Parrot astrologers

Parrot astrologers are fortune tellers who use green parakeets to aid them with their craft.1 Acting as a medium, the parrot will pick a “lucky card”, presumably based on the customer’s name and birth date. The astrologer then reads the customer’s future from this lucky card.2 In early Singapore, parrot astrologers were mainly Indians who set up their business as a five-foot-way trade or in temple grounds.3 They would also make house calls.4

Parrot astrology is an ancient Indian tradition that is still practised across India.5 Many Indians turned to parrot astrologers in the past to have their fortunes told, particularly in times of uncertainty. In Singapore, although such astrologers catered to the immigrant Indian community initially, they soon gained popularity among the other communities. Their numbers increased as demand for their services grew. Some people went to them out of curiosity about their future, while others wanted to get answers to specific questions, like when a loved one would recover from an illness. Many young people sought the help of parrot astrologers to review their marriage prospects and romantic compatibility with potential mates. Parrot astrologers were also consulted to find suitable dates for auspicious occasions like weddings, engagements and business openings.

Parrot astrology is usually a family trade passed on from family members.7 The parrots used are parakeets, often green in colour.8

Job scope
The parrot astrologer is equipped with 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 much love and care, and therefore develop a strong bond with the astrologer. Each fortune card depicts either a Hindu deity, Buddha, or Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. Many Hindus believe there is an intimate connection between events that happen in daily life and planetary movements. A message, therefore, accompanies the picture on the fortune card, addressing the current cosmic influence on the customer’s domestic, financial, career and romantic affairs.9

The five-foot-ways were ideal location for parrot astrologers,10 who were usually clad in a white dhoti and a shirt, with his or her forehead smeared with holy ash or vermilion.11 The parrot astrologer would start his day early and end around dusk. Upon the arrival of a customer, the astrologer would begin the session by first asking the customer for his or her name. Then he would open the cage and request 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 flipped over the card to reveal the picture and message to his customer. Most of the time, these cards bore optimistic messages.12

A number of the people who patronised parrot astrologers were curious about what the latter did with the parrots. Many, however, have lost interest in this form of astrology.13 Those who did have faith in this practice rarely visited the parrot astrologer due to lack of time. This had resulted in the dwindling number of parrot astrologers in Singapore.14

There are still some parrot astrologers plying their trade in the Serangoon Road vicinity. They usually earn better income during trade fairs and exhibitions due to the large crowds. Until the mid-1990s, parrot astrologers charged S$1 for a reading and earned a meagre S$10 to S$15 per day. Today, tourists make up most of their customers.15


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Five-Foot-Way Traders (Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, 1985), 18. (Call no. RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
2. Andreas Augustin, The Singapore Treasury: Secrets of a Garden City (Singapore: Treasure Publishing, 1988), 28 (Call no. RSING 915.957 AUG-[TRA]); “Fortune Teller,” Today, 10 June 2005, 80. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Sharon Siddique and Nirmala Puru Shotam, Singapore’s Little India: Past, Present, and Future (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982), 135 (Call no. RSING 305.89141105957 SID); Lo-Ang Siew Ghim and Chua Chee Huan, eds., Vanishing Trades of Singapore (Singapore: Oral History Department, 1992), 63. (Call no. RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
4. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 63.
5. Swati Mathur, “Street Astrologers Run Out of Fortune,” Times of India, 18 July 2011. (From ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website)
6. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 63–64.
7. Surekha Ahgir Yadav, “Bird’s Eye View,” Today, 23 June 2006, 84. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Five-Foot-Way Traders, 18.
9. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 60–64.
10. Siddique and Puru Shotam, Singapore’s Little India, 135.
11. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Five-Foot-Way Traders, 18–19; Lo-Ang an Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 61; Yadav, “Bird’s Eye View”; “Fortune Teller.”
12. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 62; Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Five-Foot-Way Traders, 18.
13. “Fortune Teller”; Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 63–64.
15. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 60, 63–64.

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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.

Vanishing trade
Fortune-telling by birds--Singapore
Heritage and Culture
Street vendors--Singapore