The Essential Meaning of the Planets (Grahas)
By Vaughn Paul Manley, M.A.
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In the previous lesson we learned how to draw up our Vedic charts using
both the South Indian and the North Indian chart styles. We also inserted
the sidereal degrees of our planets that we calculated in lesson 2. By
now you should have a copy of your Vedic natal horoscope that you’ve
either manually calculated, or that you’ve acquired a computer printout
this course we will be primarily working with our own natal horoscope
in the exercises at the end of each lesson. Therefore, be sure that your
chart is accurate and that you have copies of your chart in both the South
Indian and North Indian chart styles, as we will refer to each. However,
we will primarily be using the South Indian chart style as this is the
one most commonly used.
We are now
ready to learn how to make sense of our Vedic charts. The next 6 lessons
will give you the fundamentals of the planets, houses and signs and their
key indications. We will also be learning beginning chart interpretation
skills in the exercises at the end of each lesson.
To Think Astrologically
this course we’ll be learning to think astrologically. In other
words, instead of just giving you a list to memorize of the various indications
for the planets, houses, and signs, which you can find in most books on
Vedic astrology, we will be learning the fundamental logic behind how
those indications are derived. Once you understand the logic behind the
fundamentals, you will be a much more versatile, and astute astrologer.
For example, I gave a reading to a client recently who had the Moon in
the 3rd house and who started his life in a Moon period in the vimshottari
dasa planetary period system. I asked him if he had lost his mother early
in life and he said, “Yes, she died when I was 2 months old.”
How did I know that? You won’t find many books on Vedic astrology
that list the Moon in the 3rd house as representing the loss of the mother.
But if you understand that the 12th house from any given house represents
the “loss” of the indications of that house, and you know
that the 4th house and the Moon relate to “mother,” then you
can logically understand that the Moon in the 3rd house (the 12th house
from the 4th house) can relate to loss of the mother, especially in a
Moon period. If I had been dependent on the indications given in books
then I would not have been able to come up with that specific interpretation.
As I mentioned in the first lesson, astrologers are like detectives looking
for clues to support a hypothesis. The more indications that they find
the more certain they become. This is how the great astrologers come up
with brilliant predictions and dazzling insights. They have seen a particular
indication reinforced from many different angles, which they’re
able to do very quickly in their head. This approach of learning to think
astrologically will serve you immensely in becoming a competent astrologer.
You will be able to see a chart from many different angles and come up
with your own dazzling insights.
Getting to Know the Planets
is said to be the oldest science on the planet. This is perhaps because
ancient civilizations primarily learned through stories and myths that
were developed out of direct observation of their environment. At night,
there is not much left to observe except the sky and people gathered around
a fire and watched the sky much like we gather at night and watch TV!
In ancient India, many homes had outdoor fire pits called "howan
kunds" where people would often spend time chanting mantras, observing
the stars & planets, telling stories etc. You can still find this
tradition happening in many parts of India today, especially in the rural
Direct observation, I believe, is still one of the best ways to get to
know the planets and their qualities. The word “planet” means
“to wander” and the ancient Greeks called the planets “the
wanderers” because of their observable movement through the fixed
star constellations. I'd suggest getting a book on astronomy and becoming
familiar with identifying the actual signs and planets in the night sky.
You will gain insights into their nature just by tuning into them directly.
In fact, the great sages of Vedic astrology, like Parashara and Jaimini,
brought forth their knowledge out of intuitive insight. Therefore, by
learning in this manner you are connecting to an ancient tradition.
The easiest planets to locate in the sky, besides the Sun & Moon,
are Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Mercury in that order. Venus and
Jupiter are often so bright that they are the first stars out at sunset
or the last stars visible at sunrise. Venus is also called "the morning
star" for this reason and is the brightest object in the sky next
to the Sun and Moon. Mercury is very difficult to see because of its close
proximity to the Sun. You only have about a 30 minute window to view it
at sunset or sunrise, and only if its sign placement is after the Sun
at sunset, or before the Sun at sunrise.
Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii
I decided to stay up all night on the full Moon on top of Haleakala Crater
where I live in Maui, Hawaii. By sunrise I had seen every visible planet
- Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and Mercury! The highlight,
however, was not just seeing the planets but feeling their powerful emanations.
