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Indian scientists on Vedic astrology
Thirty comments from Current Science
Abstract -- In 2001 the University Grants Commision (UGC) in India
decided to provide funds for courses in astrology and palmistry at
Indian universities. The decision provoked outrage and controversy in
the pages of the prestigious Indian science journal Current Science. Of
thirty comments, most of them from scientists in university departments
or research institutes, about half dismissed astrology as a
pseudo-science, about half of the rest felt decisive tests were needed, and the
rest felt there was nothing wrong with funding something that the
majority of Indian people believed in. In chronological order, the
authors and their comments are briefly as follows, starting with editor
2000, Volume 79, issue 9
Balaram -- UGC should not promote astrology and palmistry courses.
2001, Volume 80, issues 6-11
Ganeshaiah -- But tests not decisive, more are needed to assess claims.
Balaram -- Evidence is overwhelmingly against, UGC lacks credibility.
Pal -- No respectable university should accept UGC's offer.
Sitaram and 29 others -- Our apathy means protest may be too late.
Murthy -- Opposition to astrology is based on sensible science.
Chandrashekaran -- No defence is needed when so many people believe.
Rao -- Why haven't scientists protested? Astrology is not a science.
Khare -- Vedic astrology has not been scientifically validated.
Virk -- Guru Nanak rejected astrology in 15th century. So should we.
Tiwari -- Big science is suppressing new ideas and should be challenged.
Sashidhar -- Astrology is a pseudo-science, scientists will ignore it.
2001, Volume 81, issues 1-3
Narasimhan -- The ancients were good observers, give their ideas a chance.
Karanth -- Astrology relates to gems, and mineralogy is part of science.
Seshadri & Kathiravan -- Most Indians believe in astrology, so honour it.
Chattopadhyay -- Some scientists secretly believe, so don't blame public.
Subbarao -- Faith is often needed to overcome fear and uncertainty.
Chopra -- Funding psychological props is OK if other needs not affected.
Devakumar -- Vedas say nothing about astrology, so Vedic is a misnomer.
Valluri -- Astrology fails to meet the methodology of a science.
Gautham -- Most consult an astrologer if pressed, so struggle is futile.
Balasundaram -- Tests of astrology are indecisive, it needs demystifying.
Tiwari -- Vedic = beyond sensory experience. How can Vedic be science?
Gupta -- Astrology may be a science-like knowledge but more difficult.
Mandal -- We either accept astrology and reject evolution, or the reverse.
Ganeshaiah -- Issue is nonsense vs good information, not arts vs sciences.
Abhyankar -- Astrologers offer only therapy by talking. Why be fooled?
Narlikar (review of Astrology: Believe it or not?) -- Not! Recommended!
Sitaraman -- Science not threatened by Vedic astrology or any other.
At which point the debate was closed by the editor. Three years later:
2004, Volume 87, issue 8
Chattopadhyay -- Government reaffirms UGC proposal. But we stay silent.
In 2001 the University Grants Commision (UGC) in India decided to
provide funds for courses in astrology and palmistry at Indian
universities. Their circular said "There is urgent need to rejuvenate
the science of Vedic Astrology in India ... and provide opportunities to
get this important science exported to the world." To those Hindus who
allow astrology to influence the course of their business and family
lives (which is most of them including major political leaders), the
UGC's decision might seem only sensible if overdue.
But the decision provoked outrage and controversy among India's modern
intellectuals, especially in the pages of the prestigious Indian science
journal Current Science, which in content and standard is similar to New
Scientist. The journal was founded in Bangalore in 1932 in collaboration
with the Indian Academy of Sciences and is published every two weeks.
