Thursday, November 20, 2014


Grahas are not Planets – Nava Graha is not the same as Nine Planets
One of the “scientific mistakes” which people who argue against ancient Indian science point to is that, ancient Indian astronomers “wrongly” classified Sun and Moon as Planets, and did not include Uranus and Neptune in their list of 9 planets.
The very first common sensual mistake here is to assume that the definition of Graha is the same as that of modern planets. This was assumed just because there were 9 Planets and there are 9 Grahas. Now let us see the actual definition of each of these.

Definition of a Planet

Planet is defined as an astronomical body in the solar system that moves around or orbits the Sun.

Definition of a Graha

But Graha is defined as an astronomical body in the sky “that moves”. The very meaning of the word Graha in Sanskrit is “the one that moves”.
Did you see the difference? It is only “the one that moves” in the sky. No reference to things like “around Sun”.

Graha – The one that moves

What is so special about the movement of these Grahas? If you look at the sky, the position of stars is always the same, it is the position of Grahas that keeps changing because of their near vicinity to Earth. Not only planets, but even Sun and Moon keep changing their positions in the sky.
Surya (Sun), Budha (Mercury), Shukra (Venus), Chandra (Moon), Mangala (Mars), Guru (Jupiter), Shani (Saturn) – they all are in constant motion in the sky, they all are hence Grahas.

What about Rahu and Ketu?

The other argument made  against Grahas is that, two of the grahas – Rahu and Keu, do not exist at all!
Well yes, where have they claimed that Rahu and Ketu can be “seen”. Rahu and Ketu are actually classified as Chaya Graha (meaning shadow grahas, not the real ones). Rahu and Ketu are actually the points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon as they travel in the celestial sphere. Rahu is the north lunar node and Ketu is the south lunar node.
It is also a well known fact that eclipses occur when Sun and Moon are at one of these lunar nodes (Rahu or Ketu). Hence you have this story in India about Rahu swallowing the Sun.
Rahu and Ketu are included in the list of Grahas, even though they don’t have any physical presence in the sky. This is because their positions were used in Indian astronomy to calculate the occurrence of eclipses. Nevertheless all those classified as Grahas move in the sky, and not all are physical bodies, two of them are shadow objects (Chaaya Graha). The term “Shadow” is used because moving into their position causes eclipses for Sun and Moon.
The common phrase used in Indian languages, “why are you sitting as if Rahu has caught you” while referring to people looking blank, is because even the Sun goes blank when Rahu catches it.

Why no Uranus and Neptune ?

Not just because they are not visible to the naked eye in the night sky. But because even when observed through telescope they don’t “move” with any observable speed in the short term as they are lot more far away than the farthest Graha Saturn.

Why no Earth ?

Again because, we don’t observe earth moving in the sky. We stay on earth, and the definition of a Graha is the one which moves in the sky.

What about Pluto? Sorry, not a Planet anymore.

