Pseudoscience & Religion

Pseudoscience In The Stars: An Indian Rationalist’s Experiences with Astrology

My first contact with astrology must have been soon after my birth, because a horoscope is a must-have for every child born in my parents’ community. This horoscope must have also been drawn up by my maternal uncle, himself an astrologer of no mean repute, though in the last decades of his life he used to tell me, “it is not for unbelievers like you!”. My first conscious contact with this ‘science’ occurred when I was a schoolboy. A cousin of mine, S.S. Kamath, was interested in investigating astrological claims. He told me of an incident where he had copied Jawaharlal Nehru’s (the then Prime Minister of India) horoscope from a magazine and showed it to an astrologer telling him that it was the horoscope of a salesman in a cloth shop. The astrologer made his calculations and told him that it was that of an ordinary man who would be leading a routine humdrum existence. On being told that the horoscope was actually that of the Prime minister of India, the astrologer wiggled out of the situation making up some excuse.

Another incident involved two of my cousins. They went to another astrologer and posed him a challenge – tell us which one of us is the Doctor and which one  is the engineer. The astrologer said that the questioner was the Doctor (it was correct) and the other one was an engineer (not true). When the one who was told that he was an engineer protested and said that he was a chartered accountant- the astrologer said,  “Yes it is the same – both professions deal with calculations!”

The rich use astrology to explain away the misdeeds of their children. We would always hear that so and so was doing all those bad things because of the wrong planetary configurations in his/her horoscope. There would be rituals to counteract these ‘ill-effects’. All these rituals are performed by specialist priests who would naturally extract steep charges for their services! Many a time the one who does the calculations and the one who does the pujas would be one and the same individual! Even when it is not so, we can rest assured that the spoils would have been shared among the various participants. While it is still a matter of conjecture whether the planetary configurations were changed by these rituals, it is beyond a doubt, certain that it improved the economic status of the concerned individuals who were involved in the “diagnosis” and “treatment” of the rich.

My father was a great believer in astrology. When he got into financial problems, he would get up early in the morning and take his horoscope to his favourite astrologer for consultation. I do not know what actually used to transpire between them but in the end he lost everything and we became paupers. One of the reasons my father took so many wrong decisions was because of the sheer confidence with which the astrologer would pronounce decisions. This personal experience of utter set-back was one of the reasons I questioned the veracity of this so-called science.

As a child I used suffer from severe attacks of bronchial asthma. As usual the astrologer was consulted and no surprise this too was due to an evil planetary configuration. The treatment suggested was that I had to feed a dalit woman for the next three new moon days and I’d be cured. I followed it religiously. Needless to say, nothing came out of it. The bronchial attacks continued unabated. Anyway, many years later my father’s favourite astrologer died. The old crook managed to kick the bucket in his sleep when his family members were away on a pilgrimage. The neighbours came to know of it only when the body started stinking after a few days! When I thought out aloud in front of my venerable ancestor as to how some one who could not predict his own death could have predicted things for others accurately as was claimed, my father’s reply was that it works only for others, one can not do that for self! Well, coming to the subject of predicting things for oneself, my eldest maternal uncle was no mean astrologer either. In family circles as well as outside he was quite well known for his ‘accurate’ predictions. As he lay on his death bed his main problem was with his horoscope. He was more than 90 and his worry was that his horoscope stopped at that point. Of course he did not survive for long.

When my mother was on her death bed suffering from cancer, this uncle was consulted and he told my father that it was a passing phase of an evil planetary configuration and would pass away soon. It was my mother who passed away and not the evil configuration. Though she did not want any religious mumbo jumbo with her mortal remains, my father insisted on them. We protested. Finally some one managed to bring a priest who consulted his almanac and came to the conclusion that it was not one but the effect of five evil planets together on the day that she passed away. He also threatened us with calamities if the appropriate rituals were not done to propitiate the planets. When I asked to wait and watch for what would happen if the rituals were not done, my suggestion was not well-received. The prediction that five other members of the family would pass away if the propitiatory rituals were not done has come true! My mother passed away in 1995 and my father too, though a good ten years later! Of course, all other children of my mother are also going to die sooner or later confirming the accuracy of this astrological forecast! Later on I came to know that no one to date has passed away when the planetary configurations were good! So, the priests could always have some appropriate rituals to offset them and naturally could extract more from their gullible clients.

