Samarasiṃha and the Early Transmission of Tājika Astrology

In: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History
Martin Gansten Lund University

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One of the earliest preserved Sanskrit works on Perso-Arabic (Tājika) astrology, the thirteenth-century Karmaprakāśa of Samarasiṃha (also known as the Manuṣyajātaka, Tājikatantrasāra or Gaṇakabhūṣaṇa), is examined with particular attention to subgenre, distinctive content and likely Arabic-language sources. On the basis of a comparison of the extant text of the Karmaprakāśa with excerpts attributed to Samarasiṃha by later Tājika writers, conclusions are drawn with regard to other works, now lost or misattributed, by the same author.

1 Introduction

Very little is known of the early history of Tājika or Perso-Arabic astrology in India. Due to the false dichotomy that still persists between the astrology of South Asia and so-called western astrology—a term commonly but counter-intuitively used to include not only ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, but also Sasanian Persia and the Arabic-speaking world of the Islamic Golden Age—the comparatively few historians who devote themselves to studying the development of horoscopic astrology are typically familiar with sources in Greek, Latin and/or Arabic, but not with the vast body of relevant Sanskrit literature. In the twentieth century, the one major exception to this rule was the late David Pingree (1933–2005), whose outstanding contributions, particularly in the realm of data collection, provide a solid ground for future scholarship. Even Pingree, however, published only some fifteen pages on Tājika astrology,1 of which a mere three pages concern its earliest phase. Prior to Pingree, the only western scholar to have written on Tājika was Albrecht Weber, in a single article dating from the mid-nineteenth century and based on limited data.2

Broadly speaking, Tājika is a Sanskritized version of Arabic-language astrology, sharing a Hellenistic core with pre-Islamic Indian jyotiṣa but comprising a number of additional doctrines which either had never reached India before or else had not survived there. The Arabic tradition itself was, in fact, an amalgam of astrological teachings and procedures borrowed from cultural areas that had preserved and developed the Hellenistic heritage in slightly different forms—notably Persia, but also Byzantium, Syria, and indeed India. Even after being translated into Sanskrit and to some extent adapted to Indian conditions, this new type of astrology differed sharply enough from the established one to form a separate school rather than merging with it. Most noticeably, Tājika throughout its history has been, and remains today, largely synonymous with the casting of anniversary horoscopes, a prognostic technique known as varṣaphala or ‘results of the year’—often referred to in the European literature as annual revolutions or, more recently, as ‘solar returns’—and not previously known in India. On the interpretation of actual nativities or birth horoscopes, by contrast, Tājika literature as a whole has little to say, so that Pingree’s repeated designation of the tradition as a genethlialogical one must be considered somewhat misleading.3

The name Tājika (or Tājaka), generally understood to mean ‘Persian’, is derived from the Persian tāzīg meaning ‘Arab’, based in its turn on the Arabic tribal name Ṭayyiʾ. Synonyms used in Tājika works include Yavana (properly ‘Greek’, ultimately derived from Ἰά[ϝ]ονες, but used in this period of any foreign culture from the northwest), Turuṣka (‘Turkish’), and Tārtīyika/ Tārtīyaka, possibly meaning ‘Tataric’ in the generalized sense of ‘Muslim’. Although the area did not succumb to Muslim rule until the early fourteenth century, Sanskrit literature as well as inscriptions provide evidence for frequent contacts between Indians and Tājikas along the west coast of India (present-day Gujarat) in the period 700 to 1300 CE—including military engagements, but predominantly trade connections.4 The Indians most actively engaged in such exchanges would have been Jains, who dominated the areas of finance and coinage in the region, as well as members of Hindu mercantile or Baniyā communities. The Jains in particular often became, by extension, intermediaries between Perso-Arabic and Sanskritic traditions of knowledge.5

The fluidity seen in designations of ethno-linguistic groups also has a bearing on the question of the language in which the non-Indian source texts of Tājika were composed—a problem which Pingree, by his own admission, left unresolved.6 The question was at least partially answered some years after his demise by the identification of Sahl ibn Bishr (former half of the ninth century) as one of the most important sources of Tājika doctrine.7 Ethnically a Persian Jew, Sahl wrote in Arabic, as did the Persian ʿUmar ibn al-Farrukhān aṭ-Ṭabarī (fl. 762 to after 812) and the ‘philosopher of the Arabs’, Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (d. after 862)—both of whom were later identified as probable contributing sources, alongside Sahl, for the Tājika work Praśnatantra.8 Although the latter is customarily attributed to the sixteenth-century Brahman author Nīlakaṇṭha Daivajña of Varanasi,9 closer examination of the extant text and of its early seventeenth-century commentary by Viśvanātha Daivajña has shown it to be little more than a collage (possibly but not necessarily put together by Nīlakaṇṭha), the central part of which was apparently a much earlier Sanskrit epitome of Arabic writings by the authors just named. The name of the epitomist—mentioned by Viśvanātha in passing, as a matter of common knowledge—was Samarasiṃha.10

The dependence of Tājika doctrine on these ninth-century Arabic-language writers gives us an approximate terminus post quem for the beginning of the Indian tradition. A provisional terminus ante quem is indicated by the estimated dates of the two earliest preserved Sanskrit works in the field. The Trailokyaprakāśa of the Jain scholar Hemaprabhasūri is claimed on uncertain grounds to have been authored around 1248, which could make it the very first; but the oldest dated manuscript of this text was copied more than two centuries later.11 Of the author himself nothing definite is known except that his guru, named several times in the text, was one Devendrasūri. The suffix sūri in this context probably indicates leadership of a lineage (gaccha) within the Śvetāmbara sect; the benedictory invocation being addressed to the Jina Pārśvanātha could possibly suggest this to be the now defunct Upakeśagaccha, which was unique in tracing its origin to Pārśvanātha.12

The other potentially earliest preserved work on Tājika—dated by Pingree to any time between 1060 and 1365, with a possible date of 1274 based on a report of a single manuscript copied in 1293—was authored by Samarasiṃha, who traces his ancestry through the Prāgvāṭa clan (anvaya).13 This is a mixed Jain and Hindu kinship group, known today as Porwad or Porwal and generally considered to form part of the non-Brahman Baniyā or merchant caste. Despite the high social standing that Samarasiṃha claims for his family, it thus appears that, contrary to the assertions of later Tājika authors, he was not a Brahman.14 About two generations after his presumed floruit, another Prāgvāṭa author on Tājika, Tejaḥsiṃha, even refers to himself as ‘the son of a Śūdra’, asking that readers not disregard his work on that account.15

Regardless of whose work was earlier, Samarasiṃha appears from the later literature to have been incomparably more influential. In fact, Samarasiṃha may have been the bottleneck through which most if not all of later Tājika tradition can be traced: his distinctive misreadings of Arabic source texts are copied over and over by later authors and never challenged;16 his definitions and examples are continually cited, alluded to, and imitated; and his authority is acknowledged both explicitly and implicitly. Balabhadra, in rather grander phrasing than I have used here, repeatedly refers to Samarasiṃha as ‘anointed to the rank of a sage (ṛṣi) among Tājika authors’17—an expression suggesting that he regards the later tradition as an exegesis of and elaboration on Samarasiṃha’s statements, just as the religio-philosophical systems of Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta constitute exegeses of the words of the Vedic ṛṣis. Similarly, in a gloss at the very beginning of the Tājikanīlakaṇṭhī, Viśvanātha as a matter of course identifies Samarasiṃha as the authority on which that work rests, with the words: ‘Why? Because Samarasiṃha has said so.’18 On several later points of debate, he remarks: ‘There is no agreement [on this matter], as Samarasiṃha has said nothing [about it].’19 A careful study of Samarasiṃha and his literary output is thus a priority in the historiography of astrology in India. I propose in this article to make a beginning, in two stages: first, by a detailed analysis of the only work by Samarasiṃha preserved in what is believed to be its entirety; and second, by examining fragments from and information about other writings attributed to Samarasiṃha by later Tājika authors.

2 The Karmaprakāśa: Scope and Outlook

The only work of Samarasiṃha’s discussed in modern scholarship—which is to say, almost exclusively, by Pingree—is that provisionally dated to 1274, known under at least four different titles as the Manuṣyajātaka, Karmaprakāśa (or -prakāśikā), Tājikatantrasāra or Gaṇakabhūṣaṇa. Although titles of Sanskrit works are often fluid, we may note the unusual absence of eponyms from this list.20 The designation in most common use seems to be Manuṣyajātaka, although Pingree preferred Tājikatantrasāra. This text is currently available to me in five manuscripts, three of them incomplete, and two printed editions, of which one is little more than a reprint of the other. The editions include the late commentary of Nārāyaṇa[bhaṭṭa] Sāmudrika, the Daivajñasaṃtoṣaṇī or Karmaprakāśikāvṛtti,21 which is further available to me in two separate manuscripts lacking Samarasiṃha’s original text. The colophons found in several of these text witnesses use the titles Tājikatantrasāra, Manuṣyajātaka and Karmaprakāśa synonymously, confirming that these refer to the same work.

