Obituary: B. V. Raman

B. V. RAMAN was India's best-known astrologer. He popularised astrology and accurately foretold important events during the Second World War, the fate of Hitler and Mussolini, the Vietnam War and the assassination of the prime minister Indira Gandhi, and made hundreds of other successful predictions in his hugely popular English-language Astrological Magazine.

Raman demystified astrology through numerous books and countless lectures at home and abroad, declaring it to be a mathematical and highly accurate science based on planetary movements responsible for guiding human destiny. He also effectively used astrology in various related fields like astronomy, astro-psychology, weather forecasting and disease diagnosis.

In India Raman was a byword for accurate predictions. He foretold major events like India's disastrous war with China over disputed territory in 1962, its prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's death two years later, the three wars with neighbouring Pakistan and a host of political events including the 19-month emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1977 when human rights were suspended and the press was censored.

His predictions were keenly followed by Indian politicians, most of whom have a string of astrologers, palmists, numerologists or occultists on their payroll, dictating their every public and private move. Whether the politicians believe everything their astrologers tell them is debatable, but there are few who will risk dismissing any "celestial" advice if it might just help to propel them into office or keep them there.

Astrology is something all Indians grow up with. Most have horoscopes - an elaborate grouping of Sanskrit symbols and diagrams - prepared on the basis of date, place and exact time of birth aided by ancient charts and almanacs that detail the movement of the sun, moon, major planets and certain stars. These janampatris or birth charts predict every individual's life and future events.

Raman was born into a middle-class Brahmin household in a small village near the southern city of Bangalore in 1912. He studied at the village school before graduating from Central College in Bangalore in science, a subject for which he showed a special aptitude.

After college, Raman concentrated on astrology and went on to carry out detailed research on the relationship between cosmic and terrestrial phenomena. In his book Planetary Influences on Human Affairs (published in English in 1992), Raman provided a rational explanation of astrology and went on to write numerous other treatises that simplified and even popularised astrology.

Raman also relaunched the Astrological Magazine in 1936, where his predictions appeared and which he edited for 62 years until he died. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1947, the year of Indian independence - which he also predicted to the day - Raman was conferred with a host of honorary degrees by Indian universities and educational institutions in recognition of his work.

Raman's erudite lecture "The Relevance of Astrology in Modern Times", delivered at the United Nations in New York in 1970, generated great interest amongst sceptics who considered the science amusing at best. And his keynote address at the first International Symposium on Vedic Astrology in 1994 at San Rafael in California earned him a lifetime achievement award for services to the cause of astrology.

Kuldip Singh

Bangalore Venkata Raman, astrologer: born near Bangalore, India 1912; Editor, Astrological Magazine 1936-98; Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society 1947; married (five sons, two daughters); died Bangalore 20 December 1998.