My brush with the occult began when my best friend’s birth chart, or janam-patri, was matched with that of her fiancé’s upon the insistence of her parents. The unfortunate alignment of her partner’s stars made him a "maanglik," an astrological leper, and a battle ensued in the family.
She finally convinced her parents of her husband-to-be’s merits and they reluctantly agreed to bless the star-(un)crossed lovers. I was utterly fascinated. Could a mere alignment of the stars at the time of our birth dictate our future? What made my best friend’s parents – two of the most intelligent, scientific people that I know, both professors at top universities – take this astrology mumbo-jumbo seriously? It all seemed desperately retrograde. Human beings have literally touched the stars, how could we then let the inter-galactic universe be the arbitrator of our destinies?
Thus began my journey into the occult. Magic and myth constitute the firmament of every Indian household. From the tulsi plants found in courtyards designed as per the dictates of vaastu, to the black threads tied tightly around the wrists and ankles of babies to mitigate the influences of the evil eye, the occult has been part of our cultural foundation.
In recent times, there has been a robust growth of occult and mystical movements in India, and there seems something for everyone. For the traditional there is astrology, for the creative there is tarot card reading, for the mathematical there is numerology, for the sensitive there is reiki. Drawing hasty connections between various divinatory arts such as vaastu, feng shui, tarot, crystal and magnet healing, several occultists offer services that combine all of the above. As the occult invades urban India, there has been a significant change in the occultists themselves. No longer are the teachers and purveyors of the occult wandering minstrels or bogey babas. The occultists of today are fashionable spiritualists who speak earnestly and intelligently, have often spent a significant amount of time in the west, and at the end of the session will gently ask you if you prefer to pay by cash or card.
Over the past few weeks I interviewed and met with occultists of various varieties – Vedic astrologers, palm readers, tarot card, foot readers, coffee bean readers, crystal readers and many others. Several were con artists and charlatans – society tarot card readers, quack reiki therapists, disgruntled astrologers – and I sat through many faulty, nagging incorrect readings. There were some particularly disturbing experiences – the foot reader with the foot fetish, the numerologist who insisted that I change my name to Iravati, and the garrulous tarot card reader, who after a 30-minute session (which cost R2,500) told me that she must conduct a puja (at Rs 20,000) to rid my household of the evil eye.
Then there were the others. The occultists whose teaching was rooted in spirituality and deep knowledge, with whom I had informed and delightful conversations. These individuals gave me an insight into the meaning of the occult and the myth that surrounds it. Through these meetings I began to (apprehensively at first) understand the meaning behind these mystical techniques.
Is it possible to heal your ‘karmic blocks’ and get a shortcut to ‘heaven’?
I call up the Delhi offices of Renoo Nirula, where I am told that the earliest appointment available is in July 2012. Delhi being Delhi, I am able to elbow in an appointment using a connection.
My meeting with Renoo Nirula was a touch eerie. Especially and mostly because she can read minds. She knows about the new book that I have been grappling with and the non-apparent spinal injury that I am suffering from before I utter a word. She smiles knowingly. "Most people get frightened or alarmed that I know their problems before they even walk through my door. Every soul has an aura, and the most blatant problems are projected outwards."
"So can you read my future?" I ask hesitantly. She has already broken my initial scepticism by reading my mind. She laughs. "I merely read from everyone’s book of karma and connect to the energies in the body. Everything that happens in our lives – all diseases and problems – are karmic. Before we were born, each one of us was taken to a house of records where our karmic records are stored and here we were told how to take shortcuts to human evolution. Most souls who walk through my door are very tired, I try to help them on their journey. Our life is like a highway, I can tell you the exit and entry points, but I can’t tell you what will happen. That decisions is always yours," pontificates Nirula.
Renoo Nirula’s spiritual practices are an amalgamation of various teachings, including those of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chaitanya Pradupad and the Dalai Lama. She has been teaching for the past 30 years, propagating her Karma Quotient (KQ) theory all over the word. According to the magnanimous Nirula, the KQ Force aims to heal karmic blocks and show people a path to enlightenment. For her students, she says, it is simply a shortcut to heaven.
Nirula uses a variety of over 200 techniques – which include crystal healing, magnet healing, vaastu, feng shui, and even astrology – to heal individuals, companies and the planet. Over the years Nirula and her students have made expeditions to various parts of India and the world, placing "healing capsules" made of gold, silver and gemstones at specific high energy points to promote healing. Recently a "maha yagya" was performed at Kurukshetra, the location of the epic Mahabharata battle, using waters collected from 1008 rivers of the world.
