On March 27, 2021, Ninda Dema, 30, from Paro, who was born in the monkey year received the first COVID 19 jab in Bhutan at Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School, Thimphu at precisely 9.30 AM. It was not chance. Ninda was selected, based on the astrological readings from the Pangrizampa School of Astrology. She was the one chosen.
While the world remained awed witnessing such an incident in the 21st century, it reflected Bhutan’s intricate bond with her culture and beliefs, those that existed thousands of years before and which still continue to play a very important role in the lives of all Bhutanese. It is believed that everything should be done according to the Zakar (auspicious day) and this practice is seen at different platforms and forums, from shifting houses to celebrating promotions, conducting rituals and even in the political arena. No political party has launched the party itself or its candidates without consulting astrologers and as the elections near, astrologers are once again being consulted, for similar reasons.
A candidate from a political party said he has already called an astrologer to find out the exact time he should cast his ballot and also the first person who should do so from his constituency. When asked if this was not superstitious, he said that he joined the party based on astrology. “My candidature was released based on astrology. I went to my constituency based on astrology. It is not superstitious, but a part of our lives,” he said, adding that even if he does not win, he would be satisfied that he did everything required. “Yes! It’s got to do with psychology and having a positive mind set, which is very important. It is when you have a positive mind set that you are surrounded by positive vibes,” he noted. On questions if he failed to find a person that his astrologer would say should be the first to cast the ballot, he said “there are always alternatives.” “There will be the next best or whatever you call them.”
Doesn’t this tantamount to mixing politics with religion, which is prohibited? A candidate from another political party says it does not. “If religious figures use their sway to promote parties and candidates that would mean mixing politics with religion. But seeking advices from Lams, Rinpoches and astrologers are part of our culture and when it comes to the question at hand, I think even the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) would have looked at the Zakar, for almost everything, including the election day.” Moving ahead, he said he has to consult astrologers even to find out from which polling station he should cast his ballot. “In one way, this is a depiction of how seriously we are taking the elections,” he added.
Does this mean that political parties and candidates find the “right person” for all polling booths? A former political candidate, who is contesting again said it is generally one person in a constituency. “But I cannot vouch for other candidates or political parties. In my case, I just look for one person, who would be casting the vote first,” he said, adding there are challenges, too. “Sometimes there is a communication gap and before this person who has been selected to cast the vote first others would be ready. So, we have to call our Tshogpas and tell them to inform supporters to wait until a certain time.” Expounding further, he said that in the last elections of 2018, his supporters had to wait till 11.00am to vote as it was the auspicious time for him. “I later heard that supporters were losing patience.”
When asked what if there is no “right person and time,” another candidate said such chances are very remote. “But if it does happen there are other measures. We will be told that someone in my place can cast the ballot at the time meant for me. This would be the same if there is no right voter and together with it, we will need to perform a minor ritual or say some prayers.” On such practices being looked at as the mixing of politics and religion, he said it “definitely is not.” “The very essence of looking for a good Zakar or the right time and person in this case, is to prevent the worst from happening. We believe that if our stars are not consulted, ill-luck would follow, not just for us, but to all the people participating in an event. While many may say that the motive is to win the elections, people should also look at it from other angles,” he said.
Does this mean that the ones voting first in the polling booths would all be the selected ones? “It definitely would be in my constituency, but not in all the polling booths. In two important constituencies, I will be placing what you call the right person,” another candidate said, adding that it may be the same in other constituencies, too. “However, I am not speaking on their behalf.”
A self-practicing astrologer said he does receive such calls. “But till now I have not received any,” he said. On the religion-political mix, he answered that the ECB Act does not spell out that the stars should not be consulted. “Practitioners of the Dharma do not engage themselves in campaigning for parties. As astrologers, it is our responsibility to inform when contacted and asked what the best is for them, as it is for the nation, too,” he replied. “It is very important for us to do everything as per astrology as we are a Buddhist country. And we give our services, irrespective of which political party they are from,” he said.
Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu