Astrology, Sorcery and Magic Charms in Kerala (Post No.3186)


Compiled by London swaminathan

Date: 24 September 2016

Time uploaded in London:15-34

Post No.3186

Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


Following is an excerpt from Arthur Miles’ book.

Source book: The Land of the Lingam by Arthur Miles, year 1933.

“In India the astrologer is the guiding spirit and domestic concerns of the community. He is consulted as to the why and wherefore of calamities, the failure or success of any proceeding, the sex of an unborn child, remedies for the sick, the giving of loans, the borrowing of money, paying of bills, the proper time to begin the study of any subject, the investiture of the sacred thread, the sowing of seeds, the harvesting of crops. There is, in fact, nothing too great or too trivial for his services and no one thinks of questioning his advice.


The astrologer has no prescribed fees. Wealthy people pay him lavishly, and the poor people give him as much as they can afford. If a consultant comes empty handed, the astrologer s not supposed to refuse his services, but the horoscope of such a parsimonious or poverty stricken one is always uninteresting and takes but a few moments to calculate. On festivals and public occasions, a fixed scale of fees is followed.


The astrologer’s busy time is from July to February, the period of harvest and marriage. His most lucrative business is casting what is own as a life horoscope, recording events from birth to death. In such a work he lays don rules for propitiating the gods and the planets, and averting calamities.  He also delineates the character, mental and spiritual, of the client. Everyone who has twenty five rupees seems to be provided with a life horoscope.


Many members of the profession do what is called “verbal reading”, and for this a bag of shells or a bag of rice, is used with the almanac. The astrologer sits on a mat, and after tossing the rice or shells on the floor, works them into little patterns, while he chants ‘mantrams’ in praise of his guru and of the deity, invoking their help. He then draws a design, consisting of tween compartments, on the floor with chalk. If he has chosen shells, he touches his ears with them and arranges them in the compartments of the design.  After a long unintelligible, which he seems to be addressing the shells, he makes few predictions, taking care to be as vague as possible.


Numerous stories are told about the Pazhur Kanians. One relates how the planets, Mercury and Venus, on arriving at the house of one of the Kaniyans were asked by him to wait at the gate. The Kaninan then jumped into a well, there to conduct some prayers  in the hope of keeping the planets  waiting permanently. His prayers were answered, and the two planets remain at the gate of every Kaniyan, to help him with his predictions.


In addition to astrology these people practise sorcery and exorcism. Devils are driven out of home and villages by a devil dance. If a person is suspected of being possessed by a devil, several Kaniyans go to his home in guise of the demons and rush towards the affected person., whereupon the devil in a fright departs immediately. Disease is cured by cutting a rope the length of the person who is ill, and making knots in it. Goat hair is then burned, and the rope is passed several times through the smoke. Sometimes a chicken is killed and some of its blood is poured on the burning goat hair.


Another means of increasing the income of the Kaniyans is the sale of yantrams (charms). A yantram is written on gold or silver or paper and worn on the body; usually around the arm or the wrist.  The charm consists of 51 letters, but no words are spelled; and each letter has its meaning. A yantram is useless unless a magic rite has been performed for it. There are charms to protect one against sorcery or devils; to secure the aid of a goddess; to prevent Pulantini, the demon who eats children, from coming near the infants; to avert miscarriage; to please lovers; to prevent barrenness; and to relieve a woman in labour sometimes the charm is drawn on butter, and swallowed. When this method is adopted, it must be repeated for forty days, while if the woman is the recipient, she must have no sexual intercourse during that time. Charms are also drawn on ashes or cow-dung oron a cloth and worn around the waist.

Kaniyans worship the sun, moon, and planets beside their gods Siva, Vishnu, and Ganesa. Each day of the week has its special planet, and the morning worship is addressed to the planet of the day.


The Kanians are intelligent, well versed in Sanskrit and Malayalam. They depend for a living on the fruits of their hereditary profession. During the Mandalam – forty days – from the 14th of November until the 25th of December, the senior members of the family purify themselves and do pujas before all the gods. On the fortieth day the worship lasts for 24 hours continuously. Ancestors are worshipped on the new moon day. In memory of the dead an oblation of water is offered”.

(In this chapter he has narrated two incidents where he met a fraudulent astrologer and a sorcerer in Madurai and Mysore)