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Reading the Stars

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In the jantri, time is an object of immediate consumption. Brimming with Islamic references, the work presumes the reader to be Muslim. However, the knowledge it claims to share derives from all manner of sources, from ancient Indian traditions, to modern Western astrology and New Age practices.

The term jantri refers to a kind of popular annual almanac in South Asia concerned with the future. Jantris are elaborate productions, differentiated by languages and the focus on varying regions, countries, and religious affiliations. Lithographed jantris were among the earliest South Asian printed books to proliferate in cheap formats in the second half of the nineteenth century. Now, one can find them in bookshops all over, especially near places of religious pilgrimage in shops that carry mementos. Increasingly, the best known ones are available in PDF format on the web and as apps for smartphones. The market for jantris is competitive: numerous versions become available at the beginning of the year, claiming authenticity and veracity based on the authority of long-established families.

In this section I assess the contents of the Zanjani Jantri for 2020 that I purchased outside a shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, in January 2020. A major brand in the field, this is an exceedingly complex work containing text, tables, and images in small print spread over nearly two hundred pages of cheap newsprint paper. This jantri is a form of textual ephemera, a seemingly inconsequential and disposable object. Its contents have long genealogies, traceable to hundreds of years’ worth of textual and representational forms, with origins all over the world. Jantris are consumed avidly on a mass market scale in South Asia but have received little academic attention.

In Pakistan’s religious and cultural environment, the jantri symptomizes a complex intermingling of various orders of time. The Zanjani Jantri claims authority based on having been published continuously for more than seventy years. Its assertions are connected to genealogical transmission of knowledge in a family going back centuries. To its readers, it offers predictions and techniques to know and change the future.

In the jantri, time is an object of immediate consumption, packaged authoritatively with the purpose of inviting the reader to partake of additional services available from the publishing enterprise. Brimming with Islamic references, the work presumes the reader to be Muslim. But the knowledge it shares derives from all manner of sources, from ancient Indian traditions to modern Western astrology and New Age practices.

The jantri’s predictions and analyses of personal horoscopes are not confined to Muslims. For example, the Zanjani Jantrihas an analysis of Vladimir Putin’s astrological chart (27–28). The work’s overarching epistemological commitment is to pragmatism and usability. The last page has a coupon that, when filled in and sent, garners the sender a free personalized horoscope. This mass market product in a self-consciously Muslim society shows Islam as an unbounded, permissive phenomenon.

Mixed Messages

The Zanjani Jantri deserves being judged by its cover, which contains text in three languages as well as complex graphic imagery. On the very top, in intricate calligraphy, is the Arabic text of Quran 25:61: “Blessed is He who has placed constellations in the sky and put in it a radiant lamp and a luminous moon.” Occurring at the bottom left, the English statement “Astrology for All” seems to provide the other bookend for the work’s appeal to a universal basis for astrology.

The graphics include a stylized, multicolor world map with places named in English, signs of the zodiac in their modern forms, and, in the top left corner, a YouTube logo that links to AQ TV Knowledge for All, a channel that belongs to the jantri’s proprietors. The remainder of the text on the cover is in Urdu. It includes the title, headlines for prominent articles, and two nods to the monthly magazine, named Aienae Qismat (The Mirror of Destiny), published by the enterprise. A prominent yellow round badge announces seventy-three golden years of continuous publication.

Titles of articles highlighted on the cover show the publication’s heavy investment is political matters. The biggest headline, in red, asks, “Will 2020 be a year of world peace or war?” At the bottom right, in blue, it states “The Future of New Pakistan,” referring to political renovation promised in a slogan deployed by the political party in power at the national level at the time of publication. The third big headline is also political although not in a readily apparent way: “The New Responsibilities of the Pole, the Support, and the Interchangeables.” As explained in the article that goes with this headline, the terms mentioned here are officeholders in the hierarchy that governs the hidden realm.

The jantri’s political focus indicates its competition with forms of media that report on ordinary politics: “Electronic print media immediately displays world and political events. But spiritually expected events are known only to masters of spirituality. Very often, these personalities are content within themselves, since they are not afraid of anything” (24). The article then goes on to say that Vedic (ancient Indian) readings of the stars indicate that spiritual masters have been entrusted new responsibilities regarding the relationship between Pakistan and India. In other words, the spiritual elect will take up more political work in the immediate future because they have been assigned to do so, even though, by themselves, they would not be concerned with such matters. Connected to this prediction, the work includes articles on matters such as the behavior of the United Nations (26) and the fate of Kashmir and other parts of India in the wake of the revocation of its special political status by Narendra Modi’s government (29–32).

