Astrology (from Greek astron, star) study of the positions of stars and planets to forecast events on earth. Western astrology - with which Indian astrology has certain similarities - is based on the twelve signs of the zodiac; Chinese astrology is based on a 60-year cycle and a lunar calendar. An astrologer prepares a horoscope, a chart based on the positions of the planets and their relationships to other celestial bodies at the time of a person';s birth, to foretell the future.

Astrology is very important among the Hindu community, with the ganak or jyotisi, astrologer, being consulted on all important matters, such as the auspicious time to commence a journey, to begin ploughing or sowing, to start a new business etc. Perhaps one of the astrologer's most important functions is when a marriage is being arranged. Before a marriage is fixed, the horoscopes of the prospective bride and bridegroom are compared to see if they are compatible. The astrologer is also consulted to calculate the suitable time for the lagna or marriage ceremony. His advice is followed, even if it means that the ceremony must take place very late at night.

In the court of Indian kings and emperors, the astrologer had a dignified place. According to legend, an astrologer predicted that laksmanasena's kingdom would soon be conquered by Muslim invaders. When Laksmanasena learned the news of the arrival of bakhtiyar khalji, he fled the capital. Thus proving the astrologer right! The Mughals too had their astrologers. Marriages of royal families would not take place without consulting the astrologer, known as najum.

In the village of Jhalakathi there is a place called Panji Puthi Pada, which, in popular lore, is believed to have been the abode of an astrologer in Mughal times. Even in the capital city of Dhaka there is an area called Ganak Tuli (astrologer';s locality).

Western astrology and Indian astrology have some basic differences. Western astrology is based on the sun. The sun rises in a sign or rashi. For example, from 21 March to 20 April, the sun rises in the sign of Aries. Anyone born during this period is considered to have been born under the sign of Aries. In the Indian system, however, the moon is given greater priority. The moon moves from one sign to another within 2BD days. Thus, within a month the moon crosses all twelve signs of the zodiac. Indian astrology also takes the 27 constellations into account. In casting a horoscope, the jyotisi takes both the birth sign (moon sign) and the birth star into consideration.

Though many people today do not believe in astrology, many Bangladeshi weeklies and weekend magazines provide a horoscope for the week ahead. Many otherwise sensible people are also seen wearing precious or semi-precious stones as advised by some astrologer to ward off the inauspicious influence of the stars. [AR Howlader]