Her phone is constantly ringing as we speak, though she hardly seems distracted by it. At one point a disgruntled secretary runs in, "Ma’am Shah Rukh Khan Sir on the line!" "Tell him to call back later," she says coolly. The Astrologer
Is astrology a 360 degree mirror of the self, and not a tool to predict the future?
Before I make an appointment to meet Pavan Mishra in his Noida office, he has asked me for the exact time, and location of my birthplace. I am rendered speechless as Mishra expounds with alarming erudition and verity on my past and the characteristics of my personality. He brings up incidents from my childhood that neither he, nor anyone else, could have known. He then begins to tell me about my future – about my impending marriage and birth of my children.
Astrology, the sister science of astronomy, is the study of planetary vibrations and how they affect human life. According to Mishra, astrology has as much to offer us now as when it was first practiced 5,000 years ago. Astrology is both a science of observation and an art of interpretation. The study of astrology helps us understand ourselves better by helping us interpret our actions. When we can interpret the reasons behind our reaction, then we can fix them.
I ask Mishra about how much of our actual lives are dictated by our birth charts. “The dynamics of karma are complex,” he says. “Life is a mix of destiny and free will. Who you meet is destined but what you decide to do with that meeting is free will.”
Replying to my ill-disguised look of incredulity, he adds, “Life is like a quadratic equation – there are two solutions, both are correct. Astrology can help you solve that equation in the most efficient way.”
“So can you really predict the future accurately?” I ask him quizzically. “Yes,” he says. But that is not the purpose. “Most of today’s half-baked pandits abuse astrology. Using astrology to predict the future is like using currency notes as toilet paper. Astrology is a 360 degree mirror of the self, and it is meant to help us achieve self-realisation,” says the seer.
Mishra speaks about the holistic solutions that he prescribes to his clients. “I don't believe in lengthy, expensive pujas. If my client has shanni (the most severe of astrological ailments) or Saturn-related problems, I encourage them to do service. The planet Saturn governs humility, and by being humble, they can lower negative planetary energies. The sound energy of mantras are powerful shields for negative energy. I also prescribe certain stones and yantras (esoteric motifs) to escalate energy.
“These days astrology is a great solution to all ages and all parts of society. My clients range from criminals to saints. I not only read the chart, but I also act as spiritual counsellor to my clients. They come to me with all their problems, and based on their personalities that I gauge from their charts, I can show them the best life path.”
Mishra’s services may provide holistic solutions, but they certainly do not come cheap at R3,100 a session.
Swami Chand Krrish
Is tarot a practical solution? Does it help you go to the root of your problem?
I have always been very spiritually inclined,” says 42-year-old Swami Chand Krrish, a Goa-based tarot card reader. “I went to an elite Indian boarding school and then to college abroad. After I graduated, I began having mystical experiences, which eventually led me to reading.”
I feel as if I am talking to a friend, rather than to a holy man. Swami Krrish certainly isn’t the saffron-clad swami that I had in mind. He speaks English in the lilting style of the city, in the manner of those who have spent considerable time in the west. Swamiji continues his story and tells me how his meeting with Ma Shona at the Osho ashram changed his life.
“Ma Shona introduced the tarot to Osho, and she is also the one who taught it to me. She was an amazing woman, a gypsy who saw a photo of Osho and felt drawn to him so set sail to India.”
Swamiji has been practicing the tarot for close to 20 years, but only got into it fulltime in 2003 after selling the hotel business he had set up in Goa. This coincided with him taking full sanyas, and donning the robes of a swami. Today he makes his living through his tarot practice. He charges R1,500 for a session.
“Tarot is part of my body,” he says. “I have my own personal connection with the deck. You have to have a certain intuition which comes through spiritual practice, to go into this. Tarot helps pick up the root of your problem. Once you focus on the problem, tarot helps you see the cause. People are drawn to certain cards, and through a combination of tarot cards and my intuition, usually in the ratio of 50:50, I can diagnose a problem.
“Tarot is a practical solution,” Swamiji says. He adds, wistfully, “Tarot has helped me connect with the planet, and I want to help others connect too.”
Can questions be answered based on the time of their asking?
