations at appropriate places then this book can surely become very useful for beginners. Indian publishers should learn art of presentation from their Western counterparts. Astrology books written and published in US and Europe are generally very well edited, proof-read, structured and systematic in approach. In fact, Western authors and publishers are quite mindful about contents, sections, chapters, headings, diagrams, tables, appendixes, bibliography and indexes. They must be given credit of presentation, language and coherence.
Let’s focus on the third criterion: simplicity. Simplicity is not simple to follow. It is not a name of using plain words. It is a style how clearly and lucidly, author transfers his ideas on paper. Unfortunately, most of the Indian Jyotish books written for beginners are complex and difficult to follow. Authors of introductory astrology hardly write from the perspective of a learner. Before or after introducing a term or concept, they do not bother to explain it, not to speak of describing its conditions and utility with practical illustrations.
On the other hand, some books are complex for introductory topics and heavily rely on verbatim translation of Jyotish aphorisms without their usage and conditions. A classic example is M.R. Bhat’s “Fundamentals of Astrology”, which is indeed a good reference book for a practicing astrologer, but unfortunately it cannot convey fundamentals to a beginner. Prof. P.S. Shastri’s “Textbook of Scientific Hindu Astrology” is a huge collection of all Jyotish elements and predictive techniques. But a beginner cannot benefit from it due to complex stuff and some advance topics. While some other very good astrologers appear unable to deliver their idea in simple words. Self-published titles of R.G. Rao are plagued by flawed language and bad presentation. This makes it difficult for a newbie to understand Bhrigu school of Jyotish through R.G. Rao’s books. Fortunately, some of his students and followers have produced more coherent and simple books. As far as language is concerned, no one can overshadow B.S. Rao (grandfather of B.V.Raman) and Bepin Behari. But, their scholarly books and erudite translations ask for surefooted Jyotish fundamentals and know-how of Indian philosophy. They are simply not for beginners.
There are some other good titles that could not find place in this “5 must read for beginners”. “Predictive Astrology of the Hindus” by Gopesh Kumar Ojha, “Science of Light” by Freedom Cole, “Jyotish Fundamentals” by Visti Larsen, and “Vedic Astrology Demystified” by Chandrashekhar Sharma are some of them.
Here I should not forget a very coherent and user friendly book “Vedic Astrology: an integrated approach” by P.V.R. Narasimharao. This is a nice amalgam of Parashari and Jaimini teachings. But I will not recommend it for beginners. Do you think a beginner should delve into Chara Karaka, Arudha, Argala, Badhaka, Rudra, Maheshwara, Narayan Dasa and Kalachakra Dasa at initial stage? That is why I consider “Vedic Astrology: an integrated approach” is more suitable to intermediate level students. If you are already well acquainted to fundamentals then it is one of the finest and easiest books.
“New Techniques of Predictions” by H.R. Seshdri Iyer is very popular and useful book and I still regard it. However, I will not advocate it as “starter”, for, it is based on author’s research work and presents some innovative astrological elements. Authors of research oriented works and parallel branches of astrology (like Seshdri Iyer, Krishnamoorthi, V.K. Choudhry, Krushna, Rup Chand Joshi of Lal Kitab etc.) should follow after absorbing standard fundamentals of Jyotish.
5 Must Read for Jyotish Beginners
If you are an aspirant of astrology but want to learn it for fun and popularity then this selection is of no use for you. Leave this review and start skimming some fascinating titles like ‘love horoscope’, ‘the only book you ever need’, ‘learn astrology in 30 days’, ‘your real horoscope’ etc. Jyotish is a vidya, and there is no short cut to a vidya. It asks lifelong dedication.
For serious beginners of astrology, here’s a list of 5 must read titles. As discussed above, they are chosen on the ground of authenticity, coherence and simplicity. Despite, they are not infallible. The numbering does not show order of excellence, instead they indicate stages of learning.
