Varahamihira — Can it be true?” King Vikramaditya asked in anguish, looking around the well-lit and crowded court.
No one replied. All were shocked by the royal astrologer’s prediction.
“Yes, my lord, this is so, however bitter it may be for you,” replied the royal astrologer, breaking the silence. His voice was full of grief. Yet it was authoritative. “This position of the planets predicts the death of the prince at the age of 18.”
While the King controlled his emotions, the Queen, sitting beside him, could not contain herself. “No! No!” she wailed. “My lord, you should see to it that this prediction proves false.”
Though the King had full faith in his astrologer, Mihira, he took every precaution to save his son. But, on the predicted day, a boar killed the prince. When the news reached the King, he immediately summoned Mihira to his court.
“I am defeated, you have won, you have won,” he told Mihira.
The astrologer was as sad as the king. He said, “My Lord, I have not won. It is the science of astronomy and astrology that has won.”
“Whatever it may be, my respected astrologer,” said the King, “It has convinced me that your science is nothing but truth. And for your mastery of the subject, I now confer upon you the Magadha kingdom’s greatest award, the emblem of the varaha (boar).”
From that time Mihira came to be known as Varahamihira.
Varahamihira was born in 499 A.D. into a family of Brahmins settled at Kapittha, a village near Ujjain. His father, Adityadasa, was a worshipper of the sun god and it was he who taught Mihira astrology. On a visit to Kusumapura (Patna) young Mihira met the great astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata. The meeting inspired him so much that he decided to take up astrology and astronomy as a lifetime pursuit.
At that time, Ujjain was the center of learning, where many schools of arts, science and culture were blooming in the prosperity of the Gupta reign. Mihira, therefore, shifted to this city, where scholars from distant lands were gathering. In due course, his astrological skills came to the notice of Vikramaditya Chandragupta II, who made him one of the Nine Gems of his court. Mihira traveled widely, even as far as Greece. He died in 587.
Varahamihira was learned in the Vedas, but was not a blind believer in the supernatural. He was a scientist. Like Aryabhata before him, he declared that the earth was spherical. In the history of science he was the first to claim that some “force” might be keeping bodies stuck to the round earth. The force is now called gravity.
He committed one blunder, however. He was sure that the earth was not in motion. “Had it been so,” he said, “a bird moving in the direction opposite to the earth’s motion (which is westwardly) would return to its nest as soon as it had flown from it.”
Varahamihira made some significant observations in the field of ecology, hydrology and geology. His claim that plants and termites serve as indicators of underground water is now receiving attention in the scientific world. He was also a prolific writer. His mastery of Sanskrit grammer and poetic metre enabled him to express himself in a unique style.
His encyclopedic knowledge and his lively presentation of subjects, as dry as astronomy, made him a celebrated figure. His treatise such as Panchasiddhantika (Five Principles), Brihatsamhita (Master Collection), Brahjjataka (Astrological work), have put him on as high a pedestal in astrology as Kautilya’s in political philosophy, Manu’s in law, Panini’s in grammar.
About his own treatises Varahamihira says: “The science of astrology is a vast ocean and is not easy for everyone to cross it. My treatises provide a safe boat.” That was no boast. Even now they are acknowledged as masterpieces.