The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT
The final war in Mahabharata is at hand. Duryodhan is adamant: “not a speck of dust without war”, he says. Even a peace mission by Lord Krishna to the Kaurav clan has been spurned. War it has to be, but what would the date to start it to ensure his victory?
Duryodhan falls back on astrology. The late statesman Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, or `Rajaji’ as he was fondly called, says that Shakuni then advised Duryodhan to consult Sahadeva, the last of the Pandava brothers, and fix the auspicious time and day to start the war against the Pandavas.
Sahadeva was expert in the sciences of foretelling of events based on omens called ‘nimitta shastra’ and also astrology, astronomy, etc. Sahadeva is in a dilemma and asks for the advice of his eldest brother Yudhishthir. Now, Yudhishthir, who always upheld Dharma, advised him that if Duryodhan had come to him as his astrology client, he is supposed to help him with the auspicious muhurat.
Sahadeva then advises Duryodhan to start the war on the Amavasya (new moon day).
Had it happened, the course of destiny would have perhaps changed but the clever Lord Krishna saw to it that it would not happen. Sahadev’s calculation never goes wrong. The worried Pandavas approached Krishna for help.
Then, the wily Krishna created an Amavasya a day earlier. On that day, Krishna asked Pandavas to offer tarpana (a ritual done to forefathers) as it was Amavasya that day. Krishna declared that as Moon and Sun are together in one place, that day itself was an Amavasya. Duryodhan, who was unaware of this, started the war on the wrong day, lost it and the rest is history.
Modern Duryodhans Politics and superstition go hand in hand. More than 90 per cent of Indian politicians, many of them in south India, have almost become slaves of superstition. They look up to astrology, numerology, vaastu and sometimes even bizarre tantric rituals to keep them in power and `serve’ the people.
Many of our modern day rulers are like Duryodhan. They blindly follow these occult sciences and there are very few exceptions. For Telangana leader K Chandrasekhar Rao, astrology and vaastu are like two eyes. He often conducts Chandi Maha Yajna at his farmhouse to propitiate various gods and goddesses.
At the beginning of his chief ministerial tenure, about four years ago, more than 1.5 million people attended one such five-day ritual at the sleepy Erravalli village, some 60 km from Hyderabad in Medak district of Telangana. It was called Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna —for the well-being of India’s newest state and universal peace.
A 40,000 sq. ft Yajnashala was built, using bamboo and paddy thatch for the roof, to accommodate 108 elevated fire pits for 1,500 Vedic pundits to perform the Yajna.
A helipad for five helicopters was prepared near the venue. President Pranab Mukherjee couldn’t make it to the event as planned, due to a fire at the yajnashala on the last day of the yajna. In fact, the President had already got into the helicopter for the short hop from Hyderabad when he was told about the incident and cancelled the trip.
“It was like a jatra (festival),” says Venkat Reddy, a real estate developer who travelled from Hyderabad to Erravalli on the last day. “We wanted to be part of an event that was held for the larger good of society,” Reddy said. He and his family waited for two hours to get a glimpse of the yajna. A firm believer in Vaastu (a traditional system of architecture) and astrology, KCR took the vow during the peak of the Telangana agitation to conduct a Chandi Yajna if the state was successfully carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
“The yajna is for the well-being of the entire state of Telangana so that everybody lives in peace; there is no vested interest in it,” KCR had said in an address to the media. Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna is an ancient ritual performed to invoke the blessings of Chandi or Durga, considered the mother of all creations. Ayutha in Sanskrit means 10,000. The yajna involves reciting the verses of the Durga Saptashati 10,000 times, a 10th of which need to be accompanied by ‘homam’ or offering of oblations of ‘payasam’ to the sacrificial fire.
On the concluding day, KCR felicitated the conductors of the yajna with gold bangles and other gifts, and also gave them a fat remuneration, all from the government exchequer.
Within hours of the Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna coming to an end, KCR announced that he would perform a Prayutha Chandi Yajna, once all the flagship programmes were implemented successfully.
According to senior journalist, GS Radhakrishna, KCR is a firm believer in astrology and had even appointed his personal astrologer Suddala Sudhakar Teja as a ‘vaastu advisor’ to the government. He was given all the perks and privileges befitting a cabinet post.
KCR depended so much on Teja that when he constructed his new bungalow as big as a shopping mall with 150 rooms, three halls and a ‘bullet-proof toilet and bedroom’, this astrologer was consulted for everything that went into the making of this mansion.
When KCR and family performed the ‘gruha pravesham’ (house warming ceremony) of their new residence, built at a cost of Rs 36 crore of public money, he also made his spiritual guru Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar sit for a few minutes on the chief minister’s seat in the official chambers, triggering a political furore.
“KCR’s obsession with the disputed science of Vaastu has been evident in that he inspected bungalow after bungalow before picking his official residence after he was sworn in on 2 June 2014.”
After choosing a group of quarters meant for IAS officers in Kundanbagh and ordering their demolition for making his official home, he had second thoughts, and reluctantly occupied the ‘jinxed’ camp office built nine years ago at Begumpet by late Congress chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy. The building, spread over two acres and built at a cost of Rs 10 crore, was branded ‘jinxed and unlucky’ after the chopper crash death of YSR and the unsavoury term of his successor K Rosaiah, who quit as chief minister within a few months of coming to the helm. KCR has also changed the vehicles of his convoy twice. From the Tata Safari fleet he inherited from Kiran Kumar Reddy, the government first bought bullet-proof black Scorpios at a cost of Rs 6 crore. But soon, on vaastu advice, he shifted to another fleet of white Scorpio cars,” adds Radhakrishna.
