Religion and Beliefs
Astrological and divinatory practices are here understood as a combination of knowledge and know-how. It is apprehended as a set of fortune telling, divinatory and prediction techniques participating to a broader system of interpretation of past, present and future events. The emphasis is on Burma, where astrology and divination rationale are part of the social thinking and are imbedded in the religious field, as it is the case elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia.
The panel brings together scholars working in history, anthropology and ethnology to explore the articulation between astrological and divinatory sciences, power and discourse in Burma, particularly when the astrological and divinatory theory informs the political, social and/or religious discourse. The discussion draws on reflections upon multicultural contacts and coproduction of knowledge through circulation of men, ideas and systems of knowledge. It explores the adaptation of « foreign », external, predominantly Indian astrological and divinatory practices to « local » techniques since the pre-modern times.
Two of the presenters, Aurore Candier and Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière, look into the life trajectory and posthumous fame of renowned Burmese astrologers from different times, respectively Ponnya from Sale (who lived in the mid- 19th century) and Min Theinkkha (who lived in the late 20th century); was their reputation built on the same set of astrological and divinatory practices? Were they participating in public life, and how influential were they on the political scene?
The two other presenters focus on the community of ritual experts, astrologers and traditional healers in Rakhine State (Western Burma), a region geographically and historically prone to intercultural exchanges with India. Through a study of Buddhist communities living in central Rakhine State, where people consider that health condition depends on planetary forces and thus on astrological calculations, Céline Coderey examines the tension between the centrality vs marginalization of astrology, questioning the prevalent assumption in Burma that "astrology has nothing to do with Buddhism". Alexandra de Mersan looks into the history of the Arakanese ritual experts and astrologers deported to the Burmese capital in the late 18th century. Through a study of the making of the Arakanese annual calendar, which process traditionally falls within the area of expertise of ritual specialists and astrologers, she investigates the transformation of the domain of knowledge of this community of worldly experts.