Evidence of Traditional Indian use of Tropical Zodiac with Sidereal Nakshatras

An analysis of ancient manuscripts in Saptarishi Nadi

by Madhivanan Panneerselvam

Saptarishi Nadi is a book containing discussions of horoscopes by none other than the seven rishis (sages) and the consort of Lord Siva, Devi Parvati herself. It is written in poetic form, in the Tamil language. The books were compiled from Tamil manuscripts found in various parts of Tamilnadu, India, and published by the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras. They are a treasure house for those who want to analyse the interpretation of horoscopes by the ancient sages.

How I came across Saptarishi Nadi

When I set out to learn astrology, I was confounded by the choice of ayanamsa, like everyone else. As I hail from the state of Tamilnadu, India, where a special form of sidereal zodiac is followed (vakya panchanga instead of tirukannitha panchanga with an ayanamsa like lahiri), my choice was, to some extent, simple. I chose Vakya panchanga, which is based on slokas written by our ancestors to decipher the position of the planets. Nadi astrology is said to be based on vakya panchanga, and so I consulted it.

My Experience with Nadi Astrology

Nadi astrology chooses a horoscope (with interpretations scribed by ancient sages) based on one’s thumbprint, confirming the correctness of that choice by asking questions about what has happened already in one’s life. When I consulted a nadi astrologer, I found the questions confirming my past to be astonishingly accurate. I performed all the remedies advised by the sages but the future predictions didn’t turn out as predicted. I was confused. Why didn’t it come true? I thought, may be I did something wrong somewhere, and so got a fresh reading of nadi. To my surprise and dismay, the future predictions didn’t materialise, again! After a few years, I gave it another try out of my unwavering trust in the sages, but with the same result. I was distraught! I lost hope in the sages themselves! How can their predictions turn out to be false? Are they bogus? Are they out to con me, a mere speck in this cosmos?

Tropical vs Sidereal Zodiac

This set me on a different path. I began searching for any clue to indicate that I somehow made a mistake and not the sages. I came across Vic Dicara’s discussion on tropical vs sidereal zodiac, where he argued that Vedic texts themselves propounded tropical rasis. I was intrigued! Reading various articles on this I became convinced that the tropical zodiac, indeed, was intended by our ancestors. Then, searching for a confirmation in nadi texts, I chanced upon Saptarishi Nadi.

Sidereal zodiac defines the rasis in terms of nakshatras, which means the nakshatras can never fall under another rasi. Ashvini, for example, always falls within Aries. The tropical zodiac with sidereal nakshatras, on the other hand, says that the zodiac is defined by the equinoxes, and therefore the nakshatras may fall under any rasi – because the rasi drift over time in relation to the stars, as per the precession of the equinoxes. I surmised that if I can find any references to nakshatras falling under other rasis, it confirms that our sages followed the tropical zodiac.

What I found was amazing, to say the least!

What’s in Saptarishi Nadi

In a Nadi text, the saptarishis (seven sages) discuss with Parvati the horoscopes of people who have lived or will live in different ages. The discussion consists of 12 chapters for a horoscope; one for discussing the interpretations of each of the 12 houses. The book I will discuss here — “Saptarishi Nadi (mesalagnam)” https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.406037 — contains the first chapter for horoscopes with Aries ascendant.

The sages would describe whether the horoscope belonged to a female or a male, the place of birth, timing of his marriage, and even the timing of death. It is amazing that they spoke about the past and future lives as well. That art of prediction has long been lost to humanity. It is fortunate that they explain the basis of certain predictions and discuss certain rules and their exceptions to arrive at a particular prediction, in case of differences of opinion. The whole text greatly helps us to learn astrology as it was practised by the greatest sages of yore.

Confirmation of Tropical Zodiac in Saptarishi Nadi

Horoscope 47 describes a chart with the Moon and Rahu in Scorpio; Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in Virgo; Sun in Leo; Venus in Cancer; Ketu in Taurus; Mars in Aries; and Ascendant in Aries. In verse 26, the sage says that the nakshatra is Vishakha. This presents no problem, because Vishakha’s 4th padam falls in sidereal Scorpio. However, the poem says the time remaining in the dasa at birth is 13 yrs and 8 months of Jupiter dasa, which means the Moon must have been in the 1st padam, and could not have been in the 4th.

The text is either corrupted, or the sage is not speaking of sidereal rasi, because the 1st padam of Vishakha simply cannot be in sidereal Scorpio.

A similar thing happens when the sage describes the husband of this jataki. The sage says her husband is born with the Moon in Leo and Ashlesha. The exact words are:

அரியெனும் ராசிஆ யில்யநாளில்

Ariyenum rasi, ayilya nalil

Ari means lion, and Ayilyam is Ashlesha in tamil.

So, an indication for the tropical zodiac is found in two instances: the first describes the 1st pada of Vishakha as being in Scorpio, the second describes Ashlesha in Leo.

Is that a one-off occurrence in this collection?

No, here are similar instances.

Horoscope 48 describes a chart with the Moon in cancer; Mars and Rahu in Virgo; Mercury and Saturn in Capricorn; Sun and Jupiter in Aquarius; Venus and Ketu in Pisces; and Ascendant in Aries. In verse 34, the time remaining in the dasa at birth is stated as 7 years and 8 months left in Jupiter dasa. This corresponds to Punarvasu 3rd padam, which traditionally falls in Gemini. The sage, however, has already described that the Moon is in Cancer. This is correct only if the sage was using tropical zodiac signs!

