Varahamihira – The Royal Astrologer

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Born

Varahamihira was born in 505 CE to a Brahmin Astronomer named Adityadasa  in a small village Kapitthaka in Avanti or Ujjaiyini which is a historical name of Ujjain. In modern time ujjain belongs to the malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. The name “Malwa” originated from the name of ancient Indian tribe of “Malavas”. In 5th Century CE, Ujjain had started evolving as a first major study center in the Malwa region, where many schools of arts, science and culture were being established to teach the whole world.

Education

According to Varahamihira’s own work, he completed all his education in Kapitthaka, Ujjain. After accomplishing his education, he decided to take forward his career in the field of astronomy & astrology as his father was also a well known astronomer. Adityadasa being an astronomer became the primary source of motivation for Varahamihira to pursue astronomy as a career in later life. Apart from it, he once visited to Kusumapura (Patna now) where he got a chance to meet the legendary astronomer and mathematician “Aryabhata”. This very meeting inspired him to an extent that he decided to take up astrology and astronomy as a career. Then he also worked with Aryabhata, and composed many rules of astrology. Aryabhatta, as teacher made him learn several mathematical calculations of astrology.

It’s very interesting to note that Varahamihira’s actual name was “mihira” only which means “Sun”. He had probably received this name from his father Adityadasa as he was a worshiper of God “Sun”.

Incident of being Varahamihira from Mihira....
This incident took place many years ago in the court room of king vikramadiya where Mihira made an unexpected prediction about the prince. After hearing the prediction everyone was astonished including king himself in the court room. Rest of the conversation between king and Mihira goes on....

King - Is this true? What you have just said about the prince!

Mihira - Yes my King, it’s a bitter truth that I can see by my astronomical skills and you have to accept it.

King - Oh! My God.

Mihira - I can study the positions of stars and planets my king. In his first day of eighteenth year, the prince will live his last day.

Queen IntervenedNo! This can’t be true my king. You must find some way out to stop this. Royal astrologer’s predictions can be proved wrong.

But king Vikramaditya had a belief that the prediction is going to be true since it was predicted by Mihira. But being a father, he was not ready to accept the pain and suffering. However, the king did everything to protect the prince but eventually the day came when one of his guard informed him about the death of his son. The king immediately called Mihira.....

King – I am lost Mihira. You have won as your prediction proved to be true. Hence the victory is yours.

Mihira – No king, it’s not my victory. It’s the victory of science behind Astronomy.

King – Whatever! To me you and your astronomy is nothing but a bitter truth.

Mihira – I am nothing my king. Everything is decided by the planets and stars.

King – Whatever you say. But after witnessing your knowledge in the field of astronomy. I am quite impressed. So i am honouring you with the highest award of MagadhaThe Boar”

And from that day Vikramaditya’s royal astrologer became one of the greatest Indian mathematician, astronomer and astrologer with the name “Varahamihira”. He was also designated as one of the Navaratnas (nine gems or jewels) in the court of legendary emperor Vikramaditya.

Known For

Being an astronomer he composed several magnificent books on Astronomy. His books are believed to be the significant source of all the knowledge we have lost in our past about the history of Hindu Astronomy. He also wrote several important books on Jyotish (Astrology) like Pancha Siddhantika (The five astronomical canons), Brihat Samhita, Brihat Jataka , Laghu Jataka, Samasa Samhita, Brihat Yogayatra, Tikkani Yatra,  Bruhat Samhita, Yoga Yatra, Brihat Vivaha Patal, Lagu Vivaha Patal (Swalpa Vivaha Patal), Lagna Varahi, Kutuhala Manjari, Daivajna Vallabha (apocryphal).

But out of all these works, Pancha Siddhantika and Brihat Samhita were acclaimed as the best work of Varahamihira in the history of Astronomy and astrology. So here we are going to take a little insight of what these two books are all about –

Brihat Samhita

This epic work was composed in 550 AD by varahamihira which was considered as the encyclopedia of astrological works as well other subjects of human interest containing 106 chapters. It covers wide range of  subjects including astrology, matrimony, architecture, growth of crops, manufacture of perfume, planetary movements, eclipses, rainfall, clouds, domestic relations, gems, pearls and rituals.

Pancha Siddhantika

It was composed in 575 AD and believed to be the magnum opus of Varahamihira. This work is completely based on mathematical astronomy. This work is a comprehensive summary of five earlier astronomical treatises, namely the  Romaka Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasistha Siddhanta, Surya Siddhanta & Paitamaha siddhanta. It can also be called as a compendium of Hindu, Greek, Egyptian and Roman astronomy.

Varamihira’s pandiagonal magic square

Varamihira used a pandiagonal magic square of sixteen cells which describes how to prepare perfumes from sixteen original substances. The chapter 76 of Brihat Samhita named gandhayukti (combinations of perfumes) is dedicated to manufacturing of perfumes and talks about the composition of various types of perfumes. 

Varahamira’s other contributions

  • Varahamihira discovered several trigonometric formulas which are commonly used in today’s mathematics. These are sin x = cos(π/2 – x), sin2x + cos2x = 1, and (1 – cos 2x)/2 = sin2x.
  • In trigonometry, another important contribution he made by improving the accuracy of values of sine table which was earlier given by Aryabhata for the application of astronomy and astrology.
  • He also defined the algebraic properties of zero as well as of negative numbers.
  • He was one of the first mathematicians to gave rules to compute the binomial coefficients nCr  which is now known as the Pascal’s triangle in present time.
  • He was the first to mention that the ayanamsa or the shifting of the equinox is 50.32 seconds.
  • He was the first who proposed that the Moon and planets don’t have their own light to sparkle as they shine due to the reflected sun light from their own surface.
  • Like Aryabhata before him, he declared that the earth was spherical.
  • He indicated the presence of water on mars 1500 years ago.
  • Varahamihira with his mathematical and astronomical skills had already expalined even before Newton that earth has some kind of force of attraction which keeps all objects in earth’s contact. He also gave name to this force of attration is “Gurutvakarshan”, which we call “Gravity” in modern time.
  • In the field of ecology, hydrology and geology also he made several significant observations.
  • He was first one to claim the underground water by saying that plants and termites are prime indicators of underground water as they use it for their livelihood.
  • He also introduced four types of months which includes Solar Month, Lunar Month, Yearly Month, and Fortnight Month.
  • He also contributed in Vriksha Ayurveda.
  • He was the master of Sanskrit grammer as well as a prolific writer.

 Died

Varahamihira died in 587 AD in ujjain. His contribution to the Indian astrology, astronomy and mathematics is commendable and unforgettable. He was one of the great personalities in his era who once again proved that India has always been a soil of best brains in whole world.