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Chapter 3: Religious Uncertainty, Astrology and the Courts in South India

Abstract : As one of the multiple techniques intended to rationalize decision-making by reducing uncertainty, astrology is regularly sought after in India. A widely shared assumption is that important decisions as well as our day-today affairs are part of a general, divine order which, though not immediately perceptible, can be deciphered with the appropriate tools. An astrologer's advice is needed for choosing a spouse, for timing the beginning of an action and for solving a variety of problems. However, interpreting the divine order and deciding the best path of action may prove to be tricky, so that doubts linger everywhere, in the astrologer's own mind as well as in his client's. Astrologers are therefore cautious about the proofs they require and the reasoning they follow. The present chapter describes how such doubts may be expressed, manipulated and tentatively dispelled in the context of an astrological practice dealing with Hindu temples in Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. This practice is called deva prasnam, 'divine query'. I present its main characteristics before detailing the process by which astrologers try to clear their own doubts as well as those of their clients – a process which some astrologers like to compare, rather superficially, to a trial in a court. However, astrologers may fail to manage the situation to the satisfaction of their clients: this leads in some cases to accusations against them before an actual law court. The last part of the chapter evokes some cases in which astrology has been involved in trials in Kerala. I suggest that while the procedures in the astrological and judicial contexts may show some superficial similarities, a judgment is enforceable whereas an astrological opinion is not; it can therefore be endlessly questioned. Doubts in astrology are never completely dispelled and their perpetuation depends not so much on the possible failure of the /p. 60/ astrologers to impress on their audience the rationality of their procedures and of their statements, as on particular interests and expectations.
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Gilles Tarabout. Chapter 3: Religious Uncertainty, Astrology and the Courts in South India. Daniela Berti, Anthony Good, Gilles Tarabout. Of Doubt and Proof. Legal and Ritual Practices of Judgment, Ashgate, pp.59-75, 2015, 978-1-4724-3451-7. ⟨hal-01246885⟩

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