I was born to the community of the Gowd Saraswath brahmins. For this community the belief in astrology is an absolute must. For each and every thing an astrologer is consulted, whether it be a birth, death or marriage.There are many who specialise in ‘matching’ horoscopes for the purpose of marriage. One of my friends who is now no more, was very much concerned about my lack of belief in what he called as the ‘ancient science of astrology’. He told me that he would convince me once and for all about the greatness of this science if I could get my horoscope. I promised to do that and on the appointed day he brought his astrologer friend who was also working in the same bank as my friend. I handed over my horoscope and the astrologer (part time – his full time job was a clerk in a bank) peered at it, wrote a number of things, made a number of calculations and told me a number of things that were well-known. I pretended to be surprised and asked him how he came to these conclusions. He pointed out the various planetary configurations that were the cause for these. He also suggested solutions for the imaginary problems about which I told him and explained them on the basis of his ‘rational scientific’ terms. When all this was over I told him that while what he had said about me was very correct, the horoscope was not mine! It was that of a friend of mine who had left school at the age of eleven. He (the astrologer) had told me that the horoscope was that of a highly educated person with a post graduate degree and on his way to acquiring higher qualifications. The legitimate owner of the horoscope was a primary school drop out! When I pointed this out the astrologer and my friend who wanted to convince me of the efficacy of this ‘science’ were both flabbergasted. They tried the lame excuse that the astrologer was a specialist only in matching horoscopes for the purpose of marital alliances! I had to ask them what had prevented them from making that clear in the beginning itself. They had no answer! To me, the purpose of the whole exercise had been clear from the very beginning. In his enthusiasm to convince me about the efficacy of astrology my friend had told the amateur astrologer all about me before bringing him over to read my horoscope! As for the matching of horoscopes for marriage purposes, though I married Asha who was also born in the same community into which I was born, there was neither any religious ritual nor any hor(ror)oscope matching when we got married. More about that some other time.

There was a lecturer in the department of Kannada at the college where I studied. He was an expert in matching horoscopes for marriage purposes and used to be a consultant for many families. His consultations were always at his residence. If any one expressed doubts about the efficacy of his astrological predictions, he would call for his daughters. They would come out and ask him why they were called. Then he would point out to the visitors that all of his daughters who were widowed had been married after he had diligently matched their horoscopes – they had returned home after their husbands had expired and he was looking after them! He used to tell those who had asked about the efficacy of his predictions that his daughters were living proof! Despite such examples, the community into which I was born are obsessed with matching horoscopes for marriage purposes, and many otherwise suitable alliances are called off due to the non-matching of horoscopes!

There are many social service organisations which arrange marriages, and to enlist one has to give one’s biodata along with a copy of the horoscope. I can recall one such incident that happened about thirty four years ago. I was seated in a friend’s office when a gentleman belonging to this community of the Gowd Saraswath Brahmins dropped in and remarked that he was in search of a suitable bridegroom for his daughter who was working in a bank. At that time another gentleman who was seated there said that he had a son who was also employed in a bank. They were quite happy that the match was suitable after they compared the details of the two. But, the final barrier of the matching of horoscopes had to be crossed. So, as per the usual practice, the horoscopes were exchanged for consultation with their respective astrologers, and the two men promised to meet each other after a couple of days. On the appointed day they met and had conflicting accounts of the suitability of the matching of horoscopes. The boy’s father announced that his astrologer had given quite low marks for the match; he said that the marks were only 20%. But, the girls father had exactly the opposite report. He said that his astrologer had pronounced that it was a very good match – the marks were 80%! When the names of the respective astrologers were asked, it turned out that it was the same individual who had pronounced 20% for one and 80% for the other for the same pair of horoscopes. So, my friend who was the owner of the office promised to sort out the matter. He took the same pair of horoscopes and went to the very same person. This time after various calculations, the same astrologer pronounced that the matching was 50% and if everything else was alright they could go ahead with the marriage! This is astrological matrimonial consultation for you.

One could, of course, tell me that I have not studied astrology. I don’t need to. I don’t know how to cook either. That does not prevent me from appreciating or criticising someone else’s cooking or evaluating the quality of food available, particularly when one pays for it at a restaurant. So, when one pays an astrologer it is expected that the services which are paid for should be of a certain quality and that is basically a demand from any sensible consumer. More on my brushes with this ‘science’ in my next article.

Professor Narendra Nayak is the President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA). He regularly tours the country, giving demonstrations and holding workshops to develop scientific temper.

About the author

Narendra Nayak


  • The stranglehold as[s]trology has on our people,particularly the educated and enlightened has probably no equal among the evils of superstitions anywhere in the civilised world.That explains why and how news channels are providing full quota of as[s]rtology to its gullible viewrs intead of any meaningful news?In as[s]trology ,the cause and effect have all been arbitrately laid down and have to be accepted simply because someone said them to be so.There is no method to find out why a prediction was correct or incorrect; and all sorts of subterfuge is adopted to explain away the lapses.The double talk by as[s]trologers is of course only too typical and well known to need emphasis.To give the most common example, an as[s]trolger tells you some thing like this” your shani is violently malefic.It is really bad.”He goes on same way hammering you down with fears of the most terrible misfortunes going to befall you- till you are psychologically completely beaten and cry out in terror.It is a dismal art and bogus pseudo science.Who says we are not living in stone era?

    • Bhai tumhara shaani vakri hai. Upar se budh use dekh raha hai. Aur ye done teesre ghar Mein baithe hain jiska maalik, brehespati (Jupiter) hai.
      Isi liye tum agyaan bhari baatein kar rahe ho.

      Agar tum ek 12 saal se bhi purane kaale kutte (12 year old black dog) ka glass Mein daal kar soda ya coke ke sath sevan karoge to uttam hoge. Par ye upaay shaam ko karma, dinner se pehle.
      And don’t drive after doing upaay.
      Drink and drive ka chaalan ho jayega.

