On 22 July just after sunrise, southeastern Nepal will plunge into total darkness. The whole of the country will be under a partial eclipse. For many Nepalis steeped in superstition, this is a bad omen. They want their zodiac sign examined for do's and don'ts, the future predicted and their karma settled.
There was a time when Nepalis wanting to have their futures foretold would have to wait for days for an appointment with an astrologer. Not anymore. The proliferation and popularity of phone-in astrology programs on tv suggests many people now have their questions answered from the comfort of their rooms. Who wants to call a tv station to request a music video when your karma can be read to you on the phone?
No one could have predicted when these shows started two years ago that they were going to be such a big phenomenon. Today astrology show hosts hardly have time to sit still during their one-hour show. The phones ring continuously.
S Suneel the host of Image Channel's 'Janam Kundali' laughs as he says he couldn't have predicted how successful his program would be. "The daily hardship has made people insecure and impatient and getting helpful hints about the future gives their lives some stability," he explains.
Basudev Krishna Shastri is the best-known tele-astrologer, and is known fondly as "laptop jyotishi" by his fans. He wears a daura suruwal, topi and sits behind a computer for his live show on Kantipur Television every morning. He takes at least a dozen calls and dispenses advice after callers tell him their time and place of birth. "The show runs well because it is more feasible and less time consuming for people to make a phone call," Shastri says.
Even as society moves towards a more modern, rational lifestyle, Nepalis seem to believe even more in astrology. Experts say this is perhaps because astrology has a scientific base in astronomy and the movement of the planets vis-?-vis the constellations.
Validating this to an extent are the various astrological tools, software and formulae astrologers use. But the debate between astrologers and astronomers continues. Jayanta Acharya, Professor of Astronomy puts it bluntly: "People are put under an illusion that these things have a scientific basis but they don't, so we should stop wasting our time going to astrologers."
But astrologers say there are many things that astronomy and rational science can't explain in nature, and astrology has a proven track record through history of determining an auspicious time based on the movement of heavenly bodies.
And scientific or not, astrology seems to fill a spiritual void in people's souls that modern, materialistic life can't. Proof is the growing popularity of the phone-in shows where callers range from 10-year-old school goers to 60-year old retired grandparents.
Ram Chettri, Professor of Sociology at TU explains the reason behind the popularity of tele-astrology is because materialism has failed to answer people's existential doubts, and also that the Nepali people are deeply religious.
He adds: "Astrology fills the gap, it provides answers. It doesn't matter whether its true or not, it provides spiritual solace."