As Covid fuels anxiety, astrologers cash in

ByMAYANK JAIN PARICHHA

Aug 1, 2020

As the virus continues its rampage around the world, more and more Indians are asking for predictions and advice based on the reading of the stars

Thirty-year-old IT professional Amit was excited that he was going to marry, but lockdown killed his excitement as the bride’s family did not want to conduct the ceremony at this time. He had parked himself in his hometown Sagar just for the wedding  — the priest had identified May 5 as the auspicious date and said that no date is favourable for the couple until next year.

Now he is seeking his family astrologer’s help to overcome the adverse conjunction of stars in his horoscope. As per the astrologer’s advice he is keeping himself isolated, fasting on Tuesdays and worshipping the sun.

Even otherwise, Amit believes the stars decide his destiny and checks his horoscope every week. He thinks that despite being good-looking, he never gets much female attention because he was born under zodiac sign Virgo. Now luck is not favouring him when he has found a good life partner for himself. Thus, since the Covid lockdown, he has become more anxious about the future.

Another such believer is 32-year-old Sourabh, who is planning to build a house for his family and also wants to ensure that the building plan follows all astrological rules. He came back to his hometown Shivpuri from Indore just after the unlocking process started. While the whole world’s mindset is changing towards a ‘new normal’ amid the pandemic, he says, “I don’t want to take any risks.”

Bejan Darruwalla

Like Amit and Sourabh, many people are anxious about the future, they want to know what is going to happen. Whether it is health, marriage prospects or even investors looking to make money on the stock market,  astrologers are most busy during this pandemic. Astrology-based companies are booming during this crisis. Prateek Pandey, the co-founder of AstroSage, an astrology website, claims the company’s revenue went up 42% during this public health crisis.

Radhashyam Dandotiya, a Bhopal-based hand reader, who is also an occasional tarot card reader, says he has been getting more calls and WhatsApp messages since March. He estimates that his workload has increased twice as much as before.

Astrological websites like Astrobuddy, Astroyogi are charging customers for advice via calls and chats. They are charging for calls on the basis of time taken — on Astrobuddy for a 5-minute call, customers have to pay Rs 100.

Since people are stuck at home and have more time to spare, astrology -related queries are being searched more at this time. Google trends suggest that people searching for astrological signs and other such queries since March are relatively higher than the same time last year.

Rahul Banerjee, a Kolkata-based astrologer, says that people are mostly coming up with health related queries. “Will covid affect us, are we going to die — these are frequently asked questions that I am dealing with on a daily basis.”  Banerjee is taking twice more calls than he used to get pre- covid times.

“People are scared and want answers right away — when will this Covid  end? I have to counsel some people to not panic. Last month an old man with a phobia of getting paralysed due to Covid called me. I had to explain to him that Covid won’t cause paralysis.”

The New York Times reported that stories related to astrological predictions and astrological sites are getting more traffic during this pandemic. In India too, the case seems similar as news organisations are covering prediction news more frequently. Even on TV, a lot of astrologers like Pt. Hanuman Mishra, Pt. Shailesh who appear on a daily basis say they are working overtime during this pandemic. Queries are related  health, jobs, marriage, Covid vaccine, among many.

Taking Astrology Seriously

A video of a 14-year-old boy is going viral which was published in August 2019.  The boy with name Abhigya Anand announced that “severe danger to the world” would happen “between November 2019 and April 2020.” He, with around a million following on youTube made several videos explaining things related to Coronavirus. YouTube took down his videos on future predictions from November 2020 to November 2021 — and later he re-uploaded them.

Like him, many astrologers claimed that they exactly predicted Coronavirus — but this doesn’t seem to be the case. We checked around 15 celebrity astrologers, we didn’t find anyone who predicted Coronavirus. Many were saying “Bad times are coming” and attributing it to celestial happenings like “conjunction of planet Pluto and Saturn” among many other factors.

14-year-old astrologer Abhigya Anand

Sceptics say that horoscope writers and these astrologers say things in such a generic way that anyone can relate to them. Even when Covid hit the world and many astrologers failed to predict, it didn’t affect the astrology business. “They use people’s anxiety,” sceptics say.

On 29 May, celebrated astrologer Bejan Daruwalla of the weekly astrology column ‘Ganesha Speaks’ died of pneumonia and lung infection. Most news outlets covered this news. Before dying, he predicted that the Covid crisis will end by May. He shared a video on facebook with the caption “Corona Virus has come because of the planet Saturn as the planet Saturn is associated with masses, your karma and justice. It is also clearly associated with the common man so Saturn is giving this trouble because today the world has become greedy and only thinking about itself. By May 2020 Saturn will move away from the horoscope of the World so the Corona problem will surely finish.” His prediction however failed — not for the first time — but the cult that he amassed remained, as people seem to be believing in astrological predictions as much as before.

On the question of failure to predict an event like Covid, Banerjee says that astrology is a science of indication and the role of intuition is huge in it. “Nobody can predict anything with hundred per cent accuracy but it can indicate”. For him, study of celestial objects and meaning associated with their movement has a scientific basis.

In the time of social media when bizarre astrological claims are circulated so easily, the Covid crisis just fuelled it. Myths float like “Noise will kill corona”. When PM Modi asked for “Janta Curfew”, then the word went around that “Lighting earthen lamps would ward off the corona”. These beliefs were widely shared and people believed in them.

On social media, various memes on numerological claims are making rounds, as people who believe in numerology spoke about the mythical sense of an event like PM’s speech on the day of “Janta Curfew”. While of course the PM did not share anything like that.

Box: Is astrology a science?

Scientists say astrology is a pseudo-science.

Astrology is premised upon the argument that heavenly bodies — the sun, moon, planets, and constellations — influence humans and events on earth. Science is about rigorous testing of claims — it tries to verify theories through examining several counter-hypotheses. By this yardstick, astrology seems to be based on very little scientific study.

Astrology has however become a fully developed discipline to study. People do courses in astrology and even PhDs. With social media and crisis situations like this — they are flourishing.

When Directive Principles of State Policy written in the Constitution talk about “promoting scientific temper”, such belief in a pseudo-science does not augur well.