With deference to all the wise heads that put their thinking caps on — so to say — to carve out a historical list of functions for Sri Lanka’s new ministers of state, something did seem missing. With this thing and that, and a pandemic to boot, not everybody would have had time to bisect [...]


No scope for horoscopes


With deference to all the wise heads that put their thinking caps on — so to say — to carve out a historical list of functions for Sri Lanka’s new ministers of state, something did seem missing.

With this thing and that, and a pandemic to boot, not everybody would have had time to bisect and trisect the finely detailed job descriptions for the country’s new state ministers — even if some sections of the public were only remotely interested in doing so.

It might be recalled that a few functions did raise cynical laughs among some who thought that this time round the master craftsmen had gone a tad too far making the portfolio itself a joke when the intention was to give a much-needed turbo boost to some of Sri Lanka’s neglected arts and crafts, revive agriculture and make agro- products for an export market.

When I eventually got round to examining the functions assigned by the Rajapaksa selectors to the “second eleven” in our own IPL, something did not appear to gel.

We know well enough that Sri Lanka has a long tradition of creative arts such as street theatre, folk music, puppetry and dances of various kinds originating from different regions or geographical areas of the country.

‘Devil dancing’ or “thovil” is one of them, the dancers wearing masks that some claim should have been marketed vigorously by our private and state marketers during this time of the pandemic. They serve a dual purpose — being more effective than the Chinese cloth masks and a hideously frightening visage that would drive any virus — corona or other — to a premature demise.

What did come as a surprise was the lack of any mention of the art of casting horoscopes and their ‘reading’ in later years. Then those whose horoscopes are interpreted by our wise alchemists and fortune tellers will be told what the future holds for them. That goes for politicians too though some have now come to call this match-fixing at the level of the stars-in the sky not at ground level.

As most would know this is an ancient art in our part of the world (not match –fixing but fortune telling) and even beyond. Among believers in astrology nothing important happens or is allowed to happen without consultations with your family astrologer or fortune teller.

Among some, a new born child is not named until the astrologer gives the okay for the “gana” or the sounds for the name. Let’s not deny there are still those who believe in this art of having the future cast in parchment or whatever and swear by the veracity of the predictions of their favourite or family astrologer.  A horoscope is then cast so that his astrological prediction is there for others to read.

In the years gone by, some of our ancestors, we were told when we were young, hardly stepped out of their homes without asking their astrologer what the day or week holds for them. One’s ancestors or surviving relatives would recollect the past and how important the words of the astrologer or palmist and his reading of the future are integral to the decision-making of heads of the family, businessmen big and small, and politicians, straight and devious.

Remember the days when “magul kapuwas” come in search of eligible brides and bridegrooms to offer the parents suitable partners for their sons and daughters. This was a common social practice followed by many communities.

Admittedly the practice of having horoscopes cast, astrologers consulted and even palmists sought to read the fortunes, is a dying habit. Modern society would find this anachronistic and an unscientific practice followed by societies that had little else to depend on to know what the future held.

It is not just a practice that was widely adhered to and believed in by communities and social groups in this country alone. In ancient Greece necromancy –communication with the dead — was practised. In ancient Roman, Julius Caesar was warned by the soothsayer to beware of the Ides of March.

Doubtless there are societies in today’s world that faithfully practise their belief in what the stars are said to foretell. There must be ancient tribes — dwindling unfortunately one supposes — that still rely on what the stars they believe tell them.

Yet in modern Sri Lanka where the new government is determined to revive and restore Sri Lanka’s ancient heritage, there is no specific function under the state ministries, of policies to safeguard the ancient art of preparing horoscopes that are supposed to tell one’s life from womb to tomb.

This is not to chide those who still believe in astrology. The timing of various religious and social acts to be performed during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year each year is determined by those mandated to do so.

We know well that many politicians seek the help of astrologers and other practitioners of the art on matters concerning their vocation and their future.

Some of these readers of the future sometimes go into hiding for weeks and even months after having made wrong predictions. I remember a TV show in Colombo not so long ago that featured several reportedly popular astrologers predicting the victory of a particular candidate. He lost badly. What happened to the astrologers since their dismal collective performance, I do not know.

Still plying with the trade, which some call a profession, I suppose and collecting a fair fee. My grouse is that politicians who now and then — more now than then — rely on the professional competence and reliability of star-gazers and interpreters of the future from the movement of the planets have not been invited to share in the socio-cultural revival that is planned in the coming months and years.

However cynical some might be — especially those scientifically-inclined and some born to a technological generation who think lagna is a concoction turned out from some herbal decoction — astrology and horoscopes have long been a part of our ancient culture.

If that is part of our heritage, then should it not have a place — some place — in the resurrection and preservation of our history however much modern sceptics might scoff? To some their horoscope is like their passport — a precious document — though it is often in the custody of one’s parents or elders.

If that document is vital in many circumstances, should not those who cast such precious documents such as astrologers be given their rightful place in the preservation of our heritage, though they have slipped up now and then with wrong predictions, earning the wrath of politicians and others?

Astrologers might have had to run for their lives or hide behind the felled trees at Sinharaja Forest Reserve. But then who does not make a mistake-like voting for the wrong candidate. One does not have to always turn towards politicians and their acolytes to find evidence in support of this.

One of the tasks of State Minister D.B. Herath is dairy and egg-related industries. This might have been relevant when eggs were cheap and people threw eggs (rotten ones naturally) at politicians.

State Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake has been entrusted with, among other things, wildlife conservation and reforestation. Poor chap. This alone should keep the state minister busy, seeing how trees that were once standing are down on the ground and ready to be dragged away. To coin a phrase, one can’t see the trees for politicians and their kith and kin.

To think of it seriously, State Minister Vidura Wickremanayake with his portfolio of National Heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Artists might be the most appropriate.

I have not seen Vidura since I last met him in Bangkok. I wish somebody would pass on a message. Why not start a school for astrologers and magicians. At the least the astrologers would be able to say beforehand whether they would pass the exams or not. Then we would know, wouldn’t we?

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor, Diplomatic Editor and Political Columnist of the Hong Kong Standard before moving to London where he worked for Gemini News Service. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and
Deputy High Commissioner in London before returning to journalism.)


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