Dennis M. Harness, Ph.D.
The discovery of Pluto in 1930 by astronomer Percival Lowell reflected the beginning of a new era of powerful dictators such as Hitler and Stalin and the exploration of nuclear energy leading to the development of the atomic bomb. Pluto themes of transformative as well as destructive power would pervade the events of the 1930’s and the decades to come. At the time of this writing, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred reflecting the challenging Pluto/Saturn opposition of 2001/2002. In mythology Pluto, the god of the underworld was also called Hades which means “invisible” or “to make invisible”. The origins of Vedic astrology credited to the great sage Maharishi Parasara occurred at least several thousand years before Pluto and the other outer planets were “visible” to astronomers.1 Therefore, in traditional Jyotish or Vedic astrology, the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) are not utilized. Instead of focusing on the outer planets, a traditional jyotishi emphasizes the chaya grahas or shadow planets: Rahu, the north node of the Moon and Ketu, south node of the Moon. According to the ancient jyotish texts, Rahu is said to act like Saturn and Ketu is similar in nature to Mars. In my own astrological practice, I have observed the additional effects of Rahu to reflect the Uranus energy of sudden change while Ketu is somewhat similar to mystical Neptune. Pluto seems to be a combination of both of the lunar nodes representing powerful transformation and death/rebirth themes.
Being born with natal Pluto conjunct my ascendant and living in Sedona, an hour away from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where Pluto was discovered; has made it personally difficult to ignore Pluto’s powerful presence. By the age of two I had experienced three near-death traumas including a difficult birth and a near fatal car accident. In 1990, the death of my Father occurred during Pluto’s transit over my natal Saturn (a significator of father for night births in traditional Hellenistic and Vedic astrology). We all have our intense Pluto stories to share! These personal experiences of death themes have made it impossible for me to discount the effect of powerful Pluto in the natal chart or by transit. For me, to ignore Pluto would be akin to “sticking the proverbial head in the sand”.
Most jyotishi’s that I have met over the years have given minimal comment on the outer planets except to say that they may be reflected through the nodes of the Moon and other shadow planets or upagrahas such as Gulika. Themes of death and destruction are associated with Gulika somewhat similar to Pluto. In a recent TMA article, Dennis Flaherty wrote, “the astrologers of ancient India did not use Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, because these planets had not yet been discovered; however, the use of the outer planets in Vedic astrology is not as questionable as it may first appear. Furthermore, the Vedic sage Parasara recounts in the classic Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra that there are five non-luminous planets in addition to the traditional nine grahas. Parasara called these non-luminous planets upagrahas, or secondary planets. Many contemporary Vedic astrologers use the outer planets and consider them a type of upagraha in their effect.” 2
An important question still remains to be answered: Is there any evidence of commentary on the outer planets from ancient Vedic culture? In 1994, I had the good fortune of meeting the renowned Hindu astrologer and Vedic scholar from India named Narendra Desai. For many years until his death in April 2001, he taught workshops and gave private consultations throughout the United States. While sharing his knowledge at a Vedic Astrology conference in the Washington D.C. area in 1994, he began to speak about the importance of the outer planets. According to Mr. Desai, he saw an ancient Vasistha Nadi palm leaf in a museum in Madras, India, which predicted that three important grahas or planets would be discovered by the jyotishis of the Kali Yuga. The great seer Vasistha was the author of a number of hymns in the Rg Veda (dated 3000 BC) and was considered a great priest of the kings. According to the ancient palm leaf the names of the grahas or planets would be Prajapati, Varuna, and Yama. The palm leaf went on to reveal that the jyotishi’s of Kali Yuga would need to decipher the significance and meaning of these powerful grahas. It was refreshing to hear a traditional jyotishi from India speak with such an open mind toward the influence of the outer planets.
In comparing the Hindu mythology of these three planetary deities with the Uranus, Neptune and Pluto myths; there are many common themes and metaphors. For example, Prajapati is the lord of progeny and creativity. He “exerts his heat and duplicates himself” and his “divine voice sounds like thunder”. 3 One of the translations of Prajapati is Indra, the lord of thunder and lightening. A similarity to the planet Uranus can easily be seen. Uranus represents the Prometheus myth of bringing fire to earth, the bringer of change and innovation. Uranus is often associated with heat, lightening and thunder. He was also the father of Venus, the goddess of creativity. Narendra Desai felt that Uranus was a higher octave of Mercury, the god of creative intellect. He said that a prominent Uranus was often seen in the chart of a good astrologer.
Varuna is the lord of the cosmic waters and is associated with the mysterious laws of fate. He is a powerful, mystical healer and is the lord of maya or illusion. Varuna is the bestower of spiritual wisdom and the god of cosmic medicines. In the early cycles of Creation all the gods together approached Varuna and said to him: “May you accept the lordship of all waters on earth and protect us all. May you ever dwell in the ocean, refuge of the aquatic creatures. The great ocean, the husband to all the rivers and streams, would thus remain subservient to you. You would swell and shrink along with the Moon”.4 This sounds strikingly similar to the role and meaning of Neptune, god of the mystical seas, in modern Tropical astrology.
