Now that you’ve finally caught up and figured out your Big Three (sun, moon and rising signs, of course), what if we told you that there isn’t just one kind of astrology? The modern, Western astrology that’s gained popularity through horoscopes and meme accounts is just one dialect in a vast astrological landscape. Maybe you’ve heard of Vedic astrology before—a friend mentioned that there’s an astrology from India that makes you “an Aquarius instead of a Pisces.” But how is Vedic astrology different from Western astrology? Is it more accurate? Are you actually more Aquarius than Pisces? What does all of it mean? We did all the research, so you don’t have to.
So, What Is Vedic Astrology?
To get to the root of what Vedic astrology is, one must go to the source: a Vedic astrologer. So we dove into the work of Komilla Sutton, a longtime consultant, teacher and lecturer on the subject. She shares in her book, Essentials of Vedic Astrology, that the name “Vedic astrology” comes from the system’s relationship to the West, but in India, the practice is known as Jyotish. Sutton writes, “Jyotish can be translated as ‘the science of light’ or ‘the wisdom of the heavens.’ Light banishes darkness, the light of knowledge dispels ignorance.”
Unlike the pop astrology of the West, which puts all of its focus on “What’s your sign?” (due to the proliferation of sun sign horoscopes throughout modern times), Vedic astrology is focused on the planets, the stars and their relationship to the horizon. Like other forms of ancient or traditional astrology, its basis is what we’re actually looking at in the sky. Astrology is about light! Because, as Sutton continues, “when there is no light, there is no life.”
History of Vedic Astrology
Though there’s no exact moment to pinpoint as the origin of Vedic astrology, it has been practiced since sometime between 5000 to 10,000 BC. Jyotish is rooted in the Vedas, the oldest texts written in Sanskrit, which inform Hindu religion and philosophy. Veda literally means “knowledge” and these writings are thought to contain the fundamental knowledge of our human existence.
Other forms of astrology have origins as ancient as that of Jyotish, but due to various religious power struggles—particularly the rise of Christianity in the West—they have not been practiced continuously as a tradition in the way that Vedic astrology has. Jyotish is part of a lifelong study and spiritual commitment in India. Jyotishis (as Vedic astrologers are called) spend years immersed in both technique and spiritual practice before taking on clients and providing guidance.
How Is Vedic Astrology Different from Western Astrology?
As is evident from its roots in ancient, religious texts, Vedic astrology assumes a baseline spirituality which is mostly absent from popular practices of Western astrology. Vedic astrology is not a personality quiz or armchair psychoanalysis, it sets guidelines for how to live life through spirit and intention. The Four Pillars or Purposes revealed through a birth chart in Vedic Astrology are:
1. Dharma: How you fulfill your soul through daily activities; life’s purpose
2. Artha: How you generate income and meet survival needs
3. Kama: How you go after your desires
4. Moksha: How you achieve enlightenment or liberate your soul
The other major difference (and the one that’s talked about the most) between Vedic and Western astrology is the zodiac system. Western astrology uses the tropical zodiac, which is based on the seasons and the Earth’s relationship to the sun. The Spring Equinox is always the first day of Aries Season in the tropical zodiac. Vedic astrology uses the sidereal zodiac, which puts the planets’ position against a backdrop of stars (Sidereal means stars).
Because of the Earth’s tilt and wobbly orbit, the stars and constellations do not remain in a fixed position. Each fixed star moves about one zodiacal degree every 72 years. The sidereal zodiac takes this into account via a corrective system called ayanamsas, whereas the tropical system doesn’t account for this movement at all. That’s why your sun sign in Vedic astrology might be different from the one you know from Western astrology.
How Do I Know My Vedic Sign?
The sidereal zodiac takes the precession of the Equinox into account when calculating charts, making it so the boundaries of each sign are continually in flux (though again, it takes most of a century for a star to move 1 degree). The two zodiacs overlapped sometime around 285 AD, but now there is a 23 degree difference between a planet’s position in the tropical vs sidereal zodiac. You can calculate your full sidereal chart here. These are the approximate current dates for each sun sign:
Aries: Mesha (April 13–May 14)
Taurus: Vrishaba (May 15–June 14)
Gemini: Mithuna (June 15–July 14)
Cancer: Karkata (July 15–August 14)
Leo: Simha (August 15–September 15)
Virgo: Kanya (September 16–October 15)
Libra: Tula (October 16–November 14)
Scorpio: Vrishchika (November 15–December 14)
Sagittarius: Dhanus (December 15–January 13)
Capricorn: Makara (January 14–February 11)
Aquarius: Kumbha (February 12–March 12)
Pisces: Meena (March 13–April 12)
Is Vedic Astrology More Accurate?
We understand that Vedic astrology adjusts the signs for precession while Western astrology keeps every sign at fixed times of year no matter what. But this doesn’t mean that Western astrology “isn’t real” or that Vedic astrology is “more accurate.” Because remember, astrology—in its origins—is not about the signs, it’s about the position of the planets in the sky. Neither the tropical nor the sidereal zodiac is astronomically accurate. The constellations do not form a perfect 360º circle in the sky and astrology accounts for most—but not all—of the constellations that sit closest to the ecliptic (despite the reports, there is no 13th sign called Ophiuchus).
Because the tropical zodiac is connected to the seasons and the sun’s rise to summer and descent to winter throughout the year, one could say it is more representative of our material culture and society. The sun represents our ego and tends to override everything else around it. The sidereal zodiac correlates to the stars and the greater backdrop of the cosmos, making it more representative of our soul’s journey and spiritual path. Neither is more correct than the other and both can provide resonant insights.
What Can You Learn from a Vedic Reading of Your Chart?
If you’re interested in a Vedic reading of your chart, the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting a session with a seasoned astrologer. As mentioned, Jyotishis study for decades and take their craft and spirituality very seriously. Because Jyotish has been practiced continuously for thousands of years, practitioners have developed and refined many methods of timing and prediction that can be delivered with great accuracy. (Though similar techniques existed within early forms of Western astrology, because much of that tradition was lost and only revived in the last few decades, the approach is still in an experimental phase.) Astrology is a fully integrated part of life in India, throughout society and culture. Heads of Government consult astrologers for guidance and parents of newborn babies book sessions to learn about the trajectory of their child’s life.
Jyotishis use Varga (divisional charts) to give a detailed and nuanced portrait for everything from your living situation to your marriage partner to your career. There’s even one divisional chart which can tell you about previous incarnations of your soul! Using another technique called Vimshottari dashas, a Vedic astrologer can break your life down like it was an epic series of fantasy novels. They can divide your life into books, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, making predictions down to the day or in extreme situations, even the hour.
Getting a reading through the Vedic lens is a commitment. Many Vedic astrologers give intensive readings that last several hours or are broken up into separate sessions over a few days. If you’re ready to move on from the meme accounts and take a deep dive into your life’s purpose, Vedic astrology might be for you.
Jaime Wright is an astrologer based in New York. You can subscribe to her newsletter for more musings on the stars.