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PERISCOPE
Vedic astrology
By Saeed Suhrawardy

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided to fund departments of Vedic Astrology (Jyotir Vigyan), if started by Indian universities from the next academic year. The courses are expected to be at graduate and post-graduate level. The sponsors of the move, not long ago were loud in their protest against the destruction of the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. The criticism was universal, without dissent from any quarter in the country. But they have to be reminded what Gautam Buddha thought about astrology.

‘Star-gazing, astrology, forecasting lucky or unlucky events by signs, prognosticating good or evil, all those are things forbidden.’ In principle, the proposal to introduce Vedic astrology by UGC is forbidden by Gautam Buddha.

If the words of Buddha do not carry weight with self-proclaimed votaries of ‘Hindutva’, here are the words of highly acclaimed and internationally renowned interpreter of Hinduism. Here is what Swami Vivekanand had to say about astrology.

‘You will find that astrology and all these mystical things are generally signs of a weak mind, therefore as soon as they become prominent in our minds, we should see a physician, take good food and rest.’

According to the perception of Swami Vivekanand those who are for introduction of astrology at university level, have weak minds. It should be a matter of concern that they intend to bring out weak minds from the universities. It is shocking that when study of information technology, biotechnology and other emerging areas of scientific research should be our major concern, the premier funding government body is obsessed with production of ‘soothsayers’.

If members of ‘Sangh Parivar’ are keen to promote the study of Vedic astrology, they may do so. But they should not do so at the expense of exchequer. They have institutions like Gurukul, Sanskrit Pathshalas and their own chain of 15,000 members of Vidya Bharti. Such studies may be financed by institutions and individuals believing in the same. Certainly, that should not be funded by state.

Reliable scientific opinion is opposed to the study of astrology for several reasons. One among them is that after thousands of years of gathering data and refining their study, astrologers have not arrived at a consensus. Astrology columns of different newspapers differ in their perception of events and their forecasts. The horoscope of an individual prepared by different astrologers may lead to different interpretations.

Astrologers carry on their trade based on pre-Copernican geo-centric model of the universe. They have yet to concede that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe.

Astrology is based on only five planets visible to naked eye beside the Earth. These include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, were discovered with the aid of telescopes in 1781, 1840 and 1930 respectively. Certainly all horoscopes prepared before 1930 were incorrect, because they did not take into account the influence of planets discovered later.

The move of UGC to introduce astrology at university level is against the opinion of Gautam Buddha and Swami Vivekanand and views of the scientists. It is also against the spirit of the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India aspires to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of reform. India has several scientific and technological achievements to its credit. It has a chain of laboratories devoted to various fields of inquiry. It has a huge reserve of scientifically and technologically trained manpower in the world.

As for humanism, India’s cultural heritage provides for tolerance and spirit of accommodation. However, bigotry and obscurantism seem determined to subvert traditional norms and values. Spirit of social reform assiduously nursed in the course of the struggle of freedom has been a major casualty in the post-independence era. Belief in palmistry, numerology, witchcraft, occurrence of occasional burning of witches, ghost-bursting persists after more than half a century of independence. Legitimizing study of astrology may perpetuate superstitions.

Vedic astrology may be a part of the world-view of Sangh Parivar, but its introduction by UGC as a part of university curriculum is obviously a part of the move to saffronize secular educational mainstream. Practitioners of astrology have forfeited claim of science for their activities. None among them could foretell the terrible earthquake in Gujarat in the last week of January this year. Likewise they were clueless about the video-filming by Tehelka dot com, which caused a major political upheaval. Its tremors may still be felt in the corridors of power. Quite often they come forward claiming accuracy of their predictions after an event has occurred.

While delivering the Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, eminent British physicist surprised everyone, when he debunked astrology. He said, ‘The reason why most scientists don’t believe in astrology is that it is not consistent with our theories which have been tested by experiments.’ If that opinion may be dubbed as ‘videshi’, here is one by a ‘swadeshi’. Prof. Jayant Narlikar, renowned astro-physicist and director, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, wrote a letter to UGC, criticizing the move as ‘a renegade step.’
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