      Ek shubhchintak.

  • Greetings from Canada! Stumbled across this site via the RDF website, am very impressed with what I’ve read here so far – will be back. We on this side of the globe are gobsmacked with “Eastern” mysticism and pseudoscience – reiki, acupuncture, reflexology, and yes astrology (although clearly not to the same extent as your unfortunate family members). Good to know there are freethinkers worldwide who are engaged in the same struggle for reason and evidence!

  • Dear Prof. Nayak,
    I stumbled upon this site and your article on astrology. I am a non-religious man since my school days, though I come from a muslim family.
    I my experience of 35 years of skepticism and questioning, I have come to realise that there is a power, and that there is a plan. This has got nothing to do with religion. We are all guided by this cosmic power, and our paths are pre-destined.
    We may call this supreme power, the force, or god. It does not matter. The closest to explaining this comes from Buddhist philosophy, which does not believe in god but in karmic force.
    This is where astrology comes in. It is not an exact science as it depends on interpretations of individuals. I have studied some astrology and I must say I am amazed at the accuracy of predictions that can emerge from it. This is closest we can get to a pattern that suggests an evidence of karmic force.
    This is not to discount your experiences with various astrologers. We can surely scoff at the astrologers, but not at the evidence of predestiny that astrology can unravel.

    • Yes, I truly believe on what Rajasayd had said, there are some pattern, action and reaction bleakly folded in time passage we all pass through, a big science not superstition, metaphorically embedded in religious epics or a struggle of human evolution. a way to find the truth away from religion or sometime Megalomania. though adding on late but a open thought always welcomed. we can never denied any possibility. astrology is a calculus..

  • Come on, how can u say astrology is not a science. A word that ends with logy is a science “study of something”, crapology.
    I myself have worked in the field of fartology for 13 years. The reason I had to give up is that the subject matter was very hard to acquire. I did a few discoveries but sadly could not publish any paper because of two main reasons
    – subject matter was hard to acquire & preserve
    – empirical data could not be validated for reason no 1.

    All of my hard work vanished in the air. All I was left with was stinking memories.
    Now the people in my social circle call me “old fart” as a mark of respect like good old doctor.

    Old fart.

  • Narendra Nayak Sir – Great article with suitable experiences and revelations to make the gullibles understand that astrology is pseudo science.

  • sir
    With all due respect, you are the negative side of truth. It is not at all simple to find a fair astrologer and more easy to become a fake astrologer. That doesn’t mean you can not find true one. If you found a fake doctor, that doesn’t mean all doctors are fake. I sincerely understand that your quest did not (may be never) end up in reliable results; but to discredit it totally is utterly false allegation. If possible, spend some time with some books of astrology, just to see other side of the equation and wonder how it can be even possible to link the attributes that they described for certain criteria. If you understood that, I hope, your personal quest will be answered.
    with regards

  • @prasad

    You are confusing beliefs with “truth”. Truth needs critical evidence, not testimonies, which are dime a dozen.

    If you found a fake doctor, that doesn’t mean all doctors are fake.

    Yes, but if no doctor or medicine in a system could scientifically prove anything… not even once… then you should regard that “system” of medicine as fake. That is the case with astrology. Astrologers can convince gullible people, but they completely fail when formally tested.

    It is not at all simple to find a fair astrologer and more easy to become a fake astrologer

    There are no fair astrologers. There are just astrologers who do a better job of convincing their clients that they were able to predict.

    If possible, spend some time with some books of astrology

    If possible, spend some time looking up what the research on astrology says. All studies (which recruited top astrologers, as specified by astrologers) show total failure. Tell me what the top studies say and why you disagree with them.

    how it can be even possible to link the attributes that they described for certain criteria.

    It is the job of astrology texts to make that case in a convincing way. They don’t. But it does not matter. First question is: DOES it work? When it does not, it is completely pointless to think about the how question.

  • Professorji, I can show you a note book in original, in which the predictions of a baby is written. It had been written some 45 to 50 years ago. As a matter of fact , the entire family has forgotten it. As a relative and an atheist turned theist , and as one ‘researching for the meaning of man’s life’ in my own way, using all the methods that I can visualize, I got that note book and to my dismay found the predictions tally with reality. There were a few acceptable variations, Whereas the prediction says of a ‘higher education in chemistry, the person is a chemical engineer. Personally, I began to learn astrology to refute its veracity but subsequently have begun to accept it. While it is a fact that half baked astrologers have spoiled its name, as your article clearly indicates, original texts contain accurate predictions.Patients die. Bridges fall. But don’t blame Engineering and Medical education.

  • Offcourse there will still be naysayers but nobody can deny that there things beyond the scope of science.

    Beyond doubt, Astrology especially learnt properly and predicted by the right Astrologer sure has more 80 to 90 percent accuracy.

    I think best some of you, if you still do not agree can try consulting Deepanshu Giri and share the truth if astrology is hoax or truth.

    If Deepanshu Giri agrees to your challenge, it would be even more interesting. Anyway a personal consultation with Deepanshu Giri to bring the truth out is not a big deal if someone wants to prove astrology as fake and hope nirmukta practitioners reveals the truth.

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