Every practicing astrologer knows that it’s a very rare reading in which issues about romantic relationships are never raised. Questions such as: “Is this person the right one for me?”, or: “Why are my partner and I having trouble getting along?” often dominate an astrological session.
In contemporary Western astrology, entire books are devoted to the topic of using astrology to analyze human relationships. But for those who practice Jyotish or Vedic astrology here in the Western world, dealing with relationship issues can be a problem. Our ancient texts operate under a set of assumptions which may seem very foreign to us. In classical India, most marriages were arranged when the two partners were still children; as often as not, the prospective bride and groom had never met each other. It was often the parents rather than the partners who paid a visit to the astrologer, and one of their deepest concerns was: Will this union produce money and children?
In the ancient Hindu view, children were the primary reason for marriage; it was the duty of a married couple to produce children and thus bring the souls of the ancestors back into incarnation. The birth of children maintained karmic continuity between the past, the present, and the future. Factors such as material prosperity and fertility dominated the comparison between two horoscopes, with a mere nod given to whether or not the partners were likely to enjoy each other’s company. “Romance” in the sense that we understand it in the West had no place in the philosophy of ancient India; in fact, the intrinsically Western concept of romance has its origin in the songs and poems of the medieval troubadours. Given the basic outlook toward marriage in India, it is not surprising that the Western practitioner of Vedic astrology finds herself or himself in a shaky boat on a stormy sea when attempting to navigate the complexities of our Western relationships – unions based upon romance, upon sexual attraction, unions between independent individuals who have absolutely no interest in children, same-sex unions, and a host of other relationship styles which would simply never have occurred to the astrologers of classical India.
Much of Vedic compatibility or synastry is based on a system called the kutas. Here, at the very outset, we are opening a huge can of worms. The kutas are a group of factors, most of them involving the twenty-seven naskhatras or lunar mansions rather than the twelve signs of the zodiac. The lunar positions of each partner are compared in reference to these factors or kutas, with a numerical value attached to agreement or compatibility between each factor. The higher the total, the greater the over-all compatibility.
Some people say this system simply doesn’t work. Others say it is blatantly sexist. Still others criticize it as “love by the numbers.” Here are a few salient points.
First of all, each list of the kutas varies widely. The list given in (for example) the Muhurta Chintamani, written in Varanasi about 1600, is not the same as the list in the Prashna Marga, written in south India less than half a century later. The numerical scores attached to each factor also vary – if, for example, you were comparing the horoscopes of a woman born with the Moon in the nakshatra of Ashvini to a man born with the Moon in Punarvasu, the lists from two different classical texts might result in two very different scores. Beyond this, the numerical values attached to the various factors are sometimes arbitrary and strange. For example, a score of 8 – the highest possible score – is commonly attached to the so-called nadi kuta, which utilizes the three constitutions or doshas of Ayurvedic medicine as a factor of comparison. And yet the doshas or constitutions attributed to each nakshatra have no apparent basis in Ayurveda and simply don’t make sense. And are we truly to believe that something as complex as human relationships can be reduced to a mere numerical total? One cringes at the thought of an astrologer consulting his own favorite list of the kutas (perhaps a different list than the one used by the astrologer on the other side of town), then announcing: “You folks only get a 19, and that’s not good enough, so don’t get married,” or “You scored 25, so you might as well give it a try.” This is ridiculous, but it is a phenomenon which happens all too often in India.
Nevertheless, it is possible to work with the kutas in a useful way. In their book “Light on Relationships,” Hart de Fouw and Robert Svoboda assert that each kuta should be considered separately and analyzed on its own merits rather than numerically. They also point out that not all kutas are of equal value. Some are geared to particular factors, such as the couple’s ability to produce children. In the West there are many couples who do not desire children, so we may as well ignore the kutas which measure this factor.
There are other kutas which are universally applicable. Perhaps the most well known is the gana kuta, which is said to measure compatibility by “temperament.” In actuality, the Sanskrit word gana doesn’t mean “temperament,” but refers in the ancient literature to groups or “tribes” of lesser deities or spirits who follow in the wake of the great gods. The word “band” or “group” might be a fairly accurate rendering.
The twenty-seven nakshatras of the lunar zodiac are divided into three such groups: devas (the gods), manushyas (human beings) and rakshasas (demons), as follows.
Deva Nakshatras: Ashvini, Mrigashira, Punarvasu, Pushya, Hasta, Svati, Anuradha,Shravana, Revati.
