Astrology Conference Review: NORWACAugust 23, 2018
Astrology Conference Review: International Balkan (Belgrade)September 1, 2018
About IVC KolkataIVC Kolkata (the full name is The Institute of Vedic Culture for Public Welfare Conference) and its affiliated school Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology (KIA) have been conducting astrology conferences for a full Saturn cycle. In 2014, IVC Kolkata welcomed the first Western astrologers to their conference. By 2015, they had increased the number of Western astrologers to 7 and in 2016 the number had again increased to 15. In 2018, there were about 70 international speakers. And for their next conference, they will be welcoming over 100 International speakers and 48 student speakers. Many of the lectures from 2018 are now available on the IVC youtube channel (1200 subscribers!!). You can also read the articles on the Constellation News page. Constellation News is now featured on Astrodienst. I love everything about this conference. But there’s nothing like wearing a saree! And the fellas looked lovely in their sherwanis too! This conference receives my special prize for “Best Dressed Astrologers”. On top of being in a luxury venue, it is a unique event everyone should endeavour to get to!
In my 30 year career as an astrologer, I’ve been to a lot of astrology conferences and I’ve enjoyed (almost) every single one of them. But I also have to say this conference stands out for its beautiful culture, quality of speakers (a-hem) and hospitality.
Up until 2014, I had no particular interest in India. I mean it was on my list of places to visit but I had just never given any thought to go to conferences there (although on reflection I should have). Differently practiced in the West than in the East, I thought the gulf in astrology was too wide to bridge.
How wrong I was (and with my Mercury in Leo, you know it hurts to say that).
A lot of people have asked how I got to India. Well that’s a story in itself!
Planting the Seed in 2014
I had just presented my work on astrology and education in Austin Texas with my (now) good friend Naomi Bennett. “Maybe you should think about India instead of the US and UK,” she said. So we looked at the astrocartography lines for me in India and saw that the Sun/MC line ran through Kolkata and the Jupiter/MC line ran through Delhi and Rishikesh. Those were pretty good indications that I might be successful in India.
A few weeks later, after doing some research, I found a conference that looked good. I emailed the organiser, Gopal Bhattacharjee, to express an interest in speaking at IVC Kolkata in 2016. The seed was planted. To my surprise, Gopal invited me to IVC Kolkata for 2015.
I had received confirmation to speak at a conference in less than three month’s time on the last night of my first 6-week US tour. I was getting ready for another adventure when I hadn’t even unpacked the current one!
The rest, as they say, is history.
Every moment of my first visit to India was a gift to my senses but I was a bit overwhelmed with culture shock even before I landed. So many people, so much noise and the language was completely beyond my grasp. I was a lone traveller so how was I going to get from the airport to the hotel?
I need not have worried! Gopal had sorted it out.
At the exit gates, there were people holding up signs with names on them. You know, the names of important people? Well there were two very nice gentleman smiling and holding up a sign. Spelled correctly on it was my name! And I was gifted with flowers and sweets.
As we sped very noisily through the Kolkata night (I’ve never heard so many horns blaring in my life!), I was still expecting to be staying in very basic accommodation. I had been told not to expect too much. I had been warned that I would be sick and that malaria was a real threat. How wrong these presumptions turned out to be. I hadn’t a clue about the hospitality of India.
Poverty is in the Eye of the BeholderWe were taken on a tour of the city once settled in the beautiful accommodation. Living in London, I thought I would know what to expect from a busy city. Once again, nothing could have prepared me for Kolkata: the differences in culture could be seen wherever I looked. I saw men being shaved with straight razors in the open, I saw millions of people just getting on with their daily lives (washing, cooking, shopping, arguing) and of course I saw poverty like I’ve never seen before–and it bothered me. Back at the hotel, the front window faced the street. If you were seated, frosted glass prevented you from seeing the street. So I stood sipping a cup of chai so I could watch what was happening. I saw a boy of about 7 or 8 years old on a bicycle that was too big for him, pulling a small, open trailer on which a toddler sat. There were no safety precautions–and to my western eyes, it was just so dangerous with so much traffic whizzing by in what seemed like from all directions. At that moment, the boy caught my eye, gave me the biggest grin and waved. “This is my life,” he seemed to say, “And isn’t it great?” It made me realise who the real pauper was.
We were taken on a tour of the Kali Temple and I, who can barely manage the crowds at Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning, was oddly soothed by the chaos of what was around me. I looked up to the fading sunlight and felt this unity with my fellow travellers and natives of this hectic place. We were all in it together and wasn’t it divine? All under one sky. It was a feeling that would stay with me for my entire journey through India and would return to me when I visited again.
The conference itself was again something I could not have prepared for: the queue of people waiting to get in was massive. It was not unlike the crowds that might be expected at a rock concert–and we foreign delegates were directed to take the stage almost immediately. I could not believe the audience filled the hall to capacity and beyond–standing room only! I had been worried I would offend someone with my ignorant Western ways and indeed, it didn’t take long. During the lighting of the ceremonial lamp, I hadn’t realised I should have taken my shoes off out of respect. Whoops! I wouldn’t make that mistake again. My embarrassment was completely forgotten with the opening dance.