Coming back to modern astronomy, for those who are unaware, the number of planets today is not 9, but 8. Pluto was removed from the list of planets in 2006, and a new definition has been given to planets today which only applies to the solar system. According to this definition a planet in its orbit around the sun should also have cleared its orbits of any competing bodies for the orbit. Now since Pluto keeps crossing into Neptune’s orbit every now and then, and is dictated by Neptune’s gravity, Pluto is no longer classified as a Planet.
So while all these days modern astronomy taught us that there are nine planets in the solar system, today we are being told that there are only 8! The 9th one was a mistake.
Ok fine, but by the new definition of “clearing the neighborhood”, shouldn’t even Neptune be removed from the list of Planets? After all Pluto keeps crossing over into Neptune’s orbit every now and then. Neptune might be controlling Pluto’s orbit, but it definitely hasn’t cleared Pluto out of its neighborhood isn’t it?
We still have 9 Grahas and a consistent definition even after thousands of years, while planets have ranged from 7 Planets to 8 Planets to 9 Planets and back to 8 Planets now in just past 2-3 centuries ;)
  • Saurabh
    Where does it say that Graha means “that moves” in Samskrita?
    It means ” seizing , laying hold of , holding” and similar. Source Monier Williams.
    • Siddharth
      Good one Saurabh. My exact sentiments. Even today tamil Brahmins use a localized version of the word “Graha” as Grahicchuko (meaning, “Grasp it”) when they tell their kids to understand a concept in some subject. The reason Sun, Moon, Rahu and Ketu are Grahas are not because they move but because they literally seize us-i.e. our fates-and control us. That is the context in which these entities are said to be Grahas.
  • Shankar
    Dear Guruji, That was a fantastic article. And your defense and counter explanations in the comments section. Thank you. Best wishes.
    • itzguru
      Thanks Shankar.
  • RS
    After Einstein revealed the frames of reference – we don’t need to discriminate the heliocentic v/s geocentric theories. We know nothing moves absolutely in Universe/Multiverse/Whatever.
  • itzguru
    No, that conclusion not correct. Eris was known long back, so were many larger asteroids.
    Read that link itself again. There are some conditions required by IAU for an astronomical body in Solar System to be called a Planet. Of them the one which Pluto does not satisfy is
    It needs to have “cleared the neighborhood” of its orbit.
    Pluto has not cleared its neighborhood as its orbit is influenced by that of Neptune. Hence it is no more a planet.
    • Neel
      Although your argument is indeed correct Sir, but your very first line is flawed. “Eris was known long back, so were many larger asteroids.”….First of all, Eris is not an asteroid at all. It is a trans-neptunian object, kept under the category of dwarf planets much like Pluto. And secondly, Eris in fact, came to light as late as in 2005 & its discovery was the sole reason that motivated the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the “planet” for the first time.
  • vijirak
    What about the asteroids? is there no mention of asteroids in astrology as well as astronomy?
  • Varun
    Excellent work. But Ive come across the vigraha vakya yam gruhathi thadh grahah. Our Indian science is so deep and subtle that it was built on both spiritual and scientific backgrounds. According to astrology talking Earth as reference point the whole of the cosmos influence every being its rather interconnected in the most hideous way. Hence out of all the cosmic bodies which exert influence on us only prominent ones are considered. so why Neptune Uranus are not considered as a deal of great distance their effect is so very feeble. It is just like infinite series of 1+0.5+0.25+ 0.125 +0.0625 ………… to get the complete answer which is 2 you must add all the infinite series of numbers so to give accurate astrological calculations you must consider the hole of cosmos keeping Earth as the reference point. But instead for practical purpose you can consider the first few which are very prominent 1+0.5+0.25+0.125+0.0625~=1.9 which is considerably accurate. So instead of whole cosmos consider the first Nine. And what more speak of heliocentric theory why Aryabhata just see in the temples where nine planets are worshiped and see whose in the center. This actually the symbolic representation of heliocentric theory and why else is Sun praised as the lord of the grihas? And what a pity our own Indians are doubtful enough to completely refuse this amazing science and run after the west so very pitiful of the people who are rich enough and think they are poor and beg to the rest poor.This is indeed good work
  • ursri
    Correction -
    Please read
    “Dear Anonymous:- Gurudev already responded with lack of knowledge ”
    ” Dear Anonymous:- Gurudev already responded about lack of knowledge on history of science….”
  • pras83
    Hi, i am from Mauritius,where things have been quite distorted to fit our Mauritian Indian culture, and most priests give their different versions of things, which has somehow caused the younger generation to distract from from religious matters. i keep seeking the true meaning of things explained in our religious books on the net, since in Mauritius it is almost inpossible to have them. i gone through your blog, the facts you have given me some answers, i thank you for the info you have published. keep it up. these facts can enlighten lots of doubts in the mind of many people who knowingly or unknowingly try to distort the ancient scriptures.
  • Anonymous
    I’d rather trust modern science which is ready to correct itself based on scientifically verifiable evidence, than a system of underdeveloped science which turns a blind eye and refuses to change even after thousand years. While these are interesting from a historical perspective, they have no value in modern world and cannot be trusted with education of astronomy. So much for the claimed scientific accuracy, people back then didn’t even know earth revolves around the sun. So why still cling on it? The worst part is the stupid claim by astrology that the position of these grahas affect the life of every single individual on earth and shapes their lives. I sense that this article is trying to promote such unproven claims. The URL suggests this is in science and technology topic, which is even more inappropriate. History would’ve been the right place.
    • itzguru
      First please get your facts right about history of science. Ancient Indian astronomers were the first to state that earth revolved around the Sun long before it was even debated in the west. Galileo was tried and Giordano Bruno was burnt alive in 16th century for claiming that Earth moves around the Sun. On the other hand a thousand years before this incident, in the early 5th century, Indian astronomer Aryabhata in his book Aryabhatiam not only proposed the helio-centric model of earth revolving around the Sun, but he also accurately calculated astronomical constants like the periods of the planets, times of the solar and lunar eclipses, and the instantaneous motion of the Moon.
