The Fortune-Tellers of Connaught Place, Delhi

Connaught Place (CP) is a financial, commercial and recreational hub of Delhi. CP was built as a showpiece in 1933 in honour of Prince Arthur, the 1st Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. The Renaissance-inspired building forms two concentric circles. Seven roads connect the outer circle and inner circle. 12 roads lead in and out of this market. CP sees one of the most varied footfalls, changing by the hour.

Connaught place has historic landmarks which have been standing since the business district was built by the colonial administration. Jantar Mantar and Pracheen Hanuman Mandir predate the Georgian style architecture of the concentric circles. CP has also been changing year after year for what it has to offer. Connaught Place is the ninth-most expensive office location in the world today. Now, CP has over 100 bars, upscale restaurants, office spaces, luxury shopping brands as well as Janpath which is the flea market. This has contributed to the diversity in the footfall. People come to visit CP for all kinds of purposes, needs and expectations.

The Pracheeen Hanuman temple at Baba Kharagsingh Marg is claimed to be one of the five ancient temples of the Mahabharata days. It is still a major attraction for worshipers, observing the major footfall on Tuesdays. To capitalize on the religiosity that attracts people to the Hanuman Mandir, various shops (both street vendors and permanent shops) have come up with a variety of goods and services that are supposed to complement worship. There are numerous shops selling the pooja samagri which is used in the Hindu rituals and practices. The line between religion and prophecy (traditionally associated with magic) gets blurred here, as about 20 to 25 astrologers have their shops set up here which are all doing well.

It is interesting to observe that all these people whom we refer to as astrologers or fortune-tellers with a western connotation are called ‘pandits’ by their very own people. Rather, they call themselves as pandits and claim that they have learnt their vidya with the help of god and under the guidance of varied temple priests across the country. All these pandits had migrated to Delhi solely for the purpose of setting up business here. On interviewing, we found that they do not differentiate between a pandit and a tantric and told us that the art of a tantric is also used for benign purposes.

Surprisingly, even in the afternoon hours when one visits them, one will often find a considerable number of clients coming for a variety of samasya samaadhaan. By the outward garb, one cannot recognize what kind of person will be an astrologer’s client. Clients who come to seek help in areas of marriage, studies, family, work and day-to-day problems are just like normal people—educated, urban people. Clients cut across generational groups with both young and old people coming to visit them. However, there is homogeneity across class background as only middle and upper-middle class people who can afford such services visit these pandits. Fee for such services vary according to the severity of one’s situation. Kundli readers, palm readers and forehead readers are all present in CP. The minimum fee is 100 rupees for 2-3 minutes and the maximum goes up to thousands and lakhs with even NRIs calling these pandits for predictions.

Astrologers however, can be differentiated by drawing a categorization between those who sit inside the shops and those who often sit on the street. Those who sit inside the shops mostly have flourishing businesses of 15-20 people a day who come out of swanky cars and get straight into their shops. Those who sat on the streets have 3-5 customers per day on an average. Clients seem to have allegiance to only one astrologer and often visit that particular person each time. All the astrologers are men.

Education, age, class background are no bars for determining beliefs in prophecy and the solutions (samadhans).

Right around the shops of the pandits, we also interviewed shop-keepers of the shops of the pooja samagri and the mehendi artists. All of them unanimously said that they believed in god and not in these astrologers. When asked if the astrologers’ business helped their business, one of the pooja samagari shop keepers said, “agar voh doctor hain toh hamara chemist store hai” (if they are doctors, then our shops function like a chemist store) implying that the solutions suggested by the astrologers many times require people to buy various pooja paraphernalia.

Horoscopes are read by a large number of people and many people despite knowing that it is impossible for all people for a given sun sign to have the same prediction, tend to read them to have something to believe in.

As line between rationality and irrationality gets blurred, so does the line between religion and magic-religious predictions which would be called magic by sociological definition.

Picture Credits : livemint

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