Back copies can be downloaded from http://www.ias.ac.in. Of thirty
comments, most of them from scientists in university departments or
research institutes, about half dismissed astrology as a pseudo-science,
about half of the rest felt decisive tests were needed, and the rest
felt there was nothing wrong with funding something that the majority of
Indian people believed in. Of those who referred to tests, none seemed
aware of the full extent of Western research findings. The comments from
Current Science, condensed on average to one sixth of their original
length, with their original headings, are as follows, starting with
2000, Vol 79(9), 1139
Editorial -- Creationism, Astrology and Science
Last summer, the Kansas State Board of Education decided to remove
references to evolution and cosmology from its curriculum. In India the
University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided to promote courses in
astrology and palmistry. Despite our inalienable right to profess any
faith and subscribe to any belief, superstition is best practised by
individuals in private. The government must not provide a licence for
the formal teaching of a subject that only serves to mislead its
2001, Vol 80(6), 719
An unscientific way to bury astrology
The decision by the KSBE to remove evolution from the curriculum calls
for an unambiguous condemnation by the scientific community. But the
decision to introduce astrology and palmistry into the university
curriculum in India cannot be equated with this. How many hours have
been spent in assessing the truth or otherwise of these areas? I am not
aware of strong data sets that reject their claims. There are several
scientists in western universities (eg I.W. Kelly) working hard to
evaluate the sense and nonsense of astrology. So why should Indian
universities hesitate to study astrology? I think these ideas at least
deserve a post mortem examination to assess how useless they are.
K.N.GANESHAIAH, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.
2001, Vol 80(9), 1085
Editorial -- The astrology fallout
The generally placid academic science community in India has been
stirred into unprecedented ferment by the UGC's decision to set up a few
departments of Vedic astrology in Indian universities, which "would
provide exclusive teaching and training in the subject leading to
certificate, diploma, undergraduate, post-graduate and PhD degrees". The
new departments will have Professors, Readers, Lecturers, Library
Attendants and Computer Operators, with a possible "non-recurring"
budget of Rs 6 lakhs for an "observatory" and Rs 5 lakhs for a "computer
lab and horoscope bank". [About $US14,000 and $US12,000.] The UGC's
assertion that Vedic astrology is a science has stirred a hornets' nest.
Astrology has been here for centuries. Despite overwhelming scientific
evidence that planets at the time of birth do not dictate the course of
human affairs, astrology will be with us in the foreseeable future. The
present battle is not between astrology and science but between the UGC
(which is charged with the responsibility of fostering higher education)
and the scientific community. The UGC's view that astrology needs to be
promoted as a science in our universities is a pointless initiative that
will further erode the credibility of our institutions. P.BALARAM
2001, Vol 80(9), 1087
UGC decides to set up departments of Vedic astrology in universities
The UGC has actually accepted that the study of time is best done
through Vedic astrology. So forget science. If you want to know the age
of the earth or the universe all you need to do is to consult the
appropriate Vedic texts. I hope no self-respecting university would ask
to start such a department. Y.PAL, All India Council for Technical
Education, New Delhi.
2001, Vol 80(9), 1088
Astrology and science
Indian scientists have once again shown our customary apathy in not
coming forth to preempt the UGC's attempt to start courses in
vaastushastra and astrology. Our occasional strong protests may be too
late now. The UGC has actually passed a resolution giving legitimacy to
such courses. We should read the excellent book by S. Balachandra Rao
Astrology: Believe It or Not? [see review below], where he describes and
then debunks this pseudo-science. A.SITARAM and 21 others all from the
Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore, and 8 others from variously the
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, the Raman Research Institute,
Bangalore, the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research,
Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, and the
Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.
2001, Vol 80(9), 1088
Astrology and science -- in response
Funding agencies in India, in their unfortunate generous moments, have
supported pseudo-scientific projects such as effect of music on plants,
and geomagnetism on human health, with disastrous consequences. It is
not lack of open mindedness or intolerance that prompts us to criticize
allocation of resources, both manpower and monetary, for astrology or
palmistry. The opposition is based on sane scientific sense.
M.R.N.MURTHY, Molecular Biophysics Unit, Bangalore.
2001, Vol 80(9), 1088-1089
Astrology and science -- in response
Ganeshaiah pleads that astrology and palmistry should be allowed into
university curricula. One would have thought, especially in Bangalore,
that astrology was being seriously studied and believed by a worrisomely
lot of people. Every newborn child in a family has its horoscope cast.