For Namita Vadhera, time is of the essence, for she derives her answers based on the positioning of the planets at the precise time you ask her a question. For this reason, Vadhera’s preferred mode of communication with her clients is through BlackBerry Messenger, on which she has 107 clients from all over the world. "In today’s day and age people want instantaneous answers, and being on BBM allows me to do this," says 40-year-old Delhi-based Vadhera.
Life predictions on health, wealth and marriage on BBM seemed to me at first very dubious. That is, until I met Namita and our 30-minute conversation extended into three insightful hours on the link between astrology, spirituality and life, during which she explained to me the science behind her practice.
Vadhera practices horary astrology, or prashan shastra, an ancient branch of Vedic astrology by which the astrologer answers specific questions by constructing a horoscope for the exact time at which the question was received. Vadhera, who has been practicing various forms of astrology over the past 20 years, claims that horary astrology is the most accurate form of the science, and that her answers are correct 99 per cent of the time.
Vadhera, in her fashionable garb, and gamine demeanour is a far cry from the dhoti-clad Vedic astrologer that I had expected. To me she seemed very much like the girl next door, but Vadhera is anything but.
"Growing up, astrology played a critical role in my family’s life, it was the guiding light, and it helped me put myself on the right life track. I realised I had the gift of intuition when I was very young, and over the years I have evolved this gift into my current practice. I often say things despite my planetary calculations that are uncannily true. I also strongly believe in nature as an omen," says Vadhera.
When asked what she does for her clients, Vadhera pauses for a second, and then pulls out her BlackBerry, flaunting a message.
"Sush," she says, referring to the actress Sushmita Sen, "is a long-time client of mine. She calls me hope, and that says it all. I counsel my clients on everything from investments to relationships, and more than anything else I give them faith in the play of the universe."
On her way out, we exchange BBM pins, and Namita winks at me telling me that the lord of luck is visiting my house of love soon, so I should brace myself for an interesting few months ahead.
The Palm Reader
Shiv Shankar Shastri
Can palmistry reveal the future? And can it decipher trends in behaviour?
Shiv Shankar Shastri has been practicing palmistry, astrology and face reading for 60 years. “Palmistry is one of the finest sciences in the world,” says Shastri. “As opposed to Vedic astrology where predictions are based on a fixed time of birth, in palmistry, palm lines change as per our personal evolutions. Palmistry is more accurate than astrology, but good palm-readers are very rare.”
Shastri stresses that a good palm-reader will not merely predict the future. By learning to understand the significance of the lines on our palms, we can decipher trends in our behaviour. Thus we can nurture strengths and fight weakness. A good palmist will be able to guide his client to a positive path of change.
Initially, I was sceptical of the old man peering into my hands, but his on-the-mark personality assessment surprised me. What does he do when he sees negative things in someone’s future – like death or injury, I ask. “It is the palm-reader’s job to gently warn the client in a way that doesn’t alarm them but brings the impending problem to their attention,” says Shastri.
At the end of the session, I can safely say that though I hadn’t had any drastic revelations about life, I did feel pretty upbeat after all the positive things he told me. The one thing I appreciated, after many heavy-on-the-pocket readings, was that Shastri’s services were free.
A Spiritual Tide
The teachers and purveyors of Indian occult are certainly a colourful, audacious lot. They shattered every stereotype that I had after my friend’s unfortunate maanglik experience.
Previously, I had believed that those who searched out the occult craved quick and often frivolous solutions, but as I engaged with these eclectic ideas, I began to understand these practices act as a launching pad for therapeutic and alternative spirituality. Most occultists are highly perceptive and intelligent, and for many clients they act as counsellors or therapists. In a country where psychiatric help is seen as a social taboo, and most shrinks handle problems through heavy doses of medicine, occultists do perhaps help fill a void.
I am left with a variety of interpretations, permutations and combinations of events in my life. I have re-organised my room as per the tenets of vaastu. And I am wearing several coloured stones on my fingers. Even if they do not divert any positive planetary energy to me, I figure they serve as a spiritual fashion-statement.
I have been given clues about my health, my mother’s health, and that of my children-to-be, and of my future finances. I am a living laboratory of occultism. I promise to keep all my readers informed about the veracity of these predictions and the salubrious effects of my new practices. Till then, this is my personal suggestion. Let the past go, be at ease, and allow the future to arrive at its own pace, unfurling its glorious secrets.
(Ira Trivedi has written books such as The Great Indian Love Story and There’s No Love on Wall Street)
From HT Brunch, January 15
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