Saturday, October 18, 2014

I am S. Shiva, Parrot Astrologer


Parrot astrology is a tradition that originated in India. In the world of parrot astrology, the parrot (usually an Indian Ringneck Parrot) picks your fortune card and the fortune teller takes the role of an interpreter and conveys the message of the card. The first parrot astrologers originated from the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Typical tools of trade include a set of 27 fortune cards based on the Indian cosmic system, images of Hindu gods, charts, a notebook, a simple cage crafted out of bamboo or wood, and most importantly, a parrot.

Upon receiving a customer’s name and birth date, the fortune teller taps on the cage signaling the parrot to walk out of the cage along the stack of 27 fortune cards, almost as if it is deliberating on which one to pick. It will then pull out a card with its beak, seemingly at random. Finally it would retreat into the cage. The fortune teller would then reveal the card and interpret the message for the customer, sometimes while referring to his or her notebook.

This profession is explicitly banned in India, along with the ownership of any wild parrot or other animal. Wildlife groups within India such as the Fauna Police are working to put an end to this traditional practice. The parrots involved in this practice are confined in overly small cages, mistreated, mutilated, and malnourished. Yet the practice survives. This article, in its entirety, was published in The Hindu, October 15, 2014:


I learnt parrot astrology from my father. It is our family profession and I have been doing it for the past 14 years. I belong to Tirunelveli but I keep travelling to various town and cities. After Diwali, I plan to leave Madurai and go to Pollachi. Parrot astrology is famous in Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Most astrologers come from Kambalathu Naicker community and we worship goddess Jakkamma. The method of astrology is more like tarot reading or soothsaying. We keep a set of 27 cards symbolising as many stars in the cosmic system. And these cards contain pictures of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Depending upon the card my parrot picks, I predict the fortune for the customer. Nowadays, people also have images of Mother Mary or Jesus.I have an eight-year-old male parrot and I call him ‘snake babu’. I had a female named Meenakshi which I gave away to a friend. Parrots are trained by elders and the experienced astrologers to pick cards. ‘Snake Babu’ was trained by my father. He had bought him for Rs.500 from Meenakshi temple. I feed my parrot grains like rice and wheat. Parrots that are bought from temples are considered auspicious for the profession. Though female parrots are traditionally used in astrology, male parrots are also used these days. For one reading, I charge Rs.20.* In a day, I get around 20 customers. Once I get married, I may take up some other business as part-time to support my family. My elder brother works in a textile shop in Tirunelveli. Since, it is compulsory for one member of the family to pursue kili josyam, I took it up. However, I like the job.

*At today's exchange rate, 20 rupees translates to 33 cents (US). So a day's wages equals $6.60.

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