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Religion and Culture: Vedic astrology takes root in Los Angeles

Aerospace engineer Dileep Bhat doesn’t consider the science of his day job and his study of astrology as mutually exclusive.

Growing up in India, Bhat learned about the ancient practice of Vedic astrology from his grandfather and uncle. The older men taught him to read and interpret astrological charts through the teachings in the Vedas, 6,000-year-old Sanskrit texts. Later, when Bhat moved to the U.S., some of his engineering colleagues questioned how he could work in science and believe in something so unscientific.

“There are certain things in science, like gravity; … you can’t see it, but we all experience it. Astrology has the same kind of principle,” Bhat said.

RELATED: Religion, politics and culture: Stories from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Vedic astrology, also known as Jyotish, has been part of Indian culture for thousands of years, but its followers have grown in the last few decades. As Western interest in zodiac astrology increased, so did interest in other types of astrology and fortune telling.

Of course, not everyone buys into astrology's claims, Vedic or otherwise. Among the many skeptics of astrology, Bob Carroll of The Skeptic’s Dictionary has built a whole site on the subject. Carroll was a philosophy teacher at Sacramento City College and has written several books on criticism and skepticism.

He says that, “like other Eastern superstitions, Vedic astrology has a following among Westerners who think that the further away in space and time that an idea originated, the more likely it is to be chock full of wisdom, … but it’s all an illusion.”

But those who believe in Vedic astrology see an alternative to traditional Western, so-called zodiacal astrology.

A typical zodiac horoscope reading is based solely on the date of birth. But with Vedic astrology, three different factors — the place and time of birth as well as the date — are needed for a reading.

Bhat uses computer software to turn the three factors into an astrological chart that is interpreted for an individual’s personality traits, physical condition and life events.

“They always worry about the future, when they will get married, and about their job,” Bhat said.

Like so many others, Joe Rare sought guidance for his personal and professional lives. After consulting with his yoga guru, he decided to meet with Chakrapani Ullal, a Los Angeles-based astrologer.

“I began having him do my yearly reading to guide me through the energy changes and cycles of my life,” Rare said. “It has been the most profound guidance I've ever had.”

Ullal predicted that Rare would meet his future wife through yoga class, and two weeks later it came true. After doing a compatibility reading for the couple, Ullal declared them within the “top 5 percent he had ever met” for compatibility.

Gurmeet Singh, an IT consultant, practices astrology in Beverly Hills. He considers Jyotish a science rather than a part of his religion.

“Many astrologers cannot do a good reading. They will make it more spiritual, talking about the personal life, goals and life.” He said.” But if I cannot answer your question, I’m not doing a good job.” 

As a Sikh, Singh said that Vedic astrology is not part of his belief system. But he added that he believes that most Indians have faith in these horoscopes.

Singh started studying astrology because his own chart proved difficult for other astrologers to interpret correctly.

Contradictory messages

“They told me contradicting things. Then I said, you know I’m going to master this science, then I don’t have to go and ask these people,” Singh says

But Singh was unimpressed with traditional forms of Vedic astrology. The readings were accurate 30 percent of the time, according to Singh. “At one time I gave up astrology. Forget it, this is a joke,” Singh said.

Then he discovered the teachings of Professor Krishnamurthiji Padhadahti, whose precise mathematical approach to astrology appealed to him. Krishnamurthiji divided each constellation into 249 subparts, and when Singh applied this technique to his own chart, he found the readings on target.

“Sometimes you will ask the question, when will I start a new business, when will I relocate to a new place. This method will pinpoint almost up to the day. It was very accurate, and I found the answer,” Singh said.

It took Singh four years to master the system, because it was very mathematical. Even with a master’s degree in computer science, he admits that this practice requires good math skills. But Singh credits the accuracy of his readings on the detailed nature of the method.

“I can tell by a person’s chart if they are handicapped, or in prison. I can tell if they’re spiritual, or a movie star,” Singh says.

Singh also publishes his predictions about celebrities and political events on his website, and according to him many have been accurate.

“I have many articles on Barack Obama. In November 2010, two years before the elections, I predicted that Obama will win very easily. Now, Obama will do very well in 2014. This is his best year. But 2016 is a very difficult year. It’s a very challenging time, according to the charts. If they make some mistakes, there will be an opportunity for Republicans. It all depends on how they handle it,” Singh says.

Singh and Bhat make these predictions, but they both insist that these prognoses are not determinative.

“How will I know what nature’s intention is for me?” Bhat said. “You can look at your astrological chart, and use the principles to guide your life, for better or for worse.” 

Do you believe in astrology? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

This story is one in an occasional series of reports by students taking part in a class of the USC Annenberg Knight Program on Media and Religion, headed by Diane Winston. Thanks to a grant from the Luce Foundation, Annenberg students have covered global religion, culture and politics for the past four years. This spring, students will report and write on Southern California's Indian community and travel to Pune and Mumbai in March, where they will cover religion, economics and politics.