It was well worth the loss of sleep and a very memorable experience that
I'd recommend to anyone, especially students of astrology.
word for planet is "graha" which means to "to seize or
grasp." The implication is that the planets grab a hold of us and
cause us to behave in certain ways. However, this is not the case. The
great sage Parashara, in one of the opening chapters of his classic text,
Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra, says:
Unborn lord has many incarnations. He has incarnated as the planets
(grahas) to bestow on the living beings the results due to their
karmas." (Chapter 2, verse 3)
therefore, are merely continuing what we have set in motion in the past
and our astrology chart is an overall map of our karma. We are the cause,
not the planets. The planets are just acting as agents to deliver us the
results of our past actions, for better or for worse. In addition, we
have the ability to modify the results of our karma to varying degrees
through our free will, or agama & kriyamana karma, which represent
the current actions we choose to take. Please review Lesson
1 for an in depth discussion on karma, fate & free will.
It's more true to say that we are seized by our habitual behaviors or
are in the "grip of desire" than that the planets have caused
us to behave in a certain way. Additionally, the planets don't determine
the outcome of a situation. It's the merit of our own karma that does.
The planets merely reveal the merit of our karma. Otherwise, the planets
would be in control of our lives, we'd be devoid of free will, and the
outcome of every situation would be pre-determined. I personally don't
believe that this is a very empowering or helpful perspective.
Of course, taking full responsibility for our lives may not always be
easy. It's a lot more convenient to blame everything on the planets. "There's
some ill-planet reigning!" as Shakespeare wrote, "Shall we curse
the planets of mishap that plotted thus our glory's overthrow?!"
The planets will seize periods of time in our life, however, so that we
can experience and learn from the karmic results of our previous actions.
My jyotish guru, K.N. Rao, gave a very tangible illustration of this principle
once that I'll never forget. He took a piece of fabric and carefully rolled
it up. Then he started slowly unrolling it saying, "The dashas are
the unraveling of our karma through time." By "dashas"
he's referring to the planetary time periods in the vimshottari dasha
system, which is a primary predictive method in Vedic astrology. For instance,
a Sun period lasts 6 years, during which time the karma that the Sun represents
in our chart will be dispensed. We'll discuss this concept in more depth
later in the course.
analogy I've found to understand the relationship that we have to the
planets is to think of yourself as a gardener. Let's say you've planted
a huge garden and you have to hire help for harvesting it. Your employees
deliver to you baskets full of your produce - some are successful crops,
while others fail. The planets are like these employees delivering to
you the results of your past efforts. If you don't like what is delivered,
you can't blame your employees, the planets. After all, it's your garden.
You chose what to plant a long time ago and tended it yourself. What's
more, you always have the free will to plant and tend new seeds at any
It's important to realize that ultimately we are not our astrology charts
anymore than the gardener is his or her garden. An inherent problem in
this great study of astrology is that we tend to get overly identified
with our charts and lose sight of the big picture of our soul or "atman."
The beauty of Vedic astrology is its connection to the spiritual tradition
of India, which encompasses some of the most profound spiritual literature
in the world. The Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata
and many other ancient texts abound in descriptions of the souls's
eternal nature. Here's a quote from the Bhagavad Gita which is
a part of the Mahabharata:
Self cannot be cut, nor burnt, nor wetted, nor dried. Changeless,
all-pervading, stable, immovable, the Self is eternal and everlasting."
(Ch 2, verse 24)
have to remember not to lose sight of this when discussing astrology,
which is merely the study of our karma as expressed through the agents
of our karma - the planets.
Jupiter & Saturn
and Malefic Planets
Many Western astrologers have an aversion to the classical
astrology concept of benefic planets that cause good and malefic planets
that cause evil. It all sounds so fatalistic and black and white which
I can understand. We've all had experiences where the worst thing that
could have happened, like a loss of some kind, turned out to be a blessing
in disguise. At the same time, we often hear of how the best thing that
could have happened, like winning the lottery, ended up ruining people's
lives. So how do you draw the line between malefic/evil and benefic/good
In Vedic astrology making the distinction between benefic and malefic
planets is vitally important for this simple reason: it allows us to get
specific in our interpretations and predictions. It’s only when
we go beyond vague generalities that astrology gets exciting. The purpose
of distinguishing between benefics and malefics is not so that we can
make judgmental statements or fatalistic predictions. It's because our
lives are complicated and any given planetary configuration can represent
a wide range of potential interpretations. We need to have a way to narrow
down the possibilities and determine where in the wide spectrum of positive
and negative interpretations a planetary configuration lies. Learning
to identify benefic and malefic influences is the primary means and cannot
be compromised in order to practice Vedic astrology proficiently.