A close reading of the introductory and concluding sections of this work reveals several suggestive points. The text opens with the following three stanzas:

Bowing to Vāc, Gaṇapati, the foremost among the planets, that witness of actions whose attributes are imperceptible, and my teacher, I light a small lamp [called] Light on Actions from the Great Lamp [Illuminating] the Tājika Teaching composed by Śrī Khindika.22

Extracting the best from that ocean of astrology which is the entire doctrine established by Śrī Garga and other sages and celebrated by Satya and other [Brahmans], made into the Tājika doctrine by Romaka and other ancient Yavanas, and bowing to the lotus feet of my teacher, I shall explain that which is always astounding to embodied beings, the flavours of food and so forth.23

Homage to that powerful something which all learned men call action (karman) [and which] spiritual men [call] unfathomable [but] certain and of most manifest result; homage, moreover, to those great ones who have set down the canons in which expert astrologers behold it as clearly as people [behold] their image in a spotless mirror!24

The first conclusion that can be drawn from this introduction is that Karmaprakāśa or Light on Actions is the original title of Samarasiṃha’s work. We may note, indeed, the repeated emphasis on karman in these verses, which also serve as a maṅgalācaraṇa or benedictory invocation. In addition to his choice of title, Samarasiṃha pays homage to an abstract ‘witness of actions’ (karmasākṣin)—a rather unusual phrase in such a context, and one that strikes a personal note in comparison with the more standard salutations addressed to the goddess of speech, the remover of obstacles, the planetary deities (represented here by the foremost celestial body, the sun), and the guru. The ineffable force of karman and its power to mould men’s destinies is again the subject of the third verse. Although a belief in karman is a central tenet of all the major Indic religions, the paramount significance accorded it here may suggest a Jain influence on the author of the Karmaprakāśa—not surprisingly, given the probable time and place of its composition.25 The absence of any reference to Jain tīrthaṃkaras, however, makes it unlikely that Samarasiṃha himself identified as a Jain.

Among the other common designations of the Karmaprakāśa, the one most often encountered is Manuṣyajātaka or Human Nativities. Although this title is not found in the text proper but only in its colophons, the Karmaprakāśa, unlike most later Tājika works, does fall squarely in the jātaka or genethlialogy genre, as we shall see below—a fact emphasized by Samarasiṃha in its closing verses.26 In 20.8–9, just before the Karmaprakāśa ends with a brief account of Samarasiṃha’s family tree, he offers this conclusion:

Born from the oyster of my words that was nourished by a drop of the water of meaning from the large cluster of lotus flowers that is the Great Teaching composed by Śrī Khindika, these very pearls of the results of men’s nativities will by their merits [or: strands] become a necklace gracing the breast of connoisseurs.27

Learned men! If you seek to know the results of nativities, like a treasure to increase your fame, that fixed and unchanging [fate] should be understood to have been extracted from the Tājika teaching.28

Aside from the somewhat unusual imagery (giving credence to the hypothesis that the text was composed in the vicinity of the Gulf of Kutch, long known for its pearl fishing),29 the identification of the Karmaprakāśa as a jātaka work is particularly noteworthy because, as noted above, Tājika has for many centuries been chiefly associated not with jātaka but rather with annual prognostication (varṣaphala, which is derived from and subordinate to the nativity) and interrogations (praśna). Indeed, Balabhadra quotes a stanza, attributed to Samarasiṃha himself, that explicitly contrasts Tājika with jātaka:

In general, [true] understanding does not shine forth for men in [considering] the results of genethlialogy (jātaka), which are applied to long times. Therefore, the annual results proclaimed by Tājika are elucidated here.30

A pastiche of this stanza also occurs in what has, since the seventeenth century, been the most popular Tājika textbook of all: the Tājikanīlakaṇṭhī completed by Nīlakaṇṭha Daivajña in 1587.31 This work illustrates what has just been said: the former of its two volumes (Saṃjñātantra) deals with basic principles and terminology, the latter (Varṣatantra) with annual prognostication. As already noted, a third volume spuriously attributed to Nīlakaṇṭha, the Praśnatantra, is wholly dedicated to interrogations, but there is no volume on natal horoscopy.32 We shall return below to the stanza just quoted and to the possible significance of Samarasiṃha’s repeated emphasis on nativities in the closing verses of the Karmaprakāśa.

Of the two remaining alternative titles of this work, Tājikatantrasāra or The Essence of Tājika Teachings seems to reflect Samarasiṃha’s claim of having extracted the choicest part of the writings of his Tājika predecessors (1.1–2), while Gaṇakabhūṣaṇa or The Astrologer’s Ornament may possibly allude to the image of the pearl necklace (20.8). These two passages—enclosing, as it were, Samarasiṃha’s work between them—are also significant in that they reiterate the fact of the dependence of the Karmaprakāśa on one particular source: the Gurutājikatantradīpa or Great Lamp [Illuminating] the Tājika Teaching (or, in the shorter version of the name, the Gurutantra or Great Teaching) of Khindika. Neither this work nor its author has been clearly identified; and while Samarasiṃha, writing in Sanskrit, gives it a Sanskrit title, we do not know with certainty in what language the text itself was written. Pingree believed it to have been a work translated from Arabic or Persian into Sanskrit some decades before Samarasiṃha composed his digest of it and claimed, unfortunately without giving details, that quotations from the [Guru]tājikatantradīpa occur in later Tājika texts.33 On the other hand, Balabhadra—admittedly some four centuries after the presumed date of the Karmaprakāśa—was unaware of any earlier Sanskrit sources and believed Samarasiṃha to have translated a Tājika work directly from ‘the Persian language’ (which he seems not to distinguish from Arabic) into Sanskrit.34

The possible identity of Khindi[ka] (the suffix appears to have been added here for purely metrical reasons) or Khindhi, who is mentioned as an authority by several later Tājika authors, has been discussed elsewhere. Briefly, pace Pingree, there seems to be no reason to believe this name to be derived from a Persian or Arabic (al)-Hindī, and in fact the linguistic evidence of the preserved corpus of Sanskritized Tājika terminology militates against the supposed sound change h > kh and rather supports Albrecht Weber’s original identification, not mentioned by Pingree, of Khindi with the Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī mentioned above.35

In addition to ‘Khindika’, Samarasiṃha in his opening stanzas refers to three authorities by name, two Indian and one Yavana. The former are the ancient and semi-mythical Garga and Satya, presumably mentioned separately as representating the categories of sages (muni) and ordinary (Brahman) authors, respectively.36 Romaka or ‘the Roman’, likewise considered ancient (ādya), may—if accepted as a historical person—refer either to a Hellenistic author whose works were preserved in Arabic or to a Byzantine author.37 The tendency towards hybridization that has been noted in later Tājika authors is thus present to some extent even in the Karmaprakāśa.38 Nevertheless, a close examination of the Karmaprakāśa reveals that Pingree’s view of Tājika as essentially Indian astrology, with Perso-Arabic elements added to it, is incorrect.39 The actual situation, as we shall see below, is the reverse: Perso-Arabic material comprises the bulk both of the Karmaprakāśa and of the Indian tradition of Tājika generally, while indigenous astrological sources and concepts are employed only sparingly.

