Summary: Explaining the key features of the Mahadasha planetary periods used in prediction, their duration, possible effects and how they are modified by the Antardasha sub-periods.
Jyotish Astrologers use Mahadashas to predict periods when we might experience significant life changes and the events, for better or worse, associated with them.
During specific Mahadasha periods, their predictions from the birth‑chart, which are linked to a particular planet, are most likely to occur. Mahadashas therefore enable astrologers to determine when ‘the cosmic postman’ will deliver his ‘karmic packages’!
The Mahadasha system is unique to Jyotish. Although sometimes written as ‘Mahadasa’, it is pronounced ‘Mahadasha’
Key Features of Mahadashas
- The Mahadasha system of prediction is unique to Vedic Astrology – it is not linked to ‘transits’
- Each major period is ruled by a different planet
- The total duration of all the major periods taken sequentially is 120 years
- While the duration of the major periods is the same for everyone, each individual has his/her own starting point in the 120 year cycle (determined by the longitude of the moon at birth in the sidereal zodiac)
- Mahadasha periods are a key to successful prediction. This is where the static elements of the planets in the houses and signs in the birth-chart interact with the dynamic element of the Mahadashas to produce time dependent predictions: i.e. ‘what happens’ and ‘when it happens’
- There are a number of different Mahadasha systems around , but the one most commonly used and discussed here is the ‘Vimsottari Dasha’ system
- Jyotish software is by far the easiest way to find the Mahadashas for an individual (although tables are available)
Mahadasha Periods – Duration in Years
The Mahadasha sequence is in the order as shown in the diagram above.
This sequence is the same for everyone regardless of their ascendant, or position of the Moon, or any other chart factors.
The Mahadasha that is operational at the time of our birth depends on the longitude of the Moon in the sidereal zodiac at the time we were born.
The Moon’s position also determines the remaining duration of that Mahadasha. For example, our birth time might give us a starting point of say 9 years into a Saturn Mahadasha. As the total duration of a Saturn Mahadasha is 19 years this means we would experience a change to a Mercury Mahadasha (the next in the sequence) when we were 10 years old. And a change to a Ketu Mahadasha (the next in the sequence) in another 17 years – when we were 27 years old. Then would follow the Venus Mahadasha, then that of the Sun, etc.
Effects of Mahadashas
We can best understand a Mahadasha period through an analogy. In the ‘play’ of life all the main characters (indicated by the planets) are always present, but often just waiting ‘off stage’. We may have to wait some time, maybe until Act 3 before the hero, or villain, actually appears! A skilled Vedic Astrologer can detect this potential waiting in our birth-charts and from it predict future events. They can see how the ‘play of life’ will unfold for an individual, and then make predictions into the far future.
Astrologers often suggest a range of possible events – but it is likely that only a few of these possibilities occur. This is not a ‘get out clause’ on their behalf ‑ just that a list of possibilities is given in the classical texts and they tell us what the lists include. They can certainly identify the life areas where we can expect benefits, or problems. ‘Forewarned’ is ‘forearmed’ as they say.
It is as though all things connected with a planet (e.g. the planets natural indications, the house(s) which it owns, the sign and house in which it is placed, or other planets which it aspects) become activated and brought to the foreground during the planets Mahadasha. Therefore, the most significant life events during a planet’s Mahadasha will be events associated in some way with where and how that particular planet is placed.
While factors indicated in our birth‑chart hold good for life, the effect of a particular planet’s Mahadasha is to activate or ‘turn on’ areas of the chart associated with the Mahadasha planet. These areas indicate the most significant life events during that period.
Assessing the effects of Mahadashas is further complicated by the fact that planets active during these periods don’t just behave according to their natural characteristics! This is where the concept of functional benefics (or malefics) is used. A benefic is a good agent and a malefic a negative agent. A planet such as Jupiter which is considered a natural benefic can, at times (e.g. for a Libra ascendant), behave in a negative way, but this depends on the particular ascendant. During Jupiter’s Mahadasha it would then be classed as a functional malefic influence. Its potential negative tendencies and ability to do harm will then become active and apparent during its Mahadasha.
Antardashas: sub-periods of Mahadashas
Each major period, called a Mahadasha, is ‘ruled’ by one of the planets. There are also nine secondary periods called ‘Antardashas’ (again determined by each of the planets) and these significantly modify the effect of each Mahadasha. Predicting specific events, rather than overall positive or negative tendencies during these sub‑periods can be more challenging for a Jyotishi.
However, during a Mahadasha of a strong and well placed functional benefic, when combined with another benefic planet’s Antardasha we can expect events to be very positive indeed. Of course, the overall strength of our chart is important as it gives an indication of how well we could ‘weather the storm’ of any unfavourable Mahadasha / unfavourable Antardasha combination.
When we talk about the minor periods there are 2 planets mentioned. For example a Venus‑Mars period means that the main effects (Mahadasha) are governed by Venus and the minor effects (Antardashas) are controlled by Mars.
The sequence of the minor periods within the major one is identical to the Mahadasha planetary sequence. For example, if we take a Mars Mahadasha, the Antardashas are as follows: Mars-Mars; Mars-Jupiter; Mars-Saturn; Mars-Mercury; Mars-Ketu; Mars-Venus; Mars-Sun; Mars-Moon; then the Rahu-Rahu period begins.
What ‘weight’ should we give to the Mahadasha planet and the Antardasaha planet regarding their effects on an individual? Many Jyotish Astologers seem to attribute about 60% to the Mahadasha planet and around 20% to the Antardasha planet when predicting outcomes from a birth-chart. The remaining 20% is attributed to transits – mainly of the slow moving giants Jupiter and Saturn. This separate topic is covered in another article.
Effects of Birth-time Errors
Although errors in our birth-time will not greatly affect the position of most of the planets in the zodiac the exception is the Moon – which moves through 1 degree of the sky in just under two hours. And it is the position of the Moon which is used to calculate the Mahadasha starting dates!
Starting times of Mahadasha can be several months off their true times due to errors in our birth‑time. If our birth-time is actually earlier than we think, then the Mahadasha (and Antardasha) start date will be later, and vice versa. For example; if we were born into a Venus Mahadasha, a 20 minute error in our birthtime will move all the times predicted forwards, or backwards, by just over 3 months!
Very skilled astrologers can ‘work backwards’ from our real life events to obtain an accurate birth-time. They call this process ‘rectification’ and use their knowledge of Mahadashas to do this. Wow!
Resources for Students of Jyotish
Introduction to Jyotish. A range of articles for people entirely new to Vedic Astrology. Including: Introduction, FAQs, Origins and Karmic Implications.
Key Concepts in Jyotish. Articles covering the Sidereal Zodiac, Planetary Forces, Forecasting Analogies and ‘Planetary Antidotes’.
For Western Astrologers. Articles examining major differences between the two systems and the paradigm shift needed by Western Astrologers wanting to understand the subject.
Learn Jyotish. An extensive collection of articles covering key facts, concepts and methods. Aimed at ‘foundation level’ students. Includes essential information needed before beginning chart interpretations. Covering: Chart Formats, Planets, Houses, Mahadasha Periods, Transits, Aspects, Birth-time Errors, Natural and Functional Benefics / Malefics, Chart Interpretation Basics, etc.