1) Light on Life by Hart De Fouw and Robert Svoboda
2) Elements of Vedic Astrology by Dr. K.S. Charak
3) How to Judge a Horoscope by B.V. Raman
4) Art & Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology by James Braha
5) Astrology, Destiny and Wheel of Time by K.N. Rao
I do not claim that these books are perfect or bona fide writings. Nonetheless, this selection can fairly provide a concrete Jyotish foundation for a beginner. The first title “Light on Life” is a holistic introduction, the second title describes fundamental elements of astrology, while third, fourth and fifth titles teach horoscopic analysis for delineation and forecasting. This selection can also serve a course outline for self-taught Jyotish beginners.
1) Light on Life by Hart de Fouw and Robert Svoboda
This is an authentic, coherent and probably the most literate introduction of Jyotish for a serious learner. This is a not a book for an infatuated, dull-witted or hasty beginner. It does not rely upon effects of planets in signs and houses (which is indeed a very bad way to start astrology). Neither it unveils secret predictive formulas, nor highlights rare principles. It is all about fundamentals, and yet it is the best introductory book.
Before starting anything about astrology, it tells you what is Jyotish, what is Vidya, what is Karma, and what are Jyotish’s limbs. Carefully peruse introductory two chapters because each and every sentence conveys something meaningful there. A concrete philosophical background and esoteric perspective is as necessary as plowing a land before seeding. And authors (Hart de Fouw and Robert Svoboda) have successfully done this job. After a brief account of astronomy and horoscope formats, the real part of book begins. It is spanning over Chapter Four, Five and Six. These chapters cover the characteristics of Grahas, Rashis and Bhavas in such a nice and comprehensive way, you do not find anywhere else. A critical mind may object: almost every astrology book describes classification of planets or signs as male, female; as shubha, ashubha; as moola, dhatu, jeeva; as brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra etc. Moreover, there are classifications of body parts, colour, cabinet, directions, diseases, elements, gems, places and profession too in every second book. So what is special in “Light on Life”? The difference is in authenticity, style and explanation. First of all, the book hardly differs from traditional teachings in defining characteristics of Grahas, Rashis and Bhavas. Secondly it elucidates the purpose and application of every trait in very literate way. Finally, wherever and whenever needed, authors separately provide their own views and parallel list of characteristics according to present time and culture. And in doing so, they did not fill the content with vague terminologies, fallacious logic or messy footnotes. This intellectual honestly and refine style is indeed very rare.
Another important topic is Nakshatra that is dealt in chapter eight. This part of book initially maintains origin of Nakshatra and its relevance with Indian calendars. This is followed by classification, viz.; activity, gender, guna, tattva etc. Finally, general effects, symbols, esoteric meanings, physiology and professions of 27 Nakshatras are mentioned. This chapter usually attracts Western students and practitioners of astrology (because there is no concept of Nakshatra in modern Western astrology). The authors simply avoid interpreting lunar mansions on the basis of signs where they lie, or under the cover of lords according to Vimshottari Dasha scheme. This is a pitfall where most of the modern authors and new converts fall. Instead, explanations of Nakshatras in “Light on Life” rest upon deities, symbols, legends and general effects mentioned in classical Jyotish texts.
Chapter nine encompasses interpretation of the horoscope. With uncountable number of criteria and apparently contradictory principles in Jyotish, a beginner almost finds impossible to delineate a birth chart. “Light on Life” smartly tackles with this complexity. Authors pick just two verses of Phaladeepika, synthesize them, and extract 18 basic principles for house analysis. The manner of explanation is just like a guru – simple, comprehensible, yet in-depth. The fundamental approach and principles given in this chapter do not differ from standard practice of Jyotish. Despite, authors honestly admit that these are not the only interpretive principles available, nor are they necessarily best, since every astrologer has his own style of treating a horoscope that develop over decades of experience.
This introductory book also deals with Graha Yogas. On various occasions, it teaches how to understand and translate yoga for different lagnas and with different strength. While it also removes some of widespread misunderstandings, for instance, Mahapurush Yoga is usually evident from the façade of native and in horoscope it is mainly dependent upon strength of its dispositor; Jupiter in kendra to Moon forms Kesari Yoga, not the Gaja Kesari Yoga. There is also a very good interpretation of Neecha Bhanga Raja Yoga. According to authors ‘a debility is debility’, and Neecha Bhanga is no more perfect than is prosthesis applied to a limbless body. And finally there is a good note on Kala Sarpa Yoga and a brief caution to consider Raja Bhanga Yoga.
