[Q]jyoti.h'saastra - what is "catarchic"?

Gary Tubb gat4 at columbia.edu
Mon May 20 17:55:44 UTC 1996

On Sun, 19 May 1996, Birgit Kellner wrote:
> [...]
> To the "shared across several civilizations"-argument: If one and the same
> body of knowledge is shared across several civilizations, there is no
> particular reason why one language should be preferable to another. The only
> reason why one doesn't retain the original Sanskrit is that  not many people
> in one's readership will be likely to understand Sanskrit. Add to which, I
> am sure that even an Indological field which is indebted to Greek ancestors
> has certain peculiarities and idiosyncracies, which would be hidden by a
> consistent (unexplained) use of Greek terminology. So I can't really see why
> the history of Jyoti.h'saastra would be different from that of other
> disciplines, grammar or philosophy. [...]

Although these remarks were made in response to a general question
raised by Allen Thrasher, some readers might assume that the procedure
described here---dropping Sanskrit terminology and consistently using
unexplained Greek terminology---is the one used in the book being
discussed in this thread, David Pingree's _Jyoti.h'saastra_.  It is not.

In Pingree's book the genres of texts being described are nearly always
referred to by their Sanskrit names alone, except in the titles of the
chapters into which his descriptions are organized and in the passages
explaining the use of those titles.  The chapter titles are in English.
For the first and last chapter they borrow Sanskrit terms for which
there is no unambiguous English word.  The titles of the other chapters,
like most of the technical vocabulary of English, are indeed derived
from Greek words ("Astronomy," "Mathematics," etc.) or from Latin ones
("Interrogations," "Divination"), without implying in themselves that
the things referred to were first spoken of in Greek or in Latin.

In his Introduction, Pingree explains that the types of relevant
literature clearly identifiable as genres with Sanskrit names have grown
in number and variety beyond the simple scheme of three broad categories
named in the ancient list of the three _skandha_s of the tradition.
Accordingly he has attempted, as he puts it, "to establish a more
accurate classification of the areas of _jyoti.h'saastra_ actually made
the subject of independent works," which he has done by grouping them
according to subject matter.

Somewhat ironically, one of the reasons why this approach proves useful
is that some of the Indian distinctions have been more historical than
topical.  For example, the Sanskrit genres of jaataka and taajika differ
from each other mostly in their origin and vocabulary: the jaataka texts
were originally based on Greek sources and make extensive use of Greek
terminology, while the taajika texts are adaptations of Arabic and
Persian works and make extensive use of Arabic terminology.  But both
types of texts address the same general subject matter, the casting of
natal horoscopes.  Pingree groups them together in a single chapter,
producing a grouping that I think is quite useful in coming to grips
with the overall corpus of Jyoti.h'saastra texts.  Yet it would be
unfair to apply the Sanskrit name of either genre to a category
comprehending them both.

Where the English term is one whose basic meaning is adequately clear
from everyday use, such as "astronomy" or "mathematics," Pingree has
used the term fairly frequently in describing the contents of specific
types of Sanskrit works.  But where it is an obscure term he has been
careful to use it only in passages introducing the relevant Sanskrit
genres, and to define the English term when first used.  For example,
the term "Interrogations," serving as the title of the chapter dealing
with pra'sna literature, is used in the text of Pingree's book only in
the first sentence of that chapter, where the term is explained and the
Sanskrit equivalent is specified.  Everywhere else only the Sanskrit
term is used.

This thread of discussion was prompted by "Catarchic Astrology," the
title of the chapter in which Pingree deals not only with the general
science of determining the proper time for undertaking activities,
called "muhuurta" in Sanskrit, but also with the more specific texts
dealing with determining the times for military expeditions ("yaatraa")
and weddings ("vivaaha").  The latter two enterprises are logically
simply special applications of the same science, but in the literature
they tend to be covered in separate treatises---a good example of why
Pingree has chosen to retain the Sanskrit names for such genres in his
text while grouping them in chapters for which it is appropriate to
provide other names.

As far as I know, Pingree has used the term "catarchic astrology" only
three times in his text.  Takao Hayashi has already noted the passage in
the chapter on "Catarchic Astrology" where that term is explained and
equated in general with the science of muhuurta.  The second time it is
used is in turning to the topic of the subtypes of yaatraa and vivaaha
in the same chapter.  And the third time is in the opening sentence of
the next chapter, on "Interrogations," where Pingree looks back to the
previous grouping and contrasts it with the next:

'' In catarchic astrology the _jyoti.sii_ determines for his client the
'' moment (_muhuurta_) at which it is most propitious for him to
'' undertake a specific act;  in interrogations (_pra'sna_) he responds
'' to a query about some aspect of the client's life on the basis of the
'' horoscope of the moment of the query.

Here the English terms---which have been used as labels in a scheme
explicitly presented as Pingree's own arrangement of the mass of genres
covered---are explained clearly, and in a way that is very far removed
from anything approaching the abandonment of the received Sanskrit
terminology.  I feel the result is to provide the reader with a better
understanding of the Sanskrit names, rather than to supplant them.

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