Sunday, March 23, 2014

Uniquely Indian - Streetside Fortune Tellers

You will find them near places of worship, beaches and tourist hubs in India, streetside traditional fortune tellers, men and women alike, who claim to offer expertise to interpret your destiny from the arrangement of lines on your palm, the alignment of stars or even the fortune card-choices of a wise bird.

The fortune tellers themselves are flambuoyant personalities, sometimes wearing elaborate headgear or sporting distinctive insignia on their foreheads. The women, usually elderly and 'wise-looking' are more often than not, dressed in a traditional attire typical of the region, usually a saree. Some of them also double as witchdoctors and shamans, selling the means to reverse negativity through amulets and potions.

Kili-josiyam ('fortune fortold by the parakeet') entails an arrangement of symbolic cards, much like the tarot deck, laid face-down on a mat. From its bedecked cage, the parrot is let out and prompted to pick a card that will symbolise the fortune of the seeker which is then interpreted by the teller. The palm-reader sometimes has an elaborate chart as a prop, to explain what each line means. Palm-reading women sometimes carry a basket and a small stick to point out the destiny written on your palm. There is also a type of fortune teller who does house-visits, usually beating a 'damru', wearing an elaborate turban and dressed in a coat over his more traditional and humble attire.

For a more contemporary experience, one can always have one's fortune read by a robot flashing psychedelic lights.

An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's September 2012 Issue.

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