Forecasting techniques (Vimshottari Dasha and Gochar) are dealt in chapter eleven. Account of Dasha is brief without emphasize on computational aspect and individual effect of Mahadasa and Antardasas. Similarly planetary transits are succinctly treated for beginners’ understanding.
After creating major building blocks of Jyotish (Graha, Rashi, Bhava, Nakshatra, Yoga, Dasha, Gochar etc.), the final chapter is dedicated to ‘Example Charts’. Logical delineations of 8 nativities almost cover 80 pages. All analytical reasoning are to-the-point and comprehensible.
“Light on Life” uses some few uncommon terminologies. Throughout the book, the term “constellation” is used for all zodiacal signs (Rashi); to wit, Aries constellation, Taurus constellation and so on. Authors also stated the reason of this unusual practice in Chapter Five. Moreover, on page 120, the 3rd house is categorized as one of the Dussthanas. In fact, “Leena Bhavas” is correct term for the group of 3rd, 6th, 8th and 12th houses. Dus’sthana is generally referred to 6th, 8th and 12th houses.
As a whole, language of the book appears formal and slightly difficult if you are not well-versed in English. Writing style of DeFouw and Svoboda is quite literate rather erudite. It demands heedfulness and dedication. You will not find choppy sentences, needless exaggeration, unnecessary tables, or over simplistic style of ‘Dummies’ and ‘Idiots’. After all, Jyotish is not fun, summer-vacation hobby, or past time leisure. It is a vidya.
In sum, “Light on Life” presents an authentic, well-constructed, and concrete foundation of Jyotish. It is the best introductory book, but only for serious and dedicated students of astrology. Highly recommended!
2) Elements of Vedic Astrology by Dr. K.S. Charak
Plain, lucid and authentic, this is a beautiful account of Parashari techniques for a Jyotish beginner. Two volumes, spanning over 450 pages, mainly address essential astronomy, casting of horoscope, divisional charts, effects of planets in signs and houses, yogas and basic forecasting techniques including dasa, gochar and varshphala. It basically maintains the alphabets of Jyotish, somewhat in disintegrated fashion. So do not anticipate ‘art of interpretation’ or ‘horoscopic judgment’ from this book. First digest the fundamentals then go for judgment.
“Elements of Vedic Astrology” is more like a textbook. In fact, author Dr. Charak admits in Preface that this work is the result of his association with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (India’s largest astrology school). Furthermore, it solely focuses what is broadly known as Parashari principles, and does not transgress into the other parallel system (Jaimini, Bhrigu etc.).
The book begins with a brief and simple introduction to Jyotish, its relation with Vedas, types of astrology, and qualification of a good astrologer. Chapter two and three illustrate the elementary concepts of astronomy. There are only few introductory books that provide a simple introduction of astronomy relevant to astrology, since astronomical concepts are difficult to comprehend especially at initial stage. Author dedicates around 50 pages to the astrological astronomy. Even though, computer software can produce all astrological calculations within a glimpse of eye, despite a serious learner should understand their theoretical background.
A compact survey of significations of Signs, Houses and Planets are given in chapter five and seven. If you have thoroughly digested chapter four, five and six of “Light on Life” then these chapters of “Elements of Vedic Astrology” may appear a repetitive summary with few exceptions on medical issue. Chapter six: ‘Nature of Planets’ covers a very important subject of functional beneficence and maleficence of planets. It is basically an explanation of Laghu Parashari’s principles, and indeed very near to the true spirit. Albeit, author cautions the readers that concept of functional beneficence and maleficence of planets is a complementary part of Vimshottari Dasha, and functional role of planets realize in their respective dasha only. But, he put this chapter along with basic significations of planets. Following the Parashar’s way, functional benefic, functional malefic, Yoga Karaka and Maraka should explain before or with interpretation of Vimshottari Dasha.