3 Sources, Structure and Content

Despite Samarasiṃha’s repeated statements about his primary source, all sections of the Karmaprakāśa that I have so far been able to trace are in fact derived from authors other than ‘Khindika’. The importance for the Tājika tradition of Sahl ibn Bishr, whose name to my knowledge is never mentioned by any Sanskrit author, has been demonstrated before; as we shall see, Sahl is also one of the sources of the Karmaprakāśa. To account for the apparent Tājika misattributions of Sahl’s works, I have previously hypothesized the existence of a medieval compendium of astrological texts containing excerpts from Sahl, al-Kindī, and possibly other Arabic-language authors, and mistakenly credited to al-Kindī alone.40 A variation on this scenario would be a compendium actually compiled by al-Kindī from earlier sources, including Sahl. Such a compendium could be the text referred to by Samarasiṃha as the Gurutantra or Gurutājikatantradīpa, which would explain his apparently contradictory identification of his sources both as this one particular work by ‘Khindika’ and as the entire ‘ocean of astrology’ authored by ‘ancient Yavanas’. If this hypothesis is correct, the Guru- of the title (somewhat unusual, though not unprecedented, in the sense ‘great’) likely translates al-kabīr, commonly occurring in titles of Arabic astrological works.41

The Karmaprakāśa consists of twenty chapters comprising nearly 400 stanzas in a profusion of metres, the number of stanzas in a chapter varying from 6 to 54.42 The structure of the text appears to be a truncated version of a pattern common to many Arabic-language textbooks, being loosely based on the twelve astrological places or houses. It should be noted in this regard that while the topics of such textbooks are often demarcated according to the significations of the twelve places, the sequential arrangement of those places is occasionally adjusted so as to group related topics together (for example, social eminence and wealth), or to make chronological sense in the context of a life reading (for example, by considering marriage before children, or by deferring the consideration of death to the end).

The text is thus divisible into five main sections. Chapters 1–4 deal with introductory matters and definitions; chapters 5–13 concern various aspects of the body, its health and life, relating to the first house of the horoscope (but including material on illness and death, which might more properly have been assigned to the sixth and eighth houses, respectively); chapters 14–16 discuss matters of livelihood, wealth and poverty, relating to the second house (but including material on occupation and status that might have been assigned to the tenth); and chapters 17 and 18 concern siblings and parents, relating to the third and fourth house, respectively. Finally, and somewhat abruptly, chapters 19 and 20 contain a discussion of female nativities and ‘miscellaneous’. There are no chapters relating to the topics of the remaining horoscopic places, including marriage (the seventh house), children (fifth), travels and religion (ninth), friends (eleventh) and enemies (twelfth). A closer examination of each of the five sections of the Karmaprakāśa will be helpful in determining the sources employed by Samarasiṃha. For the sake of convenience, I shall use the printed editions (identically numbered) to refer to chapters and verses, although their readings will sometimes be corrected on the basis of manuscript evidence.

3.1 Introductory Matters (Chapters 1–4)

From the order in which it is arranged, chapter 1—Rāśyadhikāra ‘On the zodiacal signs’43—appears to be based largely on Sahl ibn Bishr’s popular introduction to astrology,44 although it is a highly condensed rendering. Indeed, as will be discussed further below, the introductory material found in the first four chapters of the Karmaprakāśa may be twice abridged. Among the distinguishing Graeco-Arabic doctrines related, particular mention may be made of the imperfectly transmitted characterizations of the signs as hot, cold, moist and dry (1.8); the via combusta (1.9); the system of five zodiacal dignities (pañcavargī), complete with a model of point values (1.11–23); the so-called blind degrees (1.25–28); and the four kinds of planetary rejoicing (1.30). The zodiacal melothesia immediately following the maṅgalācaraṇa (1.4), not from Sahl’s Introduction, is too brief for its source to be identified.

The discussion of the five dignities, which in the Arabic sources are invariably domicile, exaltation, triplicity, term and decan (or ‘face’), appears to derive from a source that also included the use of the Indian navāṃśa or ninth-part. This zodiacal division—presumably introduced into the Arabic astrological synthesis through the Persian tradition rather than directly from Indian astrologers, given the designation nawbahra (from Middle Persian *nō bahr) used in Arabic45—is found, for instance, in the writings of al-Kindī and Abū Maʿshar (787–886), but not in Sahl. The Karmaprakāśa (1.11) has replaced decans (generally known in Indian astrology as dṛkāṇa or dreṣkāṇa, with variants) with the navāṃśa in its list of dignities; but in 1.20 the dṛkāṇa is nevertheless introduced and briefly explained. The passage 1.20–23 displays the beginnings of the confusion surrounding triplicities, decans and navāṃśas that characterizes later Tājika literature, and includes two slightly different rulership schemes for the triplicities.46

Chapter 2, Grahādhikāra ‘On the planets’, seems partly to depend on Indian sources, with mention of the four Hindu social classes (varṇa) and the three humours (doṣa) of Āyurveda (2.1–5, 9). These verses are arranged topically; but in 2.6–8 they are complemented by descriptions clearly of Perso-Arabic origin, arranged by planet in the so-called Chaldean order from Saturn to the moon, rather than the order employed in classical Indian texts (based on the days of the week), and again including the fourfold qualities of hot, cold, moist and dry—alien to Āyurveda but used in Graeco-Arabic (Yūnānī) medicine. Although the brevity and generic nature of the passage make identification of the source text difficult, Sahl’s Introduction can be ruled out. The latter part of the chapter, dealing with planetary aspects, does appear to be a mix of material from Sahl’s work (2.10–14) and another, as yet unidentified Arabic source (2.15–16).47

Chapter 3, Ṣoḍaśayogādhikāra ‘On the sixteen configurations’, is the earliest extant description in Sanskrit of this important Tājika doctrine, derived from Sahl, and largely agrees with the later versions of it discussed at length elsewhere.48 Although a detailed comparison may bring to light other features of interest, the most important point to note here is that the list of configurations in the Karmaprakāśa, like later Tājika sources, includes the spurious tambīra-yoga (from Ar. ṭabīʿa)49 in the fourteenth place and ends with duraḥpha (Ar. ḍuʿf ‘weakness’),50 thus excluding Sahl’s sixteenth heading aḥwāl al-qamar ‘conditions of the moon’. On the one hand, the presence of this distinctive error strongly suggests that later Tājika accounts of the ṣoḍaśayogas all ultimately depend on Samarasiṃha. On the other hand, the Karmaprakāśa omits the illustrative examples of certain configurations or conditions which are found both in Sahl’s ninth-century original and in Tājika works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One such example—the only one, to my present knowledge, of which Samarasiṃha’s version is preserved—has been discussed in some detail elsewhere;51 another may be adduced here by way of illustration:52


An example of that is a question about the Sultan: and the Ascendant was Libra, and Venus (who was the lord of the Ascendant and the indicator for the one asking) was in 10° of Aries, and the Moon (who was the lord of the Midheaven and the indicator for the Sultan) in 12° of Taurus, so they were not looking at each other; and Jupiter was in 15° of Cancer, in the angle of the Midheaven, and the Moon and Venus connecting with him. So Jupiter was collecting their light in the angle, in the place of the sought thing: it indicated victory based on the assistance of a sage or man entering between them: they will come to terms through him.53

The three Sanskrit versions are strikingly similar; but while there can be no doubt that the Mughal-era authors all ultimately depend for their example on Sahl, there are sufficient differences between the Arabic and Sanskrit versions to assume that the latter derive from a common, intermediate version rather than directly from the Introduction.54 For Samarasiṃha to constitute this crucial link between Sahl and the later Tājika tradition, we have to posit another, perhaps fuller work authored by him, containing both the erroneous division of the yogas and the examples lacking from the Karmaprakāśa. We shall return to this scenario below.

Chapter 4, Dvātriṃśatsahamādhikāra ‘On the thirty-two sahamas’, is a list of so-called lots (Ar. sahm, translating κλῆρος), derived by measuring the longitudinal distance between two predefined points in a horoscope (typically two planets) and projecting it from a third point (typically the ascendant degree). The lots constitute a method of assigning concrete meanings to different areas of the zodiac, and may have begun as an alternative to the twelve-house system;55 as the number of lots increased during the medieval period, their significations often grew more specific. The exact list of lots given in this chapter is not, to my present knowledge, found in any single Arabic author, a circumstance strengthening the hypothesis that Samarasiṃha’s source text was a compendium of astrological works. The great majority of the lots listed in the Karmaprakāśa are, however, found in several Arabic-language sources of the eighth and ninth centuries—either in wholly identical form or slightly corrupt or simplified (for instance by omitting variants, including but not limited to variations between a diurnal and a nocturnal formula), but still clearly recognizable. The Arabic authors whose lists of lots display the closest parallels to the Karmaprakāśa are Abū Maʿshar and ʿImrān ibn Aḥmad.56

Even disregarding slight variations between the initial list (4.1) and the subsequent delineation of formulae (4.2–6), the lots in the Karmaprakāśa appear somewhat disarranged, though not so much so as to obscure the underlying structure entirely:

Items 1–5 and 7 constitute the so-called planetary lots, of which I have translated the Sanskrit names of the first and most important one (puṇya, sukṛta) rather freely as ‘fortune’ to agree with its well-known designation in other languages (κλῆρος τῆς τύχης, sahm as-saʿāda, pars fortunae); the sense of the Sanskrit is undoubtedly that of merit accumulated in previous lifetimes, manifesting as good fortune in the present. This lot appears from the earliest times to have been associated with the moon. The following one, correspondingly identified with the sun, is known in Greek as κλῆρος τοῦ δαίµονος, rendered in Arabic as sahm al-ghayb—probably in the sense of ‘the unseen’, understood in its turn by the Indian translator as ‘[spiritual] knowledge’. From these two lots were derived two others, those of love and necessity, forming a tetrad found in several Hellenistic and early Arabic sources.57 The latter pair, of which only the lot of love is found in the Karmaprakāśa, was eventually associated with Venus and Mercury, respectively, and alternative formulae for them were devised that involved these two planets. Similar formulae were then devised for the remaining planets, producing the lots here called valour (Mars), bondage (Saturn), and—with some variation—renown (Jupiter).58 The presence of the original calculation of the lot of love indicates a fairly early source for at least some of the lots in the Karmaprakāśa.