      Now, coming to Grahas, what are planets? What is so much scientifically accurate about a planet which doesn’t make the largest asteroid a planet? Planet is not a classification which exists out there in the Universe. It is a classification which we humans have devised based on a set of rules for our convenience. So are Grahas, which are classified as astronomical bodies which move in the night sky as observed by naked eye. So there is nothing unscientific about this classification, unless and until you prove that planets visible to the naked eye dont move in the night sky.
      And from where did you get this information about astrology and astronomy being the same in ancient India? It is like saying manufacturing computer mother boards is the same as quantum mechanics. Astrology was only an applied form of astronomy, and most texts on astronomy are completely void of any astrological inferences.
      Did you even find an iota of reference to anything related to astrology in the above article? Just because the concept of Grahas is used in astrology doesn’t make it astrological, just like the misuse of Swastik by Hitler doesn’t make it a bad symbol.
      And what is there clinging to it? It is a classification, more easily understandable to the common man than the definition of planets. And for that matter what is so scientific about the definition of planets, I can modify it to include asteroids as well as pluto. These definitions and classifications are just man made, and they are valid as long as there are no contradicting implications in it. So if Planets are valid, so is the definition of a Graha.
      And how does this not become a science and technology topic, while something about just the planets can? Just because it is a Sanskrit term? We are not talking events here for it to be history, we are discussing scientific definitions.
      In fact you forgot to appreciate the understanding of lunar nodes in this concept of Graha, that the ancient Indians understood how eclipses are caused, at what points, about the shadows, is all so clearly evident from the definition of Grahas. If this is not science, then what is?
      BTW, one of the major introductions of astrology to India came from Yavanajataka which is based on an ancient Greek work.
  • Pranav Ainavolu
    Interesting indeed! You always write intriguing stuff :)
    • itzguru
      Thanks Pranav!
  • Suresh Balaraman
    the seven days in a week,starting with sun ending with saturn,has to do with the distance from earth,i all culture have the same order unlike months.
    • itzguru
      Hmm, After Sun comes Moon in the weekdays. and even if we ignore sun and start with moon then still venus (friday) comes after jupiter (thursday).
  • Mohan Suswaram
    Graha in Sanskrit also has the meaning of attractive power (grAhaka) or influencing power. Since only the ones listed in navagrahas influence us …they alone are considered and no other planet as advocated by modern astronomy
    • itzguru
      You are speaking astrology, but here we are speaking astronomy,
  • Mohan Suswaram
    Ancient Indian astronomy and astrology follow geocentric theory where earth is not only “considered” stationary rather believed as a matter of fact and hence no motion.
    • itzguru
      Do not mix astrology and astronomy, they both are not one and the same. It was astrology which believed about other planets influencing human behavior on earth, not astronomy.
      • Anonymous
        Back then people didn’t differentiate astrology from astronomy. Astronomy is something that is developed purely based on modern science around 16th century AD. Before that, people who talk about stars and grahas were astrologers and what they studied was called astrology.
        • itzguru
          Very wrong information about history. Most ancient Indian works on astronomy dont even mention about astrology. Aryabhata first laid the foundations of astronomy more than a thousand years before the church burnt scientists alive in the west for claiming earth moves around the Sun. And Aryabhatta was not punished for claiming that Earth moves around the Sun, unlike Galileo was a thousand years after Aryabhatta.
  • Jai Mandloi
    Hi Guru,
    Yet another excellent post!! :)
    many thanks for sharing these insights. I’ve been a regular visitor to hitxp. I have seen your wordpress blog and its great to see it getting evolved into this wonderful site. Lots of intellectually stimulating posts resting here are a treasure house of knowledge, i wonder if such precious sites should get insured ;)
    It has become a daily routine for me, when ever in the night i surf net i do check hitxp, hoping to read a new article from you. Some time back you had stopped posting for long and i was like where has the dude gone…has he got engaged and giving time to his new life or something :p
    At last, i would tell you that i’m still eagerly waiting for that unfinished series of “Alien twist to God”. I think you were aiming for a consolidated book instead of divided articles on this special subject. So, when can we expect more of it coming….i think it would be much better candidate of a bestseller, as compared to those fictitious book being written on Indian mythology today. Waiting :)
    • itzguru
      Haha, Thanks for all your interest and concern :)
      I cant promise an exact date on the book, but its definitely going to happen, thats for sure.
      • itzguru
        Also Jai, yes was quite busy in between and couldnt post for quite some time. Hopefully there will be lot more and more frequently in the future.
  • raj shekhar
    The definition of Graha as the one that moves in the sky is a very wide definition in my opinion. With such an open bracket definition; asteroids, comets, moons of other planets should have become Grahas. One of the legitimate definition we find for Graha is from its own word – Grahya (like GrahaNa Shakti – Grasping/receiving power). It implies a heavenly body or geometrical point which has force of attraction on earth.
    • itzguru
      Its not about bodies that appear once in a blue moon. We dont see comets in the sky everyday, nor are asteroids or satellites of other planets visible to the naked eye.
    • itzguru
      Also note that the definition of planets till yesterday was “bodies which orbit around the Sun”, and even comets and asteroids around the Sun as well. But they are not classified as Planets. So its not something that is quite straightforward in such classifications, and its the context that matters more than the textbook definition.

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