How to cast a horoscope, cusp of house, and longitude of planets are nicely dealt with practical illustrations in chapter eight and nine. Subsequent chapter appears logical and discusses drawing of shodasvargas (sixteen divisional) charts as per BPHS. Author also provides view of Manasagari that maintains spouse should see from Dwadasamsa (D12), and siblings from Saptamsa (D7). Sub Planets (Aprakasha Grahas), Planetary States (Graha Avasthas) and Strength of Planets (Graha Bala) are plainly discussed in subsequent chapters.
Around 60 pages of first volume are dedicated to Vimshottari dasa but mainly to computational tables, and effect of mahadasas and antardasas. Unfortunately, the concept of functional nature (temporal beneficence and maleficence) based on lordship is missing in this chapter (because it is described earlier in chapter six). A beginner should parallel read chapter six while reading section on Vimshottari dasa. The probable outcome of mahadasas and antardasas are chiefly culled from authentic Jyotish classics, but from a beginner’s perspective, favourable and unfavourable impacts are separately given.
Volume 2 of Elements of Vedic Astrology highlights effects of planets, yogas, and few forecasting techniques primarily Varshphala (annual horoscopy) and gochar (transit). It also provides basic understandings of some useful subjects, like medical astrology, Mahurtha, Prashna, Ashtakavarga and Sudarshan Chakra. Around 100 initial pages (of volume 2) are devoted to effect of house lords, and result of planets in signs and houses. At first glance they look too direct and too fatalistic. But they are again taken verbatim from classical Jyotish discourses and their originality is being retained. In fact, Parashar, Varahamihira and Kalyan Verma speak in these pages. At one hand, rot memorizing the effects of house lords and planets may appear counter-productive for a rational mind. But at the same time, it is useful if a secondary level beginner memorizes these effects of house lords and planets in different houses and signs (obviously after understanding their characteristics). With practical experience, it would help a newbie to modify and modernize these effects, because many outcomes of house lords and planets, given by Parashar and Varahamihira, cannot deduce logically. For instance, on the basis of Parashar’s teachings “Elements of Vedic Astrology” says: 11th lord in 12th house gives friendship or association with maleechha (i.e. with alien community, foreigners or outcasts). It is quite easy to conclude this outcome with the help of significations of 11th and 12th houses. But it is difficult to decode: 1st lord in 8th house makes on scholarly. Yet this ‘result’ works in many cases.
Treatment of Planetary combinations (yogas) is plain and very systematic. Yogas are categorized into Nabhas yogas, Lunar yogas, Solar yogas, Raja yogas, Dhana yogas, Parivartana, Aristha etc. This part of book possesses a good amount of examples and illustrations comparing earlier chapters. Medical astrology – specialized area of author – is simple and solid with 4 example charts. Whereas, treatment of Varshphala, Prashna, Mahurtha, Gochar and Sudarshan Chakra, is quite brief but according to traditional teachings of Jyotish.
By and large, stuff in “Elements of Vedic Astrology” reflects its title. One should never forget that it is principally a book on essential elements of Jyotish. It neither claims, nor teaches how to use these elements, let alone how to synthesize contradictory matters. Moreover, it is slightly incoherent at some places, while some elements seem isolated and disintegrated on account of lacking examples. Despite these drawbacks, I have picked this book as 2nd best read for beginners, firstly for its authenticity and secondly for its simplicity. In simplicity and coherence, it is quite better than “Hindu Predictive Astrology” (by B.V. Raman), “Fundamentals of Astrology” (by M.R. Bhat), and “Learn Astrology: the Easy Way” (by G.S. Kapoor). While in authenticity, it is far better than “A Guide to the Fundamentals of Jyotish” (by Ronnie Gale Dreyer) and “Astrology of Seers” (by David Frawley). In short, Dr. Charak’s Elements of Vedic Astrology duly deserve a reliable read for beginners.