Next follows a series of lots which may be assumed originally to have been arranged in order of the horoscopic houses to which their significations may be said to correspond (a common schema): wealth relates to the second house, brothers to the third, father and mother to the fourth; the lot of ‘expansion’ (vibhūti) is properly that of offspring (sahm al-wuld, seemingly misunderstood: the Arabic root wld ‘bring forth’ overlaps to some extent in meaning with Sanskrit vi-√bhū), belonging to the fifth house; wife and desire relate to the seventh house,59 death to the eighth, journeys to the ninth, the king (or, perhaps more relevant in a nativity, kingship)60 to the tenth, and enemies to the twelfth. While the ‘planetary’ lots are often assigned to the first house, the sixth and eleventh houses are not represented in this list.

The remaining lots—including those of illness (sixth house) and friends (eleventh house)—appear to have been added more or less haphazardly to this list, perhaps from several sources. The lots of sons, daughters, work, life, and marriage are again standard lots found in several Arabic-language sources. The lot of business appears to be a mere variant on that of work, while the lot of illness is surely a corrupt version of the lot of the destroying planet (κλῆρος αναιρέτου, sahm al-kawkab al-qattāl).61 The lot of forbearance is given in other Tājika sources as a double lot—that of quarrel and that of forbearance or forgiveness—which seems to confirm its identity with the Arabic lot of disputes and opponents (sahm al-khuṣūmāt wa-l-mukhāṣimīn).62 The lot of learning is less common: it is found only in the works of Abū Maʿshar (and possibly, in corrupt form, in that of ʿImrān).63 The same authors give a ‘lot of authority and of what the native does’, immediately followed by a ‘lot of manual workers and trades’.64 These two lots seem to have been conflated in the Karmaprakāśa, where the name of the last lot corresponds to the latter, but the formula used to the former. It thus seems likely that Samarasiṃha’s source text depended on one of these authors (the more well-known of which was certainly Abū Maʿshar) for at least part of its list of lots. The remaining five lots of the Karmaprakāśa—those of dignity, faith, friends, strength, and body (the last three of which share their formula with the lot of renown)—have no parallels in any Arabic source known to me.65

Of these 32 lots, all but two are present in what has become the most widespread list of Tājika sahamas, compiled some three centuries later by Nīlakaṇṭha and comprising 50 items.66 The two Karmaprakāśa lots absent from Nīlakaṇṭha’s list are what may be called duplicates, sharing a formula for calculation with one or more other lots of different name and signification; of Nīlakaṇṭha’s remaining 20 lots, four are likewise duplicates. But what most concerns us here is the fact that Balabhadra, relaying Nīlakaṇṭha’s list in his Hāyanaratna, quotes Samarasiṃha on the formulae of two lots that are absent from the Karmaprakāśa.67 Other such lots, not mentioned by Balabhadra, may of course exist. In the light of this finding, it seems advisable to treat with some caution Pingree’s assumption that the seeming ‘growth in the number of lots indicates that new Arab/Persian sources were constantly being tapped by the Indian tājikīs [sic]’.68

3.2 Body, Health and Life (Chapters 5–13)

Following this introductory section, chapter 5, Niṣekādhikāra ‘On impregnation’, sets out the doctrine generally known in western literature as the trutine of Hermes,69 positing an astrological correlation between the times of conception and birth—the ascendant degree in one being the ecliptical longitude of the moon in the other, and vice versa. This in turn makes it possible to adjust an approximate ascendant and its concomitant time of birth. The average duration of a normal pregnancy is assumed to be 273 days or exactly ten sidereal months, with a maximum deviation of a fortnight either way.70 The antecedents of this doctrine, ascribed by Hellenistic writers to Petosiris, are quite ancient: the average value of 273⅓ days for the gestational period is known from Babylonian astrological sources.71

The distinctive form in which the calculations are presented in the Karmaprakāśa, including the conversion of twelve-degree segments into twenty-four half-degrees to facilitate the reckoning of hours in a nychthemeron, is almost certainly derived from Abū Bakr al-Ḥasan ibn al-Khaṣīb’s late ninth-century Kitāb al-mawālīd, thus providing us with our second identifiable Arabic source text. In the absence of an Arabic edition of the K. al-mawālīd, I have based my comments here and below on its early thirteenth-century Latin translation De nativitatibus.72 While a careful comparison between the extant manuscripts of the Arabic text and those of the Karmaprakāśa might bring further details to light, such an exercise is beyond the scope of the present article; and as the instances below will show, the Sanskrit and Latin texts are generally so similar as to leave their common origin in little doubt.

Verse 5.7 appears to be a somewhat garbled version of the related doctrine known in Arabic as an-namūdār (from the Persian; generally Latinized as animodar), too brief for the immediate source to be identified.73 Chapters 6 and 7—Ariṣṭādhikāra ‘On fatality’ and Ariṣṭabhaṅgādhikāra ‘On cancellation of fatality’ (alternatively called Jīvananirṇayādhikāra ‘On the determination of life’)—are also closely based on Abū Bakr, with some of the material arranged slightly differently than in the Latin version.74 These chapters describe the division of nativities into four categories: those who are born dead or die immediately after birth; those who die in childhood; those who die young; and those who attain a full span of life—each with its own astrological criteria. This discussion is followed by material on the specific kinds and times of childhood illnesses according to the decans of the zodiacal signs, on the examination of the moon’s position on certain days following birth, and on the nativities of children abandoned by their parents. The Karmaprakāśa section on decans (6.16–23) is garbled and disorganized; interestingly, the same is true of the Latin versions of Abū Bakr’s work, suggesting corruptions occurring very early in the manuscript tradition, prior to the east-west diffusion.75 Chapter 7 invokes the authority of a certain ‘Durvītthasa’; as confirmed by De nativitatibus, the name refers to Dorotheus of Sidon.76

The brief chapter 8, Śarīrādhikāra ‘On the body’, details the physical characteristics of a native on the basis of the ruler of the (ascending?) decan. While the descriptions of the seven planets (largely a reiteration of 2.6–8) are too general for their source to be positively identified, the material is not based on the works of Sahl or Abū Bakr already discussed. The text (8.1) states that it is taken from ‘Yavana’ or possibly ‘the Yavanas’; the order in which the planets are presented, from Saturn to the moon, confirms an extra-Indian origin.

