Jag Venugopal's Blog

July 15, 2010

India’s obsession with Astrology

Filed under: India — Jag @ 11:34 pm

Astrology ranks right up there with Cricket in the importance Indians assign to it. While in days past, it required the creation of detailed horoscopes and much reading of palm lines, today it has morphed into analyzing and adjusting the spelling of one’s name and other such methods to improve one’s lot in life.

According to the Jumaani family, one of the more popular “scientists” in this profession, “each alphabet [sic] of your name has a certain value, and the sum total of this should be in harmony with your date of birth to have a smoother sailing in life”. Various celebrities have taken to this technique to improve their personal or business prospects. For example, the movie originally titled “Singh is King” became “Singh is Kinng”. Down-on-his-luck actor Ajay Devgan became Ajay Devgn overnight, hoping that the loss of the vowel would bring him gains on the silver screen and his pocketbook. Suzanne, wife of Bollywood heart-throb Hritik Roshan became Sussanne, in the reported hope that whatever was ailing their relationship would go away.

Politicians too, got in on the act. Some set upon reworking their names with hopes of electoral victory. The chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka went from being Yediyurappa to Yeddyurappa. The neighboring state of Tamil Nadu saw one of its prominent politicians go from being Jayalalitha to Jjayalalithaa. That great steward of Indian culture, the Bharatiya Janata Party of go-mutra fame, even proposed setting up university courses in Astrology. It was only the loss of power in the next general election that prevented the creation of a “Star Wars” style clone army of newly minted astrologers with M.A. and Ph. D. degrees.

The Indian “science” of Vaastu, similar to the Chinese Feng Shui, has likewise come into vogue. Vaastu deals with such details of a building as where the doors and windows are located, the direction in which the building and entry door face, and even the direction of one’s bed. Whole hordes of Vaastu “consultants” have sprung into operation, charging would be real-estate purchasers a small fortune to analyze the Vaastu-appropriateness of their prospective purchases.  I have often said, only half in jest, that the best way to buy an apartment in India would be to seek one out with poor Vaastu. Because no one would want it, the asking rate for it would be significantly lower than other similar apartments. Only the lack of money in general, and the concern about not being able to sell it back into the market at a later date (for the very same reason) have dissuaded me from doing so.

When asked to explain how numerology or Vaastu affect an individual, the usual explanation is that it all comes down to “vibrations”. You see, each “name” has a vibration. And you need the right quantity and kind of vibrations. Not too many, not too few. Apartments too have vibrations (not to be confused with those that occur during an earthquake; these are of the paranormal kind). The apartment’s vibrations have to be consistent with your vibrations and those of the planets in your horoscope. If I were to talk about a car’s vibrations, the service advisor at my local Toyota dealer would have dollar signs in his eyes, expecting the impending repair order. However, an Indian knowledgeable in the astrologic arts would recognize it as a function of the car’s color, make, model, year of manufacture and registration number. And they better be the right vibrations, unless the poor owner wants to break his neck in a traffic accident.

When I speak with a parent, in-law, uncle, aunt or other elderly relative about astrology in general,  the point I make in my conversations is simple… if this stuff works better than random chance even a minuscule fraction of the time, all that someone has to do is to borrow a ton of money, fly over to NY and speculate in Wall Street. As long as they’re making a little more than they lose on a predictable basis, any number of people will be willing to provide working capital. Besides, I reasoned, if the stuff was even remotely effective, the CIA would have paid out at least $25 million for Bin Laden’s scalp. Unfortunately, rather than persuade my interlocutors, I succeed in getting called a maverick, or worse, a heretic.

Come to think of it, my career ambitions are higher than the IT project management and business analysis that I’m currently doing. And, I could do with a few pounds off the middle, and a shiny new automobile. Time to call the Jumaanis to see what can be done about my name.



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