The late founder editor of the astrology journal often used to lecture
in the Department of Mathematics at the Madurai Kamaraj University, when
the topologist M. Venkataraman was there. So what is Ganeshaiah talking
about? Have not astrology and palmistry survived all these centuries and
do they need to be defended in the pages of a mere science journal?
M.K.CHANDRASHEKARAN, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit,
2001, Vol 80(9), 1089
Astrology and science -- in response
I am disturbed that Indian scientists have not protested, in one voice,
against efforts to accord this kind of respectability to astrology.
Astrology claims to be a science. But its claims are belied because its
premises are false, its approach is at variance with the tenets of the
scientific method, and it does not grow like other sciences by the
self-corrective method adopted by science. No hypothesis or theory has been
proposed to explain the effects of planetary positions on human beings.
It was not without good reason that the eminent mathematician David
Hilbert said, "When you collect the ten wisest men of the world and ask
them to find the most stupid thing in existence, they will not be able
to find anything stupider than astrology". J.R.L.RAO, Mysore.
2001, Vol 80(10), 1250
In response to Ganeshaiah. The issue is whether or not Vedic astrology
should be recognised as a valid branch of science by bringing it into
the mainstream of education in the country. I believe that the UGC has a
responsibility to verify the correctness of the information that it
proposes to impart to students. In the absence of any proven scientific
validity of Vedic astrology, belief in it is a matter of blind faith. So
the day will not be far off when the present Indian Administrative
Services will be replaced by Indian Astrological Services, the job of
its officers being to advise the government in their decision making,
based on planetary positions rather than on the merits and demerits of
the issue in question. P.KHARE, Department of Physics, Bhubaneswar.
2001, Vol 80(10), 1250-1251
According to J.V. Narlikar (The Tribune, Chandigarh, 10 April 2001),
"Astrology has been subject to scientific tests many times and each time
it has failed. But this fact is not sufficiently publicized. Research
journals have reported how controlled experiments were performed but
failed to prove anything in favour of astrology or horoscopes". In a
national seminar on History of Science in October 2000, some firebrand
proponents of the Vedic science argued that even quantum ideas are
borrowed from the Vedas! During the 15th century Guru Nanak, the prophet
of Sikh religion, rejected Vedic astrology by his argument (in Ad Guru
Granth, SGPC, Amritsar, pp.12,136): "Units of Indian time, and change of
seasons, are related to the motion of our Sun. By God's grace, all days
and months are beneficial for human kind". We are proud of our rich
heritage but that does not mean we put the clock of Indian education in
reverse gear. H.S.VIRK, Department of Physics, Amritsar.
2001, Vol 80(11), 1363
A news report says that Patna University plans to create a Vedic
Astrology Department, but not in the science faculty, so any campaign by
scientists against it is misplaced. Ganeshaiah has convincingly refuted
Balaram's alarmist editorial. Today big science is suppressing new
ideas. If the tyranny of the orthodox science establishment is not
challenged, we are sure to enter the age of darkness. Narlikar and
crusaders against Jyotir Vigyan would do well to address the problematic
philosophy, methods and limitations of science rather than spreading
misleading propaganda to divert public attention from its failures.
2001, Vol 80(11), 1366
Astrology and science
The UGC decision is a giant leap backwards for Indian science. Astrology
is not a religion, it is a pseudo-science purporting to make definitive
predictions of human affairs based on planetary conjunctions. Khushwant
Singh, in his column "Sweet and Sour", mentions numerous examples of
astrological predictions made by "eminent" astrologers which fell flat.
Ganeshaiah says we should not discard astrology just because it is a
pseudo-science, but give it time to kill itself if it does not have the
strength to stand alongside science. But suppose he was giving a talk on
say "Long-term strategies for bio-conservation", and a graduate in
Jyotir Vigyan said it was futile because the world would end soon as we
are in Kaliyuga, what would be his response? He would say, "My dear sir,
keep your Jyotir Vigyan degree to yourself. We scientists will always
plan for research in the long term. That's how we are trained to think,
with logic and reasoning". V.R.SASHIDHAR, Department of Crop Physiology,
2001, Vol 81(1), 7
Science and Astrology
Astrology is as much a science as theories of genetics were in their
early days, when critical observation was the key to progress. Our
ancient rishis were intellectual giants who had reached conclusions on
the basis of their observations. Today the conclusions may be regarded
only as hypotheses; but believers would say there is enough material
evidence in their favour, so solid proof can come later; just as proofs
for several biological postulates are only now coming in. The three
supreme postulates of Hindu philosophy (universal Atman, rebirth, and
karma) have parallels in modern biological postulates (universal genetic
material, heredity, and genes), which shows the astounding observational
ability of the rishis. So let us recognise their postulates in various
areas of human activity. Astrology is one of them. N.S.NARASIMHAN,
Department of Chemistry, Pune.
2001, Vol 81(1), 8
Astrology, navratnas and gemmology
Hindu astrology assigns nine gems to the nine major planets (navratnas).
Despite the progress in science and technology, there is a great demand
for "stones that bring luck" or "stones that pacify a planet positioned
unfavourably in one's horoscope". Such are the facts of the Indian gem
market. Astrology is a part of gemmology, and gemmology is a part of
mineralogy (science). R.V.KARANTH, Department of Geology, Vadodara.
2001, Vol 81(1), 8-9
Astrology -- Hype, hope and future
Almost 60% of the Indian population prefer to go to an astrologer for
many events from birth to death. Astrology guides most of them in their
distressed moments. This shows the belief Indian people have in the
subject irrespective of caste, creed, race and region. Nowadays most of
the dailies and magazines, irrespective of geographical area, publish
astrology columns. Almost all ISPs on the internet offer astrology,
tarot cards, numerology, etc. Most of the successful industrialists and
politicians believe in astrology. Our epics tell us that most of the
wars were won by astrology, and most of the temples are built according
to vaasthu and astrological principles. It is our responsibility to
praise the science of astrology for surviving over the centuries. The
UGC proposal would result in developing quality astrologers to satisfy
the masses and to get rid of quacks. If not successful, this would also
die in due course. S.SESHADRI and K.KATHIRAVAN, Entomology Research
2001, Vol 81(2), 138
Faith and rationality
Underlying the UGC proposal is belief that the achievements of modern
science have their root in traditional Indian knowledge. This should
inspire people at the helm of affairs to rejuvenate such knowledge. In
the battle between faith and rationality, faith has the edge because
science does not necessarily inculcate rationality in researchers. Which
is why some people, working in premier research institutes of India, use
gem-stones to ward off various personal problems; or they use special
garlands to treat jaundice. It is unfair to blame common people for
blind faith, since they draw inspiration from these research people.
M.K.CHATTOPADHYAY, Institut Jacques Monod, Paris.
2001, Vol 81(2), 139
Admission test for astrology
Until the 17th century, all belief was good, but faith was better. Then
came science, based on impersonal truths. Hence the overreaction of
scientists towards astrology, palmistry, tantrik practices, etc. But
faith is often needed to overcome fear, uncertainty, and natural
disaster. C.SUBBARAO, Department of Geophysics, Visakhapatnam.
2001, Vol 81(2), 139
Astrology is not a science. Nevertheless it provides a psychological
prop to many human beings all over the world. Weddings in many Hindu
families, including those of some scientists, take place only if the
associated zodiac signs and rasis match favourably. And of course,
astrology is a life-line of hope for most of our politicians. If people
are willing to pay, it makes a case for introducing astrology as a
social science course. But not if the funds are diverted from other
pressing social needs. Experience shows that protests from individuals
outside the power circle have no effect. An organized group effort is
needed. K.L.CHOPRA, New Delhi.
2001, Vol 81(2), 140
More on Vedic astrology
As correctly brought out by Vasant Sathe in his recent letter to the
Times of India (19 May 2001) there is nothing in the Vedas about
astrology, so the prefix Vedic is not justified. Nevertheless it is time
the scientific community recognised Indian traditions and gave a
scientific verdict after meticulous studies and avoided merely looking
through the lens of the Western world. C.DEVAKUMAR, Delhi.