Chapter 9, Āyurdāyādhikāra ‘On the length of life’, is a faithful if condensed rendering of Abū Bakr’s version of longevity procedures based on the ἀφέτης or, to use the term most common in western literature since medieval times, the hyleg.77 These are similar to but not identical with procedures presented by other medieval Arabic-language authors, all largely resting on Persian astrological tradition and constituting varying syntheses of the doctrines of Ptolemy, Dorotheus and Vettius Valens.78 As in Abū Bakr, while the selection of the chief significator of life or hillāja (Ar. hīlāj, from Persian hīlāg),79 is explained in some detail in the Karmaprakāśa, there is no mathematical elucidation on calculating its directed motion (ἄφεσις) to the killing points. This is presumably why the technical Arabic term for such motion—tasyīr, met with in some later Tājika texts as tāsīra—is not found in the Karmaprakāśa. We do, however, find the important term khattakhutta (via Ar. kadkhudāh from Middle Persian, translating οἰκοδεσπότης), designating the planet having authority over the hillāja and determining the approximate years of life allotted to the native.80 The list of greater, middle and lesser years given by the seven planets when they fulfil this office (9.20) deviates slightly from the standard figures according to all available text witnesses; but the figure of 39½ for the middle years of the sun and moon does agree with Abū Bakr’s text.81

Chapter 10, Daśānayanādhikāra ‘On the calculation of periods’, begins (10.1–3) as a summary of the next section of the Kitāb al-mawālīd, on the directed motion of the ascendant through the terms (hadda, from Ar. ḥadd) and the aspects of the planets.82 These verses include Abū Bakr’s example of the ascendant being directed through the terms of Mercury, once using the technical designation kisimā (from Ar. qisma ‘division’) for such a period, but otherwise the generic Sanskrit word daśā. For the rest of the chapter, however, the daśās described are not based on directions (tasyīr, ἄφεσις), but rather on the so-called fardārāt, a mathematically far less demanding system probably of medieval Persian origin.83 No variant of the word fardār occurs in the Sanskrit text, nor is there any indication that the transition from one prognostic method to the other is at all intentional; the impression given is rather that of a misunderstanding. The fardārāt are not described by Abū Bakr, so that the passage discussing them must have been excerpted from some other, as yet unidentified Perso-Arabic source.84 The order in which the results of each planet’s period are described is the classical Indian one (following the days of the week), suggesting that this passage was reworked by Samarasiṃha rather than taken directly from a source text. We may further note the use of the technical term dalīla (Ar. dalīl) in the sense of ‘signification’ or ‘significator’, introduced here (10.8) and occurring frequently in following chapters.

Chapter 11, Nidhanādhikāra ‘On the end [of life]’, makes a return to the topic of the hillāja and discusses how to establish the precise time of death using Indian calendric parameters, though still without explaning the mathematical procedures properly underlying the method of direction. It also describes how to predict the cause of death, or of a brush with death (apamṛtyu)—‘by illness or by iron’—from the planet afflicting the hillāja. While this method appears to be derived from Ptolemy, the intermediary Perso-Arabic source is as yet unidentified.85 The text attributes the doctrine simply to ‘Yavana’; like the similarly attributed chapter 8 above, it is also very short—with its six verses in fact the shortest chapter of the Karmaprakāśa.

By contrast, chapter 12, Doṣādhikāra ‘On defects’, is the longest chapter of the work, and is clearly based on Abū Bakr’s extensive list of astrological correlatives for various illnesses.86 Despite its length, the Karmaprakāśa chapter is only a partial summary of the material in the K. al-mawālīd, but the sequence of the material is largely the same, dealing in order with illnesses of the eyes, ears and tongue (including speech defects); hunchbacks; leprosy and other skin ailments; madness and idiocy; epilepsy and sharp pains (śūla, possibly a misunderstanding: the Latin version has paralysis); ailments of the heart, belly and spleen; bilious disease; impotence, genital deformity, sexual misconduct and excessive lust; hemorrhoids and boils; dwarfishness; baldness; bad breath; bodily weakness; broken limbs; injuries to hands and legs; and general methods for determining the parts of the body vulnerable to illness as well as the time of its onset. Particular note may be made of the concept of ‘black bile’ (kṛṣṇapitta, 12.30), not found in pre-Islamic Indian medicine.

The first few verses of chapter 13, Prakṛtyadhikāra ‘On [the native’s] nature’, bring us back to the topic of directions through the terms begun in chapter 10. Based on the same section of Abū Bakr’s work, they clearly demonstrate Samarasiṃha’s lack of understanding of the mechanics of direction (tasyīr). Abū Bakr’s example nativity has 1° Gemini (expressed in ordinal numbers as the ‘second degree’) on the ascendant, with 5° of the terms of Mercury therefore yet to rise; he converts these 5° of ecliptical longitude into 4°40′ of oblique ascension, which he equates with four years and eight months.87 Samarasiṃha’s version has no ascensional degrees but simply puts the longitude of the ascendant at 4°40′ Gemini and equates this with four years and eight months elapsed (not remaining) of Mercury’s period.

The remainder of the chapter is based on the immediately following section of the K. al-mawālīd, treating the moral character of the native.88 Some parts of this section found in the available Latin editions of De nativitatibus are missing in the Karmaprakāśa; interestingly, most of these are also absent from a manuscript of De nativitatibus dated 1458–59 (now in the Biblioteka Jagiellońska, Krakow), referenced by Dykes.89 As it stands, the Karmaprakāśa (13.5–26) lists, in order, planetary configurations for courage, cowardice, irascibility, forbearance, shamelessness, bashfulness, eloquence, compassion, deceit and mendacity; further, for becoming a jester or entertainer, robber, thief, adulterer or adulteress, or a faithful husband; and finally, for generosity and greed.

3.3 Livelihood, Wealth and Poverty (Chapters 14–16)

The Karmaprakāśa’s main source of material on psycho-physical constitution, life and health is thus Abū Bakr, just as the main source of its introductory matters is Sahl ibn Bishr. The sources of the next section are less clear-cut. Chapters 14 and 15 both cover matters of wealth and occupation, the latter in greater detail, but still with some overlap, as reflected in the similar headings: chapter 14 is labelled Upajīvikādhikāra ‘On subsistence’ or Karmapratyayādhikāra ‘On the understanding of work’; chapter 15, Ājīvikādhikāra ‘On livelihood’ or Hastakarmādhikāra ‘On the work of the hands’. The latter is in fact based on Abū Bakr, setting out methods for determining the general nature of a native’s work and his level of professional success as well as particular configurations for a variety of occupations: vendors of musk and perfumes, dyes, fruit and bark; farmers; merchants in various types of coarse or fine cloth including silk, wool and camel hair, or in lentils and grains such as barley, wheat, sesame and rice; those who deal in leather goods or in camels, donkeys, cows, horses, goats and other quadrupeds; sellers of, or workers in, pearls and gold; and craftsmen or labourers such as weavers, makers of woollen goods, carpenters and metalworkers, shoemakers, dyers, diggers, sailors, makers of tools and weapons, entertainers, physicians, hunters, fishermen and fowlers—all variously subdivided.90

For Chapters 14 and 16 (the latter entitled Dāridryādhikāra ‘On poverty’) I have thus far been unable to find any clear parallel texts, though the content as such is fairly detailed and conforms to standard patterns of medieval Perso-Arabic astrological discourse—prominently featuring term and triplicity rulers, sect factors, syzygies, orientality and occidentality, and the lots of fortune and wealth. Given the underlying textual confusion suggested by the available Latin versions, the question of whether these chapters are based on authentic sections of Abū Bakr’s text, subsequently lost in the western transmission, must, for the present, remain open.

The opening stanza of chapter 14 as given by the available text witnesses is, in its former half, almost certainly corrupt:

Wealth is the foundation here [in the world]: prior to that is the work undertaken. To elucidate that, he explained an opinion. There is a description (varṇanā). If the moon, coming out from under the sun, [forms] a muthaśila with the ruler of the terms of the previous last phase (tithi), that [ruler] indicates the work.91

However, Nārāyaṇabhaṭṭa’s commentary implies a somewhat different reading. Text witnesses of the Daivajñasaṃtoṣaṇī (14.1) give two variant paraphrases, one fuller, the other seemingly abridged or incomplete:

Here, indeed, wealth is the foundation of a man. The cause of that wealth is the work previously undertaken, [that is], acquired. To elucidate, that is, clarify that, the preceptor Varṇana stated [his] opinion.92

Property is the foundation of a man. To elucidate that, he stated the opinion of the preceptor Varṇana.93

This meaning, which implies the reading varṇanasya for varṇanāsti—understanding Varṇana as a proper name—seems preferable to that of the received text. Even with this emendation, however, the half-stanza does give the impression of being rather awkwardly based on a non-Sanskrit original.

No author with a name approximating Varṇana is known from either Indian or Arabic sources, although the name could conceivably be a corruption of an Arabicized form of ‘Hermes’.94 The doctrine of the moon’s first application following the prenatal syzygy indicating the native’s work is found in several sources, though without mention of the ruler of the terms.95 In any case, the phrase ‘he explained’, used not only by the commentator but in the text itself, was most likely taken over directly from an Arabic original: Indian astrological works very rarely attribute doctrines to particular authors (with the exception of deities or semi-divine sages).