The benefic planets tend to cause positive outcomes relative to what most
people would consider desirable - stability, gains, progress, ease, and
success etc. The malefic planets tend to cause negative outcomes relative
to what most people would consider as undesirable - instability, loss,
obstacles, tension, and failure etc. We naturally classify these experiences
as positive or negative, which are delivered to us generally by benefic
or malefic planets.
However, for some people experiencing loss and instability may be just
the perfect outcome if they're inclined towards travel and living simply.
Ultimately our subjective experience is always dependent on our mental
attitude and not on external situations.
The benefic planets are:
· Moon when waxing (located within 180 degrees after the Sun)
· Mercury when associated with benefic planets.
The malefic planets are:
· Moon when waning (located
within 180 degrees before the Sun)
· Mercury when associated with malefic planets
may appear confusing that the
listed as a malefic planet. After all, can the source of life in our solar
system really be malefic? The Sun is only
considered a mild malefic in Vedic astrology. Its malefic status is due
to the fact that it is a hot planet and can cause what's called "combustion"
when other planets are too close in proximity. This can "burn up"
the positive influences of these planets and render them weak.
Most Vedic astrologers only refer to the Moon and Mercury as mild benefics
in practice. They never consider them as serious malefics even when the
Moon is waning or the Mercury is associated with malefics. Therefore,
it's generally agreed that the most seriously malefic planets are only
these four: Saturn, Mars, Rahu, and Ketu.
Natural vs. Temporal Benefics and Malefics
It must be noted that this list is referring to what can be called "natural"
benefic and malefic planets. By "natural" we mean the planet's
innate, natural state as either benefic or malefic.
There is another concept called "functional" or "temporal"
benefic and malefic planets, which is based on house rulerships. For instance,
Mars rules over the signs Aries and Scorpio, so if your ascendant is Aries,
Mars rules the 1st house and the 8th house because Aries and Scorpio fall
in the 1st and 8th places from Aries.
The basic method for determining which planets are temporal benefics and
malefics for each ascendant is to see which planets rule the trinal houses
1, 5, 9. These will be the temporal benefic planets regardless if they
are natural malefics. This
is because the trinal houses are always considered the most benefic houses.
For example, for Aries ascendant Mars, Sun, and Jupiter become
temporal benefics because they rule houses 1, 5, and 9 respectively. All
other planets will be temporal malefics or at best temporal neutrals for
that ascendant. We will be studying this concept in more depth later in
Benefic and Malefic House Placements
In addition to the natural and temporal status of the planets,
there are several basic chart interpretation rules regarding the house
placement of planets that need to be memorized. They are as follows:
1) The natural benefic planets function best
when they are placed in the trinal houses 1, 5, 9 or the angular houses
1, 4, 7, 10. You’ll notice that the 1st house is the only
house that is both an angle and a trine, giving it primary importance
as the ascendant or lagna in Sanskrit. Therefore benefic planets in the
lagna, for instance Jupiter, are extremely helpful for the overall strength
of the chart and the well being of the individual.
The natural malefic planets function best when they are placed in the
upachaya houses 3, 6, 10, 11. This is because the malefic planets
will tend to cause the least amount of harm when located in these houses.
The upachaya houses are considered "growing" houses which means
that they continually get better with time.
The malefic house placements for
either natural benefic or malefic planets are the dusthana houses 6, 8,
12 (unless it's a malefic in the 6th house which is an upachaya
house). Just like how the trinal houses 1, 5, 9 are the three most benefic
houses, the dusthana houses 6, 8, 12 are the three most malefic houses.
