Can you pronounce “Devgn”? Neither can I. No, this is not some linguistic issue. This name is as difficult to utter in India as it is elsewhere. Yet, I do not know if the actor that holds this surname cares. What is more important is that this name is bringing him luck – at least according to the numerologists.
It is not for me to measure how popular numerology is in India; it is certain that some ridicule it as much as others believe in it. This text, therefore, should not be read as spreading a stereotypical vision in which numerology is a common and undisputed belief in India. What I will focus on is a trend only – a fashion for numerology among some Indian celebrities – and that trend should not be generalized.
The adepts and masters of numerology believe that numbers have a mystic power about them. The numerical values hidden in a person’s date of birth, name, and so on reveal the connection of a person with a given planet, as well as the qualities and tendencies which the person may follow in his or her life. The numerological methods are amusing in their simplicity: in case of one’s name, each letter is ascribed a different mathematical value and summed up, and if the number is more than 10, the digits from each position (the units, the tens, and the hundreds) are further added to each other until a single digit is obtained. This final number is said to be connected to a person’s life and character. Though this method of counting seems simple and available to everyone, there are “professional” numerologists in India who provide their counsel (for good numerical value in Indian rupees, of course).
A person’s date of birth cannot be changed, but a name can – and a numerologist, after thorough mathematical and astrological research, may suggest small tweaks here and there for a more advantageous name. Add a letter to your name or erase one and that will change the overall numerical value, thus bringing you more luck. The already mentioned Bollywood actor, Ajay Devgn, used to be Ajay Devgan but, following numerological advice, he left out the “a” from his surname. After this, the numerologists claim, his career skyrocketed.
Other spelling monstrosities that emerged out of celebrities’ consultations with numerologists include the names of actors Yassh Dasgupta (changed from Yash Dasgupta), Ayushmann Khurrana (changed from Ayushman Khurana) or Irrfan (changed from Irfan Khan, the complete dropping of his surname is ridiculous and largely ignored), to pick the worst examples out of a plethora of choices. Admittedly, some changes were more clever and had an eye to pronunciation; and in some cases the changes in spelling did not really affect pronunciation. For instance, the famous (and now deceased) Tamil politician Jayalithaa Jayaram used to write the end of her first name with one “a” and then changed it to a double “a,” which in a way makes sense as the actual sound is pronounced as a long “a.”
Not only names of the persons, but also of movies, companies or products may undergo similar numerological surgeries. Most of the numerologists may not be very famous but some of them are celebrities themselves and can boast a wide celebrity clientele. Possibly the best-known are the Jumaani twins (check out their website – they even list their correct predictions). The brother and sister Jumaani are visited by actors and businessmen alike and have suggested various changes not only to names of people, but also to business initiatives, including tour packages. Thus, the Singh is King movie became Singh is Kinng. But the Jumaanis – who call themselves “astro-numerologists” – have much more sage advice to share, based on their astrological knowledge. For instance, the cricketer Anil Kumble was reportedly told by them to change his signature, wear a diamond and to wear a jersey with the number 37. Yes, the signatures, according to the Jummanis, are also important – the letters of the signature should go upwards and a dot should not be included. Numbers are also connected to colors and thus, having established the numerological aspects of the Ambani family, the “astro-numerologists” suggested changes in color in the logo of their powerful company, Reliance.
It is not only the notion of changing a name to change one’s destiny which seems ridiculous to me. It is, of course, completely different from the situation in which one takes a different name to pretend to be somebody else – this verily may be understood as a careful attempt to shape one’s future (just like in the past some Indian Muslim actors hid under Hindu names). If that was the case, couldn’t we change our names every now and then, to be connected to the right planets at the appropriate moments? But contemporary Indian numerology is also absurd for one more reason – it approaches Indian names in a Westernized manner.
When Narendra Modi – the current prime minister of India – triumphed in the 2014 elections at the helm of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, some numerologists jumped the bandwagon to try to prove that their “science” was right one more time. Modi’s birth date was taken into consideration to prove that 2014 was a lucky time for him, while the gradual summing of the values of the letters in his name, it was claimed, led to a conclusion that number eight is one of the governing numbers of life. This number, the numerologists claim, represents the quality of being “power-seeking.” No wonder Modi became the prime minister…
This conclusion was presented not only by Indian numerologists, but also by “Paul Sadowski, a leading numerologist based in Buffalo” (as he was referenced in The Quint). Some also claim that Modi believes in numerology himself and thus some of the important initiatives in his life were deliberately started at a time connected to number eight – for instance, the great “demonetization” program launched in 2016 was announced on November 8, at 8 p.m. Apart from the fact that Modi’s full name is Narendra Damordas Modi – and his second name was conveniently skipped by some numerologists – this “analysis” of Modi’s name is a good example of how Indian numerologists ignored their own traditions.
According to them, N+a+r+e+n+d+r+a+M+o+d+i translates into numerical values that eventually sum up to 8. In reality, however, they don’t – not in Indian scripts and not if Indian pronunciation is taking into consideration. Modi hails from Gujarat and Gujarati is his mother tongue, but now, as the leader of the country, he uses Hindi more often (at least publicly) and is fluent in it. Both the script used for the Gujarati language as well as for Hindi are a form of abugida, and not an alphabet. The symbols used in it are unlike the letters of the Latin script. Apart from the beginnings of the words, vowels seldom appear as separate symbols; they are usually additions to consonants. Visualizing Indian names in Latin script to count the value of letters is against the Indian way of writing. And what would the Indian numerologists do before the Latin script had arrived in South Asia?
Moreover, the way the name “Narendra” is written in nearly any Indian language, there is no separate “a” marked in it. The initial “na” and the final “dra” in the name do not mark the “a” in any way, because if short “a” follows a consonant, it is not shown in writing. If Indian numerologists would be traditionally Indian, they should consider the syllables of a word, not letters as they appear in the Latin script. If numerology experts would reply to this by pointing out that scripts are arbitrary representations of writing, then it should be pointed out that the numerological way of counting also does not take contemporary Indian pronunciation into consideration. “Narendra Modi” is actually pronounced “Narendr Modi,” so by this standard the final “a” should not be counted.
The same can be said about numerologists’ focus on the dates of births, years, and so on. Why would an Indian numerologist use the Western calendar to analyze the value of a birth date remains as much of enigma as why he should use the Latin script. Days are counted differently in the Hindu traditional, religious calendar (which is based on lunar cycles) and when it comes to counting years, there are a few traditional calendars in India much older than the Gregorian one. Obviously, a calendar may be considered as arbitrary a method of counting time as a script is an arbitrary method of representing sounds, but it still does not explain why one should be chosen over the other for numerological purposes. That is the whole point: as all future-telling magical tricks, numerology is a superstition that uses highly arbitrary and selective methods to prove its claims.
As an author, I should consider myself lucky. If the numerologists can tell the future, they had already predicted that such a text would be written and they must have a point-by-point rebuttal in hand.