An Astrologer’s Day

by

R. K. Narayan

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The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment Symbol Analysis

The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment Symbol Icon

The astrologer’s garb and equipment—including cowrie shells and mystical looking charts—represent the artificiality of much religious practice and, in turn, the ability to take advantage of people’s desire for faith. Using his clothing and wares like a costume, the astrologer offers to tell people the truth yet gives only vagaries produced by sharp observational skills and a practiced mind. His customers are rarely skeptical of the astrologer, having been sold on the truth of his words before he even says them due the compelling, seemingly holy nature of his appearance.

In the greater meaning of the story, the astrologer’s garb speaks to Narayan’s perception of the mystics and holy men in India and the position that religion holds in that culture. The greatest deception of the astrologer’s garb is that it transforms the astrologer, in the eyes of his customers, into a figure of divinity, something otherworldly, powerful, and pure. This suits the astrologer’s purposes, as no one thinks to question the integrity of a holy man. Yet the astrologer, like every other simple, common person that he interacts with, is just a man. He is prone to the same ills that he identifies in his customers: problems with money, marriage, or twisted human affairs. The astrologer’s garb, as a symbol, thus prods at the role of religion and religious men in India, reminding the reader that they are nothing more than human—as petty, greedy, and selfish as anyone else. In the Indian caste system, where the religious leaders rule the social order, this is a particularly poignant jab at the egos of the elite. While Narayan is not putting religion itself down with the use of this symbol, he is at the very least injecting it with a sharp dose of reality and speaking against the deification of mere men.

The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment Quotes in An Astrologer’s Day

The An Astrologer’s Day quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mysticism and Religious Hypocrisy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Indian Thought Publications edition of An Astrologer’s Day published in 1981.
An Astrologer’s Day Quotes

His forehead was resplendent with sacred ash and vermillion, and his eyes sparkled with a sharp abnormal gleam which was really an outcome of a continual searching look for customers, but which his simple clients took to be a prophetic light and felt comforted. The power of his eyes was considerably enhanced by their position—placed as they were between the painted forehead and dark whiskers which streamed down his cheeks: even a half-wit’s eyes would sparkle in such a setting.

Related Characters: The Astrologer
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

To crown the effect he wrapped a saffron-colored turban around his head. This color scheme never failed. People were attracted to him as bees are attracted to cosmos or dahlia stalks. He sat under the boughs of a spreading tamarind tree which flanked a path running through the Town Hall Park.

Related Characters: The Astrologer
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment Symbol Timeline in An Astrologer’s Day

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Astrologer’s Garb and Equipment appears in An Astrologer’s Day. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
An Astrologer’s Day
Mysticism and Religious Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Guilt, Fear, and Identity Theme Icon
Modernization, Tradition, and Inequality Theme Icon
At midday, the astrologer lays out his equipment and readies for the day. He has brought a dozen cowrie shells, mystical-looking but unreadable... (full context)
Mysticism and Religious Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Guilt, Fear, and Identity Theme Icon
As the astrologer is packing his garb and equipment , a stranger blots out the green light. The astrologer summons him to sit down,... (full context)
Mysticism and Religious Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Guilt, Fear, and Identity Theme Icon
...Guru Nayak gives the astrologer a fistful of coins and leaves while the astrologer packs his equipment . The last shaft of green light has also vanished. (full context)