Interview with Gayatri Devi Vasudev
by Dennis Flaherty
originally published in CVA Journal, Vol. I No. 2, November 2006
Dennis Flaherty — What was it like being born in a family of illustrious astrologers such as your famed father?
Gayatri — Father was one of those rare human beings who never hankered after fame or money. Yet he attracted a lot of fame for his learning and crusade for Jyotisha.
This is something unusual considering the fact Jyotisha was not treated on par with other subjects and was, and to some extent still is, treated with disdain. Though people from all strata of society from the humblest to the most powerful consulted astrology and took guidance from it, they would not accept this, openly professing to be disbelievers in it. Yet, though father was associated with astrology in such an unhelpful climate, his personality, integrity, spirit of independence, dedication and commitment to the subject were such he commanded unusual respect from just about everyone, which even boarded on awe. Naturally, we as his children benefited from this and were also treated in society with respect, which was really vicarious in nature.
Any time a major political or other development was taking place, I would be asked even in school, “What does Raman say?” and at such times I felt very proud of my father. In fact, in school, I was nicknamed and addressed as “Raman” and not “Gayatri.” Somehow I was always identified with Father’s work, and this was not just in college but when I was, maybe, in the III or IV standard. However, in class we were being introduced to science as coming from the West and taught to look down upon traditional practices as superstitions. At the time of eclipses, which in Indian society require certain traditional observances, my school friends in referring to such practices, would scoff at me. “All these are nonsense and unscientific, and who believes in them anyway!!”
At such times, I would feel angry and sad but would vehemently defend these observances, though I really had no idea then about how they were rational and well thought of measures to protect one from the harmful influences of the eclipses. I would feel strongly protective of Father at such times, though I was painfully aware of my ignorance of the subject. The dignity that father brought to bear on Jyotisha by his conduct, presentation and approach to the subject filtered down to me also and, most times, this evoked fairly respectful responses from others, even though Jyotisha itself was generally looked down upon in a society that was fascinated by Western science and had developed some kind of inferiority complex for all things Indian because of a colonial hangover. But RAMAN, THE MAN AND CRUSADER FOR JYOTISHA, was looked upon as a sage and Rishi and was never identified with the run-of-the-mill astrologer—even by detractors of the subject. It was a unique status that father had earned.
Dennis— What was it like being a child in the family of astrologers, particularly having experienced the modernization of India in your own time? How was your experience in astrology contrasted with your father’s experience?
Gayatri — Modernization had set in even during Father’s student days and one cannot say a contrast existed between Father’s time and my own. Rather there was continuity. Even as a child I had always been taken to all his lectures in Bangalore. I would listen to all of them with rapt attention and every time, Father explained a traditional Jyotisha concept in terms of solar radiation or the mutual angles—geocentric and heliocentric—or of magnetic fields, it appealed to me greatly, and as I graduated in my studies, I became increasingly aware of his wish and dedicated work to present astrology to the world as a science and discipline shorn of all religious, esoteric and occult features and which was as rational as any other modern science.
This approach to the spread of Jyotisha began with my great grandfather Prof. Bg. Suryanarian Rao, who met with and interacted with many traditional scholars well versed in Bhautika Sastras or physical astrology for the first time in the modern history of the subject. Until then no questions were being asked about the connection and mechanism between planetary motions and terrestrial happenings. But with Prof. Suryanarain Rao coming on the scene, the exploration of Jyotisha from a new modern angle began. This was further advanced by my own father Dr. Raman and today, the momentum is picking up at a very satisfactory pace. In India, the land of Jyotisha, the irony is there are strong detractors of the subject. This has not hurt the subject; rather, it has led to continued debate. And it was the pioneering efforts of Prof. Rao and their continuance by my father Dr. Raman that have now taken the science to the West and the rest of the world.
Today, astrology evokes respect in most educated and academic circles. It is still treated with skepticism by a minuscule section, which calls itself rationalists but in truth is made up of minds that have atrophied over certain rigid fixations and have lost the power to think or retain openness.
However, in our country, all decisions are politicized and politicians look at everything in terms of vote banks. Our academic bodies are the worst suffers, therefore, and lack in independent thinking. When this changes, astrology will be openly acknowledged as a science of great consequence.
An interesting development in this context of modernization is that scientists in some sections are openly looking at astrology. Recently I was invited by the Central Research Institute of Dryland Agriculture at Hyderabad to present astrological methods of monsoon prediction. This comes at a time when the worst drought in decades in 2003-2004 caught Indian meteorologists unawares, even as they kept promising a good monsoon, while I had clearly indicated months in advance of drought in the country. Naturally, the scientists at CRIDA were looking for something to help improve their forecasts and in this context were open-minded enough to explore astrology and its methods. This is just the beginning and the first phase in taking astrology seriously by the scientific community. This is what father worked for all his life and the interaction I was invited to can be said to have been made possible only because of his work for over six decades. You can see this development is actually a continuity of Father’s work into mine: there is no contrast.
Dennis— Many times it is the son in the family that follows the father’s profession. What was your experience like as the daughter who followed in the father’s footsteps?
Gayatri — Though in a way this is the global pattern, India appears to be an exception where daughters are concerned. This is especially so over the last 50 years or so, when a daughter carrying on a father’s work whether professionally or in business or even in politics has become increasingly normal. In my own case, Father gave all of us—both sons and daughters—equal opportunities for study and encouraged us to take the courses of our choice.
But where careers were concerned, my brothers went ahead with theirs, but my own wish to practice as a lawyer did not materialize. Father (and mother Rajeswari Raman) like all parents were more keen that I should get married and settle down, and perceived my moving on to a career in law as affecting marriage proposals.
Therefore, it was after I passed out of the law college with University ranks I, II, and IV in all the three years of the courses that I started working in our office, assisting Father in his work instead of moving on to the law courts. And as I began to get more and more involved in Father’s work, unwittingly I moved into Father’s profession. I was very lucky in that in a way, my life had taken on the nature of a Gurukul student. I was privileged to do personal service to Father outside of office hours. Working with him—during and even after office hours—taught me many lessons in understanding astrological principles and interpretation, and gradually this more or less decided unofficially my future work and its nature. My brothers went on with their careers and I, the daughter, glided into Father’s work. I believe this was according to a Divine Will and I can only thank God for not only giving me an affectionate, caring, loving father (and mother) but also making me work for and with a spiritually highly evolved Rishi-like being whose responses were even to worldly concerns totally detached and highly ethical.
Dennis— Did you encounter any obstacles or prejudices being the woman who carried on her father’s important work?
Gayatri — No, there were no such obstacles or prejudices against my taking up and continuing Father’s work. In India especially over the last 50 years, it is not uncommon for daughters to take up the father’s work in different fields. This was so in ancient India too. But maybe during the period of Mogul rule, for reasons of physical safety and well-being and protection from the invading hordes, some kind of over-protective measures were evolved in society, and women were forced into sheltered lives.
Dennis— Did your father encourage your interest at an early age?
Gayatri — Father and Mother both gave us every kind of encouragement in all our interests—intellectual, artistic, and other. When I first started showing serious interest in the study of astrology, which was in 1972 after my law degree, Father took me to an old bookseller and got all the classical works in Sanskrit with translations for me. Apart from that, he was always available for healthy discussion on various aspects of astrology as I worked with him. In no way did he force his views on his children, nor did he try to put us into astrology. But when I look backwards in retrospect, I feel maybe he was aware his mantle would fall on me. There are many astrological features which Father and I share, and I believe he had the confidence that once I moved into his work, I would be committed to his cause.
Dennis— At what time in your life did you decide you were going to embrace astrology as your life’s work?
Gayatri — After my law degree, when father did not seem to show any interest in my pursuing a career in law, I just stayed at home and started working with Father.
Gradually, it became clear I would not be encouraged to take up a legal career and I began to get more and more involved in Father’s work. I also saw that Father was working long hours into the night and felt I should give him relief in every possible way. This led to me doing all kinds of work related to the magazine and father’s translation of “Prasna Marga” and other works, so that finally I was so deep into it, I forgot all about my law career. This came about in 1972, and thereafter my involvement in father’s work was total. I was also happy that I could assist him in his work, and this gave me a rare inner satisfaction. There was no conscious decision to take up astrology as a career or life’s work. I sort of gyrated into it and now I see it as part of a Divine Design. And especially as you say, with so many boys in the family and the younger daughter doing it can mean only that.
Dennis— Was this difficult in the traditional light of the role of the woman in the Indian family, or was it a seamless transition?
Gayatri — Father made no difference between the sons and daughters, nor did Mother. But Mother knew that I should also be ready to play the housewife and homemaker’s role in life. So she trained me in all household chores (from which the boys were exempt) and I was her assistant in these household and kitchen duties. But though I began to get totally involved in Father’s work, my involvement in household tasks saw no reduction. Life was one continual state of work—office work was followed and proceeded by housework. And sometimes both even overlapped, so that finally I became some kind of be-all in the family. There was really no question of a transition. It was truly SEAMLESS both before my marriage as a daughter and sister and after marriage as a wife and mother. Even now also I play both roles all the time. But I feel this is not unique to Indian women but what every career woman, whether in the East or in the West, sooner or later finds herself in.
