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What is a graha?

Updated: Jan 20



Graha is a Sanskrit word, which stands for “planet”. Understanding the real meaning of a graha, the primary concepts in vedic astrology, is pivotal in understanding Jyotish science itself.

The power to eclipse

Graha comes from the word “grahaṇa”, which means “seizing, grasping, holding, catching, captivating, eclipsing”. And therefore, it implies that grahas (planets) have the capacity to grip, seize, get hold of us, our minds, our consciousness and in such a way direct our lives.


What does it mean “eclipse”? Well, it doesn’t simply mean the absence of light as such, but more of an obscured or distorted view of the reality. This causes a biased perception of life where we continuously drift between opposites. Therefore, in Vedic Astrology the nodes of the Moon, which are just mathematical points in the sky, called Rahu and Ketu, are given the status of grahas. Even though they don’t have physical cosmic bodies, they are capable of eclipsing the human mind in a big way.


The trap of desires

Grahas can eclipse the mind through desires. The only time when the mind fails to function neutrally is when it is caught up in a desire. Then it becomes biased. As such, depending on a graha eclipsing the mind at a particular time we have different desires, and different aversions too. Desires change over time as we also move with time and get influenced by different grahas during different times. Some grahas release their grip and others tighten. During Venus period we might think “love is the answer” and we desire relationships, companionships, but during Jupiter period we may believe “knowledge is the real treasure” and we start seeking gurus, travelling the world. What changed? Time.

The ultimate purpose of Jyotisha is to understand how to get out of this eclipse of the mind. That is why one of the highest spiritual teachings is equanimity or ability to stay neutral and witness life instead of drifting between extremities of likes and dislikes. This is the way to transcend karmas.


Wandering stars

Jyotish texts specifically mention many luminous bodies sighted in the night sky, of which some are stars, and some are the grahas. The differentiation between the two was also explained. Those having no movements are the nakṣatra, or the stars, the asterisms. The planets or grahas are the ones that are moving and are visible in the night sky. If they did not move, they would not be called grahas. Ancient Greeks called these lights in the night sky planētes asteres, which means "wandering stars" or simply planētai - "wanderers", from which today's English word "planet" was derived.

And so, just as the planets are travelling in the sky, so also human beings and all the other creatures are travellers on this planet earth. The truth is – we are travellers in this planet, who have come here to experience the journey, this is not the final destination or the goal in itself. The problem is – the eclipse causes us to believe that this is our home.


Apparent motion

So, if planets are moving objects, then what about the Sun? The Sun has got no real motion, but if we look at the Sun in the sky – it rises in the eastern horizon, it climbs up in the morning, in the noon it is right above the head, and in the evening, it sets in the western horizon. The movement that is meant here is the apparent motion. And this apparent motion of the Sun is what is causing Sūrya to be defined as a graha. So, what is a sunrise? Is sunrise the apparent sunrise or is it the true sunrise? It is what we see from our point of view, from our reference point. It is apparent! If you were somewhere else in the cosmos, Sun would not rise and would not set.


Out of sight, out of mind

In Vedic Astrology only planets that are visible to the naked eye are considered as grahas because only what is visible on planet Earth can affect the life on Earth. Even with the finest eyesight, the most distant planet that human eye is able to see is Saturn. And by this definition, the outer planets like Neptune, Pluto, Uranus are not taken into account when it comes to desiphering human karmas and destinies. So, the nine grahas used in Vedic Astrology are Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu that are karakas or the hands of God to unfold the karmas and uphold the dharma on Earth.


Grahas and karma

The planets are not the force against us. They are divine map that we have created ourselves, the map of lifetimes of actions and tendencies that we have generated. They are the instruments through which the law of karma works. Each individual planet layout indicates what karma is arising in our life. All good happenings have been earned and all troubles is just learning from our mistakes with intention to evolve. We see planets in the sky as symbols in our natal chart, but they  live inside us as the nature of our tendencies, motivating our actions.

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