Right from the time a child is born, parents make haste to have an astrological chart (janam patra: birth chart; horoscope) made of the child by a priest accomplished in astrology. This is a Hindu tradition followed in Nepal by those of the Hindu faith, of which there is a majority. The janam patra shows the position of different astrological bodies in the heavens at the time of the child’s birth, the reading of which is believed to foretell the coming circumstances in a person’s life.
On a more general note, the janam patra is clear proof of the date of birth of an individual (in the absence of official records, as is the case in many rural areas of poorly developed countries). On a lighter note, perhaps Barack Obama should have had one made; would have saved him all the troublehe had to go through in getting a birth certificate acceptable to Donald Trump and the ‘birther’ brigade in America!
The janam patra comes in handy on many occasions of an in individual’s life, including for determining the suitability of an individual with his/her prospective marriage partner. The couple’s charts are matched to see if they complement each other, and if they do, then the marriage can go ahead without any hindrances. However, if they do not, then the priest usually suggests conducting some special pujas to align the unmatched grahas (planets).
Of course, with modernity, this, the matching of the astrological charts, is not as essential as before, what with people marrying for love, or if not for love, then for convenience. In which case, there’s no reason take additional risks like matching horoscopes, which can lead to unnecessary complications to be faced even before the complexities that are sure to come once the honeymoon is over! On a more graven note, the janam patra is burned on the person’s cremation fire after his/her death.
Having said all that, let’s talk a bit about the heavenly bodies. They are called the Navagrahas, and they consist of the Sun (Surya/Ravi) and the Moon (Chandra/Soma), and the planets Mars (Mangal), Mercury (Budha), Jupiter (Brihaspati), Venus (Sukra), and Saturn (Sani), along with the ascending and descending lunar nodes, namely, Rahu and Ketu. It is to be noted that the days of the week in the Nepali calendar are named after the first seven heavenly bodies mentioned above (Sunday: Ravibar, Monday: Sombar, Tuesday: Mangalbar, Wednesday: Budhabar, Thursday: Brihaspatibar, Friday: Sukrabar, and Saturday: Sanibar.)
These celestial bodies have fired the imagination of astrologers and scientists since ancient times, and have been the very stuff of countless numbers of fantastic mythical stories. Tall tales? Oh yeah, and so intriguing that you’ll probably have to sit down with a soothsayer to discover the inherent and extremely complicated divinity behind them. The astral bodies occupy their own particular spaces in the vast and unlimited ocean of the universe, exerting their own specific influences on the Earth and its primary inhabitants, mankind. But the Navagrahas cannot, by any means, be the only heavenly entities to be present in a universe that has no beginning and no end.
And so, besides the Navagrahas, there also the Nakhshatras, consisting of twenty-seven or twenty-eight constellations, twelve Adityas (Sun gods), and the twelve Rashis (Zodiac signs). Obviously, all are part and parcel of astrological charts, and each plays a role in the correct reading of these charts. Additionally, some of the astral bodies have a more negative influence than others, but there are ways and means (through special pujas as decreed by the priests) to appease their effects.
More than any other heavenly bodies, it is the Sun and the Moon that are most highly regarded. The most popular author on astrology in the West, the late Linda Goodman, is famous for her two books: Sun Signs and Moon Signs. Both have become almost a part of life’s curriculum, since not only are they very interestingly written, they give an amazingly accurate account of the personalities of various signs of the Zodiac.
The Sun and the Moon rule over all other celestial bodies. In fact, the kings of yore prided themselves on being either a Suryabanshi (having lineage of the Sun) or a Chandrabanshi (having lineage of the Moon). Surya is the king of the planets, dispelling darkness and shedding light (metaphorical depiction of knowledge). The image of the Sun god is interesting—he rides a chariot with seven flying horses, the driver is a god named Aruna, while the two attendants, Dandi and Pingala, are also called Usa (dawn) and Pratiusa (pre-dawn). Chandra is the lord of the night, and he brightens up the entire Earth. He holds two lotus stalks, and his chariot is pulled by seven geese, while his two attendants are called Sandhya (dusk) and Godhuli (twilight).