By: Kari Hartnett
In Kepler’s previous academic program, students students compared the Vedic and Western traditions for Horary and Electional astrology. Kerri Hartnett wrote the following in response to an assignment from faculty member Gary Gomes regarding the Vedic tradition.
Many of Prasnas’s most revered texts originated from the Kerala region of India. This article explores the social, historical and mythological factors that encouraged the development of horary astrology in this part of India.
The ancient history of Kerala is a bit of a mystery. If we look to mythological evidence, there is legend in India that Parasuram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, created Kerala. Legend has it that Parasuram stood on top of a mountain and threw his battle-axe into the sea, commanding it to retreat. The land that emerged from the waters became Kerala.
It is an interesting myth and while it is not conceivable in my mind, there is speculation that at one time, Kerala was covered by water. Archeologists believe that the Arabian Sea once extended to the foot of the Western Ghats, and that Kerala emerged out of the sea as a result of either sudden or gradual earthquake activity. [i] While the first actual record of Kerala appears in the inscriptions of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (269-232 B.C.), archeologists have found evidence of an earlier civilization. They have unearthed small chambers that were cut into rocks, with covered capstone entrances and vaulted roofs, that are dated some time between 1000 and 300 B.C. [ii] This may have been the Dravidians, an ancient people from the Mediterranean that were one of the earlier inhabitants of Kerala.
(Faculty note: This is a highly controversial assertion that is openly contested by many mainstream authorities. Some authorities hold that the Dravidians were the original natives of India; others that the Dravidians and Aryans were originally indistinct groups in India.)
The Dravidians were a matriarchal society that believed in the “Mother Goddess” as their protector and bestower of wealth, wisdom, and the arts. It is interesting that one of the most popular temples in Kerala today, is the temple of the Hindu mother-goddess Bhagawati. [iii] The Dravidian culture and religion may have been one of the first to come to Kerala; Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and the Islamic faith followed it. Both India and the Kerala region are a melting pot of varying cultures and religions.
(Faculty note: The origins and development of religious system are a point of controversy as well. Hinduism and Jainism can make equal claims for antiquity; although Jainism dates from Mahavira, there were the tradition numbers many similar prophets before him. Hinduism claims to be the oldest religion, encompassing everything, including the pre-historic Goddess traditions, which are still in some degree of dispute as to their antiquity. However, Kerala was, and still remains, a one of the centers of goddess worship in India and the female form of divinity is honored there.)
During my research on this subject, I came across an article by a Vedic astrologer named Shyamasundara Dasa. In it, he discusses the difficulty in finding a teacher of Prasna. After a long search, he found a family of Jain astrologers in Bangalore, headed by the late B.G. Sasikantha Jain, who practiced Bhrgu Prasna and the late Krishnan Potti, the scholar of Prasna Marga. [iv] It is interesting that one of the only two astrologers that he found to teach him, was a devotee of Jainism.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in India. The devotees have a strong belief in Karma and their purpose in life is the removal of karma and an extinguishing of the self. Jainism as a religion is highly ritualistic, involving daily rituals, which may include meditation, bathing, offering food, flowers and lighting lamps for their shrines, as well as reciting mantras. They constitute a small section of the Kerala demographic, but they are highly educated, wealthy and politically powerful.
Geographically, Kerala lies between the Arabian Peninsula and the Western Ghats. These geographic barriers served to insulate Kerala from invading forces in Northern India and may have enabled Kerala to keep much of its own way of life and social institutions in place for centuries. While at the same time, Kerala was able to exchange ideas and philosophy with other countries, such as Egypt, Arabia and China, because of its location along the Malabar Coast.[v] In fact, archeologists have unearthed evidence of an ancient port city in Pattanam, dating back to around the 1st or 2nd century B.C., which may be the lost city of Muziris.[vi]
There is also indication of trading between ancient Kerala and the Egyptians, Romans, Phoenicians, as well as ancient China. Teak from Malabar has been found in the ruins of Ur. It is believed that Indian cotton was traded to Egypt, while ivory, sandalwood and spices were traded to the Phoenicians. It has also been speculated that King Solomon sent his commercial fleet to Ephir, which is said to be somewhere in Southern Kerala.[vii]
In my opinion there are several factors that contributed to the development and continuation of Prasna in Kerala today. First, considering the attention given to the Moon, its house placement and aspects, as well as the dominance of omens and rituals involved in Prasna Shastra, indicates a Dravidian influence. This original belief may have continued to evolve as the early Keralites came into contact with other religions and cultures. Second, Prasna is a highly ritualistic and complicated technique and although the Jains are a minority in Kerala, they make up a highly educated, wealthy and politically dominate group. The ritualistic nature of their faith, in combination with their education and influence may have been a contributing factor in the techniques used in Prasna, as well as the fact that it is still practiced today.[viii] Third, Kerala represents a melting pot of cultures and possibly, the techniques used in Prasna actually developed over time through the influence of many cultures and religions. Finally, the geographic terrain served to isolate and protect the people of Kerala and allowed the culture to continue to develop through the centuries.
[i] Gopal, K.R., “Ancient History of Calicut and Kerala” Nov. 2007, http://www.calicutnet.com/mycalicut/prehistory.htm
[ii]French Institute of Pondicherry, “Historical Atlas of South India Timeline“, Nov. 2005, Nov. 2007, http://www.ifpindia.org/Historical-Atlas-of-South-India-Timeline.html
[iii]Wikipedia, “Chottanikkara Temple”, Sep. 2007, Nov. 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chottanikkara_Temple
[iv]Shyamasundara Deva, “Ashtamangala Deva Prasna“, 1996, Nov. 2007 http://shyamasundaradasa.com/jyotish/resources/articles/adp/ashtamangala_deva_prasna_1.html
[v]“Kerala History and Culture” 1998, Nov. 2007, http://www.kerala.cc/keralahistory/
[vi] Mahadevan G., “Tracing an Ancient Trading Route”, Tomber, Roberta, 2006, Nov. 2007, http://www.hindu.com/2006/03/01/stories/2006030102540200.htm
[vii] “Ancient Kerala History“, 2005, Nov. 2007, http://www.kerala.com/ke_historyancient.htm
[viii] Wikipedia, “Jainism”, Nov. 2007, Nov 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism