Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Fortune Tellers, Fate and Faith

Last month, a friend helped me explore some parts of Singapore that I hadn't discovered yet. We met for lunch, where I had a chance to try the absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious vegetarian version of laksa. We promptly followed it with ice kachang, and then having decided that all that gobbling warranted some form of exercise, decided to walk a bit and explore the area.

It was a bright Saturday afternoon, and the street leading to the Goddess of Mercy temple in Bugis was bustling with people. A Hindu temple, built in the south Indian architectural style, dedicated to the Lord Krishna, is situated just a stone's throw away. What I found interesting was the fact that a big copper urn was placed at the front of the Hindu temple, and many passers by offered their prayers and planted joss sticks in the urn, exactly like it is done in the abode of the Goddess of Mercy. My friend and I prayed at both the temples, and as we stepped out of the temple, I realized that the busy street was also home to a number of fortune tellers. Palmists, sitting under the shade of umbrellas, charts showing the many paths of the palm, hanging by their side. Vendors selling colourful beads, bracelets, charms and amulets. Curious about your fate? Well, you could quench that thirst for just a few dollars. There were even fortune tellers with caged parrots that could pick tarot cards predicting the future. Just like kili jyotsyam, which is still quite popular back home. (Kili refers to parrot, while jyotsyam is astrology. Parrot astrologers are usually found sitting under the shade of a tree, or they go about from house to house. When a person approaches the astrologer, he coaxes his parrot to pick out a card, and voila- your future is no longer a mystery!)

I was reminded of a time when I was extremely curious to have my palm read. Could my future be really predicted? Whenever I would return home for the vacations, I had an insatiable urge to go to the fortune teller's shop, located just outside the housing colony. Away from the neon city lights representing the glitz and glamour of an urban city, this fortune teller decided to set base in one of the many quieter suburbs of Coimbatore. My aunt, who claims to have seen him, tells me that he is a quite a frightful sight. Tall, hefty, with a fierce moustache and a huge red pottu at the centre of his forehead, he could predict your future, explain your past, anything! When I was younger, each time I passed the place, I would see a serpentine queue, waiting for the consultation. Even the neighbouring general physician's clinic was not graced by such a large number of people. I used to beg Amma to take me there. "Why?", she would always ask. Nothing ma, I would mumble, I'm just curious. "Mannankatti. Nonsense. You don't need to know about the future. Just live in the present. And anyway, what are you going to do even if you know about the future?" That would be her standard reply every single time.

I was somehow baffled by this answer. If that was the case, why do we still follow the practice of asking an astrologer to write a horoscope (It's called a jaathakam) whenever a baby is born? Indeed, when I was born on a cold February morning in Delhi, my grandmother called an astrologer, giving him my exact time of birth. I was born under the Thiruvonam star, according to the Hindu astrological system, and based on that, my horoscope was written. A couple of years ago, I chanced upon it, when Amma and I were emptying old boxes, and when I asked to get it interpreted, she promptly refused! Then why have it created in the first place? I guess it is one of those traditions that we follow out of deference, not really bothering to understand why in the first place. Or is there really something behind all this, something that we have not dared question?

Anyway, suffice to say, I was quite curious to have my fortune told that day at Bugis. That's when my friend said, 'We're still young. If we come to know about our future, we will only keep worrying about it, and forget the present.' Something typical to what Amma would have said. It did make sense to me- what would I do, knowing about the future anyway? What could I do? Not much, except wait for the future! And in my worry, I would forget all about the present. So, we just walked along, towards the magnificent mosque at Arab Street, enjoying every minute of the present.

Later, I narrated the whole episode to Amma, who promptly quipped, 'At least you have sensible friends!'. Whatever that was supposed to mean! As I pondered over this issue more, I realized that this too boils down to faith in the end. When we go to sleep every night, we have faith that we will be able to get up the next morning. It does sound macabre, but isn't that true? We never will be able to know what happens the next day, or even the very next minute. But rather than engaging in the rather futile exercise of trying to decipher fate, isn't it better to cling onto faith and live in the present?

A small verse found in a cave temple comes to my mind. This cave temple, situated on the Marudamalai Hill buried in the Western Ghats, is dedicated to a mystic, a siddhar. It was said that he could transform himself into a snake whenever he wanted to avoid being seen by others, and hence he came to be known as the Paambaati Siddhar, 'paambu' meaning snake in Tamil. The mystic was supposed to have practised penance and attained moksha in this cave. Engraved in the shrine are these words-Naal yenna seiya, Kol yenna seiya, Namah Chivayam yennul irukayile! Roughly translated, this means- What can days, dates, planetary positions or movements of stars do to me, when I have God living in me?

2 comments:

  1. I remember the Tamil phrase "Madhiaal Vidhiyay vellalaam". which translates to effort can beat destiny. So go ahead your sweat will reap more rewards than a parrot's parrot ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aaah but whenever I see that jyotsya kadai (do I dare to call it a 'kadai'), I have this temptation to go and see. Chumma onnu poi nokialo? :)

    ReplyDelete

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Fortune Tellers, Fate and Faith

Last month, a friend helped me explore some parts of Singapore that I hadn't discovered yet. We met for lunch, where I had a chance to try the absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious vegetarian version of laksa. We promptly followed it with ice kachang, and then having decided that all that gobbling warranted some form of exercise, decided to walk a bit and explore the area.

It was a bright Saturday afternoon, and the street leading to the Goddess of Mercy temple in Bugis was bustling with people. A Hindu temple, built in the south Indian architectural style, dedicated to the Lord Krishna, is situated just a stone's throw away. What I found interesting was the fact that a big copper urn was placed at the front of the Hindu temple, and many passers by offered their prayers and planted joss sticks in the urn, exactly like it is done in the abode of the Goddess of Mercy. My friend and I prayed at both the temples, and as we stepped out of the temple, I realized that the busy street was also home to a number of fortune tellers. Palmists, sitting under the shade of umbrellas, charts showing the many paths of the palm, hanging by their side. Vendors selling colourful beads, bracelets, charms and amulets. Curious about your fate? Well, you could quench that thirst for just a few dollars. There were even fortune tellers with caged parrots that could pick tarot cards predicting the future. Just like kili jyotsyam, which is still quite popular back home. (Kili refers to parrot, while jyotsyam is astrology. Parrot astrologers are usually found sitting under the shade of a tree, or they go about from house to house. When a person approaches the astrologer, he coaxes his parrot to pick out a card, and voila- your future is no longer a mystery!)

I was reminded of a time when I was extremely curious to have my palm read. Could my future be really predicted? Whenever I would return home for the vacations, I had an insatiable urge to go to the fortune teller's shop, located just outside the housing colony. Away from the neon city lights representing the glitz and glamour of an urban city, this fortune teller decided to set base in one of the many quieter suburbs of Coimbatore. My aunt, who claims to have seen him, tells me that he is a quite a frightful sight. Tall, hefty, with a fierce moustache and a huge red pottu at the centre of his forehead, he could predict your future, explain your past, anything! When I was younger, each time I passed the place, I would see a serpentine queue, waiting for the consultation. Even the neighbouring general physician's clinic was not graced by such a large number of people. I used to beg Amma to take me there. "Why?", she would always ask. Nothing ma, I would mumble, I'm just curious. "Mannankatti. Nonsense. You don't need to know about the future. Just live in the present. And anyway, what are you going to do even if you know about the future?" That would be her standard reply every single time.

I was somehow baffled by this answer. If that was the case, why do we still follow the practice of asking an astrologer to write a horoscope (It's called a jaathakam) whenever a baby is born? Indeed, when I was born on a cold February morning in Delhi, my grandmother called an astrologer, giving him my exact time of birth. I was born under the Thiruvonam star, according to the Hindu astrological system, and based on that, my horoscope was written. A couple of years ago, I chanced upon it, when Amma and I were emptying old boxes, and when I asked to get it interpreted, she promptly refused! Then why have it created in the first place? I guess it is one of those traditions that we follow out of deference, not really bothering to understand why in the first place. Or is there really something behind all this, something that we have not dared question?

Anyway, suffice to say, I was quite curious to have my fortune told that day at Bugis. That's when my friend said, 'We're still young. If we come to know about our future, we will only keep worrying about it, and forget the present.' Something typical to what Amma would have said. It did make sense to me- what would I do, knowing about the future anyway? What could I do? Not much, except wait for the future! And in my worry, I would forget all about the present. So, we just walked along, towards the magnificent mosque at Arab Street, enjoying every minute of the present.

Later, I narrated the whole episode to Amma, who promptly quipped, 'At least you have sensible friends!'. Whatever that was supposed to mean! As I pondered over this issue more, I realized that this too boils down to faith in the end. When we go to sleep every night, we have faith that we will be able to get up the next morning. It does sound macabre, but isn't that true? We never will be able to know what happens the next day, or even the very next minute. But rather than engaging in the rather futile exercise of trying to decipher fate, isn't it better to cling onto faith and live in the present?

A small verse found in a cave temple comes to my mind. This cave temple, situated on the Marudamalai Hill buried in the Western Ghats, is dedicated to a mystic, a siddhar. It was said that he could transform himself into a snake whenever he wanted to avoid being seen by others, and hence he came to be known as the Paambaati Siddhar, 'paambu' meaning snake in Tamil. The mystic was supposed to have practised penance and attained moksha in this cave. Engraved in the shrine are these words-Naal yenna seiya, Kol yenna seiya, Namah Chivayam yennul irukayile! Roughly translated, this means- What can days, dates, planetary positions or movements of stars do to me, when I have God living in me?

2 comments:

  1. I remember the Tamil phrase "Madhiaal Vidhiyay vellalaam". which translates to effort can beat destiny. So go ahead your sweat will reap more rewards than a parrot's parrot ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aaah but whenever I see that jyotsya kadai (do I dare to call it a 'kadai'), I have this temptation to go and see. Chumma onnu poi nokialo? :)

    ReplyDelete