3.4 Siblings and Parents (Chapters 17–18)

The next two chapters relate to one astrological place each: chapter 17 is named Sahajādhikāra ‘On siblings’ (belonging to the third place) and chapter 18, Pitrorariṣṭādhikāra ‘On the fatality of the parents’, although it does in fact treat the matter of parents (belonging to the fourth place) somewhat more broadly. Both chapters are, once more, based on Abū Bakr.96 Apart from consistently reinterpreting Abū Bakr’s use of triplicities as referring to the navāṃśa, chapter 17 is of interest chiefly for including a reference that is also present in the Krakow manuscript of De nativitatibus but omitted from the printed edition.97 The last verse of the chapter refers to an otherwise unknown authority by the name Kuttha- or Kucchasena, called Albucate in Salio’s translation.98

In chapter 18 we encounter the first instances of the word musallaha or muśallaha, derived from the Arabic muthallatha ‘triangle, triplicity’; 18.7 uses musallaha and navāṃśa in parallel, confirming that they are to be understood as synonyms. The same stanza includes two unusual expressions (vajraha, saravilagna) for which I cannot provide satisfactory etymologies but which are taken by Nārāyaṇabhaṭṭa to refer to dvādaśāṃśas or twelfth-parts (δωδεκατηµόρια)—an ancient zodiacal division, though not among those enumerated in the opening chapter of the Karmaprakāśa.99 Although the stanza appears to draw together a number of separate indications discussed by Abū Bakr in the chapters relating to parents, these do include, in the Latin translation, the twelfth-parts (duodenaria).

While this tendency to summarize and abbreviate sometimes obscures the relation of the Sanskrit text to its sources, parts of chapter 18 may derive from material preserved in the Krakow manuscript but absent from the Latin edition. The chapter ends with a verse summarizing in the form of a universal rule what in Abū Bakr’s text is a particular anecdote about the astrologer Abū l-ʿAnbas aṣ-Ṣaimarī (Latinized as Alanbes) meant to illustrate the broader principle of using directions or tasyīr to find the parents’ time of death,100 though neither Abū l-ʿAnbas nor directions are mentioned in the Sanskrit text.

3.5 Female Nativities and ‘Miscellaneous’ (Chapters 19–20)

At this point in the Karmaprakāśa, the connection to Abū Bakr’s K. al-mawālīd breaks off, and the last two chapters do not relate to particular horoscopic houses. Instead, chapter 19 is entitled Strījātakādhikāra ‘On female nativities’. Although this is a more common topic in classical Indian astrological works (where it is often assigned separate chapters) than in Greek or Perso-Arabic ones, the Karmaprakāśa explicitly relies on non-Indian, as yet unidentified sources.101 Verse 19.1 states that while the principles outlined for men with regard to length of life and similar topics apply equally to the nativities of women, Yavana or the Yavanas have laid down five topics peculiar to women: the husband’s position and affection for his wife, children, virtue, and happiness. The remaining stanzas confirm by repeated use of lots and triplicity rulers that Samarasiṃha’s immediate source is an Arabic one.

Despite its name, chapter 20, Miśraprakīrṇādhikāra ‘On diverse and miscellaneous matters’, is in fact largely homogenous. Up to the last four verses, which eulogize the work itself (20.8–9) and outline Samarasiṃha’s paternal ancestry (20.10–11), it presents a succinct classification of nativities into four groups with respect to wealth and social standing: those who are fortunate or unfortunate, respectively, throughout life, and those who go from misfortune to fortune or vice versa. According to the text (20.7), this basic model of stratification was included to resolve the confusion of methods presented by previous authors in connection with occupations. The earliest Arabic work in which it is found is ʿUmar ibn al-Farrukhān aṭ-Ṭabarī’s (d. ca. 815) own Kitāb al-mawālīd—likewise preserved in Latin translation under the generic title De nativitatibus—which thus becomes our last identifiable Arabic source text.102

Samarasiṃha’s account of his family lineage—from the royal minister Caṇḍasiṃha through Śobhanadeva and Sāmanta to Kumārasiṃha—is remarkable chiefly for omitting both his own name (at least in full) and his date. As noted above, Samarasiṃha is dated by Pingree to any time between 1060 and 1365, an estimate based on his great-great-grandfather serving a king of the Caulukya dynasty. This argument clearly rests on the reading caulukyakṣitipāla at Karmaprakāśa 20.10, which is almost certainly correct, although the printed editions and two of three manuscripts available to me give the variant reading trailokyakṣitipāla ‘king of the three worlds’—tritely grandiose but worthless from the point of view of historical information.103 Tejaḥsiṃha, whose precise relationship (if any) to Samarasiṃha is unknown but who belonged to the same Prāgvāṭa community, likewise claimed a family connection with the Caulukyas in a ministerial capacity.104 As Tejaḥsiṃha is not only known to have written a commentary on a work by Samarasiṃha, but also borrows from the latter in his Daivajñālaṃkṛti, authored in 1337, we can safely assume that Samarasiṃha wrote no later than the early fourteenth century, and very possibly earlier.105 The 1274 date suggested for the Karmaprakāśa by one of Pingree’s sources is thus quite plausible.

Although Samarasiṃha’s name is not explicitly given in the Karmaprakāśa, the very last verse (20.11) does contain a punning allusion to it, referring to the author as Smara, the god of love, extracting the perfume from the pericarp of the lotus flower of Tājika for the pleasure of astrologer bees.106 While there is no doubt that his actual name was Samarasiṃha (‘a lion in battle’), the difference in pronunciation between this and Smarasiṃha (‘a lion in love[making]’) would have been minimal, and the latter variant is occasionally met with in Tājika literature.107

4 An Incomplete Text?

Although Samarasiṃha is unambiguous in naming the Gurutājikatantradīpa or Gurutantra (Great Teaching) by ‘Khindika’ as his source, we can thus discern at least five actual main sources for the Karmaprakāśa: Sahl ibn Bishr (chapters 1 and 3); Abū Maʿshar or, less likely, ʿImrān ibn Aḥmad (chapter 4); Abū Bakr (chapters 5–7, 9–10, 12–13, 15 and 17–18); ʿUmar aṭ-Ṭabarī (chapter 20); and one or more Arabic authors so far unidentified (chapters 8, 11, 14, 16 and 19). In addition, occasional verses in several chapters have unknown Arabic sources, and chapter 2 depends largely on Indian material, also unidentified. The combination of several Arabic source texts supports the hypothesis that the Great Teaching was an Arabic compendium of astrology compiled by or attributed to al-Kindī. All identified authors whose dates are known belong to the ninth century, indicating that such a compendium may have been created not much later. Chapters 8, 11 and 19, all based on unidentified Arabic material, invoke the authority of ‘Yavana’, and while the Sanskrit word was by this time used indiscriminately to refer to any western foreigner—including Persians and Arabs—the possibility that it is employed here in the original sense of ‘Greek’, perhaps to render the Arabic yūnān with the same origin and meaning, is certainly worth considering, particularly as one of these chapters describes a distinctively Ptolemaic doctrine not discussed by most medieval Arabic sources.108

As already noted, the list of topics covered by the Karmaprakāśa appears to be incomplete. The order of the material based on Abū Bakr largely agrees with the Latin edition of De nativitatibus, swelling the section relating to the first horoscopic house with discussions of illnesses and occupations—otherwise belonging to the sixth and tenth houses, respectively—immediately prior to the section on wealth (second house).109 These sections are followed in the Karmaprakāśa by chapters on the third and fourth houses, as seen above; but the remaining six houses are conspicuously absent. The chapters in De nativitatibus corresponding to those houses cover the topics of children, marriage and sexual relations, circumstances of death, journeys, friends, and enemies, none of which is discussed in the Karmaprakāśa.110 That Samarasiṃha should have considered such topics—several of which have been mainstays of astrological consultations since antiquity—of insufficient interest to merit inclusion in his text is almost inconceivable, and we are thus left with two alternatives: either Samarasiṃha lacked access to material (from Abū Bakr or any other Arabic-language source) dealing with the house topics in question, or else the version of the Karmaprakāśa that has come down to us is incomplete, with a number of chapters missing between what are now chapters 18 and 19. For such a loss of text to leave no trace in the form of variant readings in the extant witnesses, it would have had to occur very early in the transmission history.

At present we have no way of determining with certainty which is the more likely alternative; but we may note a further omission, which could indicate that the text we have is not the complete Karmaprakāśa. As described above, Samarasiṃha states in the opening verses of the work that he will explain astounding things, including ‘[the prediction of] the flavours of food’. Discussions on food or meals—with headings like bhojyavicāra or bhojanacintā—are common in later Tājika texts, though they typically occur in the context either of interrogations or of day-to-day predictions within an annual prognosis.111 These sections are always found near the end of the respective works; the same is true of the treatment of meals in Sahl’s Kitāb fi l-masāʾil wa-l-aḥkām, on which the Tājika material is partly based.112 If the Karmaprakāśa did originally contain a section on food, it very possibly followed the same pattern (though this does not help us to understand the relevance of a discussion of food in a treatise on genethlialogy). Pingree, while stating that the topic ‘evidently did not have much attraction for the older Greek astrologers’, gives a valuable list of Hellenistic, classical Indian and Byzantine sources, some of the latter based largely on Arabic works;113 but in the absence of an actual treatment of the topic by Samarasiṃha, speculation on his possible sources is pointless.

