Social utility of Astrologers Sri Lanka


Social function of Astrologers in a third world country such as Sri Lanka extends beyond predicting the future. They provide a system of managing one’s destiny amidst the amplified uncertainties of living in a third world country. Be it for avoiding suicide bombers, securing a promotion, overcoming mental/physical illness, entering your child into a “Good Colombo School” or surviving a life defining exam, “super natural” assistance is seen as a normal thing to do. Finding  hidden obstacles/opportunities and acting on them via an Astrologer has the psychological effect of having a compass and map in the dangerous journey of a third world life.

The overall source of this uncertainty is something I have never been able to successful explain to first world friends without resorting to anecdotes. At a day to day level it means dealing with a scarcity of resources, a general lack of transparency in institutional process, and the unstable zero sum feudalistic politicking such situations create.

This “third worldness” makes as secular as dealing with institutions (public and private) a murky process. Success is a function of your insider connections and/or the bribes you can afford. Even interacting with the first world such as applying for a visa with a Sri Lankan passport is a murky process.

You are at the non-existent mercy of an opaque laborious bureaucratic machine. Asking a deity to clear the way is far easier to comprehend than shepherding a blizzard of paperwork through a maze of dingy government offices. Where nobody is paid enough to really do their job let alone pay deal with your pitiful little forms. Similarly access to information about opportunities and people are difficult to access on properly assess.

In the face of such known and unknown “unknowns” astrologers provides a very “practical” set of services. These cover two broad areas:

  1. Providing a personalised cosmological SWOT (Strength Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) assessment of your situation
  2. Devising activities for the client to take direct action to ensure a favourable outcome to what ever challenges and opportunities the future holds.

The prescribed activities will usually involve a customised religious ritual. The form of such rituals vary considerably — from Bodhi pujas at a particular temple, a visit to a shrine of a localised Hindu deity, a fully Hindu ritual, or a pilgrimage typically to Kataragama. In a few In extreme cases there will be some sort of exorcism.

Yet astrology is not considered a high status profession. Primarily because the “quality of service” varies considerably among practitioners.

Consequently, an Astrologer’s perceived status is similar to that of a plumber, an unlicensed electrician or a refrigerator technician. The work they do seems fairly standardised yet the quality if service varies significantly among providers. Another factor is that astrologers are consulted in times of stress, not joy. Typically in the face of looming worries, stressful situation, or when contemplating life changing plans. It is viewed as a very private matter akin to seeking medical advice for impotence. The only gauge of “quality of service” you can go by are recommendations of your Sri Lankan relatives/friend network.

Sri Lankan astrologers fall into two broad categories. Category one (the most common) provides purely consultative services. Category two astrologer is differentiated by the fact that they specialise in performing “corrective cosmological procedures”. To use a medical analogy, category one providers would family doctors or general practitioners. Category two providers are similar to neurosurgeons or orthodontists.

The most generic category one services are “readings” of palms and horoscopes. They prescribe further action and can recommend (or subcontract) relevant specialists.
Horoscopes constitute a bulk of the most bread and butter of category one astrological services. Such readings occur after the birth of offspring, to sign off on marriage compatibility and to pick wedding times. The last task is particularly tricky. The schedules of hotels and wedding sari “drapers” must be factored into the trajectories of auspicious planets. A tough job that requires cash payments in advance. Divorces are not grounds for refunds.

Corrective cosmological procedures performed by category two astrologers are essentially rituals meant to deflect/mitigate the influence of negative astrological influences and/or amplify positive ones. One a grimmer side it involves fiddling with restless spirits, and foul demons. At the very murky extreme (lets face it every industry has one) there’s the casting and repealing of malevolent curses and spells.

Crude western terminology might describe this class of service providers as “mediums” or “witch doctors” rather than “astrologers”. However they cover an unexpectedly wide spectrum of personalities. The university professor who can speak in tongues. The old grand mother who magically fills empty bottles with medicinal oils. The “buddhist monk” who “activates” talismans in a small “shrine room” adjacent to his consultation room. At the inevitable extreme, there’s the character who is called upon to slaughterer the chicken in the dead of the night. Quite a few may even refuse to even be called “astrologers”. However in the worried subconscious of their clients the term encompasses them all.

