Jyotish Star November 2014 Interview with Sarbani Rath of New Delhi
By Charlotte Benson
Charlotte: Thank you, Sarbani, for taking the time to share a bit of your life and times with us. You have a background in political science, and in environmental law and policy, among other disciplines. What led you to your current position as a consulting astrologer? Please tell us about your beginnings in Jyotisha.
Sarbani: I have been interested in astrology and other occult sciences since my childhood and have been reading up on these subjects as much as I could. In my mid 20’s I was drawn to the Chinese oracle of the I-Ching. Later when I was working at a research institute in Delhi, I chanced upon Richard Wilhelm’s lectures on this system and subsequently Carl Jung’s writings on the subject. This surprised me considerably; that mainstream scholars were writing on the occult. Very soon, I was drawn to the tarot and studies in the Qabalah and was a professional tarot reader for 12 years. I was also a collector of tarot decks and an active member of the Tarot L forum. Simultaneously I explored Western Astrology. These activities in the occult were in parallel to my job as a researcher in Political Science, where I worked on developing societies, the nation state and human rights. However, I found my niche in environmental studies. For 15 years I specialized in environmental law and policies, especially the conflict areas between habitat conservation and the rights of forest-dwelling communities. I interfaced between academics, community organizations and lawyers. It was an exciting phase of my life (Mercury Ātma Karaka), teaching and writing and I finally gave it up for good once I got actively involved with Sri Jagannath Centre (SJC).
My concerted focus on jyotiṣa began in the 1990’s when I was send a digital version of the Bṛhat Parāśara Horā Śāstra, Garga Hora, Sārāvalī and another text by one of my tarot colleagues from the US. She thought that these texts were “meant” for me. I recall opening Bṛhat Parāśara and thinking, this is it-this is the text I have been searching for all my life; and there has been no looking back ever since. (Incidentally, I will be teaching Parāśara for the first time in November 2015).
Like everyone else, I started with the books of B.V. Raman, The Astrological Magazine and web resources and e-forums. Once I joined Sri Jagannath Centre, I formally became a part of the jyotiṣa paramparā of Sri Achyutananda Dasa of Puri, Orissa. Achyutananda was one of the five principal disciples of Sri Chaitanya. He was a great astrologer and is considered to be an incarnation of Garuda. Our paramparā seeks to reinstate Vedic Astrology as Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa, that is, jyotiṣa as it was envisaged to be a part of the six limbs of the Vedas. We emphasise reading the classical jyotiṣa texts in the original together with the scriptures, like the Puranas, Upanishads, Vedas and other texts. Together with this, we teach the knowledge of the oral tradition, the jyotiṣa that is typically of Orissa; specifically from our lineage in Puri. The knowledge of the rishis have been forgotten, and we seek to revive that and spread it, as the true light of jyotiṣa. I am totally involved in this endeavor and gave up my career in environmental law and policy for this purpose. Apart from my professional consultations and being involved in the organizational activities, I teach, write, edit our quarterly journal, The Jyotish Digest and co-ordinate our educational courses. These activities are conducted by the Devaguru Brhaspati Centre (DBC).
Charlotte: (Appropriate response to your remarks, here.) You are also recognized as a seriously credentialed Jaimini scholar. We would love to know more about this interesting aspect of Jyotisha! How did you develop your interest in this specific branch of Jyotiṣa, Jaimini?
Sarbani: Maharishi Jaimini was one of the principle disciples of Vyasa, who in turn was Parasara’s son. Jaimini, therefore is descended directly from Parāśara’s lineage. He considerably expanded and commented upon many of Parāśara’s concepts as elucidated in the Bṛhat Parāśara Horā Śāstra, such as Rāśi Drishti, Ārūḍha Padas, rāśi dasas, chara kārakas. Apart from that, he has given us some brilliant concepts in jyotiṣa and precise tools for predictive astrology. His work on svamśa, rāśi dasas and death and longevity calculations is unparalleled. Jaimini is unique; at once cryptic and outstanding, having the capacity to completely reverse one’s way of thinking. As an astrologer, you are not the same anymore. I consider myself honoured and privileged to have received this knowledge. Whether I am truly a Jaimini Scholar or not, is for the Maharishi to decide!
Pt. Sanjay Rath taught the 5-year Jaimini Scholar Programme once and has said he will never teach it again. A total of 23 students were certified as Jaimini Scholars, of whom I am one. It is our onerous responsibility to pass this knowledge to others but only 7 of us are teaching this presently. Needless to add, this is an advanced course and we take limited students after screening them thoroughly. I am currently teaching a batch in the Himalayas, who have already completed 3 years. Having tasted the nectar of Jaimini, jyotiṣa becomes even more intoxicating. The Maharishi has enriched my life and knowledge in ways beyond what words can express.
Charlotte: (appropriate response) I’ve read that you have a special love of literature. Has your literary bent helped you be a better consultant? Please tell us about any books you have authored.
Sarbani: My upbringing has been in a literary and intellectual background and I do nurture a special love for literature, both in my mother tongue Bengali as well as in English. I think reading and a background in the humanities, has made my mind more open. It has definitely given me more awareness about the problems of my clients but more than that, it has made me a better researcher in jyotiṣa. I feel sad in mentioning this, but in India, most modern day astrologers are closeted in their thinking. They don’t read enough. They don’t expand the vistas of their mind. They are judgmental. They don’t try to understand the social background from which the client has emerged. It makes the reading clinical; the client is reduced to a diagram on a piece of paper and some calculations. They forget that he or she is a person who has gone through pain and suffering. Compassion is so essential for an astrologer.