In Hindu mythology, Yama is the god of death and agent of Lord Shiva. Yama means “the binder, restrainer” who keeps mankind in check. Yama also refers to various powerful yogic disciplines such as breath control, hatha yoga and meditation. Lord Yama guides the soul to the astral plane after death, where one can experience the results of one’s karma from the present life and prepare for the next incarnation. Yama has a green body, wears red clothing, and rides a black bull. A Sanskrit word for bull is “go”meaning sound or sense organ. This may indicate the Lord Yama rides his senses and permits them to function but controls or “restrains” their movements. He holds a loop in his left hand, which pulls the soul from the body of the deceased. While researching Yama on the Internet, the medical research journal Cell reported on a newly discovered enzyme named Yama that “cleaves” other proteins and causes cells to “self-destruct”. The research group named the protease enzyme “Yama” after the Hindu god of Death. Yama rules over the kingdom of the dead where the ancestors dwell and is the preta raja or king of ghosts. He is a deity that demands sacrifice and discipline. He decides which actions of humans bear or do not bear fruit. Yama then judges the dead whom his messengers drag before his throne. His aide, Chitragupta catalogues the karma of all human beings and replays the major life events helping the soul realize its life’s work. The soul may realize its mistakes and transgressions and feels remorse. Lord Yama may then inflict punishment or danda. Yama represents the eternal law on which the universe resides. He is called Dharmaraja, or the King of Righteousness. For spiritual adepts, Sri Yama arranges a celebration after their death to guide their soul personally to the higher spiritual realms.
The “yamas” of the sage Patanjali Maharishi in the ancient Yoga Sutras represent the rules of behavior that exist in all religions and act as mechanisms of personal transformation. They are the first of the eight limbs of yoga. The yamas reflect primarily external discipline. The five yamas according to Patanjali are non-violence, non-stealing, chastity, absence of greed, and truthfulness. Following these rules of behavior is a great way to propitiate Yama. The lunar nakshatras of Bharani (13° 20‘ – 26 40’ of sidereal Aires) and Magha (0-130 20’ of sidereal Leo) is said to be the auspicious lunar time for the worship of Lord Yama. As the great jyotishi Sri Yukteswar stated; “ the first lesson on the spiritual path is to learn to behave”. The power to cleanse and remove impurities or apabharani shakti is a boon of Yama. Yama’s reflection of the Pluto themes of death/rebirth, transformation and purification can easily be seen. As mentioned previously, Pluto is the Roman version of the Greek “lord of the underworld”, Hades. In Jungian psychology, Hades represents the deep shadowy layers of the invisible psyche that need to explored and purified. In her classic text, Gods and Planets, Ellynor Barz writes: “When Hades was no longer experienced only as dreadful and horrid, when people were able to connect with him more consciously and to recognize the abundance and the riches under the earth, he was then called Pluto. The horn of plenty became his insignia. In Pluto, we find the end or abundance of life”.5 Yama offers humanity a similar choice of destruction or transformation.
The late Narendra Desai also felt that Pluto was a higher octave of Mars, the ruler of Scorpio, in classical or Vedic astrology. This supports the rationale of the rulership of Scorpio to Pluto in modern tropical astrology. However, using Pluto as the ruler of Scorpio in Vedic astrology can make a mess of a valid effective system that uses the traditional rulers of classical astrology. I personally tend to judge the position of Pluto natally or by transit more from the tropical chart although I place the outer planets in the Vedic chart as well. Bringing the outer planets into the Vedic chart should be done with care. According to the Vedic Astrologer Chakrapani Ullal, the risk of “creating goulash” by mixing the two systems is a real dilemma for any astrologer studying both Eastern and Western astrological traditions.
After his recent death in April 2001, several of Narendra Desai’s devoted students have continued to share some of his thoughts on the outer planets. One student recently wrote to me that Narendra would emphasize the importance of an outer planet making a close aspect (conjunction, trine, opposition) to another planet. For example, he would give special emphasis to a natal aspect between Mercury and Uranus for indicating astrological skills. He also utilized the outer planets in his compatibility work and they were treated as somewhat challenging in nature. He also confirmed that for the spiritual understanding of the natal chart, the outer grahas or planets are very important. The type of spiritual practice or sadhana can be revealed in a Vedic consultation. For example, bhakti or devotional yoga indications traditionally associated with Sukra or the planet Venus may also be revealed through Neptune, a higher octave of Venus. A jnana or wisdom path may involve a powerful Uranus, a higher vibration of Mercury. A person with a prominent Pluto may want to explore meditation practices that involve Shiva, Kali or Yama worship. Thus, a specific sadhana may be reflected through the outer planets as well as other traditional indications in the Vedic chart.
In summary, a strong case can be made for the study of the outer planets in modern Vedic Astrology. The true spirit and philosophy of the Vedas was to keep an open mind to all forms of truth. The challenge of integrating this information into the Vedic system is the work of the neo-vedic astrologer of the new millennium. The research should be done with an open mind while still protecting the tenets of traditional Jyotish. As the great seer Narendra Desai stated to one of his students; “Never mind what others say about the outer planets; they are there, we must use them!”
* This article is dedicated to the memory of Narendra Desai (1924-2001).
1 Barz, Ellynor. Gods and Planets. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications. 1991.
2 Flaherty, Dennis. Jyotish Currents. The Mountain Astrologer. April/May , 2001.
3 Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1991.
4 Charak, K.S. Varuna, the God of Waters. Vedic Astrology. Vol.5, No. 4. July-August 2001.
New Delhi, India.
5 Barz, Ellynor. Ibid.