5 Samarasiṃha’s Authorship Reflected in Later Sources

Following its initial chapters on general principles, the Karmaprakāśa is thus exclusively concerned with genethlialogy or natal astrology. There is no trace of the annual prognostication (varṣaphala) with which later Tājika tradition is more or less synonymous, nor of its other chief topic, interrogations (praśna). This difference in content between the Karmaprakāśa and subsequent Tājika literature is particularly striking in view of the authority that Samarasiṃha’s name commands among later generations of authors; and when we examine the actual references to Samarasiṃha found in the works of these authors, what we find is, with very few exceptions, passages that do not belong to the Karmaprakāśa at all. One such instance has already been noted above.114

I have previously demonstrated that the popular Praśnatantra, commonly but mistakenly attributed to Nīlakaṇṭha, has for its core some 170 stanzas in āryā metre comprising a Sanskrit epitome chiefly of Sahl ibn Bishr’s work on interrogations (K. fi l-masāʾil wa-l-aḥkām), with some additions from his Introduction and from one or two other Arabic-language sources.115 This Sanskrit epitome is attributed by the commentator Viśvanātha to Samarasiṃha, an attribution indirectly supported by Viśvanātha’s junior contemporary Balabhadra, who in his Hāyanaratna quotes several of the same stanzas from ‘Samarasiṃha’, without mentioning the title of the work. Not one of these 170 stanzas forms part of the Karmaprakāśa as we have it, nor are they limited to the topics noted above as missing from that text (such as marriage or children). More decisively, the Praśnatantra material attributable to Samarasiṃha is metrically uniform and refers repeatedly to astrological interrogations,116 whereas the Karmaprakāśa is metrically highly varied and concerns itself only with genethlialogy.117 We are thus left to conclude that the original version of the Praśnatantra was a separate work on interrogations authored in Sanskrit by Samarasiṃha on the basis of Arabic source texts. The extant text of the Praśnatantra—with additions from both Tājika and non-Tājika works, some as late as the sixteenth century—is widely published; Samarasiṃha’s original text may or may not have included stanzas no longer present.118

Apart from the Praśnatantra, the two main sources of quotations from Samarasiṃha are, to my present knowledge, Balabhadra’s Hāyanaratna on annual prognostication and Viśvanātha’s Prakāśikā commentary on Nīlakaṇṭha’s Tājikanīlakaṇṭhī.119 All three sources raise important questions, particularly when examined together. The stanzas quoted from Samarasiṃha by Balabhadra fall into two categories: those addressing fundamental concepts and definitions applicable to all branches of Tājika astrology, and those dealing specifically with annual prognostication or varṣaphala. Both types of quotation are also found in Viśvanātha’s commentary. Intriguingly, although Balabhadra quotes no verses explicitly on the subject of interrogations or praśna, several of the verses he does quote also appear, with minor variations, in the Praśnatantra, which is concerned almost exclusively with praśna. In one such instance, the received text of the Praśnatantra does in fact read rather like a passage on annual predictions, with the word ‘year’ occurring three times in two verses:120

Here the two versions are virtually identical; but the following example concerns two passages which, while composed in the same metre and more or less interchangeable with regard to meaning—being clearly based on the same source text—are so different in phrasing that we cannot plausibly blame textual corruptions, but must conclude that one constitutes a deliberate reworking of the other:121

While neither version refers to the current year, it is surely significant that the word praśne (‘in a question’) is absent from the variant quoted by Balabhadra.122

A possible explanation of these textual peculiarities would be that Samarasiṃha authored at least two independent or semi-independent works in addition to the Karmaprakāśa: one—the original Praśnatantra, based on Sahl—dealing with interrogations or praśna, the other with annual revolutions or varṣaphala; and that he included in the latter a certain amount of reworked material imported from the former.123 Balabhadra’s Hāyanaratna, being chiefly concerned with varṣaphala, would naturally favour the latter variants.124

In this connection it will be useful to examine some of Viśvanātha’s statements about Samarasiṃha’s works in the Prakāśikā commentary. The most substantial section of the Praśnatantra derived from Sahl through Samarasiṃha is introduced (2.1) with the words: ‘Now follows the investigation of questions pertaining to the individual places [of the horoscope, as found] in the Praśnatantra related in the Tājikaśāstra.’125 If we assume that Tājikaśāstra is to be taken as the designation of an actual text, then this suggests that, to Viśvanātha’s mind at least, the original Praśnatantra did form part of a larger work. His commentary on Nīlakaṇṭha’s Saṃjñātantra 2.52 gives us a further piece of the puzzle as he remarks, before quoting a verse on inauspicious configurations: ‘For that reason the plain meaning of this is clearly stated in the Saṃjñātantra [of the] Tājika authored by Samarasiṃha.’126 Another section of the Praśnatantra is introduced (3.1) with the simple phrase tājike samarasiṃhe. It thus seems reasonable to assume that Samarasiṃha wrote, in addition to the Karmaprakāśa, a set of works known collectively by generic titles such as Tājika[śāstra] or Samarasiṃha[tājika] and comprising a Saṃjñātantra on fundamentals of Tājika astrology, a Praśnatantra on interrogations, and a work on annual revolutions, probably called *Varṣatantra. Stanzas on these three topics attributed to Samarasiṃha but not found in the Karmaprakāśa are in the same āryā metre, accentuating the underlying unity of the texts.

6 The Karmaprakāśa and the Tājikaśāstra

Although familiar with the Karmaprakāśa, Viśvanātha appears to have been ignorant of the identity of its author. This is not so strange as it may seem: as discussed above, the text of the Karmaprakāśa proper does not actually mention Samarasiṃha’s name. Nevertheless, we can be fairly certain that Samarasiṃha did author the Karmaprakāśa, for three reasons. First, as evinced by the colophons of many (but not all) manuscripts and corroborated by Balabhadra,127 there is a tradition to that effect, even if Viśvanātha was unaware of it. Second, as was also previously mentioned, the last verse of the Karmaprakāśa does contain a pun on the author’s name; and third, stanzas on fundamental Tājika doctrines quoted by other authors from what we may now tentatively call Samarasiṃha’s Tājikaśāstra have very marked similarities—often word for word, though in different metres—with corresponding passages in the Karmaprakāśa, though the latter are occasionally more concise. Two brief examples will suffice for the present:

On the three occasions that Viśvanātha quotes the Karmaprakāśa in his commentary, he refers to it only by title (as the Manuṣyajātaka), never by author; and on one such occasion, he adds: ‘[This] is also said in Samarasiṃha’.128 Further on, in the context of a disputed reading, Viśvanātha states: ‘However, in Samarasiṃha and likewise in the Yavanatājika and likewise in the Manuṣyajātaka, the reading is […].’129 Both ‘Samarasiṃha’ and the Karmaprakāśa are then quoted verbatim in the gloss: it is ‘Samarasiṃha’ that contains the exact phrase discussed (lagnād dvitīyabhavanāt), while the Karmaprakāśa (4.4) includes a very similar one (lagnād dvitīyāc ca). The reference to a Yavanatājika, not quoted, remains unclear.130 None of the stanzas that Viśvanātha explicitly attributes to Samarasiṃha is found in the Karmaprakāśa, although, as noted above, those on general topics (such as aspect doctrine or lots) have close parallels—always in other metres—in that text.131

As for Nīlakaṇṭha, he was not only familiar with Samarasiṃha’s Tājikaśāstra himself, but also expected his readers to be so. This is clear from a reference found in the Saṃjñātantra of his Tājikanīlakaṇṭhī (2.51–52), which includes a partial quotation:

From the example beginning If the moon occupies Aries [with] Saturn, others say that itthaśāla and the other [configurations apply] to a slower and a swifter [planet] occupying a single sign. That is incorrect, since it is clearly said there that an itthaśāla of a fallen [planet] with [another] fallen [planet, or] of an enemy with an enemy, destroys the object [asked about].132