Knowing the Future

Most of the content of the Zanjani Jantri is concerned with discerning the future. In addition to the political issues mentioned already, this includes personal futures imagined at varying scales, from profit in business to children’s educational success when they are older to salvation after death. The work cites a spectrum of techniques to determine these matters, mostly in hints.

Predicting correctly requires knowledge of occurrences in the past and the future. This includes knowing a person’s precise time of birth and calculations regarding how the constellations will be placed at specific times in the future. The jantri’s own time calculations are provided in the standard time used in Pakistan. However, this is too imprecise since constellations’ movements vary based on spatial positioning between various parts of Pakistan. Hence, the jantri provides details of minutes that must be added or subtracted from the standard time based on one’s location in various urban centers in the country (179–180).

The jantri is a self-help manual that entices readers enough to lead them into becoming clients of the live experts who undertake complex predictive work. Techniques required to know the future are presented as sciences that are, in principle, open to anyone. They should get results no matter who is the practitioner. However, like for other complex scientific forms, one needs much experience and practice to get correct results.

The following summary indicates the major predictive procedures covered in the Zanjani Jantri:

  • Book of Omens (falnama, 12, 74): Presented in two versions, this consists of a circular diagram with text. One version is assigned to the Fourteen Infallibles, meaning Muhammad, Fatima, and the Twelve Shi’i Imams (12). This has six concentric circles; the central one names God alone, while the remaining five larger ones have twelve compartments each. Meant for general use, instructions for this diagram indicate how to navigate between the compartments to arrive at answers for specific questions. A diagram in a second book of omens has seven separate small circles within one big one; this is meant solely for determining an unborn child’s gender (74).
  • Beginning of the Year at Spring Equinox (nawruz): Calculations based on the state of constellations on this day in 2020 indicate that women will be especially significant economic and political actors on an international level (15–19). The discussion provides the Islamic significance of the day and predictions for future years.
  • Predictions by Numerology (jafr): This is a system based on assigning numbers to letters of the Arabic alphabet and then working to correlate between verbal meanings and calculations. Articles provide tables to do calculations (51–52) and a demonstration to extract meaning from a complex Arabic text (76).
  • Lucky numbers: This provides the best numbers to use in 2020, especially for Prize Bond lotteries held in Pakistan (85).
  • Positioning of the moon: This gives auspicious, neutral, and inauspicious times for various activities based on the way the moon is positioned in the sky on different days (60).

The “Islamic-ness” of procedures described in the Zanjani Jantri is a matter of correlating Islamic texts and names to universal claims. In statements provided in the articles as well as in running heads on all pages, the Islamic character of the contents is emphasized through references to sayings by Muhammad and other authorities from the distant past. However, the actual descriptions of the processes freely use materials identified as having ancient Greek and Indian and modern Western provenance. The combination makes the Islamic references a kind of gloss on systems of knowledge that are universal. Since the system is open to incorporating new techniques, Islam becomes an ever-expandable discourse whose authoritative texts are presumed subsumable to whatever will become available in the future.

Changing the Future

When it comes to personal futures, the purview of the Zanjani Jantri extends to affecting the course of events before they might occur. Matching the predictive techniques, the manipulation of the future is provisioned through a host of techniques, including the following:

  • The Tablet of the Pure One (lawh-i Mustafa): Referring to the Prophet Muhammad, this is described as an amulet that can be acquired through a “gift” of a set amount. Keeping this on one’s person is expected to dispel problems and attain desires (9).
  • The Greatest Name (ism-i a’zam): Based on numerological calculations, the Greatest Name for the year 2020 is designated as being “ya Razzaq, ya Rabb, ya Razzaq” (O Provisioner, O Provider, O Provisioner). Picked from a long catalog, these names of God are seen to be effective for petitioning God during 2020. The discussion describes the patterns in which the Greatest Name must be repeated to affect the future in specific areas of life (11).
  • Secrets of the Unseen (asrar-i ghaybi): These are spells and procedures meant for specific purposes. For example, to compel someone to fall in love with one, “take 41 corns of black pepper and read and blow Chapter Sincerity [of the Quran] on each one 41 times. Then take a big apple, core it without breaking the skin, and stuff the 41 pepper corns in the cavity, together with a piece of paper that has the names of the one seeking, and the one desired and her/his mother. Then close up the apple securely using thread or tape. Then dig a hole in the ground, or choose a flowerpot or brazier. Put coals in this, with the apple in the middle. Then sit by this object and recite the Chapter Sincerity in uncounted repetition, until the apple is completely burned. This procedure is so powerful that, even before the apple turns to ashes, the beloved will show up, or there will be news” (55–56).
  • Voluntary Donation (sadaqa): These can be done for one’s own health or desires or to ensure salvation for those who have died. There are also special donations to be made in conjunction with one’s birth sign that can dispel inauspicious circumstances at particular times (86–88).
  • Works (‘amaliyat): These are spells that can be used for specific purposes. One major way to use them is to acquire a “luminous replica” of oneself (hamzad-i nurani), who can then be made to do things. Different processes apply for capturing the replica and then retaining it into the future. For capture, one pours oil in a bowl with a thick wick, lights it, and puts it behind one’s back. Then one says a certain formula 382 times while staring at one’s own shadow. This must be done for three days while abstaining from meat and some other foods. In case the replica comes when one is asleep, one must keep going but not for more than nine days. When the replica comes, one asks it to enter a bottle and then corks it up. To be released, it can then promise to come back whenever called in a certain way (153).

The Islamic character of processes that affect future events is different from the predictive procedures. Here, the formulas that must be recited in specific ways are all in Arabic and cannot be substituted by other spells. This puts Islamic discursive expressions into operation, in conjunction with corporeal and mental acts specified by an experienced practitioner. The “magic,” when it comes to changing the future, is exclusively Islamic.

Future in Context

I purchased the Zanjani Jantri while visiting a well-known shrine in Lahore known as Bibi Pakdaman, meaning “The Lady with the Pure Skirt.” It contains multiple graves whose epitaphs tell us that people have been interred here gradually over many centuries. The main Lady after whom the shrine is named is Ruqayya, a daughter of ‘Ali, who is said to have survived the incident at Karbala in 680 where Husayn, her half-brother, was killed. She is said to have made her way from Iraq to India in the eighth century, settling in Lahore. Many of her female descendants are buried in the shrine as well, which also has relatively recent graves belonging to the site’s hereditary caretakers. The site’s association with a daughter of ‘Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, marks it as a connection between Lahore and early Islamic history.

The Bibi Pakdaman shrine is crowded, especially on weekends, with people milling around, praying in front of graves, and lighting lamps and doing other similar acts meant to fulfill desires. This context is important for understanding how a work such as the Zanjani Jantri fits in society. Taken by itself, the work comes across as a long list of extraordinary claims and procedures, a manual for especially intense practitioners of esoteric arts. However, the audience being targeted consists of ordinary people, women and men from different social classes, who are seeking remediation of afflictions or desires. The text is a palette of practices likely to be taken up partially, and in varying degrees of intensity, by those who visit Bibi Pakdaman.

The shrine and the jantri are equivalent objects in the sense of venues to access powers beyond quotidian means. To these long-standing modes of accessing and affecting the future, we can now add electronic media such as the Zanjani TV channel on YouTube and contains a long list of programs and videos where hosts address personal questions posed by viewers. Techniques covered on the channel include daily and longer-term horoscopes, procedures for making love matches, Tarot card readings, qualities of gemstones, poetry and songs in praise of religious figures, motivational short stories, and predictions made by celebrity hosts. In the Zanjani Jantri, the future is addressed across a vast scale of differences. It contains information and processes on matters grand and small, from world and national politics to matters of making a living and falling in love. The future’s duration varies too, from what will happen soon versus after death to what will happen decades later on the society level.

To know the future, and possibly change it, requires objects, knowledge, acts, interactions, and participation in a sociointellectual world where these things matter. While the procedures being offered claim extraordinary knowledge, the issues these are meant to address are entirely ordinary concerns of human existence. From the perspective of understanding temporality as a social concern, the Zanjani Jantri and its offshoots are a complex set of epistemological options that work in conjunction with other forms of knowledge to address lived experience in the present.

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