2001, Vol 81(2), 140-141
Astrology and the methodology of science
How to decide whether astrology could be treated as a science? The
scientific method requires that the hypothesis be relevant to the
phenomenon to be explained, be compatible with well-established
observations, be testable and reproducible, be able to predict things
yet unknown, and take Ockham's Razor into account (the simplest
explanation is the most likely). Astrology does not conform to the
first, where astrologers cannot explain why only a few among zillions of
heavenly bodies should be relevant, nor why predictions by astrologers
can contradict each other. So the other conditions become irrelevant.
S.R.VALLURI, Indira Nagar, Bangalore.
2001, Vol 81(2), 141
Futile struggle against Vedic astrology
Most of us would consult an astrologer before we fix a date for the
wedding of our children. So the struggle against Vedic astrology is
probably futile. More objectionable is the emphasis on Vedic, and not
(perhaps) Indian, astrology. What about, for example, Mughal astrology?
N.GAUTHAM, Department of Crystallography and Biophysics, Chennai.
2001, Vol 81(2), 142
A time for demystification of astrology
The available scientific results neither confirm nor deny astrology.
Where Gauquelin seemed to confirm, other studies seemed to deny. In the
USA a survey showed that one-third of people believed in astrology while
another one-third did not believe. Objections to astrology signed by 186
leading scientists was followed by another letter supporting astrology
signed by 187 academicians. Such contradictions have prevailed since
time immemorial. Thus Plato and Aristotle believed but Lucretius and
Cicero did not. So why not subject astrology to scientific analysis and
put the matter to rest? Let us hail the UGC decision as an official
opportunity to demystify this field once and for all. C.BALASUNDARAM,
Department of Animal Science, Tiruchirapalli.
2001, Vol 81(2), 142
A note on Jyotir Vigyan
Jyoti represents the primeval light of Brahma. Vigyan is transcendental
knowledge that is beyond sensory experience. Thus the term Vedic
astrology or Vedic science does not make sense. Instead Jyotir Vigyan is
founded on recognition of the supreme conscious Brahma, unity of the
universe encompassing sentient and non-living beings. The prevalent
system of prescribing rituals to change a planet's effect appears to be
a crude and vague form of exercising free will. S.C.TIWARI, Institute of
Natural Philosophy, Varanasi.
2001, Vol 81(2), 143
Astrology -- a neo-science without utility
Whether Vedic astrology is a science, and whether it should form a
university study, are two different questions. The main reason why
predictions fail is insufficient knowledge of astrology, imprecise
calculations and wrong interpretations. In all probability astrology may
be a science or a neo-science, or at least a systematic knowledge
similar to science, but much more difficult to understand and practise
than physics or mathematics. It is a human weakness to want to know
one's future. If astrology is made a part of the curriculum in
universities, it lends respectability to the practice of knowing the
future, but its study would not leave us any wiser and would lead to
more confusion. Y.K.GUPTA, Hardwar.
2001, Vol 81(2), 144-145
Astrology or arrant trash
If we look around, we see that the mere chanting of mantras over the
years could neither help mobilise food for half a billion population nor
help in making a super highway. The fundamental axiom of astrology
implies that divination is at the core of astrological knowledge.
Planets moving with divine energy are analogous to the motion of divine
creations including human beings. But if we are a direct creation of
God, what happens to our objective investigation of evolution since the
formation of protoplasm? Either we accept astrology and discard
evolution, or we accept the reverse. R.K.MANDAL, Department of
Metallurgical Engineering, Varanasi.
2001, Vol 81(2), 145-146
Whipping astrology -- a science crime
Most responses to my earlier letter on astrology have misunderstood it.