In undivided AP, astrology and vaastu commanded the unalloyed devotion of political bigwigs. From the days of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to Telugu Desam Party supremo NT Rama Rao, Vaastu experts had occupied powerful positions in various regimes.
KCR’s mentor NT Rama Rao was known for his strong belief in superstitions. As an actor, during the making of his magnum opus, ‘Vishwamitra’, in which he played the lead role and also directed the film, he switched over to wearing saffron robes and always sat on a deer skin. He wanted to live the character in real life too.
This continued even after he became chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He called me to his residence at 5 am once to give an interview. And there he was, sitting on a deer skin after his bath and puja! As per his personal astrologer, he had to finish media interviews before the sun rises!
NTR had rewarded his personal astrologer, BV Mohan Reddy, with an Assembly seat and also made him a minister. Not far behind was Marri Channa Reddy, whose trusted vaastu architect BN Reddy got a Rajya Sabha seat.
When TDP came to power for the first time under the leadership of NTR, his house in Troop Bazar was renovated and additions made to suit a chief minister’s home. NTR owned a farmhouse at Gandipet on the outskirts of Hyderabad, which was also officially renovated.
A ‘shanti kutir’ (meaning peace hut, a hut with grass roof and air conditioning) was built for NTR’s use during weekends. The same model was replicated during TDP’s Mahanadu events in various cities, as NTR, who had donned the saffron robes of ‘Raja Rishi’ then, would not spend nights in hotels or guest houses.
The new state of Andhra Pradesh may be in the midst of a major financial crunch but this has not stopped Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu from spending a whopping Rs 100 crore of public money on tours, offices, residences and also staff. This includes redecorations of his various offices at Hyderabad and Vijayawada, chartered flights for himself and his staff from Hyderabad to Vijayawada, Delhi and Singapore.
To date, the AP government has redone four to five offices and camp offices (residences) for the chief minister in both Hyderabad and Vijayawada. The government spent over Rs 40 crore on redoing H Block and the 7th and 8th floors in L Block of the Secretariat in Hyderabad.
Naidu has another office coming up at Amaravati and another residence geared up at his farmhouse at Madinaguda on the outskirts of Hyderabad. His personal staff and team of writers and officials working at both residence and in the CMO cost the government nearly Rs 3.5 crore. “He is a chief minister who hardly sleeps and is on the job 18 hours a day even at the age of 65,” defends a CMO spokesperson.
In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties outwardly decry and ridicule practitioners of astrology, etc, but leaders, barring the late chief minister Dr M Karunanidhi, had been secretly following ‘guidance’ from astrologers.
The famous Kerala astrologer Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker was known as the personal astrologer of AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha. Panicker shot to fame after he predicted a massive victory for Jayalalitha in 2001 through a ‘prasnam’. (Prasnam is one of the six important branches of Hindu astrology. In this an astrologer attempts to answer a question by constructing a horoscope for the exact time at which the question was received and understood by the astrologer.)
After coming to power, she paid a visit to Guruvayur and other Kerala temples following his advice.
Jayalalithaa is understood to be a very keen follower of astrology and never even stepped out of her house without checking the auspicious time. The choice of the time is also very much vetted by an astrologer. She was also a strong believer in numerology. She added an extra `a’ to her name after she lost power in 2006 and was also jailed for a brief while. She stated signing as J Jayalalithaa after 2007, till her death. Another strong but strange notion she had is in the choice of colours. She always wore a green or maroon sari, and green almost became the state colour during her regime. All the government buildings, including the water tanks even in remote villages and towns, were painted green, as were the state transport buses.
Incidentally, her party symbol is also two green leaves.
Her political opponent Karunanidhi belonged to another extreme. In a state where EVR Periyar had sown the seeds of rationalism and drove home his message that wisdom lies in thinking and that the spear-head of thinking is rationalism, Karunanidhi was the torch-bearer of the movement against superstitious beliefs. He was an atheist to the core and never visited any temples. Godmen like Satya Saibaba went all the way to his Gopalapuram residence to meet him. It is said Saibaba never visited even the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but went to the then chief minister’s house.
In Karnataka, which has perhaps the largest number of mutts and seers in the country, the Deve Gowda family is known to be strong believers in astrology, godmen, and are great patrons of anything to do with religion. Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy’s frequent temple and mutt visits are much criticised by their opponents as well as the public.
Former chief minister and Congress strongman, Siddaramaiah is like Karunanidhi—an atheist and someone who ridicules superstition. To his credit, during his chief ministership a couple of years ago, he introduced the Anti-Superstition Bill, the first of its kind in the country, which provided for stringent punishment to practitioners of various occult sciences who were misleading gullible people.
The much-delayed and debated Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, popularly known as the anti-superstition Bill, was finally passed with some minor changes.
The Bill is expected to put an end to various inhuman practices such as black magic, witchcraft, or any act in the name of religion that causes harm to humans and animals. However, acts such as Kesh Lochan (plucking of hair), Vaastu and astrology have not been barred.
Some of the strange practices which were stopped thanks to this legislation are the infamous ritual of babies being thrown from the top of a temple in Bagalkot to make them stronger, the ‘made snana’ or rolling over left-over food eaten by Brahmans at the Kukke Subramanya temple near Mangalore and another dozen bizarre rituals. Shockingly the BJPplayed politics and this bill which seeks to make bizarre rituals punishable was strongly opposed by the BJP and other Hindu groups like the VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The bill also sought to ban common practices like astrology but it hasn’t gone down too well the Hindu groups. “Astrology on TV shows should be banned but people should be allowed to visit astrologers privately,” says Sri Veerabhadra Channamalla Mahaswamigalu, a well-known pontiff in Bangalore. “We should neither accept everything nor completely reject everything,” he added.