In general, you should treat the lords of the 6, 8, and 12 houses as malefic
along with the natural malefic planets. However, if a planet also rules
a trinal house 1, 5, or 9 in addition to a dusthana house 6, 8, or 12
then the planet becomes a temporal benefic. For instance, for Aquarius
rising Saturn rules the 1st and 12th houses. Saturn's rulership of the
benefic 1st house overrides it's temporal malefic status as the ruler
of the malefic 12th house.
The Polarities of the Planets
The nine planets are transmitters of universal, archetypal energy. The
qualities of each planet help to maintain the overall balance of polarities
in both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic universe - as above, so below.
The sets of these polarities are as follows:
The Three Categories of the Planets
The nine planets fall into 3 categories of personal, interpersonal, and
The two luminaries, the Sun and Moon, are considered the personal planets
because they represent our major character traits more than any other
planets. They are the king and queen of our individual kingdom and all
the other planets function in relation to them.
The planets Mercury and Venus are considered the interpersonal or inner
planets because their orbits lie between the Sun and the earth. They represent
our social interactions more than any other planets.
The planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are considered the transpersonal
or outer planets because their orbits lie outside of the Sun and the Earth.
They represent the collective trends of humanity more than any other planets.
The nodes of the Moon, Rahu and Ketu, also fall into this latter category
even though they are mathematical points in space causing eclipses and
not actual planets with orbits. These five transpersonal planets - Mars,
Jupiter, Rahu and Ketu, Saturn, - are the slowest moving planets, which
is why they have a far greater influence on collective trends and are
the most important planets to follow by transit.
In the South Indian chart style you can visually
see the astronomical order of the planets in our solar system in relation
to the Sun and Moon. For instance, Mercury is the closest planet to the
luminaries so the signs it rules, Gemini and Virgo, fall on either side
of the Leo and Cancer, the signs ruled by the Sun and Moon. Venus rules
the signs Taurus and Libra, and is the next closest planet to the Sun
and Moon after Mercury. Mars rules the signs Aries and Scorpio, and is
the next closest planet to the Sun and Moon after Venus.
Jupiter rules the signs Pisces and Sagittarius,
the next closest planet to the Sun and Moon after Mars.
Saturn is the farthest from the Sun and Moon and rules the signs Aqurius
and Capricorn. The chart below shows this sequential progression from
the personal, to the interpersonal, and the transpersonal planets.
The Essential Meaning of the Planets
Understanding the meanings of the planets is the essence of the study
of astrology since the houses and signs mean nothing until the planets
are placed in them and rule over them. As previously mentioned, each planet
governs and transmits essential universal qualities that maintain the
balance in both the macrocosmic universe and the microcosmic universe.
Venus, for instance, governs art. Therefore, it can be said that Venus
inspires, to some extent, every expression of art in the universe. Hence,
the whole range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual qualities
in the universe are governed by one of the planets.
It becomes vitally important, therefore, to understand the essential meaning
of each planet or else you would have the daunting task of having to memorize
millions of indications for each planet! This is where learning to think
astrologically really becomes a great aid in our study of astrology. For
instance, if you know that the Moon rules fluids then you can develop
your own list of logical indications that follow – water, the ocean,
milk, blood, tears, oils etc. As
students of astrology, our life long task is to continually increase our
list of indications, as we think astrologically about the planets in all
the varied contexts of our day-to-day lives.
The First Glance Chart Interpretation Skills
It can be
overwhelming when we first look at a chart and try to interpret it. We
need a step-by-step, systematic approach.
While I was in New Delhi studying with K.N. Rao, my jyotish guru, he taught
me that the first step in chart interpretation is to glance at the chart
and see what it reveals. To begin with, don’t look at the specific
degrees for each planet, yogas (combinations), dasas (planetary periods),
or any divisional charts. Just get a "feel" for the chart. The
first exercises in this course are therefore called “first glance
chart interpretation skills,” and are designed to help you get a
"feel" for the chart.
In the 1st Lesson I presented the idea that there are both quantitative
and qualitative methods to interpreting a chart. Most of the first glance
methods over the next several lessons utilize quantitative methods where
we identify and tally key influences in the chart.
Lesson #4 Exercise – 1st Glance Planet Interpretation
We are will now review the key chart interpretation methods covered in
this lesson. These constitute the first glance planet interpretation skills
that should eventually become second nature whenever you study a chart.