I was also lucky in that my role as a wife and mother did not clash with my role in astrology, thanks to my husband Vasudev and son Om Prakash. Not only did they not oppose me in my work or grudge me my long hours in astrology, but also made adjustments constantly so as not to hinder or hamper my work in astrology. This is in itself I believe a great blessing that was ordained by Providence.
Dennis— Do you find the practice of astrology different in India today than it was when you were growing up?
Gayatri — There is not much difference except that more and more people who come for a consultation are very well-informed on the subject, which was not the case even two or three decades ago. The application of astrology has also seen wide ramifications in new areas such as career and educational counseling, stocks and shares, management, and political elections—apart from the usual areas of social life. All are being understood and seen in the light of astrology, which has become a major decision making tool. And while traditional astrologers once upon a time lacked the benefit of a secular or modern education, today many academically qualified people are taking interest in astrology, but in an academic sense and as a professional pursuit. In fact you would be surprised to learn that just this morning I received a letter from the Chief Election Commissioner of India (a Constitutional post on par with the topmost political offices in the country) saying he was a regular reader of our magazine and enjoyed reading it very much. In other words, you can rest assured, the dates of our elections will be chosen by the CEC based on astrological factors. Incidentally, he is also doing a course on astrology at Delhi. So this gives you an idea of the reach of astrology in India in present times.
Dennis— Would you please share with our readers of the CVA journal a sense of what it takes to be Editor of the world-famous Astrological Magazine?
Gayatri — My job as Editor of THE ASTROLOGICAL MAGAZINE is highly demanding, a 24:7 job right through the year! My social life is practically nil and all my travel engagements are restricted to the minimum so that my magazine work is not affected. I had seen Father work that way; I now understand why. However, I have no regrets that even Sundays are not holidays from magazine work. My mind is constantly working on astrology—my editorials, all the features that I write for it, and so astrology has become my mental oxygen. The work load is very heavy, but without it my life would be meaningless. As an editor yourself, you can gauge the degree of involvement that more than three decades into the subject and the magazine work can result in. This is the nice part of my job.
There is also a very unpleasant side to my work. This is when poor-quality articles are expected to be included in the journal for nepotistic or other reasons, and when this is not done, I am accused of all kinds of things. Not that it matters. But the job of maintaining the high standards inculcated in me by Father in the magazine content has generated tremendous levels of tension and antagonism from writers of mediocre and poor quality stuff but whose egos and sense of self-importance are astronomical in size. Being firm and having to say “No” is necessary in my work, and you can easily guess the kind of resentment it can generate.
Dennis— Tell us about your practice as a professional astrologer, and the types of clients that come to you for consultations?
Gayatri — I am, really speaking, not a professional astrologer in that I am not available for consultations. This is for two reasons. The first is, my interest in astrology is academic, and I love it for its own sake. The second, which therefore hardly matters, is lack of time. But I do take up cases sometimes on humanitarian grounds. But after doing it for nearly three decades, the realization, somewhat belatedly, has dawned on me that people tend to exploit you. So, now I charge a modest fee when I take up such cases. Apart from this, because of issues of national interest and security and public welfare, when I am sought out by Central or State level figures holding high office—political, judicial, police, I do oblige them.
Dennis— Lastly Gayatri, are there any words of wisdom that you would like to share with the CVA journal readers?
Gayatri — When the first copy of the CVA journal came to me I was very happy and also grateful to the astrological brethren in the West for producing it. The content has been of high quality, very academic and crisp. I was happy also because you were doing a pioneering job in the West by bringing out a journal devoted completely to Jyotish, and was thankful to God that this great heritage of India was being received by Western brothers and sisters in a spirit of humility and hunger for knowledge. The West has every material and intellectual thing that the human mind can think of. Yet, it also has the modesty and openness of mind to welcome knowledge from outside in the true Upanishadic tradition of “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.” This attitude was something that left me feeling very gratified and also grateful to you and your team for taking up Father’s work in the West in the spirit he had always wanted it to be done—in the spirit of sharing knowledge.
One of the important qualifications for a true astrologer or for one to pursue Jyotisha is an openness of mind and a willingness to share. Apart from this, the West excels in organizational skills and this is an important part of any mission. Jyotisha, therefore, has in the West moved into the right hands—a group of dedicated truth-seekers, which in itself guarantees it will soon reach a momentum that one may not be able to visualize now.
Let us all carry on this Divinely ordained task together with a prayer that we be suitable instruments to take this knowledge to our future generations – knowledge that is truly capable of handling life’s ills at different levels—physical mental, moral and spiritual.
Father’s blessings are on you all, and I pray God that you be guided to great heights in this noble mission.
Dennis— Thank you for granting this interview Gayatri, and sharing your experiences and knowledge with our astrological community.