Karmic Astrology—a Study

by Sunita Anant Chavan | 2017 | 68,707 words

This page relates ‘Shakuna (divinations) classification’ of the study on Karmic Astrology and its presentation in Vedic and the later Sanskrit literature. Astrology (in Sanskrit: Jyotish-shastra) is based upon perceptive natural phenomenon of cosmic light forms while the Concept of Karman basically means “action according to Vedic injunction” such as the performance of meritorious sacrificial work.

Part 2.2.8 - Śakuna (divinations) classification

[Full title: Classification of Jyotiḥśāstra (3): Saṃhitā or Śākhā period (1): Śakuna (Divinations)]

Śakuna very initially were signs or spontaneous expressions of nature interpreted to understand future. Later a systematic study evolved creating a separate section which dealt with the interpretation of the actions of cosmic beings and the underlying phenomenon to view human as well as cosmic future. The texts displaying this study of divinations are termed as Saṃhitās, most of which depend on the Garga Saṃhitā.[1] Śakuna is technically defined as ‘a means of arriving at a definite knowledge about auspicious or inauspicious consequences.’[2]

The term already appears in the early Ṛgveda[3] in connection with the appearance of a bird[4] and gradually in the literature with prognostications related to all sorts of birds and animals,[5] Aṅgavidyā[6] (body signs or throbbing of body parts), dreams[7], in connection with sacrifices,[8] natural phenomenon,[9] Yātra (journey)[10] and many more topics. The extent and importance of the Śakuna branch in the literature can be estimated by a declaration in a Jaina text on omens named Aṅgavijjā which categorises ‘every perceptible object in the world as an ominous entity’.[11]

1. Synonyms for Śakuna

Śakuna in the sense of prognostications has other synonyms such as a) ‘Adbhuta’, b) ‘Utpāta’ or c) ‘Nimitta’ in the literature.

a) Adbhuta

Adbhuta mean ‘wonderful’ or ‘supernatural’.[12] The word occur in the Ṛgveda in connection with the deities (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā I. 25.11, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā X 105.7) Vṛddhagarga defines adbhuta as that ‘which has not happened before’ or ‘a complete turnover of that which has happened before’.[13] Up to the period of Nirukta I. 5 the term Adbhuta include the sense of future. The Adbhutaśānti of Atharvavedapariśiṣṭa connects the term with the seven deities[14] and the phenomena with the three regions.

b) Utpāta

Utpāta is a ‘portent’ or ‘portentous’ or ‘unusual phenomenon’. It has the sense of ‘flying up’, ‘springing up’ or ‘rebounding’.[15] The word is often used in the Purāṇas and Epics (Vanaparva 155.2-6). Utpāta was generally considered as an unlucky omen in the literature and indicative of a calamity. The Bṛhat Saṃhitā[16] puts forward the abrupt nature of Utpāta while defining it as ‘that which is opposite or contrary to the natural order’. Umtata are classified as of three kinds, Diva (celestial), Āntarikṣa (atmospheric) and Bhauma (Terrestrial).[17] Divya are connected to the Nakṣatra, eclipse and planets, Āntarikṣa to the fall of meteors, rainfall, whereas Bhauma to earthquakes and water reservoirs. Counteractions to the Utpāta are provided in Bṛhat Saṃhitā 45.7.

c) Nimitta

Nimitta is a ‘mark’ or a ‘sign’. It indicates an auspicious as well as an inauspicious happening and is used in the literature in a restricted meaning as throbbing of body parts[18] (Matsya Puraṇa chap. 241) and also in a wider sense (Gitā I. 31). Aṅgavijjā mentions various kinds of Nimitta as Aṅga, Svapna, Lakṣaṇa, Bhauma, Antarikṣa.

Nimitta carries an other sense in the literature. Nimitta means a ‘cause’ or a ‘reason’, cause in the sense of an ‘instrumental’ or an ‘efficient’ cause.[19] In this sense, the term leaves behind the simple sense of being on omen, a mark or a sign of interpreting future. Instead along with being a means to perceive future the term also carries an additional sense of being a ‘motive’ to serve ‘some definite purpose’. It becomes a voluntarily searched instrumental cause either to look into the future or to perform a (prescribed) act or both.