1) Your South Indian chart
2) Red and Green
Natural Benefic and Malefic Planets
Begin by locating the natural benefic planets in your chart: Jupiter,
Venus, Moon and Mercury. Place a green X
next to them. Next, locate the natural malefic planets in your chart:
Saturn, Mars, Rahu, Ketu, Sun and place a red X
next to them as shown in the example chart below.
Identifying Temporal Benefic and Malefic Planets
Next, identify your ascendant or lagna by putting a diagonal
line through it as shown below. This marks the 1st house. The other houses
can be found by counting clockwise from here. Now, locate the 5th and
9th houses by counting forward in this manner from the ascendant. The
planets that rule the signs of the 1st, 5th and 9th houses will be the
temporal benefics for your ascendant. Click here
to review which planet rules each sign in the zodiac.
The following list gives the temporal benefics for each ascendant. The
three planets listed are the rulers of the 1st, 5th, 9th houses respectively:
Mars (1), Sun (5), Jupiter (9)
Taurus: Venus (1), Mercury (5), Saturn (9)
Gemini: Mercury (1), Venus (5), Saturn (9)
Cancer: Moon (1), Mars (5), Jupiter (9)
Leo: Sun (1), Jupiter (5), Mars (9)
Virgo: Mercury (1), Saturn (5), Venus (9)
Libra: Venus (1), Saturn (5), Mercury (9)
Scorpio: Mars (1), Jupiter (5), Moon (9)
Sagittarius: Jupiter (1), Mars (5), Sun (9)
Capricorn: Saturn (1), Venus (5), Mercury (9)
Aquarius: Saturn (1), Mercury (5), Venus (9)
Pisces: Jupiter (1), Moon (5), Mars
an X next to your temporal
benefics. Place an X next
to all your other planets except Rahu and Ketu who don't rule any houses.
Later in the course we will refine our understanding of the temporal benefics
and malefics by talking about temporal neutrals and other exceptions to
these rules For now we will keep it as simple as possible.
In the example below the ascendant is Leo and therefore the temporal benefics
are the Sun, Jupiter, and Mars. The Sun rules the 1st house of Leo, Jupiter
rules the 5th house of Sagittarius, and Mars rules the 9th house of Aries.
Identifying Benefic House Placements of Planets
We will now identify the benefic house placements of the planets.
As stated earlier in the lesson, the natural benefics function best when
located in the angular houses 1, 4, 7, 10 or the trinal houses 1, 5, 9.
Place an X next to any benefic
planets that are located in these houses in your chart.
The natural malefic planets function best when located in the upachaya
houses 3, 6, 10, 11. Place an X
next to any malefic planets that are located in these houses in your chart.
In the following example you will find Venus in an angular house (10th
house) and Jupiter and Mercury in trinal houses (5th and 9th house respectively).
These are the only natural benefics in this chart that are located in
either an angular or trinal house.
Next, you will find that the Sun and Mars are in upachaya houses (10th
and 11th house respectively). These are the only natural malefics in this
chart located in upachaya houses.
Identifying Malefic House Placements of Planets
Lastly, we will identify the malefic house placements of planets. As stated
earlier in the lesson, the malefic house placements for either benefic
or malefic planets are the dusthana houses 6, 8, 12. Check and see if
any planets are placed in the 6, 8, 12 houses in your chart. Place an
X next to any planets that
See the example below. You will find that Saturn is the only planet in
a dusthana house, therefore it has an X
next to it.
You now should have several accumulated X's
next to each planet in your chart ranging from 1 to 3 X's
each. This is a quick visual method that helps you get an idea of how
the planets are operating in the chart. You now can see clearly which
planet's will tend to give benefits and which one's will tend to give
For instance, in the chart below you can easily see that Jupiter with
has great potential to give benefit to this person. Saturn, on the other
hand, has 3 X's indicating
great potential to cause difficulties.
This exercise of placing X's
or X's next to each planet
will help train your mind to identify the relative benefic and malefic
ways in which a planet may be operating in a chart. You will find that
you get an initial, first glance feel for the chart which will assist
you as you progress to more advanced interpretation skills.
In the following lesson we will be studying the key indications of the
planets based on the fundamental logic that we've discussed in this lesson.
Jai Sri Ram