3) How to Judge a Horoscope by B.V. Raman
This is simply a modern classic. Before Dr. Raman, no astrologer endeavored to write on this issue and with such an organized manner. After comprehending fundamentals of Jyotish elements, this is an ideal book for acquainting how to apply these elements. This outstanding title is all about application of astrological principles. Raman’s explanations on hundreds of real life horoscopes enable a reader how to analyze contradictory criteria and how to synthesize probable outcome.
“How to Judge a Horoscope” deals with all major areas of life, and mainly rest upon three fundamental tools of analysis, that is, House, Lord and Karaka. For predictive purpose, Vimshottari Dasa and Gochar are generally relied upon. Volume One covers issues signified by 1st House to 6th House, and the Volume Two deals with affairs signified by 7th House to 12th House. In total, more than 400 horoscopes are discussed in both volumes.
This is a very coherent and structured book. Therefore one can equally benefit from it through random browsing and sequential reading. Before discussing House-based affairs of life, author provides fair amount of introductory matters in first three chapters of Volume One. Chapter-1 deals with ‘General Introduction’, Chapter-2 focuses ‘Consideration in Judging a House’ and Chapter-3 highlights ‘Determination of Longevity’. Rest of chapters orderly deals with house-based affairs from First House to Twelfth House.
Every chapter maintains some unique sections. They are:
(a) Result of House Lords being situated in different Houses
(b) Important Combinations
(c) Planets in Houses
(d) Time of Fructification of the Results
(e) The Nature of the Results
Most of other books on same issue generally lack in-depth treatment of said issues, especially the results of house lords in different houses, and important combination (classical yogas) concerning that house. Notice that B.V. Raman has not preferred ‘Planets in Signs’ and ‘Planets in Houses’ as first or second judgment criterion. Instead effects of ‘Planets in Houses’ are mentioned after ‘Results of House Lords’ and ‘Important Combinations’. This is a pregnant clue for new students who usually overlook significance of ‘House Lords in different Houses’ and relevant ‘Yogas’ in horoscopic judgment.
Furthermore, author beautifully modernized the ancient teachings of house lord effect in different houses without spoiling the spirit of Sage Parashar. Hence a modern reader does not find this section like typical ‘cookbook’ content. On the other hand, the section of ‘Important Combination’ is a collection of thousands of handy yogas, mainly culled from classical Jyotish books. Raman included them not because they are taught by revered sages or ancient authorities, but on account of one important reason, that is, they work. These yogas really work when apply judiciously.
The section of ‘Planets in Houses’, in every chapter, is also logically presented. The benefic and malefic outcome is according to the teachings of ancient authorities. B.V. Raman modernized the results for readers, and also stated other necessary conditions that strengthen or weaken the effect of planet’s occupation in a house. While doing so, he does not deviate from the gist of Jyotish. ‘Time of Fructification of the Results’ and ‘The Nature of the Results’ are two other sections in every chapter that actually refer to the probable outcome of Dasha and Bhukti of planets related to House, Lord and Karaka. This section also encompasses important combinations involving Navamsa position.
B.V. Raman does not appear endorsing KP approach of Nakshatra lord usage, at least in Volume One. Instead he hints at practical application of Nakshatra Tara. In chapter on First House, he maintains that placement of lagna lord in Vipat, Pratyak or Naidhan tara from Janma Nakshatra intensifies the evil effects pertaining to first house, especially when lagna lord is in bad house or afflicted. There will be lessening of favourable indications, even if lagna lord is strong but occupies in mentioned tara.
Although, entire book is mainly stick to trio of House, Lord and Karaka in Rasi and Navamsa, but on some occasions, Raman introduces Special Lagna, Sphuta, and Saham. For instance, he presents calculation and application of Beeja Sphuta and Kshetra Sphuta for happiness from progeny; Drekkana of Janma lagna for financial fortune; Dhana lagna for extent of wealth; 22nd Drekkana for cause of disease and death; and Pradesa Saham for long-distance travels. Nonetheless, these Special Lagnas, Sphuta, and Saham should consider subsidiary tools for refining main delineation and forecast. Dr. Raman also presents a little known application of Rithu (seasons) associated with planets. According to him, a disease may appear in the season of planets that are strongly related to dusthana, lagna lord or lagna.
