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Monday, October 21, 2002

Punditji out, computerji in
Peeyush Agnihotri

Illustration by Sandeep JoshiTRADITIONALISM is amalgamating with modernism. The eons-old art (or science?) of prediction has gone hi-tech if the number of Websites and computer software on astrology that abound the Net and market are an indication.

In the pre-e era, those who believed in janampatris would visit an astrologer to get a natal chart made. In the WWW age, they either surf the Net or visit a shop that hands out computer printouts of horoscopes. All they have to do is log on to an astro-portal, punch in the date-place-time details and collect the printouts of the horoscope, predictions included.

Agrees Yashpal Malhotra, a rare combination of a successful banker and an astrologer: "No one can beat the computer as far as accuracy goes. Software can give the planetary position up to the last degree with unquestionable precision and can calculate the minutest astrological detail. However, you cannot rely on it for prediction," he says.

This is for those who are not even heel deep into astrology. As far as "predictors" go, the trend is a bit different. They are either purchasing astrological CDs or copying them onto their PCs, primarily because of three reasons. One, to remain abreast with all thatís hi-tech; second, to have some kind of snob appeal; and to calculate and interpret accurately.

A Chandigarh-based CD seller says that he manages to sell more than 10 astrological CDs a day. Add to it the pirated versions and one can estimate how the program is proliferating. And mind you, it is a consumer durable product and repurchases are rare. The purchasers are mainly top-level astrologers and DTP businessmen.

Effect on business

Pundits are not too happy with the trend, probably because itís impacting their lives. Rajiv Gupta, a Chandigarh-based astrologer, says the offline "business" has been affected by nearly 30 per cent, courtesy high technology. Tripta Arora, an accounts professional who now teaches astrology the e-way, says her envious traditional business rivals once tore off her advertisement leaflets.

"The business of prediction has not been affected for those who are masters of the trade. However, it has weeded out quacks. Old hands and seasoned astrologers are not accepting computer printouts because they are not able to interpret them. Personally, I feel there are differences in calculations as some software calculate through the Parashari system, others through the Lahiri system, while still others through the KP model. Yes, differences are there but you canít deny that a lot of time is saved. Earlier, it used to take five to seven hours to make a janampatri. This has been reduced to mere 20 minutes," says L.R. Bhardwaj, a Sector 23 (Chandigarh)-based astrologer.

Most of those in the profession are evolving and adapting. Better-make-lemonade-when-fate-hands-down-a-lemon adage is driving many who are getting hi-tech each passing day. They are accepting computer printouts, have floated their own Websites, have e-mail IDs and are counselling online.

"I wouldnít know the fee that others charge, but on my site, a general yearly forecast for a zodiac sign is Rs 150. I donít do specific yearly forecast due to lack of time, but answer specific questions based upon individualís birth chart for Rs 3,000," says Jagjit Uppal, a known astrologer who also counsels through jagjituppal.com.

East vs. West

Besides astrological software, astro Websites are also deflating the traditional business of horoscope making and predictions. Either they are full-fledged vortals devoted exclusively to predictions, horoscope and astrology or are portals that have astrology as one of the links.

Invariably, most of them give a free natal chart but charge a neat amount ($15 to $35) if you ask for a detailed interpretation. And since most of the Websites are not Indian, they predict Western style.

So how to get an Indian horoscope from a Western site? Uppal tells us the procedure: "According to Indian astronomers, the difference between the fixed zodiac and the moveable zodiac varies from 19 to 24 degrees. Hence, though the general chart is the same in both systems, there is a difference of 19 to 24 degrees between the positions of planets. If we subtract 19 to 24 degrees from the Western chart, depending upon the year of birth, we will get an Indian horoscope."


Western or Eastern. Science or art. No one is bothered so long as predictions satisfy. "Astrology is a dense symbolic language which is based on observable, measurable phenomena. It is not a belief system any more than a clock or calendar. (Like a clock does not make time, it shows time). Astrology measures cycles and derives meaning from them," says Linea Van Horn, an accredited astrologer from astrology.com.

Michael McClain from astrology-numerology.com sums up more succinctly: "Today, astrology has no real chance of being accepted as a science. Like psychology, it is far too subjective and canít be conclusively proved."