Manushya Nakshatras: Bharani, Rohini, Ardra, Purva Phalguni, Uttara Phalguni, Purvashadha, Uttarashadha, Purvabhadra, Uttarabhadra.
Rakshasa Nakshatras: Krittika, Ashlesha, Magha, Chitra, Vishakha, Jyeshtha, Mula, Dhanishtha, Satabhishak.
As you can see, we already have a problem! No one wants to be a rakshasa! Let us take a closer look at this important compatibility factor.
De Fouw and Svoboda are among those who feel that the ganas should only be used in assessing compatibility. They assert that these categories don’t really have much influence on the temperament of the individual. More often, though, Hindu astrologers are likely to regard your lunar gana as a factor in your psychological make-up – and I agree. People born in a deva nakshatra often go through life with a cheerful and carefree disposition. They are naturally helpful and love to assist others. There are a few of these deva nakshatras that are prone to a certain restlessness, but in general there is an unshakable calm based upon the inner certainty that all is right with the world. Sometimes this inner calm may act as a drawback rather than an asset. Members of the Divine tribe are the ones who are most likely to be too complacent in their outlook. They don’t like to rock the boat. In fact, they don’t understand why the boat sometimes needs to be rocked.
Those born in the manushya or “human” nakshatras may sometimes aspire to the charitable, gentle nature of the deva nakshatras, but at other times they lean toward the willfulness and intensity of the rakshasas. In general, however, the human tribe is just as it always has been – walking the eternal tightrope between darkness and light, filled with inner contradiction and complexities.
And the rakshasas?
In Hindu mythology, a rakshasa is a demonic creature, living by no rules except its own, bent upon power, sex, and conquest. Such a portrait is manifestly unfair to the many fine individuals born under these Moon signs. However, if one studies the myths and legends of ancient India, it becomes clear that, on a certain level, the rakshasas are those who live outside the boundaries of society and its values, who break all the rules and follow their own instincts. They prefer the depths of the forest to the settled peace of villages and cities. I have often used the terms Wild Men and Wild Women to define them because modern psychology has come to realize that there is something of value in our wildness, and that we lose some of our energy and our passion for life if there is no wildness in our souls. Natives of these nakshatras possess a kind of primal force which can feel like a steamroller to those with less motivation and passion.
It is said that, basically, you will be happier with someone from your own gana because you will share a similar temperament, and that will help you get along with each other. But if the two partners are members of different camps, a woman from the divine tribe of devas can work harmoniously with a man from the complex human nakshatras or even with a man from the wild man or rakshasa group, providing that they put some effort into accepting each other’s differences in temperament. But it doesn’t work out nearly as well when turned the other way around. A rakshasa woman simply will not be compatible with a man whose Moon is in one of the deva or manushya nakshatras.
Do we sense another problem on the horizon? Is there an implication here that a mellow, gentle woman can deal with a type-A guy who knows no boundaries in his hungry quest for power and money, while a peaceful house husband simply cannot abide the highly driven female realtor or stockbroker who never rests for a single moment in her wild ride on the roller coaster to success? In other words, do we find here, in the best known of all the kutas, the dark specter of sexism?
There are any number of justifications which have been given for this apparent inequity. The one I hear most often is that the woman ought to be from a more “elevated” gana than her male partner because she is the symbol of peace and harmony in the home, and it is her responsibility to exude tranquility, even though it’s okay for the man to come on like a steamroller from hell.
I can almost hear the paper of those good old Vedic astrology classics being shredded in the thoughts of women who aspire to political or business success. Oh yes! I will definitely be happy to sit around in the kitchen, grinning like a fool while my husband – the one with the muddled Mercury in his chart – makes a shambles of all our ambitions!
From our perspective in the Western world, the bottom line is: Different strokes for different folks. There really are a lot of men in the world, with peaceful deva Moons, who would gladly spend their day building a nice cabinet or kitchen table and picking the kids up from school while the rakshasa wife navigates Wall Street in a business suit.
It’s not a matter of this gana kuta being “right” or “wrong.” It’s a matter of people acknowledging and accepting their own temperament – a task in which the astrologer may play a helpful role – and then making an intelligent choice, based on self-knowledge, as to what sort of relationship they really want, and who wants to play a particular kind of role.
As we shall see in future installments, it is this idea of self-knowledge and choice which allows us to make good use of these classical compatibility factors from ancient India in such a way that they may prove valuable in assessing the complexities of our modern Western relationships.
In my next blog, I will examine another important kuta, one which deals with a topic which is an eternal fascination to many – sex!