Voluntary means (of divinations) were employed by many ancient cultures to look into the future.[20] In the Gobhila Gṛhyasūtra IV. 8.15, through the means of brightness and smoke of fire, wealth and luck is estimated. Ramala (Geomancy) introduced from Persian sources and Praśna (Interrogations) answered from an horoscope are the later development of voluntary divinations. Prior to these, the Nakṣatras occupied by the moon were studied to determine the prognostications related to the earthquakes (Śārdulakarnāvadana). Nakṣatras were associated with good and bad portents, thereby kindling of sacrificial fire was prescribed only on certain Nakṣatras.

Kāla as a Nimitta

The above instances especially, divinations related to the heavenly bodies on account of their regularity were connected to specific time limits as well. Such literature related to Jyotiḥśāstra connecting divination to specific times exist in the culture. A class of Saṃhitās which can be placed as intermediate texts combining the Omens and Muhūrtas were composed.[21] These texts gave an added meaning to Muhūrtas as voluntarily searched auspicious divinations.

Already in the Āraṇyakas definite time is introduced for evil portents to bring off their results.[22] Prophecies of an extensive time unit as Yuga also occurs in the Yuga Purāṇa[23]. The Saṃhitā branch though an extensive one worked on the systematic study of time prior to the development of the Gaṇita branch through the study of heavenly bodies in the form of Nakṣatras and connecting the time and the act through cosmic means thereby making Kāla as a Nimitta or a cause to perform actions.

2. The cause of Śakuna

In an effort to find the cause of omens, the culture related Śakunas to the past actions of men. Varāha mentions Śakunas as the fruition of past actions of man which manifest on a journey.[24] Utpātas, a form of Śakuna are the impacts of the wrong doings of men. The dissatisfaction of the gods related to the conduct of the mortals resulted in earthquakes according to the commentary on the Bṛhat Saṃhitā (chap.31) citing Vṛddhagarga.

Footnotes and references:


Jyotiḥśāstra, p. 71.


As quoted by Vasantarāja Śakuna, History of Dharmaśāstra V. 2 p. 806.


Weber traces the origin of the link of omens and portents with the Indians way back to the primitive Indo-Germanic period. The History of Indian Literature, p. 264.


Śakuni (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā II. 42.1, 43.2, 3).


Kapota (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā X. 165); elephants (Bṛhat-saṃhitā of Varāhamihira 98. 1-14.). Horses (Bṛhat-saṃhitā of Varāhamihira 92. 1-14.), Bṛhat Yogayātra 22. 1-4, Yogayātra XI 1-14, on cries and movements of birds and animals (Śakunārṇava by Vasantarāja varga I-XX), Gargasaṃhitā Aṅga. 42, 46-50.


Bṛhadyogayātrā XIII.1; Vasantarāja Śakuna VI. 4.10; Bṛhat-saṃhitā of Varāhamihira (51.10), Śākuntala I.11. Matsyapurāṇa 241. 1-14; Bṛhadyogayātrā XIII 1-10.


Ṛgveda-saṃhitā VIII. 47.15; Aitareya-Araṇyaka iii. 2.4.


Bṛ Saṃ. 45. 82-95.


Garga Saṃhitā aṅgas 32-34.


Jyotiḥśāstra, p. 75.


Apte, V.S., p.13. 69


History of Dhamaśāstra, Vol. V. 2, p. 741


Apte, V.S. p. 102.


Bṛ Saṃ. 45.1.


Atharvaveda 19.9.7 [...] Matsya Purāṇa 229.6 [...] Garga quoted by Adbutasagara and Sabhāparva 46.8,9.


Here nimitta carries the sense of Aṅgavidyā though Manusmṛti (VI.50) mentions Nimitta and Aṅgavidyā separately.


Apte, V.S., p. 289.


History of Dharmaśāstra V. 1, p. 522,


For instance Gargasaṃhitā.


Aitareya-Āraṇyaka III. 2.4.


Preface to Bṛhat-Saṃhitā, p. 36.


Bṛhadyogayātra 23.1.

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