I have published several papers in jyotiṣa and in environmental law and policy but my book is yet to appear. Hopefully it will be soon, when the right daśā comes! I have though, published a small book called “Medicinal Plants and the Law” in 1997, in which I examined the newly emerging patent laws in pharmaceuticals, the wildlife conservation laws protecting medicinal plants and a conceptual section on Caraka Samhita, one of a the principal Ayurvedic texts. Far removed from jyotiṣa, isn’t it? Yet it all ties up in my head. The Caraka classifies the human body and eco-systems on the basis of the panca tattvas or the five elements. Jyotiṣa teaches us that the building blocks of the horoscopes are these five tattvas. This seminal medical text in Ayurveda reminds me of the great Renaissance physician and astrologer Paracelsus, who wrote about the macrocosm being mapped into the microcosm and how the planets are keyed onto the physicality of the body and controls the organs and the fluid system. Paracelsus and Kepler, one a doctor and the other an astronomer, were exceptional astrologers – and better because they could draw upon the richness of multiple disciplines.
Charlotte: (Response) If there were only one essential reference, or source material on Jyotisha, in your experience, what would that be? What is your favorite classic literary work – in any subject?
Sarbani: Undoubtedly Bṛhat Parāśara Horā Śāstra. My favourite classic literary work, which have influenced me considerably are Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Charlotte: (appropriate response…) So – what is a typical day like, in the life of Sri Sarbani Rath? You wear so many hats: directing a spiritual center; addressing issues of human rights; maintaining a busy Jyotish consulting practice; running Sagittarius Publications; managing your family life. How do you do all of this, and all apparently so well? J
Sarbani: I am not so sure about doing them well. My typical day includes doing a bit of everything throughout the day, which is not the best way to go about it as it affects my efficiency. Lately, I find multitasking is not the happiest state of being. I am a writer at heart – it’s what I like doing best (Mercury ātma karaka once again). I feel multitasking takes away from the joy of what I like to do, which is writing and teaching. However, I land up doing a huge amount of organizational work, Surya being the only planet having rasi dristi on my lagna and the only planet in the kendras, but I don’t enjoy doing it at all. I would gladly hand it over to someone else, but I do it as a duty, a seva for the paramparā.
I have a deep, past life connection with Orissa – since much before I met my husband – and I am closely connected with my in-laws, relatives and friends residing there. It’s a large, extended family and I am fortunate to have received so much love and respect from them. My father-in-law, who hailed from Bira Balabhadrapur Sasana in Puri, was the son of the renowned astrologer Pandit Jagannath Rath, the Jyotish Ratna of Orissa. My mother-in-law is from a family of famous doctors from Cuttack.
Charlotte: (response to above). You must possess an amazing chart (or Rasi Chakra, if you prefer) to be so accomplished in these different arenas. Would you care to reveal a bit of about your planets, to us? You must have some really special planetary yogas!
Sarbani: Oh no! No special yogas at all and no amazing chart! In fact, it has a multitude of bad yogas! The only good yoga I have is a Moon-Mercury yoga in Rohini, with the Moon exalted in close conjunction with Mercury the ātma karaka. This combination has given me all my skills. Rahu in the 5th house has given me a deep interest and aptitude in mantra śāstra and Ketu in the 11th house gives me my knowledge in jyotiṣa. I am vargottama Pisces lagna and Pisces is the sign for hospitals, doctors, astrologers, healers, meditators, spiritualists – so I naturally take to astrology and the business of healing. My navāmśa is better with Jupiter in Pisces lagna and ātma karaka Mercury in trines to it, showing my interests (and potential) in writing, teaching, astrology and an interest in books.
Charlotte: (Response.) Would you like to share with our readers something about your distinguished family?
Sarbani: (Charlotte, is this about my family or my in-laws? If it’s about my in-laws, I can elaborate further. Just let me know). My family hails from Calcutta and is prominent in the field of publishing, specially the news media. They have promoted and nurtured many writers and scholars. My grandfather, grandmother and great grandmother were all published authors in Bengali. A great-great-great grandmother was the first Bengali woman to publish her autobiography. My father was a renowned man, a publisher and an editor and was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the government of India, the third highest civilian award. My mother was from the family of Romesh Chunder Dutt, renowned historian, economist, linguist and politician. The family had many writers and academics, prominent among them the poet Taru Dutt.
Charlotte: (Response.) You have obviously devoted many years of your life to studying many different interests. Do you have any advice for current students of the divine science of Jyotisha?
Sarbani: Read the original texts rather than the commentaries. Question the translation; for which you need to learn Sanskrit. Probe deeper and try to find out the hidden meaning of words. These are the words of the rishis. What is the rishi trying to convey? Steer clear of tamasik mantras and remedies. Opt only for Brhaspati’s pure, white light. Remember, Jupiter shall always guide your way. Broaden your horizon by reading on a variety of subjects. Read the puranas and other scriptures, otherwise your jyotiṣa studies shall remain incomplete. Do your mantras so that your intelligence does not fail you. Above all, have compassion for the client, otherwise you shall fail as an astrologer.
Charlotte: Any professional plans for the future? What’s next for Sarbani Rath?
Sarbani: Completing pending books – writing, writing and more writing – and lots of teaching too.
Sarbani: *Any other comments you would like offer, on any subject you prefer* I will create an appropriate question to address your comments. PS – I do hope that it’s ok with you that I refer to you by your first name.) Of course you may!
Charlotte: (Response.) Thank you so much for sharing a portion of your wonderful, busy life with the Jyotish Star! Thank you Charlotte. It’s been a pleasure.