The others suggested that astrology is not appropriate as science but
fine as arts. But for me there is only sensible information and
nonsense, and it is immaterial whether the sensible knowledge is arts or
science. K.N.GANESHAIAH, Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding,
2001, Vol 81(2), 158-159
Astronomy and astrology
Based on an article published in Society and Science, a journal of the
Nehru Centre, 1982, 5, 16-24, by K.D.ABHYANKAR
When I tell people that I am an astronomer, they ask me immediately
whether I can predict their future from their horoscopes. On receiving a
negative reply, they look down upon me as a man of no consequence and
wonder what kind of astronomer I am. It is not their fault, because most
persons, including the well-educated ones, do not know the difference
between astronomy and astrology.
Astronomy studies the physics and chemistry of heavenly bodies. It is an
observational rather than an experimental science. Nevertheless
astronomers follow the same logical process known as the scientific
method that is used in the experimental sciences.
Astrology is not a science. The ancients believed that the planets and
Nakshatras could produce good or evil effects, which led to the notions
of astrology. Today, from the laws of physics, it is clear that the
planets cannot have the effects claimed by astrologers. Even astrologers
know this, but they go on fooling innocent people in order not to lose
face. Further, there is no astrology in the Vedas, so the term Vedic
astrology is a misnomer.
Many people will agree with me but will still consult astrologers, even
though most forecasts are wrong. One can look up the forecasts published
in various newspapers to verify this. People visit astrologers in the
same way that they visit many doctors and get partially cured just by
talking with them or by taking their fake medicines. So astrologers are
more like psychiatrists than anything else. Once we realize this, we
would rather face our problems rationally and courageously than consult
an astrologer. So the UGC proposal to introduce astrology as a subject
in science faculty is a step in the wrong direction. It amounts to
replacing truth by untruth and light by darkness.
2001, Vol 81(2), 215
Indian Mathematics and Astronomy: Some Landmarks. Jnana Deep
Publications, Bangalore, 261 pp. Indian Astronomy, An Introduction.
Universities Press, 3-5-819 Hyderguda, Hyderabad 500 029, 207 pp.
Astrology: Believe it or not? Navakarnataka, 101 Crescent Road, Kumara
Park, Bangalore 560 001, 153 pp.
All three books are by Balachandra Rao, Principal and Professor of
Mathematics at the well known National College, Bangalore. The first one
tells us about the development of astronomy and mathematics from Vedic
to colonial times. The second goes into technical details, re-deriving
the mathematical results obtained by the ancients. Here knowledge of
geometry, trigonometry, and algebra will be required.
The last book is aimed at general readership and describes the subject
of astrology while pointing out why it is not a science. If you were
restricted to buying only one of these three books I would recommend the
last. In the ongoing controversy of whether astrology is a science, the
astrologers often criticize the scientists for dismissing their subject
without understanding it. So here BR presents the essentials of
astrology in as systematic a way as possible.
BR emphasizes the shakiness of various predictions especially in the
context of Indian politics of recent decades. He has reproduced
predictions from well established astrologers side by side with what
actually happened. The lack of predictive power evident from such cases
would alone disprove any case that astrology might have for being called
a science. There are also discussions of sociological and psychological
aspects of belief in astrology.
The author could have given some more examples of western tests of
astrological predictions which have proved to be negative. Since Indian
astrologers are quite capable of saying that western astrology is all
wrong, there is need for controlled experiments to test the veracity of
predictions of Indian astrologers. J.V.NARLIKAR, Inter-University Centre
for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune.
2001, Vol 81(3), 231
The Vedic astrology controversy
Does Vedic astrology hurt science? No. Does it hurt society? It could by
misuse. Does it hurt students? No. Does it hurt teachers and teaching?
No. Do universities care? Very few do. True science can be rash and
breathtaking. It does not require government pronouncements or elite
support, and and will not be threatened by Vedic astrology or any other.
V.SITARAMAM, Department of Biotechnology, Pune.
Editors' note: Correspondence on this subject is now closed.
2004, Vol 87(8), 1030
Astrology and science awareness
The present government has no desire to drop the proposal to introduce
astrology into the university curriculum. Unfortunately scientists who
were against the proposal last time have mostly chosen to keep silent.
M.K.CHATTOPADHYAY, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.
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