Defending astrology teaching in educational institutions

Pran Nevile

One fails to understand the noise about the introduction of astrology teaching in the Indian educational institutions. From time immemorial, astrology has wielded pervasive or peripheral influence in many civilisations, both ancient and modern. The scientists and intellectuals who dismiss astrology as a myth or superstition have not so far produced any tangible evidence to establish their claim. Nor have they examined the factual evidence for astrology collected over thousands of years — facts that defy rational explanation by the current scientific theories.

As the story goes, the renowned Nobel Laureate Sir C.V. Raman was once performing religious rituals with offerings of food to his ancestors at Gaya. Someone said to him, “Sir, you are such a great scientist but how can you believe that this food would reach your ancestors”. Sir Raman smiled and replied, “I cannot prove that this will not reach them”. The pursuit of knowledge demands banishment of pre-conceived notions and prejudices. The universe is full of mysteries and the faith in supernatural teaches man that he knows much less than he thinks. We should have an open mind on all questions and also keep alive our spirit of inquiry.

There is no doubt about the popularity of astrology all over the world. It is estimated that more than half the population either believes in it or interested enough to consult astrologers and read predictions published in the media. Since the beginning of 20th century there is a marked resurgence of interest in astrology in America and the number of practising astrologers could match that of psychiatrists.

In India, the vedic period witnessed remarkable flowering of astrology. There is vast amount of Sanskrit literature on the subject explaining the complex system and techniques evolved over the centuries by the learned sages and philosophers. Astrology has always been recognised and respected as a noble profession. Hindu astrologers were consulted by the Mughal emperors and later by the British rulers. Through astrology, people explored the prospects of their health, wealth and happiness. Every venture, activity and even a journey was undertaken on the advice of astrologers who pronounced the auspiciousness of the day and time. No wonder, astrology was raised to the status of a science in India.

We come across a fascinating account by James Forbes in his famous work ‘Oriental Memoirs’ (1813) about some startling predictions by a well-known Brahmin astrologer of Bombay which came true. One relates to the appointment of Mr Hodges as Governor of Bombay in 1767 which was prophesised by the astrologer many years before when he was a young official of the East India Company. The narrative makes a very interesting reading. In 1766, orders were issued appointing his junior Mr Spencer as Governor to succeed the current incumbent Mr Crommelin. Hodges lodged a strong protest complaining of injustice in the court of company directors whereupon he was suspended from service by the Governor and Council of Bombay and the matter reported to London. When Hodges informed the Brahmin astrologer about this, the latter stuck to his prediction and assured him that Spencer would never succeed. Anyhow, Hodges began preparing for his return voyage to England. Surprisingly, just on the eve of his departure, a letter was received from London cancelling Spencer’s appointment in the light of some serious charges against him while he was posted in Bengal and at the same time appointing Hodges as Governor as reward for his long admirable service record.

Thereafter, Hodges developed such a deep faith and respect for his astrologer that throughout his career, he undertook no important step without consulting him.

The other case refers to a young English lady in Bombay who was on her way to join her husband at Surat. On the eve of her departure, the same Brahmin astrologer happened to visit her host family in Bombay. The host jokingly asked him to tell the destiny of the young lady. To the surprise of everybody, the Brahmin gave her a penetrating and compassionate look and said in the native language understood by the host that her cup of felicity is full — and a bitter poison awaits her for which she must prepare. How prophetic were his words since on her arrival in Surat, she found her husband critically ill and he expired in her arms.

Forbes after citing these cases pays tribute to the ancient wisdom of Hindustan where arts and science, learning and philosophy, and the sublimest poetry were encouraged by the native sovereigns at a time when Greece and Rome were involved in darkness, and Egypt herself was probably in a state of comparative barbarism. He adds that despite the ravages of history, there still remain those who adore God in his unity, and cherish the sublime ideas inculcated by the old seers and sages. It is not easy to determine the limits of their researches, or the gifts and talents they possessed.

As regards my personal experience, I must admit that predictions by astrologers have indeed come true on many occasions. Almost every Hindu, irrespective of his belief in astrology gets the new born child’s horoscope drawn. Those with absolute faith would even approach the astrologer to determine the influence of the child’s planetary combination on the well-being and prosperity of the near and dear ones. The horoscope serves as a reference document to determine the auspicious timing for functions, new ventures and pursuits in life in order to ensure success. In matrimonial alliances, the astrologers are usually asked to examine the horoscopes of the prospective groom and bride in order to establish their compatibility.

I am reminded of an interesting incident at the golden wedding anniversary celebrations of a lively couple known to me. Someone asked the man what did he see in the woman whom he married half a century ago. The man smiled and answered, I never saw her before marriage, the whole thing was arranged by my parents after due deliberations with the family astrologer and I think they were right.