Viśvanātha’s commentary gives the original verses in full and identifies them as originating with Samarasiṃha, an attribution corroborated by Balabhadra.133 The opening of Nīlakaṇṭha’s Varṣatantra is likewise a pastiche on a stanza by Samarasiṃha—most probably from his own *Varṣatantra—which we know from a quotation in the Hāyanaratna:

Of the Karmaprakāśa, however, Nīlakaṇṭha appears to have been ignorant. He neither quotes nor makes any mention of it; moreover, the technical terms hillāja and khattakhutta—explained in the Karmaprakāśa as discussed above—are mistaken both by Nīlakaṇṭha and by much of the later Tājika tradition for the personal names of earlier authorities.134 This circumstance strongly suggests that Nīlakaṇṭha had not actually read the Karmaprakāśa, perhaps even that he was unaware of its existence, which in turn may indicate that the Karmaprakāśa never achieved the same circulation as the Tājikaśāstra. Balabhadra’s Hāyanaratna, which is a nibandha or meta-commentary drawing on many important expositions of Tājika, does contain a single reference to the Karmaprakāśa (under the title Manuṣyajātaka), which he recognizes as authored by Samarasiṃha.135 Despite having at least some acquaintance with the Karmaprakāśa, however, Balabhadra—whether solely out of respect for his guru’s brother, or because he was unfamiliar with certain parts of the work (perhaps due to an incomplete manuscript)—perpetuates the misunderstanding of hillāja and khattakhutta as personal names.136

The relative dating of the Tājikaśāstra and the Karmaprakāśa cannot, perhaps, be conclusively settled on purely text-internal grounds; but one or two points of interest may be noted. First, as discussed above, while the verse just quoted from the Tājikaśāstra contrasts the Tājika approach with that of genethlialogy (jātaka), the Karmaprakāśa specifically addresses Tājika genethlialogy. This difference in focus may reflect a development in Samarasiṃha’s understanding of Tājika, and perhaps in his access to Arabic-language sources, with the Karmaprakāśa representing a later and more inclusive phase. Second, as was also noted, the evidence strongly suggests that the doctrine of the sixteen configurations (ṣoḍaśayoga) was received by the Indian tradition through Samarasiṃha, whose distinctive misnumbering is repeated by every later author on the subject; but the original examples that accompany some of Sahl’s definitions, though present in later authors such as Nīlakaṇṭha and Gaṇeśa, are lacking from the Karmaprakāśa. This implies that the doctrine in question, with the examples intact, was transmitted through the Tājikaśāstra rather than through the Karmaprakāśa; and in fact, Samarasiṃha’s rendition of one such example has been preserved for us in the extant text of the Praśnatantra (4.58–59).137 Assuming that a Sanskrit version preserving material from the Arabic original is likely to be earlier than an abridged version, this would support the hypothesis of the Karmaprakāśa having been composed after the Tājikaśāstra.138

If Samarasiṃha did indeed author three interrelated texts known individually as the Saṃjñātantra, Praśnatantra and *Varṣatantra, it seems more than likely that Nīlakaṇṭha’s own Saṃjñātantra and Varṣatantra were intended to emulate and perhaps to eclipse the work of his illustrious predecessor. In this he was ultimately successful, an achievement probably not unrelated to his official position as jyotiṣarāja at Akbar’s court.139 The extant, hybridized Praśnatantra, while containing no original contribution by Nīlakaṇṭha, may have been compiled by himself or one of his students in order to complete the triad; or the compilation may have been mistakenly attributed to Nīlakaṇṭha on the strength of his existing Saṃjñatantra and Varṣatantra. If Nīlakaṇṭha was further unaware that Samarasiṃha had also composed a jātaka work—namely, the Karmaprakāśa—this would help to explain the lack of any genethlialogical material in his own writings.

7 Concluding Remarks

Irrespective of who was technically the earliest writer on Tājika, Samarasiṃha remains undoubtedly the single most influential author in the tradition as a whole, both directly and through his impact on Nīlakaṇṭha, whose works in their turn have largely defined Tājika since early modern times. Although next to nothing is known of Samarasiṃha personally, and even the century of his floruit remains somewhat conjectural, a close study of his preserved writings enables us to form some tentative conclusions about his role in the Sanskrit-language transmission of Perso-Arabic astrology.

The available evidence, then, suggests that Samarasiṃha authored at least four works on Tājika, the first three of which were interconnected and known collectively as the Tājikaśāstra, with variants. The individual parts dealt with general principles, interrogations, and annual prognostication, respectively; the former two were known as Saṃjñātantra and Praśnatantra, the third most likely as *Varṣatantra. Very likely it was this Tājikaśāstra that Balabhadra had in mind when defining his subject matter at the beginning of the Hāyanaratna:

The word Tājika denotes the treatise (śāstra) composed by Yavanācārya in the Persian language, comprising one area of astrology and having for its outcome the prediction of the various kinds of results of annual [horoscopy] and so on. That same treatise was rendered into the Sanskrit language by those born after him, Samarasiṃha and other Brahmans versed in grammar, and that [work], too, is denoted by the word Tājika.140

These three works depended heavily (though, in the case of the *Varṣatantra, perhaps only indirectly) on Sahl ibn Bishr, with some influence from other Arabic-language authorities—one of which may have been al-Kindī, and another ʿUmar aṭ-Ṭabarī—as evinced by the extant Praśnatantra. Centuries later, the latter text was substantially enlarged by the addition of excerpts from other, mostly non-Tājika works, and the text as a whole was (mis)attributed to Nīlakaṇṭha. The Saṃjñātantra and *Varṣatantra are apparently lost, or at least not available in print nor listed under those names in any manuscript catalogues examined by me; their positions of authority seem to have been usurped by Nīlakaṇṭha’s identically named works, jointly known as the Tājikanīlakaṇṭhī. Samarasiṃha’s Tājikaśāstra was, however, still extant in the early seventeenth century, as confirmed by quotations in the works of Viśvanātha and Balabhadra.

The transmission of Tājika doctrines formulated by Samarasiṃha appears to have taken place primarily through this Tājikaśāstra, while his fourth work, the Karmaprakāśa on genethlialogy, has exercised comparatively little influence on the later tradition. For this work, Samarasiṃha explicitly cites ‘Khindika’, probably identical with al-Kindī, as the author of his source, which may have been a compendium. The ultimate Arabic source texts appear to be the genethlialogical works of Abū Bakr (for the bulk of the text), Abū Maʿshar (particularly for lots, sahama), ʿUmar (a brief passage) and one or more authors as yet unidentified. Some of the material in the initial part of the Karmaprakāśa, ultimately based on Sahl, was most probably adapted in slightly abbreviated form from Samarasiṃha’s own Tājikaśāstra.

There is reason to suspect that the extant text of the Karmaprakāśa is incomplete, lacking as many as seven or more chapters. The material that it does contain is highly abbreviated as compared to the source texts, and sometimes imperfectly understood. One reason for this may be that Samarasiṃha viewed the Perso-Arabic doctrines through the lens of Indian astrological tradition. By contrast, the transmission of the same doctrines to the Latin west, which had no previous tradition of judicial astrology to speak of, was much fuller and more faithful. Even so, the Sanskrit versions do occasionally include material which is not present in the surviving Latin translations.

Given the paramount importance of Samarasiṃha for the tradition of Tājika astrology, we may wonder why his genethlialogical teachings seem not to have been passed down the generations as diligently as those on annual prognostication and interrogations. One partial explanation may be the lack of a living teacher-student tradition of Tājika in the period immediately following Samarasiṃha. Such a situation is indicated by Tejaḥsiṃha, who—although belonging to the same region, hereditary community and social class as Samarasiṃha, intimately familiar with at least some of his works, and writing within perhaps two or three generations of him—explicitly states that he wrote his own work after verifying by experience the statements taken from books, ‘even without the mediation of a true teacher’.141 Significantly, Tejaḥsiṃha deals only with definitions and revolutions, not with genethlialogy proper, suggesting that only parts of Samarasiṃha’s oeuvre were available to him; perhaps he also contributed to their wider distribution.

Despite these circumstances, the Karmaprakāśa has outlived—at least in part—Samarasiṃha’s more popular works, although its authorship was sometimes forgotten. Ironically, its relatively neglected status may have contributed to its survival, as Nīlakaṇṭha and other authors of the Mughal era did not attempt to outshine it with genethlialogical works of their own.


The author would like to acknowledge the generous funding by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond of the research on which this article is based, as well as the substantial contributions of Levente László, MA, in tracing and examining some of the Greek, Latin and Arabic sources discussed, particularly with regard to the doctrines of lots (κλῆροι) and the so-called trutine of Hermes.


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