As a whole, affairs of life signified by 1st house, 4th house, 7th house and 10th house are treated with more details. Since these Kenrdra houses rule major areas of life; for example, native, personality, education, home, vehicle, husband, wife, business, profession and authority. Similarly, matter of longevity (Aayush) is exhaustively dealt with the aid of many real life examples in ‘Eighth House’ chapter.
If one compares both volumes then Volume Two appears thicker than Volume One. First volume consists of 304 pages whereas second volume consists of 475 pages. This is on account of chapters on Marriage (7th house), Longevity (8th house), and Profession (10th house) falling in second volume. Interestingly there is an uncommon gap of nearly 40 years between publication of Volume One and Two of ‘How to Judge a Horoscope’. In fact, name of Gayatri Devi Vasudev is given as co-author of second volume. In Preface of Volume Two, B.V. Raman thanked his daughter Gayatri Devi Vasudev for assisting him.
Although, this is a unique title in many way but it also holds some drawbacks. Firstly, all horoscopes in this book are calculated with Raman Ayanamsa (which is slightly ahead of commonly applied Chitrapaksha Lahiri Ayanamsa). Reproduction of these charts with Lahiri Ayanamsa may change Navamsa lagna, and Rashi position of some planets falling at initial or concluding degrees. There is no way to justify this contradiction. B.V. Raman always followed his own calculated Ayanamsa. Another shortcoming of the book is absence of parallel North Indian style chart format. This confuses beginners who are acclimatized to North Indian style charts, and feel uneasy with South Indian style chart format. Lastly, in some case studies, calendar date of event is not given. Instead author mentions Dasa-Bhukti of particular event. With different Ayanamsa, it is hard to produce reconciliation between author’s given Dasha-Bhukti and Lahiri-based Dasha-Bhukti. Otherwise more than 400 charts would have become a great asset for researchers.
Despite said above shortcomings, “How to Judge a Horoscope” has ascendancy over other available counterparts. For its authentic content, coherent style and systematic approach, this is a must read for every Jyotish beginners. “How to Judge a Horoscope” is far ahead of “Astro Sutras” of J.N. Bhasin, “Analysing Horoscope through Modern Techniques” of M.S. Mehta, and “Scientific Analysis of Horoscope” of L.R. Chawdhri.
One may label this book Bible of applied astrology, for it is all about application of reliable tools and techniques of Jyotish. No other astrology book presents 400 real life case studies (mostly non-notable nativities). Whether you are novice or seasoned, “How to Judge a Horoscope” is such an invaluable title that it should remain on your study table, and under your pillow.
4) Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology by James Braha
There is an old saying, “a good conversation is worth a month’s study of books”. So if you do not find any master of astrology for conversation then read this outstanding work of James Braha.
This is probably the first modern astrology book in the form of dialogue. James Braha and his student friend Martin Timmon discussed Jyotish for about four months. “The Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology” is the outcome of that conversation. This book can serve you best if you have already gone through “Light on Life”, “Elements of Vedic Astrology” and “How to Judge a Horoscope”, because author assume you familiar with fundamentals. This is basically a book on art of reading, analyzing, weighing, prioritizing and synthesizing the confusing and contradictory elements of Jyotish. Around 430 pages share ifs and buts of horoscopic judgment in the light of James Braha’s 20 years practical experience. In Introduction author says, “One of my strongest intents within this project is to try and clarify, and in some case disapprove, astrological techniques that are traditionally accepted and promoted, but which function inconsistently at best, and at worst not at all.”
Another admiring aspect of this book is the intellectual honesty of author. Nowhere, he emphasizes to believe him blindly, or accentuates to take his words as gospel. On many occasions, he clearly says, “this is what I’ve always observed correct, this is what I’ve noticed sometime, this is what I did not find true, this is a judgment call, this method better works in horoscopes of Indian society but not in Western culture, or I can’t tell you exactly”. James Braha does not make his student (and readers) fool by saying “you should consider all elements, you should take care all factors, an in-depth research is unavoidable, or an analytical judgment is necessary”. He is very clear and straight, what works in practice and what does not.