I was completely spellbound by the beauty of the dancers, the music and the atmosphere. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I am in beautiful, mysterious India.
The crowd was enthusiastic during conference breaks. They wanted to take photo after photo of us speakers. If there was any disappointment, it was only my inability to speak Hindi. I vowed that if I was to be invited back to the conference, I would put that problem right.
Of course at any conference, the joy comes from the people you get to know better and the people you meet. I enjoyed hanging out with fellow speakers but I was enchanted by Sanjay Pandya and High Court Justice Shankar Nath Kapoor. (A week or so later, I was invited to have dinner with Kapoor Ji and his beautiful wife in Delhi along with Naomi and Ehsan Kh of Iran). As an aside, I am so pleased Naomi, Ehsan, Michelle Gould and Richard Fidlar became such close friends and that we were re-united in Cape Town later in 2015 and returned to Kolkata in 2016.
Shortly after my lecture, we were presented with the clothes we were to wear to the closing ceremonies: saris for the women and kurtis for the men. Me in a sari? Fortunately there were dressers to help because I would have worn the sari like a sparkling toga.
Ahhh. . .the Crown!
I really had no idea there was any sort of judging going on. I just wanted to show the good people of India how astrology could be an aid to education. For me, the greatest honour came from the opportunity to meet Shashi, whose interests in women’s and children’s rights were so close to my own heart. I didn’t have too much of a chance to speak to her at the time but we have kept in contact via social media. Both she and Kapoor Ji are very busy peoplebut they each made time for me in their own ways. How fortunate is that?
Once the shock wore off, all I wanted to do was bring more Western astrologers to the conference in 2016. I was delighted UK astrologers Julian Venables, Robert Currey and Laura Boomer Trent attended.
Together, along with even more delegates from afar, they were inspired by the conference. It was nothing short of a delight to watch them take in the very things that had so impressed me in 2015. They raved about the opening dance and couldn’t believe the crowds. Of course they looked beautiful in traditional Indian clothes and were just as enchanted as I was. I was so proud of their lectures and was particularly pleased Robert Currey won a well deserved “Lifetime Achievement” award.
And oh yes, after a lot of practice, I did present my opening address in Hindi! The photo above shows me being very careful with pronunciation.
IVC Kolkata, 2018I landed in Kolkata at the beginning of December 2017 to help organise IVC Kolkata in 2018. As was customary, I was collected at the airport and received beautiful gifts from Gopal. I was delighted to see Shyamal and Arpa again and I finally got to meet Amitava (we must have emailed each other a million times!). They helped me settle in and said good night. It was the first night of a 4 month stay in India. I was excited and brimming over with ideas. It was the start of a hectic but exhilarating week. I felt like I really belonged and that I was doing something I had always wanted to do. No doubt this was because my Sun was conjunct my MC in Kolkata: for the first time in my life, I had my own office, executive desk and a driver (!). It was all been pretty intense with the conference in just under two months away. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t time for fun!
East Meets WestGopal Bhattacharjee and his lovely wife Churni (who I haven’t seen in nearly two years) and I had a fabulous dinner and got caught up with all our news. It’s amazing how Gopal and I have very similar views about bringing the two zodiacs together. Both of us passionately believe that the only way to address “the big question” in astrology is by talking about it. And the best way to talk about it is at an astrology conference! As we were musing about this (at 3am!), we drove over a bridge and I suddenly got a bright idea. “Stop!” I shouted. One of the many things Gopal and I agree about is that we are building bridges, not walls. We needed a photo of us on that bridge. One of my tasks in India was to design a Western Astrology course for Jyotish students and boy, did Gopal ever do well with getting a professional teacher to do this task. I developed a curriculum, designed the prospectus, did the lesson plans, assembled the resources and delivered my very first class all in the first week.
Christmas in KolkataWhen I had gotten on the plane (during Mercury retrograde AND a super full Moon) to come to India in early December, I had pretty much accepted there would be no “Hark the Herald Angles Sing” for me. The Christmas season in the UK had just about started in earnest when I left. And to be honest, I really wasn’t all that fussed about not seeing any reindeer. To me it just seemed like a small price to pay for the adventure of a lifetime! I could sing along with the Christmas carols on youtube. But as Christmas loomed closer, I started to get little pangs of missing the ho ho hos, the excitement of the children and that two week break. It didn’t last too long–we had been working very hard and I just got into the swing of things to the point I kept forgetting the Western world was starting to shut down for the holiday. And then one evening, I noticed there WERE Christmas lights starting to appear. And Christmas trees! On reflection, my surprise is pretty silly. We celebrate Diwali, Chinese New Year, Eid and Hanukkah in London so why would I think Christmas wouldn’t be celebrated or at the very least acknowledged in India? I mean globalisation, right?
