Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī | Monography or Translations of known period | Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology | Survey | Perso-Indica

Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology

Monography or Translations of known period
ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Šams-i Bahāʾ Nūrī Tahānīsarī, Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī

Astrology. The Bṛhatsaṁhitā is an important Sanskrit text dealing with jyotiṣa which has been rendered into Persian by ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Šams-i Bahā’ Nūrī (14th century) under the title of Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī (q.v.). Jyotiṣa is one of the six vedāṇgas or auxiliary sciences related to the study of the Vedas (Türstig 1980: XVII). It is traditionally subdivided into three parts: mathematical astronomy (tantra), horoscopy (horā) and natural astrology (aṅgaviniścaya or śākha), and covers a very wide range of prognostic sciences (see Türstig 1980, p. xvii; Shastri 1996, pp. 430-431; Gansten 2010, p. 281). While mathematical astrology and horoscopy belong to the field of astrology in the Islamic world, too, most of what is dealt with in natural astrology is either completely unknown to Muslim astrologers or belongs to other branches of prognostication.

This discrepancy is nowhere discussed by Šams-i Bahā’ Nūrī. He quite consistently translates jyotiṣa as ‘ilm-i nujūm, a term comprising both astronomy and astrology. For the three parts of jyotiṣa, he uses istiḫrāj (extracting; not a specific astrological term) to translate tantra, mawālīd (nativities) for horā and aḥkām (judicial astrology) for aṅgaviniścaya, but does not elaborate on the problem that these terms are not congruent with the Sanskrit classification, where mawālīd and aḥkām would both belong rather to the field of horā (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, f. 8b). However, his translation and adaptation of the second chapter on “guideline for the astrologer” (sāmvatsarasūtrādhyāyah, translated as dar ṣifat-i munajjim, “description of the astrologer”) point to an awareness of this incongruity. In the Sanskrit version, this chapter comprises many details about the astronomical and astrological knowledge required by an astrologer and includes a list of the topics belonging to this science. This list is the table of contents of the Bṛhatsaṁhitā. In the Persian version, however, the table of contents is not included in that chapter but placed at the beginning of the book. This rearrangement might have had practical reasons, but it might also indicate that the translator felt uneasy with attributing all these different prognostic sciences and techniques to the field of astrology. He also omits most of the details given in the Sanskrit version about the three parts of jyotiṣa an astrologer should know (Bhat 1981, pp. 8-15; for the status of astrologers in India, see Gansten 2011). With regard to the physical and moral requirements of an astrologer, the text of the second chapter was adapted to a Muslim audience. On the whole, the list of requirements is shorter in Persian than in Sanskrit. However, some Islamic prescriptions have been added to it: while astrologers shall be “well versed in the art of performing rituals” and “engaged in the worship of gods, observances or austerities and fast” according to the Sanskrit version (Bhat 1981, p. 8), they shall “fast and worship God” and “abstain from what is religiously forbidden, especially from alcohol and adultery” according to the Persian version (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, f. 10a).

As these requirements show, jyotiṣa was related to cosmological and religious notions. This correlation was due to astrology’s function in determining the appropriate moment for ritual. The fate planets were believed to indicate was furthermore considered to have been acquired through deeds in an earlier life and thus closely linked to the notion of karman. Last but not least, the planets were regarded as deities (Gansten 2010, pp. 281-283). The high number of references to religion and cosmology in the Bṛhatsaṁhitā reflects this background and posed a challenge for the translator. Moreover, differences between the cosmological model of India, which traditionally presupposed a nonspherical universe with a flat earth (Plofker 2009, p. 52), and the spheric model used in Muslim astronomy also caused some translation problems.

To give it a more Islamic appearance, references to religion and ritual have mostly been censored in the translation, but not all evidence of Hindu practices has been eliminated. The veneration of planets, recommended in a passage describing how to reduce the negative effects of the planets, but completely unacceptable according to the Islamic Sharia, has not been omitted, for example. In the Sanskrit version, the planets have to be worshipped with devotion (bhaktyā pūjyau), and each of them is offered specific donations (Bhat 1981, p. 921). In the Persian version, this worship is translated by ṣadaqa dādan, almsgiving, which is typical of Islamic religion. Yet against all Islamic proscriptions, this ṣadaqa has to be adjusted to the planet in the Persian version, too, and the translation even renders which offerings are associated with which planets. It just avoids specifying the recipient of the donations (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, ff. 311a-b).

The discrepancy between the cosmological model of India and the spheric one of the Islamic world becomes apparent in the part on the lunar nodes as well as in that on “planetary wars” (grahayuddha, translated as qirānāt-i ḥarb). The Sanskrit version refers in the chapter on planetary wars to planetary orbits lying over one another, thereby reflecting traditional Indian cosmology, according to which the planets do not revolve in spheres but in super-imposed orbits. To the eye, Varāhamihira says, they seem however to move in one single orbit on an even surface, and when they come too close to each other, wars take place (Bhat 1981, p. 205). The translator skips this sentence, since orbits lying one above the other do not fit into a spheric universe, and just talks about qirānāt, conjunctions, a well-known concept in Islamic astrology. Something similar takes place in the chapter on Rahu and Ketu, the two lunar nodes which were perceived as the head and tail of a dragon who swallows the sun and moon during eclipses (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, ff. 74a, 20a). In the Sanskrit version, the mythological understanding of Rahu and Ketu is first described at length, and then rejected by Varāhamihira who gives a scientific explanation of eclipses (Bhat 1981, pp. 42-47). The Persian translation refers only briefly to the mythological background, and then elucidates the lunar nodes and their daily motion. Obviously, for Šams-i Bahā’ Nūrī, the discussion on Rahu and Ketu was needless, and the fact that the shadow of earth and moon causes eclipses was so well established in his environment that it did not require further explanation.