In initial chapters, James Braha clarifies many confusing elements of Jyotish. He shares his reasoning why classical Jyotish texts appear so cryptic, exaggerated and over-the-top. Furthermore, there is a very important point about relative significance of natural and functional benefic or malefic planets. Author stresses a natural malefic planet does not lose its maleficence by simultaneously becoming functional benefic. Similarly, a natural benefic does not suddenly and permanently turn into evil by just owning evil houses. For instance, Saturn does not give up its all evil significations by just owning 9th and 10th houses for Taurus lagna. Or Mars does not stop acting ‘Mars-like’ for Cancer lagna, merely because it rules 5th and 10th houses. In reality, both natural and functional characteristics of a planet manifest side by side.
This book also elaborates another very useful practicing principle about conjunction and aspect. Generally, all books maintain results of planetary association and aspect. But James Braha explains conjunction or aspect as barter of influence. When a benefic and malefic mutually conjoin or aspect each other then they exchange their positive and negative energies. Suppose if Saturn and Jupiter are in conjunction then significations of Saturn will prosper because of Jupiterian positive energy, while significations of Jupiter will shrink because of Saturnine negative energy. As a result native will be long lived, respected professional, take interest in classical or archival subjects, receive ancestral property, got political favour and benefit from oldies (i.e. Saturn’s significations imbibe Jupiterian energies). On the other hand, children, teachers, anticipation from luck, legal affairs, pilgrimage and travel will bring suffering and loses (i.e. Jupiter’s significations imbibe Saturnine energies). You can expand this reasoning for house lordship as well as, that is, what houses Jupiter rules and what houses Saturn rules. However, the exchange of energies depends upon closeness of conjunction or aspect.
James Braha holds orbs of conjunction and aspect do matter and a practicing Jyotishi should consider them. Say, an opposition between Mars and Jupiter with an orb of 2 degrees affects far greater than orb of 20 degrees. Similarly, there are some references about applying and separating aspect between aspectant and aspected planets. Albeit it is bit sound like annual and horary techniques, but James Braha emphasizes they work in natal chart too, especially when one of the planets is retrograde.
The author also questions the reliability of Vargottama and Neechabhanga Rajayoga. He thinks these two concepts are simply over-rated. According to James Braha, Vargottama (i.e. planet in same Rashi and Navamsa) may slightly enhance potential of a planet, but does not make a planet as if it is in its own sign. This is especially true when a Vargottama planet is relegating at concluding or initial degree of a sign, where it does not yield any significant benefit. He also doubts efficacy of Neechabhanga. Around half a dozen cancellation criteria of debilitation has made the occurrence of Neechabhanaga very common. He argues that a debilitated planet, even if involved in Rajayoga, do hurt the native according to traits and area of life it rules. This is an approach quite similar to author’s first mentor R. Santhanam.
James Braha makes a clear distinction between retrograde and stationary planet. In fact, he labels stationary planet as ‘wild card’ – a rare condition that can catapult a horoscope too high. He also provides a unique and little known interpretation of retrograde planet. According to him, a retrograde planet foretells latent energies, and thus appears delaying or denying the effect of house it rules, especially during first half of life. For example, native actualizes importance of his appearance, personality and recognition very late in life, if ascendant lord be retrograde. In the similar fashion, a retrograde 7th lord or Venus makes one reluctant whether to marry or not at young age. Due to passive energies of retrograde 7th lord or Venus, he continuously thinks, reads and discusses this matter, but avoids wedlock on time.
There is lot of useful stuff in the “The Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology”, and all in user friendly dialogue format. However, there is grave typographical mistake on page 214-215 where author mistakenly interchanged Arudha with Atmakaraka. Although, these advance topics are not discussed in details, but this mistake should rectify in next edition of this wonderful book. Unfortunately, this title is not easily available in India and other Asian countries. Any Indian publisher should reprint its low-price paperback edition, so that beginners can benefit from this outstanding and unique book.