The “P” WordIn my own defence, it was abundantly clear that East and West view the world in completely different ways. The biggest difference? The West looked at the India as its poorest relation I think. Westerners look at every day life here in India and feel a sense of pity because of the poverty. This gets rather annoying. My experiences in India have taught me that there are two kinds of poverty: a material one and a poverty of the spirit. It’s like the West is trained to look at the outside and the East is trained to look past outward appearances. I see the Western perception of “poverty” here but I also see tremendous joy and gratitude. I love the way nothing is really broken and thrown away: anything can be fixed here. The West appears wealthy because they throw so much away. Life in India is seen as inter-connected. And this extends to astrology: palmistry, gemology and yoga are just branches of the same discipline. I was learning a lot from my pupils. Life is “modern” in Kolkata and I couldn’t think of a single thing that I missed (other than people which something different altogether).
Student Lecture Competition!IVC has been holding student lecture competitions from the first time they started holding conferences in the 1990s. In 2017/18, I had the immense pleasure of teaching the top KIA pupils Western astrology. I also coached them for the student lecture competition. The problem with sharing knowledge from 2 very different cultures was always going to boil down to language. We did some pronunciation work but mainly worked on simplifying complex terms so it was palatable to Western ears. I knew from experience that Western astrologers immediately tune out once the Vedic terminology becomes out of reach. Being a schoolteacher definitely came in handy. If I could teach Shakespeare to 11 year olds who couldn’t give a damn about 17th century Elizabethan language, then I could teach my pupils to hook Western astrologers into becoming interested in Vedic concepts. “Slow down,” I said an awful lot. “Write down that key word on your slide. Say the key word often. Come back to it at the end so they remember it.” The competition was so popular that it was decided to open up the event to an international standard in IVC Kolkata 2020 (click the link to see the rules). With FABULOUS cash prizes on offer ($1500 for first place!), any astrology school would be wise to enter their top pupils to compete! For more information, contact Dr Lea Imsiragic (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is the chairperson of this prestigious event. Lea is a healer, medical doctor and astrologer who is also a coordinator of the International Balkan Conference in Belgrade, Serbia.
IVC Kolkata, 2018Things were very hectic in the office in the run up to the conference. I had my hands very full teaching and coaching but I was also working on Constellation News. The conference magazine had over 50 academic astrology articles to proofread! I nagged for poor Anirban to death about layout too. But it was beautiful! I also did a lot to prepare the school to welcome other Western lecturers for extended lengths of time. There’s still some work to do which I hope to finish in late 2018/early 2019 when I return to Kolkata. The weekend before the conference, I had bridesmaid duties in Cape Town. It was a beautiful wedding but I worried about the conference which would start the day after I landed back in Kolkata. Needless to say, I hit the ground running! With so many people involved in the organising of the conference and with language being a barrier at times, not everything went as smoothly as we would have liked. It was my first time helping to organise a conference and I knew it was a steep learning curve. But we got a much better sense of what needs to happen for 2020. I deeply appreciated the support of other astrology conference organisers who assured me that people will complain about anything. I was immeasurably proud of my students at IVC Kolkata 2018. And I felt they were popular amongst the Western speakers and that they taught them something. I know some of their research has been snapped up by Western astrology magazines. It was a great start for the cross fertilisation of ideas. I was also glad Constellation News was so appreciated. The articles really are top notch and it was a pleasure to read them.
East Dances With West
The astrology party of the century!!
Gopal planned a party and didn’t give me a whole lot of detail of what to expect. Except he told me to dress nicely.
I’ll let the video do the talking but let me say I had NEVER seen so many astrologers dancing together with such enthusiasm! To me, this party truly represented what this conference was all about: putting aside our differences and remembering we all love the same things!
Warmest congratulations to the lovely Rick Levine for winning best International Astrology 2018! Well deserved!
Lately I’ve been seeing Aleks and Lea Imsiragic EVERYWHERE! I met them for the first time in India 2016, then saw them at ISAR 2016, then IVC Kolkata 2018, then I was at their conference in the Balkans, then I saw them at UAC, in Italy and then in London! I’ll see them again in a few months in Portugal! This is not a bad thing!
But our now famous “Two Angles of a selfie must be shared”!
We were on the dance floor of the astrological party of the century. Lea had her phone out as the three of us were boogying away and she took a shot.
What we didn’t know until the next morning was that Maurice Fernandez had also taken the shot but from a different angle!
Gopal Bhattacharjee will surely go down in astrological history as the man who has so successfully united Vedic and Western astrologers. No other astrological conference organiser has ever done this before. The wonderful collection of astrological essays are compiled in the beautiful “Constellation News” magazine and everyone eagerly looks forward to raising the bar even higher in 2020.
What a wonderful honour it was to have been a part of IVC Kolkata in 2015 and to be invited back in 2016. IVC Kolkata 2018 was a life changing event for me and I’m looking forward to IVC Kolkata in the future.
We have big plans for the future!