Horoscope 67 describes a chart with the Moon in Aquarius; Saturn, Mars, and Ketu in Virgo; Mercury and Sun in Libra; Venus in Scorpio; Rahu in Pisces; and Ascendant in Cancer.[1] In verse 48, the sage states that the remaining dasa period is 14 years and 10 months of Saturn dasa. This corresponds to Uttara Bhadrapada 1st padam, which traditionally falls in Pisces. But the sage has placed the Moon in Aquarius! We can be absolutely sure this is not a mistake, because verse 19 confirms that the Sun (owner of Leo) is the lord of the 7th sign from the Moon.

Horoscope 69 (verse 12) describes the birth of the brother of the jataka. The sage places his Moon in Purva Phalguni and Virgo (‘துணைவன்கன்னி பூரநாள் தோன்றுவானாம்’)! In the sidereal zodiac, Purva Phalguni can only be in Leo.

Other Tamil References to the Tropical Zodiac

Many people say that Sri Ram’s horoscope is an astronomical impossibility. Here is the chart, as described by the Tamil poet Kamban in Kamba Ramayanam:

மேடமா மதிதிதி நவமி மீன்கழை
நீடுறு மாலைகர்க் கடக நீதிசேர்
ஓடைமா களிறனா னுதய ராசிகோள்
நாடினே காதசர் நால்வ ருச்சரே

Medamam  mathi, thithi      navami  meen kazhai
Needuru  maalai kar  kataka  needhi saer
Oodai maa  kazhir ana  udhaiya  rasi koel
Naadin  aekadashar  nalvar  uccharae 

Sri Ram was born in the month of Aries, in Navami Tithi.
The nakshatra was Punarvasu. The lagna was Cancer.
Regarding other planets,
four planets related to the 11th houses were exalted.[2]

The “month of Aries” means that the Sun was in Aries, exalted. So, in total, five planets were exalted.

Since it was navami tithi, the Moon must have been at least 96° from the Sun. The poet says that Sri Ram’s nakshatra was Punarvasu. This is a major problem because, according to the sidereal zodiac, Punarvasu begins at 20° Gemini and ends at 3°20′ Cancer. Even if Sri Ram’s Sun was at the very beginning of Aries, his Moon could not be less than 96° from it, meaning that it could not possibly be any lower than 6° Cancer, past the end of Punarvasu.

Does that mean that our ancestors were wrong in recording or conceptualizing something as important as Sri Ram’s horoscope? I find that highly doubtful. I think the possibility is much greater that we are wrong in our assumptions about the zodiac they used. A sidereal zodiac makes Sri Ram’s horoscope impossible but if we consider that the ancients may have used a tropical zodiac with sidereal nakshatras, Sri Ram’s horoscope becomes astronomically feasible, because the tropical zodiac does not have a permanently fixed relationship to the sidereal nakshatras — meaning that the relationship between Aries and Punarvasu is flexible over the centuries and ages.[3]

Final thoughts

The evidence shows that the Saptarishis used tropical zodiac with sidereal nakshatras. Some may say we have only shown four examples out of hundreds of charts. Even if this is the case, it demonstrates that the system is not newly fabricated or at odds with what the Saptarishis considered proper. However, let us consider how amazing it is to even find four such examples of the Saptarishis employing tropical rasi and sidereal nakshatra:

Firstly, nakshatras fall under a particular rasi for millennia. Horoscopes referring to natives of a period where the nakshatras are in identical or very similar positions as that assumed by the sidereal zodiac would therefore be plentiful.

Secondly, the Saptarishi Nadi verses have been copied from manuscripts over the past 2000 years. It would not have been strange at all for the scribes who copied these manuscripts to omit verses they felt contained errors or corruptions, and so they would have “weeded out” most of the references to nakshatras that fell away from sidereal rasis, or omitted the incomprehensible parts (indeed, some of the horoscopes are missing a note of the dasa period remaining at birth — which is usually what reveals that the nakshatra cannot be in the sidereal rasi it is thought to belong to). Commentators would naturally perform the same sort of editing. Therefore, although the total number of nadi texts is supposed to be numerous, only a few (around 80 per ascendant) are recorded in the book I am referencing. So, finding four clear references to nakshatras that are not bound to rasi is really quite amazing and plentiful.


[1] The verse states “மேகமும் சென்மமாக”. மேகம் also means water, which refers to Cancer as per the line “நல்லகொண்டல்குளிரளிசேக்கைநீர் நண்டுகாரலவனற்கடகமே” from வீமேசுர உள்ளமுடையான் (Veemaesura ullamudaiyan; page 11), an old astrology book in Tamil; this horoscope has wrongly been classified under Aries lagna.

[2] These four would be: the 11th house lord from Lagna — Venus; the 11th house lord from Taurus — Jupiter; the 11th house lord from Pisces — Saturn; and the 11th house lord from Capricorn — Mars.

[3] In fact, it is widely known that in those days the month was noted by the position of the Sun in the tropical rasi. (This is seen in Saptarishi Nadi too.) So, when they say “month of Aries,” it means Sun was in tropical Aries .