In summary, this work of James Braha is a very helpful guide for beginners who want to be a practicing astrologer. It practically teaches what works and what does not work in Jyotish. Highly recommended!
5) Astrology, Destiny and Wheel of Time by K.N. Rao
This is a blend of highly informative things from research astrologer K.N. Rao. It includes stories revolving karma, forecasting principles, tips and techniques, tables, memoirs, notes, research hints and criticisms. In between the lines, author deals Laghu Parashari’s principles of Vimshottari Dasha and some outcome of his research work. A large part of this book teaches practical usage of house-lord-karaka, Vimshottari Dasha and Gochar. In short, you will learn ‘how to play with fundamentals of Jyotish’, but in the mode of past accounts and observations of author. This is the reason of its inclusion in 5 must read for Jyotish beginners.
Style of K.N. Rao is simple and succinct when he introduces principles, expressive when he unfolds memories, bit secretive when he explains chart readings, and slightly blunt when he criticizes. He is very generous in revealing his research output but very miser in explaining it. In one sense it is good that he hates spoon feeding, and prompts readers to draw their own conclusion after applying a principle on dozens or hundreds of charts.
“Astrology, Destiny and Wheel of Time” is analogous to a stream – natural, wavy, asymmetrical and fruitful. Before beginning of first chapter, some pages highlight the author and his astrological perspective, profile, letters and an interview. The first chapter barely spreads one page and appears a prologue. Chapter II accounts around 20 predictions given to a foreigner lady (M.C.). No delineation is reasoned and no forecast is astrologically described. But an intelligent reader can deduce most of the reasoning from scattered principles in the very book. For instance; on page 28 author delineates without reason “… she is either the eldest or youngest among co-borns”.When a reader go ahead, he/she will find a principle on page 177: “3rd lord in 11th house or 11th lord in 3rd house makes one the eldest or youngest among sisters and/or brothers”.
Chapter IV of Section-I narrates a real story of a young man in jail waiting for death sentence, and how he was released. There are lot of learning material as well as astrological reasoning, especially about role of Jupiter and application of Antardasha and Pratyantardasha.
Section-II (page 42 to 98) is a significant part of this book and highly recommended to students of Jyotish. Without any intricacies, it explains the Laghu Parashari and Madhya Parashari. How to draw functional benefic, functional neutral and functional malefic lords of dasha, are not only explained but also tabulated. There are some clues how a planet can simultaneously attain multidimensional role of benefic and neutral, money giver and death causer, and so on. Author also advises to judiciously and flexibly apply these principles. This instructive section is a must read, because one who does not know and comprehend these principles can never ever handle Vimshottari Dasha. Chapter XIV of same section teaches how to use Rasi-Tulya-Amsa for predictive purpose. This section ends with three checklists for astrologers, and instructs around (10 + 15 + 7 =) 22 points and some cautions for judgment of horoscopes.
Section-III mainly focuses forecasting. However, the arrangement of material does not follow liner and logical course. It is in traditional Indian style of oral storytelling – intuitive and non-linear having touch of ‘magical realism’. Astrological principles, case studies, stories of clients, memoir of mentors, and research work run side by side. This section also contains a chapter on methods of birth rectification but there are only clues and no approach is practically explained. The next chapter (Use of Divisional Horoscope) yields an excellent interpretation of life events on the chart of Sanjay Gandhi. Later chapters unveil some useful predictive techniques on Antar-Pratyantar Dasha and combined transit of Saturn and Jupiter for timing love, marriage and children.
“Why Belief in Destiny?” is the heading of Section-IV. Having five chapters, this part of book reiterates the predominate role of fate in one’s life. Reincarnation, being eldest or youngest, parents, insanity, death and some uncontrollable events are discussed with case studies. Interestingly, the concluding chapter of book also contains excerpts of natal chart reading given to an American lady. Here author has mentioned 12 delineations, 21 predictions, and dozens of notes on different traits and events, but without a single astrological reasoning. Obviously he anticipates you to solve the riddle yourself.