Astronomy in the Bṛhatsaṁhitā is in the service of astrology and prognostication. Planetary courses are not calculated or described with the object of mathematical accuracy, but to indicate their prognostic qualities. Their course is in each case related to the lunar mansions (nakṣatra, translated as manāzil). Although in the Muslim world, the zodiacal signs are used as a reference system for planetary positions, this difference did not pose a problem, since the lunar mansions were well known there, too. The concept of lunar mansions is therefore not explained in the translation. The correlation between zodiacal signs and lunar mansions is given in chapter one hundred and two by both the Sanskrit and the Persian version.

The translator however comments on quite a few other parameters, like especially time units. He thus adds information about the four yugas (eras), the six seasons of two months each, and the lunar days (tithi) as well as about the two different Indian months, one beginning with the full moon, and one with the new moon (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, ff. 9a-10a, 16a-b, 81b-82a). Additional information is also given for the calculation of the current yuga as well as the position of the Seven Seers (saptarṣayaḥ, translated as banāt-ni‘š, some stars in Ursa major). In both cases, the calculations of the translation go beyond the calculation in the Bṛhatsaṁhitā (Bhat 1981, pp. 88-90). In the case of the yuga, the Bṛhatsaṁhitā calculates only the current year of the yuga, while in the translation, the month, day, minutes and seconds are also computed (Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, ff. 40a-41b). The calculation of the current position of the banāt-ni‘š is also explained in more detail (Bhat 1981, pp. 161-162; Ms. London, British Library, India Office, 1262, ff. 61b-62b). Šams-i Bahāʾ Nūrī might have found these calculations in some copy he used, but I rather assume that he was sufficiently well versed in astronomy and astrology to be able to complete these calculations himself.

Even if we leave out the chapters on omens which do not belong to the field of Islamic astrology (q.v. Barāhī occult sciences), many of the prognostic concepts used in the Bṛhatsaṁhitā were not familiar to an astrologer from the Muslim world. Quite a few chapters of the Bṛhatsaṁhitā describe the effects of different constellations at the beginning of a specific enterprise, like well construction (chapter fifty-four in the Sanskrit version), sowing (chapter fifty-five) or marriage (chapter one hundred and three). The prognostic procedures are like a combination of those employed in the Islamic world in the context of iḫtiyārat (elections) and masā’il (interrogations): the first (iḫtiyārat) used to choose the right moment for the beginning of an action, and the second (masā’il) to answer specific questions of an astrologer’s client, like concerning the whereabouts of a runaway slave or the marital bliss of a couple. In spite of the propinquity of the procedures, the example of well construction nevertheless shows the dissimilarity between the Bṛhatsaṁhitā and astrological texts from the Islamic world. The chapter deals with water divination (dakārgal, translated as ṣifat-i āb jāhhā) and begins with methods to find water veins. Indications for water veins are trees, the color of soil and specific animals like snakes and frogs found while digging. It also describes how best to construct a well, with the constellation being only one factor to be taken into consideration. Astrology in a narrow sense is therefore only an ancillary science here, while in astrological texts from the Muslim world, the astral constellation would be the only factor considered, all other indications belonging to different domains. Again, the translator does not delve into this disparity, but just takes what he finds and translates it without referring to the concept of elections and interrogations.

One more chapter is of specific interest here: chapter ninety-six, which is concerned with the relation between astral constellations and names, or the attribution of letters to planets. Such correlations also exist in the Islamic world and are described by the ʿilm-i taksīr, a science which assigns each letter to one of the four elements (Dorpmüller 2000, p. 31) and sometimes also to a specific planet. However, Šams-i Bahā’ Nūrī does not attempt to adapt the system of the Bṛhatsaṁhitā to the system of the taksīr, but just translates Varāhamihira’s text, keeping all the Sanskrit letters and sounds for which no Persian equivalent exists. This feature is typical of the translator’s approach; although he often adds information on technical aspects like measures, in many other parts he does not persianize the text by translating foreign concepts with terms better known to Muslim readers.



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Eva Orthmann

Originally published: 01 March 2017
How to quote this article:

Orthmann, Eva, 2017, "Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī (astrology)", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds., 

available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/astrology_in_te_tarjuma-yi_kitab-i_barahi.
Main Persian Title: Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī
English Translation of Main Persian Title: Translation of Bārāhī’s book
Alternative Title(s):
kitāb-i Fīrūzšāhī dar nujūm
kitāb-i Nujūm
kitāb-i Bārāhī
Bārāhī Dalāʾil-i Fīruz Šāhī
Approximate period of composition: 1351-1388

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم. حمد وسپاس وافر و شکر و ثناء متوافر حضرت پادشاهی را که گنبد اخضر و سقف لاجوردی بی ستون معلق نهاد و بزینت کواکب بیاراست

Incipit in the copy from Bhīkānpūr and the Ḥabīb Ganj Collection:

بعد از ادائی اطب نجنات و افضل صلوات پوشیده نماند که امام عبد العزیز شمس بن نوری مؤلف کتاب فیروز شاهی...آنرا از هندوی بفارسی ترجمه نموده...

Place: Delhi  - Northern India 
Commissioner: Fīrūz Šāh Tughluq