It’s not just grocery shopping, educational classes, concerts and comedy shows that are moving online by the hundreds. The CoVid-19 induced mass offline-to-online exodus has an unlikely entrant — astrologers.
Gone are the days when people eager to know their future sat with their outstretched hand, with a scholarly ‘jyotish’ holding it gingerly and looking into the palm for the imaginary planets and their alignment in it, and letting the curious client know what they sought. They would foresee when the client would get married, how many kids they’d have, whether there will be money, happiness and success in their future.
But the post-Covid19 world has put paid to all hopes of two people being in close quarters enough to read one’s future, leave alone holding hands. But the astrologers are not ones to be left behind. They may not have foreseen a pandemic that would wreck the world – including their own profession, but they they have been quick enough to keep up with the times. The Indian astrologers are futuristic, if you will. While a fair number of astrologers always had a subdued online presence, the last 2 months, – the duration of India’s stringent lockdown – have seen a spurt of astrologers offering their services online.
These are no saffron-robed or parrot carrying abracadabra babas. These are tech-savvy and millennial friendly professionals (or crooks in some cases). The astrologers – like any self respecting business – create a Facebook and Instagram page, filled with regular posts about all things astrology, horoscopes, and some motivational quotes thrown in for good measure. They even have the “Astrologer” prefix in their names like doctors and CAs do. Ever so often, they hold “live” sessions, and most of the astrologers or the presenters of these live sessions happen to be North Indian women in their 30s and 40s dressed in Indian clothes, and groomed to the hilt. To promote these videos, the astrologers’s teams post them on various groups or ask their viewers to “share in at least 10 groups” to increase the chances of their questions being given a priority in a buzzing queue. So you have virtually all Indian centric Facebook groups flooded with these videos. The live sessions require the viewers to type in their questions, along with their birth details – the online equivalent of a birthchart. Then they read a few questions on the screen – the asker’s identity be damned – deign to do some calculations, and come up with a bite sized prediction. This lasts for an hour or more, depending on how many people have logged in to ask their questions. The seekers are told if their stars are aligned and planets are in a favourable position. If not, they’re advised to perform a number of interventions such as donations of food grains, ceremonies, wearing specific colors on certain days, etc.
Questions on marriage, jobs, health crop up in the comments section by the thousands.
Astrologers may be considered next to God in a country where superstitions run high and anyone with a grip on the future is to be respected, and feared. But their divinity comes at a cost. A physical session costs anywhere between Rs. 500 to Rs. 5000 depending on the experience and repute of the astrologer and the worth of the client. Bejan Daruwala, arguably India’s most famous astrologer reportedly charges anywhere between Rs. 5000 – 50,000 for a session and his clientele includes the likes of Salman, Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and Sachin Tendulkar. The question that begs to be asked is if these online astrologers are offering their services for free on social media, how’re they making money?
The rub here lies in the cash cow that all enterprising online entrepreneurs eventually seek to milk. Paid personalised sessions and phone consults. The free live sessions are at best a trailer or a sales pitch for the eventual paid webinar. So you have the astrologer telling you “Your future looks good” but only in a personalised 1:1 session would she tell you exactly how. (“You will meet someone lovely in 2-3 years who will make you very happy, and you’ll live like a princess in his house.”)
The astrologers themselves are bucketed under the various branches and cousins of the fortune-telling universe. So you have the good old Vedic Hindu astrologers that need your birthchart to see your future. Then there are ones that practice Vaastu and will tell you if it’s a dustbin kept at the south of your room (not Covid19) that’s caused your job loss. The more urban, millennial ones are also offering online tarot reading classes.
And it’s not just enterprising individuals from the hinterlands of India armed with an internet connection and basic astrology looking to make a buck online, startups have jumped on to “solve for astrology” too, as they do. In 2013, Harsh Vardhan, an ex-CEO at now defunct airline Vayudoot, co-founded online astrology consultancy Shubhpuja. And in doing so, “Vardhan made a seamless transition from the aviation industry— where everything revolves around science and technology—to astrology, which claims to be rooted in science.” says Forbes. Astrology he believes is a science of calculation and correct tabulation.
This job opening seeking a Sales and Marketing executive was posted by a company called Jothishi (started by NIT engineers, not astrologers) And in startup speak, their product market fit is a “Relationship Compatibility Engine that would help couples judge the strength of a relationship and help a person pick their partner for life, using Vedic Astrology.”
And if urban youths are buying the premise too, then this model is clearly working.
Sejal (name changed), an urban 27-year old from Bangalore personally swears by her telephonic astrology sessions. “I was too anxious about my future. And I saw the ad for this highly-acclaimed astrologer pop up on my feed one day. Curious, I clicked on the link. She had over a 1000 testimonials that were all praises for her work. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try. Everything she said about my future was positive, and it felt good. It even calmed my anxiety a bit. While there’s no way to know whether what she predicted will come true, some of the things she said about my past were so true, I was sold on her credibility!”, she says about a phone consulting session she took with a millennial-friendly astrologer that cost her Rs. 3500.
The appeal of astrology comes down to individuals. Some people inherently believe in it, some want to if there’s enough conviction in the astrologer’s claims, and for some, it’s the last resort at a fix for all their problems with no breaks coming through.
The CoVid19 situation hasn’t particularly been great for people’s mental health – what with loss of jobs, income, lack of social interaction, and uncertainty about the future, paving the way for anyone who can swoop in and tell you “it’s all going to be okay.”, less a prediction, more a feel-good mantra.
And just like every other need that has seen organisations and companies reinventing themselves to solve, astrologers – some experts in the field, some looking to make a quick buck – too have caught on. For a profession that seeks to solve the present by predicting the future, it’s surely needed to adapt to the present to secure its future.