Negotiating Destiny: The Astrologer and His Art in Bengali Cultural History

Friedman, Barry S.

     The Indian astrological system provides us with an opportunity to understand how an envisaged cosmic order and human experience are integrated within Bengali culture. Formal cosmological structure together with a rich mythological tradition support a living, meaning-filled cosmos. This cosmos is above all relevant to the human world. The astrological system comprehends the grammar and syntax of the heavens -- the modulations of meaning imaged there -- maintains a relationship of similitude and correspondence between heaven and the terrestrial world, and validates the unity and interconnectedness of human experience. A vitally alive, richly complex cultural system grounded in myth, imagination, and the exigencies of everyday life, jyotisa (astrology) orients the individual within a meaningful and multidimensional order of being. The Indian astrological system is a language complete with its own units of meaning, grammar, and syntax. Astrological symbols are woven into a complex relation of mutual implication and form the apparatus by means of which the teleology of experience is deciphered. Through the operation of analogical imagination, the symbols and structures of the astrological system have referents on several planes of discourse. The multivalent language of Indian astrology provides the astrologer with a kind of calculus for interpretation and manipulation; through this language the astrologer can articulate a life- pattern for his client.
     Such an enterprise requires that the astrologer engage in a sensitive hermeneutic in which the exigencies of individual experience are integrated with the systemic structures and processes of astrology. The astrologer's interpretive process is complex: he needs to know the correspondences between heaven and the various forms, natures, and marks of this world, in addition to understanding the transformations that occur due to their mutual combinations; he must also possess a critical insight into human nature and a keen perception and understanding of each client and his situation. The creative coordination of systematized symbolic material with a sensitive, personalized hermeneutic -- jyotisa has always been an artistic science -- requires a highly qualified specialist. The texts suggest that this specialist is a cultural figure of many dimensions and provide the Indian astrologer with the salience of a long, colorful, and complex heritage.