- Astrology and spirituality
Tamil media, astrology and spirituality
Tamil Nadu boasts of the highest number of spiritual magazines in India. On last count, the number of such magazines was hovering around 70. The common theme in all these magazines is dollops and dollops of free spiritual advice (new mantras being published every month) besides of course the ubiquitous astrological advices. Almost 25% of population in Tamil Nadu seems to be looking at astrology as a full time career option. “Money Life” always publishes content that aims to make the reader more vigilant. I hope that this piece falls within that scope. Let us take a look at some of the typical contents in such magazines. The cover story would be something enticing like – “How to ensure your ward’s success in exams” – this is an annual feature during the months of March and April. Then there are a few articles that talk about if Ram did the right thing in ousting Seeta from Ayodhya – never mind if these have been published a zillion times before. The magazines are then filled with pages after pages about new temples and at the end of the article, it is mandatory to mention that visiting this shrine will help the poor earn wealth, parents to get their daughters married, unemployed to get a job, sick to get healed fast. While there is nothing wrong in publishing information about new and unknown temples, the added “masala” about the benefits which is completely unsubstantiated rankles the reader the most.
The less said about astrological forecasts the better. Reams and reams of forecasts are written that range from “you will fight with your brother”, “mother’s health needs attention,” “please be careful with your boss”, “you will suffer from stomach ache and diarrohea” and “you will enter into a land dispute”.
It is also sad that most Tamil TV channels telecast programs exclusively for astrological forecasts. Topping this list is “Jaya TV” and we know it is the media channel promoted by J Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Exhorting people to be spiritual is one thing and fooling them by way of astrological advices is another thing.
A magazine called “Kumudam Bhakti” used to supply Ganga water along with the Diwali issue. Then another magazine was regularly sending “tantras” to be kept in the pooja room with assurance that placing this “tantra” in the pooja room will result in a flood of gold coins in one’s home. Astrological advices, if one were to go by what is being published in these magazines is relatively simple. You can become an astrologer if you only collect the previous year’s issues of the same magazine. Who is going to cross-check anyway? It is like Vividh Bharati playing the same “Man Chahe” geet program every Wednesday without anyone noticing it. Neither can you say if “ Rekha, Madan, Rinku, Chinky and Pintoo” from Udhampur have really requested a particular Hindi song. In a likewise manner, you also do not know if the same predictions are repeated. Most of these astrologers also have nick named themselves with titles like “Chakravarthy” , “ King of Astrologers”, “Real Astrologer”. A new breed of people (who have taken VRS from PSU banks) have joined this bandwagon to become astrologers. No wonder, India never has a dearth of astrologers / brokers.
There may be a few good astrologers but they are conspicuous by their absence. M R Ramarathnam, a retired professional, based in Chennai, says, “The real astrologers will never take money for predictions. Neither will they look at horoscopes after sunset”. Gone are the days when astrological advices were given cautiously keeping the reading public in mind.
Sukumar Sakthivel approached a Tanjore-based astrologer who calls himself “the King of Mandreekam” (mandreekam is a tamil word that means a kind of sorcery). Within a week, the astrologer replied to him with a detailed letter saying that his life was in danger and someone had performed black magic on him. Solution? Recalls Sukumar, “He advised me to send him a cheque for Rs.39,000/= immediately adding that he would perform a chandika homam and it would help in warding off my enemies”. There was also a veiled threat that in case he did not do the pooja, his condition would further deteriorate. Sukumar’s spouse Sanyogita fired him for even approaching the astrologer. A week later, Sukumar and his family took off for a trip to Kerala (a kind of religious pilgrimage) and in the next 3 weeks, Sukumar landed a new job. He is doing fine now. I hope this incident serves as a reminder to all the readers who are reading this.
Another devotee of Lord Hanuman had shared his experience in one of the magazines. It appears that he was a retired professional planning to build a temple for Lord Hanuman. He approached an astrologer who did what is called as a “prasannam” – it is a kind of forecast that is made using sea-conches and shells. What the astrologer told him shocked him. He was told that he wouldn’t live to see the temple being completed. Extremely perturbed, he returned home completely shattered. His wife rubbished the astrologer’s predictions and gave him the confidence to continue with his work. 27 years after the incident, the gentleman is still alive and though his wife passed away two years ago, he can’t thank her enough.
Ramarathnam adds, “The world today is characterized by an extreme sense of avarice even among the religious community. The people who treated astrology as a sanctimonious profession no longer exist. Even temple priests do not perform the archanas religiously. Most of them are after money. There is also an explanation that they offer that they also need to survive and so they need the money”. Who is denying what they legitimately deserve ? But if money is solely their criterion and performing religious rites is secondary to that, then is this fair? A Sion-based priest who performs poojas at film star’s homes was famous for demanding gold chains and gold rings in the Matunga belt along with his fees for conducting religious ceremonies. He was/is so glamorous that he even appeared in a Television ad. Another Dombivli-based priest has extended his brand to offer catering services. Most of priests have four wheelers and two wheelers.
In South Indian Brahmin families, there is a tradition of visiting the “kula deivam” (or family deity) after a marriage in the family. The temples of the family deities located in hamlets are seldom maintained well as none of the younger generation of Brahmins is willing to take up the job of a village priest. Dwindling population of Tamil Brahmins in villages in Tamil Nadu (& even in cities) is posing a major challenge. Prior to visiting these temples, you have to keep the priest informed well in advance!
Tamil Brahmins across the globe are treating important functions like the thread changing ceremony as mere rituals. Many Brahmin boys who get into inter-caste marriages soon lose interest in the Tamil culture or things like “sandhya vandanam”. Ramarathnam adds, “Even those Brahmin boys who marry within the community do not perform the gayatri japa regularly. It is a sorry state of affairs”.
Nikhil Kelkar a retired professional says, “I follow the principle of Sadguru Wamanrao Pai (who passed away recently) – Man can shape his destiny if he has the will”. A spiritual bent of mind will work wonders for you but you really do not have to depend on what is published in all these magazines or what the astrologers forecast (mostly wrongly). Mumbai based professional C Vaidyanathan, a logistics expert, believes that self-confidence is the key. He adds, “No problem is insurmountable if you have the will to face it head on. If you are part of the problem, then the solution lies with you”.
But Tamil Nadu’s regressiveness is disappointing. This state of affairs in Tamil Nadu is not surprising as years ago, one of my co-passengers in the Dadar-Chennai express remarked wryly – ‘what sort of people are those who vote for film stars after seeing movies‘. Do not be surprised if actress Khushboo becomes chief minister of Tamil Nadu in the future (after all, people of Tamil Nadu had built a temple for her!).
Lastly, readers will do well to recall a short story written by Munshi Premchand. Look at his foresight! A housewife throws something at a cat in anger for entering her kitchen. The cat is dead. There is a furore in the house. The priest is summoned and he orders that a golden statue of cat is made and donated to him to seek salvation from the sin of the cat-hatya. Even as deliberations and negotiations are on with the priest, there is a shriek from the kitchen. The cat is not dead – it has run away!
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