My encounters with astrologers/mediums/what-ever-you-want-to-call-them have occurred at the insistence and initiative of elders. Consequently these experience are restricted to my child hood of very early adult hood. Further removed are spooky stories eavesdropped off relatives. All to be covered in another post written the unforeseen future.

7 comments

  1. Cerno old boy – you really are on a run of some excellent posts.

    The last time I visited an astrologer – a chap by the name of Fonseka in Borella – I went 2 other friends, one of them being female. Anyway he was spookily accurate in some regards. This was about 14-15 years ago and the 3 of us kind of just showed up as a lark, however he managed to predict 3 separate accidents that I would have about 3 years later and that our female friend would get cancer (or a disease that would consume her) – guess that’s why I haven’t been back since.. She has subsequently recovered..

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  2. must say this is quite an in-depth analysis of the whole thing. However i heard of something similar to horoscope reading something called “Naadi Waakya” done by some indian priests (well thts what they call themselves anyway) and heard that it’s very accurate. Personally i don’t think i’ll ever go to an astrologist if things were in my control at all times.

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  3. maf: Thank you😀 though most of the credit should got to the voices in my head🙂 Your visit to an astrologer is certainly the most frightening I have heard of. Glad to know that your friend survived her illness.

    the pathfinder: I’ve totally forgotten about the Naadi Waakya/Nadi Vakyam stuff. Even through its a “fully” Indian thing, I remember a friend of the family getting quite heavily into it.

    I have a odd gut feeling that getting a “reading” from an astrologer is sort of like psychological challenge to a probability calculations. How you respond some times can make the “prediction” come “true” or not. It essentially reveals a lot about the client’s character and state of mind than what’s in the future.

    VERY Interesting comments guys. You’ve got the voices are in a huddle getting ideas again …🙂

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  4. Read few Sri Lankan blogs today. They were dry and dull. Then I read yours and I’m happy. What I’m trying to say is – Good Post.

    There was a skinny little old man used to be front of Pettah Sathosa (next to WTC) (we called him Sasthara Uncle). I don’t know he is there any more. One time at the end of the IT boom, we all haven’t got paid for couple of months and we all are piss broke, I showed the gentleman my poor broke palm. After his usual predictions, he said, “it is alright. You can pay me some other time.” Bugger knew I was broke! The same guy told me I’m supposed to be in the country X by 5th of next month. And then there I was . Told one of my colleagues, he have two kids, once girl and a boy. We knew he had cute little girl and only that. Well. Happened to be his wife was pregnant by then. And yes. It was a boy. There was lot like that with him, but those three impressed me a lot.

    Then there was Dr. Kinsley, always had relatively accurate perditions.
    Have bit of experience with Nadi (Ola Leafs) place. Details are magically accurate and impressive. Until they hit with barrage of lists you suppose to do, such as buy them watches, etc.. to get rid of bad predictions they just came up with. They were able to tell my mom’s name, family information, etc.. And used the same information again on me, but nothing more. Looks like they have better success with woman and are like. I don’t know how they do it, nor do I know how they do any other magic. I left it as that.

    This is the final story. I promise. Once one of our neighbors ran a Sasthara joint. Quite a busy one. If you ever live closer to one, you will notice, they are always very popular not in the same village but far away. One day a cat-burglar trying to get in to her house through her roof at night. The bugger was on the roof, laying on top, until correct time to make his moves. The woman who helped thousands of people find their missing items and missing husbands, didn’t smelled anything wrong going on top of her house until a neighbor saw the burglar and the woman ran around asking for help.

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  5. Nice post Cerno!

    I never believe this kind of stuff but being to a few places just to explore and cure my curiosity. infact I studied vedic astrology just to learn what it is all about. Atleast I did it upto the level of making a horoscope (Without using computer prgrammes of course).

    I have some recollections of very funny incidents of astrologers (totally put shame on them) as well as a few who have done some good predictions which I still dunno how they did it🙂

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  6. Sam Very interesting🙂 Thank you. I wonder if the Nadi people had spies out to scope out their client🙂

    Kiri Thank you🙂 Like to hear about your experiences. In your hiking around have you come across old Devales or village “kutadiya” type who did meddled with demons etc?

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