Week: Aug 18 to Aug 31
Penny: Okay – I’m a Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know.
Sheldon: Yes – it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.
Every time i watch that episode (yes, i confess i can watch re-runs of some classic comedy TV shows umpteen number of times!), Sheldon’s witty choice of words evokes an amused smile. It also brings home my own ambivalence on the subject for i can never decide which side am i really on. Do i wholeheartedly support Sheldon’s rational man-of-science approach or like Penny do i believe planetary configurations affect my fate?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in the environment i’ve grownup in. In our country every second person, regardless of whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, villager or city-bred, is out looking for the “astrology-fix”. When you are born, some family-elder notes down the exact time and place of your birth for your natal horoscope to be made. ‘Doshas’ (i.e.malefic influences of some stars), if present, are appeased with special ceremonies. Astrological-compatibility before marriage is still worked out. Thousands of business men (even others for that matter) schedule their day’s work after ascertaining the inauspicious “rahukaalam” for the day. From my own childhood i can recall memories of my paternal grandmother who wouldn’t let us leave the ancestral home after our holidays if the time was not auspicious. My father would angrily complain and protest about the impracticality of it all, specially considering the fact that as an army officer he wasn’t really in control of his leave schedule. But i’ve seen him humour her sentiments and try and adjust his movements to and from his village home according to an auspicious time.
From my father i’ve also learnt my most valuable lesson about these planetary influences on our lives. My mother often recounted for us how when he had first told his parents that he wished to marry her, there was an absolute uproar in their family. One, choosing your own life partner was unheard of in their community; second as per his horoscope he was a very strong ‘manglik’. Most Indians can relate to that term, for a “mangal dosha” in your horoscope is believed to be highly unfavourable for marriage, unless the other person is also one, in which case the negative effects are supposed to cancel each other out. An astrologer was consulted and he was told that if the wedding went through my mother would not survive for more than four years. My father stood his ground and insisted that if his Hindu faith had shown what the problem was, he was confident it would also give him a solution. So he figured out that observing a fast on Tuesdays and performing some special prayer-ceremony whenever the malefic influence of his ‘mangal’ was strong should provide the necessary counter-balance. My mother’s father was an atheist who didn’t believe in any of this ‘mumbo-jumbo’ as he called it, so they got married. There were years when my mother would be critically ill and i’ve known my worried father offering special prayers for her recovery. Something did work out for they remained married for fifty-one years till she passed away some years back. Their story of how individual positive energy can thwart what the stars may foretell has remained the most defining influence on my views towards fate and destiny.
The quest to discover if planetary energies dictate our cycle of life on planet earth has been with me forever, now in the background, now to the fore. Beyond childhood impressions, one also discovered Cheiro, his ‘Book of Numbers’ and his famous book on ‘Palmistry’ And then there was Linda Goodman, her ‘Sun signs’ and ‘Love signs’ providing much fodder for giggly-teenage-chatter during college days. The thing about her writings is that the rational part of you knows that a whole group of millions of people born under a particular zodiac sign cannot possibly share the same characteristics. Yet the lure of her words is such that you are mesmerised into wanting to believe that she writes for you and you alone! Another example of the wizardry of words!
So do the stars actually map out your entire life for you? As an individual do you have no say in how your life should be shaped? Where does the fault lie…in our ‘stars’ or in our ‘underling- selves’?
These and many other questions were partly answered for me during a tea-time tête-à-tête with a neighbour many years back. A post-graduate doctor and a Professor of medicine in a medical college, she surprised me one morning by expressing her belief in Vedic astrology. We were having a good neighbourly chit-chat over a cup of tea when talk veered to the ‘Bhrigu Samhita’ someone had spoken of at a party the previous evening. It was another story from my childhood…a town near my fathers ancestral village was supposed to house a famous astrologer who, it was said, had in his possession some original ‘bhoj-patras’ (pages made of tree-barks) of the astrological treatise written by the sage Bhrigu during the Vedic period. I told her how i had heard of some distant relative visiting the ashram in search of their ‘bhoj-patra’, the belief being that if your page could be found therein, it could predict your past, present and future, as well as tell you about your “karma” from previous births and how it is affecting your present life. Instead of the scepticism i had expected, she provided a deeper understanding and awareness of the subject. Her father was a renowned Vedic Scholar and she had herself seen him studying transcribed copies of some of these ‘bhoj-patras’. Apparently the original treatise contained possible permutations of horoscope-charts running into crores (can’t remember the exact figure she had quoted!). The original ‘patras’ were divided amongst his pupils and over the centuries many were lost. She confirmed the story that if you found your ‘patra’, a task only a scholar in ‘jyotish-vidya’ was capable of, then the accuracy of the predictions was guaranteed.
However, what has always stayed with me is her further insights into what astrology actually is all about and what it is perceived to be. To make accurate predictions requires years of study but instead of true scholars what you usually find are charlatans out to make a quick buck. From her father she too had imbibed a lot of this ancient wisdom. She confessed that she had even dabbled in horoscope reading in her younger days but then gave it up because, in her words, “people expected her to provide treatment!” Using terminology from her doctor profession she compared the horoscope-chart to a blood-pressure monitor…it can tell you what the pressure is, it can point out anomalies when they occur, but it cannot “treat” the issue. Your horoscope is not the illness, your ‘karma’ is. Your fate can only be modified by your good “karma”. As per astrology, there are always two forces at play: ‘Daiva’ and ‘Purushkara’, fate and individual energy. The individual energy can modify and even frustrate fate. Moreover, the stars often indicate several fate possibilities; for example the horoscope may indicate that one may die early, but either because of your own karma or through the destiny of someone close to you, that may change and one could live to a ripe old age. In that sense astrology does not say that events must and should happen, but gives the benefic and malefic tendencies that can be directed or modified through conscious effort. It cannot be called a ‘science’ in the sense in which we understand the term; rather it is the philosophy of discovering and analysing past impulses and future actions in the light of planetary configurations. The stars merely record a destiny that has already been formed. The planets do not dictate, but indicate the energies that are influencing a situation in a given time.
To quote one of my favourite lines on the subject~
Cassius (to Brutus):
Why, man, he [Caesar] doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
(From Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”)
It’s an important lesson i’ve imbibed over the years…your future lies in your own hands, in the ‘karmic path’ you decide to walk upon, in the choices you make.
The fault lies not in our stars.
(NB~The above is a re-blog of some ideas spoken about in my earlier posts.)