“One visit can change your life,” says the presenter on a Telugu news channel. Planets spin against a spacey backdrop behind him – a popular effect on such segments. Astrology is based on the premise that the movement and placement of stars and planets has a bearing on your life. While normally such forces lie out of your control, there is a huge market for ratna rashis, or astrological gemstones. These stones, which correspond to your name, star sign and date of birth, can supposedly be worn to influence everything from your career to your choice of spouse.
The persuaders are a cross-religious tag team – one dons the garb of a Hindu priest and the other is a Muslim ‘astro gemologist’. Together, they speak on the changes you can make to your life by wearing the right stone for your rashi.
“If you wear two types of stones, you will get a beautiful wife. Your will have settlement in life. We are not offering this as a one month or a two month solution, rather it is for a lifetime.”
TV segments like these are commonly broadcast on many news channels, and some states have moved to ban them. Yet the belief in astrology, and in this case, gems, persists – through endless websites, blogs, YouTube channels and the all-important word of mouth effect.
In markets across India, vendors sit with an assortment of stones and gems – peddling them for your problems. You don’t need a religion to believe in these – vendors and customers can be Muslim or Hindu alike. Hand them your name and date of birth, and a stone will be chosen for you.
These practises are rooted in Indian beliefs about the Navratnas – nine types of gems that represent different celestial bodies. Rubies, pearls, coral, emerald, yellow and blue sapphires, diamond, hessonite and cat’s eye. Each is supposed to have a different effect on your life, based on the position of their star/planet. Incidentally, India’s largest public sector companies are also categorized as Navratnas.
Sceptical, yet? You don’t have to believe in them to sell them.
Kamaruddin has been selling these gems for ten years. He started his business by selling namaz caps, but customer demand made him switch to gems.
With these stones, nothing will happen. All these people wearing stones to become crorepatis (millionaires) – this is fake.
“In larger shops, they sell these for Rs. 300-400. I sell the same thing for Rs. 40. In big malls, it can even go for Rs. 4000-5000. But those are waste – no use to the stones. They lie. Stone is stone…Nothing happens because of stones,” he says, adding that his customers buy it for their peace of mind alone.
Another seller, Yunus is frank about the economics:
Actually, the stone’s price is Rs. 150. People can sell for Rs. 2500. In showroom, you can get for Rs. 5000. People don’t know. Showroom stones are lab tested, and so are our stones.
His shop has been around for 45 years, though he says belief in the stones is age-old. He says that their benefits are even mentioned in the Quran.
Whether the gods sanction such beliefs or not, hardcore believers make it a lucrative business with booming demand. Diwakar works in the State Bank of India in Bangalore. He has spent two lakhs (Rs. 200,000) on buying precious stones – believing them to have improved his life dramatically.
After buying the Burma Ruby, my future, job – everything went well. So I bought another for Rs. 40,000 as well as a Yellow Sapphire for Rs. 1.2 lakh.
With no shortage of information on the internet, most shopkeepers keep the burden of knowledge on their customers. Mohammad Abdul Rahim, however, has learned the ropes of the business through 25 years of the trade.
“These stones are Nature’s gift. I don’t know the use of it – all we do is sell them. After selling to customers, they come and tell us the use it had for them – that life improved after wearing it… Over time, through experience, I learned what each stone is used for,” he says. We ask him how he would decide which stone was right for us. “I take the first letter of your name and decide. If you go and ask any astrologer, he will also recommend you the same stone.”
He goes over the various Navratnas, and tells us about the purpose of each stone:
Each one has different effect. Emerald will increase intelligence , coral will increase health, Neelam will be lucky stone for those of the Kumba Rasi (Aquarius) horoscope. Neelam is also good for treating bad luck.
It is not the stars in heaven alone that regulate this business. Bollywood’s superstars are known to wear certain stones, from Amitabh Bacchan to Salman Khan. Salman in particular is known for his silver and turquoise bracelet – of which many replicas have been made. Ironically, those who sell these replicas warn of ‘duplicates’ in the market.
“There are many cheap and plastic replicas of Salman Khan Bracelet but they are all gimmick to promote their sales. Avoid falling for such worthless Salman Khan bracelet online shopping because it is neither going to accentuate your style nor cast the benefits of turquoise upon you,” states the owner of salmankhanbracelet.com.
Getting into the astrology business yields numerous career opportunities – from gem trade to punditry and even a spot in a news channel. When beliefs masquerade as facts, especially on live television, it is not uncommon for people to buy into the idea that a stone can act as a quick fix for their lives. The astrology of gems is a rabbit hole of science and pseudoscience – one that is, for believers, worth shelling out for.
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