When I was born in a dingy hospital in Ahmedabad, India, 29 years ago, my parents were handed two documents: a birth certificate and a natal chart. The doctor informed my mom that the latter, also known as a “birth chart,” was an astrological map that revealed how the position of the sun, moon, planets and other celestial bodies at the time I was born would influence my behavioral tendencies, character traits and life purpose.
“She has to be named with the ‘P’ rashi [moon sign],” he told her before handing over the paperwork. “Don’t lose this.”
Ironically, my birth certificate got misplaced, but the natal chart remained accounted for and intact in its laminated form. When we moved to the United States, it traveled with us and eventually found a permanent and secure home in my dad’s safe.
I learned very early on that Vedic astrology ― the kind of astrology practiced in India, which differs from Western astrology ― served as a guidepost in my parents’ household. Their trusted astrologer was on speed dial, despite living in India, and they frequently referred to my star alignment before I was allowed to make monumental decisions. Going out of state for college? Consult the planetary placement first. Picking a career in law? Make sure the zodiacs are on board. Looking to get married? Ensure the celestial bodies don’t have any concerns.
Although I’m not religious or an avid believer in astrology, I didn’t argue with my parents’ reliance on the astrologer’s recommendations because it was just easier than trying to dispute the accuracy of his claims. They found solace in knowing that the Universe was somehow supportive of key milestones for me, and for most of my life, my personal pursuits seemed to be reinforced by the cosmic world they believed in, so I chose not to rebel.
Last summer, I got engaged to a British Indian man. He, like me, is a product of a liberal upbringing but understands the need to respect certain facets of our culture.
This meant that he needed the Universe’s permission before formally asking for my hand in marriage.
Shortly after he proposed to me, our families decided to recognize our engagement in the traditional Hindu way, or as we colloquially call it, “the coconut ceremony.” During this ceremony, my fiancé and I would be given coconuts, money and other gifts from both sides of the families as a token of good luck as we formalized our commitment before God.
They say the course of true love never runs smooth and, for us, the biggest impediment was astrology.
A week before the Indian engagement ceremony, my parents, brother, fiancé and I sat in our living room in Queens, New York, huddled around a phone to learn the astrologer’s assessment of our compatibility. Kundali matching is a popular method in which the prospective bride and groom’s horoscopes are compared under an obscure system that counts 36 points among the two horoscopes. If 18 or more points match, that’s a match literally made in Heaven. Fewer than 18 matches means your marriage is not approved by the stars.
In order to calculate our score using this mysterious scientific and mathematical process, the astrologer needed some information.
“What’s your birthday, exact time of birth and birth location?” the familiar voice inquired over the speakerphone.
My fiancé reluctantly replied. I could read the apathy on his face, noting that to him this meant very little. On the other end of the line, I could hear the soft tapping of keys as the astrologer input our data to determine if our marriage would be suitable. The room was filled with palpable tension as we waited impatiently. We all understood that this analysis was a make-it-or-break-it moment for my parents.
“Sixteen,” he answered moments later. “Not compatible. The marriage will not work.”
I could see the color drain from my parents’ faces. My mom immediately went into problem-solving mode, inquiring what remedies were available to “undo” the cosmic block. She was determined to find a comfortable solution without defying the stars. After all, she and my dad had been married for over 30 years and she was convinced that it was due to their astrologer’s prediction.
I could hear the soft tapping of keys as the astrologer input our data to determine if our marriage would be suitable. The room was filled with palpable tension. ... We all understood that this analysis was a make-it-or-break-it moment for my parents. ‘Sixteen,’ he answered moments later. ‘Not compatible. The marriage will not work.’
One possible remedy was an ancient practice called Kumbh Vivah, a ritual whereby a woman first symbolically marries an earthen pot or banana tree to remove the horoscopic error, something my mother had done herself. The objective was to neutralize the negative influence of Mars in an effort to transfer the bad luck that would otherwise befall her future husband to the artificial groom (the tree, pot, etc.), thereby allowing the bride to have a peaceful future marriage.
Another solution was to have a puja, a ceremony initiated by a priest whose chants and prayers would ward off the inauspicious energy. I could also wear a suitable yantra (gemstone) per my zodiac sign in what I learned was considered “gemstone therapy,” and the gem would radiate positive energy and lure away ill omens.
Frankly, none of these “solutions” worked for me.
Indian philosophy views marriage not only as a long-term commitment between two people but as a union of cosmic energy and permanent stability. Generations have relied on horoscope matchmaking (especially for arranged marriages) to get assurance that the married couple would enjoy a life of bliss, stability and health.
I understand my parents’ intentions regarding the horoscope matchmaking were nothing but positive. Throughout my life, my respect for them and my culture had dissuaded me from making decisions they might not agree with. I had silently complied with their need for astrological affirmation because it had never deterred me from what I wanted for myself. But this was where I drew the line. I did not feel comfortable with any of the astrologer’s recommendations for “fixing” our “problem.”
After trying to reason that astrology is imperfect and would provide no tangible assurance about the strength of my future marriage, I realized it was time to say what I was really thinking. At that moment, I didn’t care that the cosmic bodies had determined that my marital union would be doomed. I was willing to take the risk of spending the rest of my life with my chosen partner, confident that we could overcome any obstacles ― cosmic or otherwise ― together.
My parents, of course, met this decision with some resistance.
“What about Jyoti, who got married against the astrologer’s recommendation? Now they’re getting divorced!” my mom exclaimed about a distant cousin whose five-year marriage ended mutually due to noncosmic reasons. My parents listed other examples of couples with unsuccessful marriages, neglecting the many other reasons those relationships failed besides astrological incompatibility. It was clear they didn’t want me to become another “horror” story or the classic “I told you so” example that other parents would end up telling their children.
This made me and my fiancé want to prove them ― and Indian society ― wrong even more.
Still, as determined as we were, I will admit our astrological reading did give me temporary anxiety. This was the first time I would deviate from what astrology told me to do and for a moment, I wondered if I was going to jinx my marriage.
I very quickly realized I was being irrational. My relationship with my partner was built on a foundation of mutual understanding, communication and real-life work. It is this same approach that we will rely on as a married couple, with no space for the Universe’s opinion. For me, love is not a mystical phenomenon ― it is a manifestation of the respect and unconditional care that two people have for each other and that makes them want to spend forever with each other.
I am sure there are many examples of others who did not heed the advice of their astrologer and still went on to experience successful marriages. We plan on joining those ranks.
Months have passed since that fateful reading and my parents have come around with their blessing and are now happily participating in our wedding planning. I thank my lucky stars that, despite some serious moments of doubt, they are supporting us. I realize that deviating from the comfort and certainty that astrology has brought them is a process in itself.
My fiancé and I are hoping to get married in London this coming September, once the global pandemic is over (or at least much less severe) and we can have our big fat Indian wedding safely in the presence of our close family and friends. There are still a lot of unknowns ahead of us but there’s one thing I do know for sure: Astrology won’t be on our guest list.
Pooja Shah is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter at @PoojaShahWrites.