Dennis M. Harness
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The Nakshatras of Vedic Astrology:
Ancient & Contemporary Usage

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Historical and Contemporary Use of Nakshatras

The primary use of the nakshatras in ancient Indian culture was to determine when religious rituals were to be conducted. The position of the Moon was critical to the successful outcome of any ritual or sacrifice. Nakshatras were also used in the naming of children. Each nakshatra is associated with a particular syllable or sound and these would be the basis of the religious name given to a child.

In addition to their traditional usage, contemporary usages of the nakshatras include:

  1. Muhurta or Electional Astrology: The nakshatras are classified by quality. Some lunar mansions are “light” or “sharp” while others are “moveable” or “fixed”. These categories are used primarily in muhurta, or electional astrology. 6

  2. Mundane Astrology: The Moon’s location can be used in mundane astrology, as the Moon nakshatra reflects the social behavior patterns due to its reflection of the general public.

  3. Vedic Synastry: The nakshatras are used extensively for relationship compatibility, even in contemporary India because certain nakshatras are considered more compatible than others. Vedic astrologers have developed an elaborate point system that measures Moon compatibility (kuta point system). 7

  4. Navamsha Harmonic Chart: The nakshatras are connected to the navamsha, or 9th harmonic chart. Each nakshatra is divided into four equal parts, which correspond to the 108 divisions used to calculate the navamsha chart. (The navamsha chart is used extensively in Vedic astrology to reflect one’s marital karma and one’s deeper spiritual tendencies.)

  5. Vedic Dasha System: Perhaps the most well known use of the nakshatras is as the basis of calculating the vimshottari dasa system. The dasas are planetary periods which reflect developmental cycles. The full cycle is 120 years which is the theoretical natural length of a human life. Where an individual starts in the cycle is determined by the ruling planet of their birth nakshatra of their natal Moon.

  6. Vedic Mythology and Spirituality: The mythological and spiritual depth of the nakshatra material and its applications are coming to fruition in the West. Exploring the rich mythology of the nakshatras offers both spiritual and psychological insight. According to the Taittiriya Brahmana 1.5.2, “One who offers worship here reaches the world of heaven beyond. That is the nakshatrahood of the nakshatras”. Thus, the nakshatras create a cosmic bridge between the human mind and the universal mind. They are the lunar mansions of the Vedic gods and goddesses, the celestial palaces of these divine beings. According to Dr. David Frawley, “the ancient Vedic sages looked to the origins of the human soul, the eternal or light part of our nature, in the heavens, among the stars, in the realms of light and eternity ruled by the creator or cosmic lord”. 8 To the ancient seers, the nakshatras and planets in the sky were spiritual forces dispensing divine blessings on humanity. The heavenly lights reward us with the fruits of our karma according to our spiritual efforts made through worship, prayer and meditation.

  7. Personality Analysis: The 27 nakshatras offer a deeper analysis of personality, character and temperament than the twelve zodiac signs. They reflect the most intimate aspects of one’s mental, emotional and spiritual nature. The nakshatras are an important tool for self-discovery.
6 For further information on choosing an auspicious lunar nakshatra, see The Nakshatras (pp. 113-116) by Dennis Harness.
7 DeFouw, Hart & Svoboda, Robert. Light On Relationships: An Introduction to the Astrology of India. York Beach, ME: Samuel Wieser, 2000. Sekhar, K. Jaya. The Best Bet: Forming the right Relationships. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002. Both DeFouw/Svoboda and Sekhar provide an excellent overview of the kuta point system for compatibility.
8 Harness, Dennis M. The Nakshatras (Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1999) Introduction by David Frawley.

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