Parrot astrologers were fortune tellers who used green parakeets to pick up tarot cards. They interpreted the tarot cards to foretell a person's future. Parrot astrologers were South Indians and the business began as a five-foot-way trade in early Singapore. Parrot astrologers also made house calls and set up stalls in temple grounds.
Parrot astrology originally came from South Indian, particularly Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Many turned to the parrot astrologers to have their fortunes told, particularly in times of uncertainty. Although the parrot astrologer catered to the immigrant Indian community initially, he soon gained popularity amongst the other communities and the parrot astrologer increased in numbers as demand for their services grew. Some went to them out of sheer curiosity about their future while others went to get answers to specific questions like knowing when would a loved one would recover from an illness. Many young people went to review their marriage prospects and romantic compatibility with a possible mate. Parrot astrologers were also consulted to fix suitable dates for auspicious occasions like weddings, engagements and business openings. Parrot astrology was usually a family trade passed on from father to son. The parrots used were actually parakeets, often green in colour.
The parrot astrologer's possessions included a small table, 27 fortune cards based on the Indian cosmic system, charts, a notebook and most importantly, parrots. The parrots are fed with fruit, nuts and chillies to sharpen their intelligence. They are also treated with love and care, thereby establishing a bond between the astrologer and his pet. Each of these fortune cards depicted a Hindu deity, the image of the Buddha or the Virgin Mary with Jesus as an infant. Many Hindus believe there is an intimate connection between things that happen in daily life and planetary movements. A message therefore accompanies the picture addressing the customer's current cosmic influence on his domestic, financial, career and romantic matters.
The astrologer was often clad in a white dhoti and a shirt with his forehead smeared with holy ash or vermilion. He started his day early and ended around dusk. Once a customer arrived, the session began with the parrot astrologer first asking the customer for his name. Upon the announcement of the name, he opened the cage and requested the parrot to select a suitable card for the customer with such a name. The parrot daintily walked out of its cage and after pulling a card out of the stack with its beak, retreated to its shelter. The astrologer then opened the card and revealed the picture and message to his customer. Most of the time, these cards bore optimistic messages. Upon request, the astrologer may even read the customer's palm or engage in numerology for a more detailed forecast.
Many Indians lost faith in parrot astrology with time as people began to believe that parrot astrology was a maverick system of fortune telling. Those who did have faith in the practice rarely visited the parrot astrologer for lack of time. This resulted in the dwindling number of parrot astrologers in Singapore. Today, there are less than five parrot astrologers in Little India. They mainly gain better income during trade fairs and exhibitions where there are large crowds. Until mid-1990s they charged S$1 for a reading and earned a meagre S$10 to S$15 per day. Today they charge S$5 for a single interpretation. Tourists make up most of their customers on their normal days.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
Lo-Ang, S. G., & Huan, C. C. (Eds.). (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore (pp. 60-64). Singapore: Oral History Department.
(Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
Little India, heartland of the Indian community [Electronic version]. (1999-2002). In M. Hatten (Ed.), Community-Based Tourism in the Asia-Pacific. Retrieved December 16, 2002, from cullin.org/cbt/index.cfm?section=chapter&number=14
The vanishing trades [CD-ROM]. (1997). Singapore: Daichi Media.
(Call no.: RAV 338.642095957 VAN)
National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Archives & Artefacts Online, Singapore. Retrieved January 27, 2003, from www.a2o.com.sg
Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders (pp. 16, 18-20). Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department.
(Call no.: SING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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Fortune-telling by birds--Singapore