Indira Gandhi took no chances this time. She heeded her astrologer's advice and sat on the left side of the official who took her nomination papers for India's general election.

Three years ago she ignored her astrologer, sat on the right side of the election official -- and was badly defeated.

Indian politicans rarely make a move without consulting their favorite astrologers and palmists. This is an ancient Indian tradition. The Hindu holy books, the Vedas, regarded astrology as a branch of the same science as astronomy.

This interest in astrology has not dimmed in modern India. In fact, no politician dared file nomination papers without consulting an astrologer. And business deals, including house rentals, are held up so papers can be signed on an auspicious day.

It is generally believed here that the delay in setting this year's general elections -- the second and last day of polling is Sunday -- was caused by a dispute between astrologers of rival candidates about which date would be best for their clients.

As the caretaker prime minister, Charan Singh came closest to setting the date he wanted.

But Gandhi also was reported to have been pleased with the Jan. 3 date for the first day of polling. Her name appears third on the ballot and voting took place Jan. 3 for her seat in Rae Bareli, where she traditionally runs and where she was personally defeated in March, 1977.

"Numerologists in her camp say this is a good omen," wrote the magazine India Today, which like most Indian journals covers the astrologers as well as the politicians.

"The planetary position of these relevant days [of voting] always plays a very important and decisive role in the outcome of elections," wrote the magazine Onlooker.

A magazine called Sunday polled leading astrologers on the election campaign and came to the conclusion that "Mrs. Gandhi's hard times are over."

P. T. Sundaram, whom Gandhi wanted as her court astrologer, predicted that "she'll be more powerful than ever before." He said in 1963 that she would one day be named prime minister and later said she would regain power in 1980.

For some Indians, election day can be a festive occasion, a time when they get gifts from the candidates, do not have to work and have time to meet their friends.

According to police reports, 113 bales of woolen sweaters were seized in Gandhi's Rae Basreli district. They were destined to be given out to voters by Gandhi's Congress-I (for Indira) Party, the India Express reported.

Voters needed sweaters to go to the polls. North India shivered in an unusual cold snap and two polling officials were reported to have frozen to death on their way up to remote mounainous areas in India.

Besides sweaters, other popular gifts for voters were reported to be bicycles, wool blankets and sewing machines.

In one village on the outskirts of New Delhi, women wore their best, most colorful saris with gold trim and sang folk songs as they waited to vote.

With a two-day lull between the time the first votes are cast and the counting, Indian authorities want to make sure none of the ballot boxes are tampered with. In New Delhi, which voted Thursday, ballot boxes are being kept under armed guard at seven counting centers. Representatives of the political parties are keeping their own watch from outside.

Counting will start Sunday, while the second day of polling is going on in parts of the country. First results will be announced Sunday afternoon, after all the polls are closed.

Voting officials expect as many as 3,000 persons at every counting center -- including 2,000 representatives of candidates and 1,000 members of the election staff.

All the counting, incidentally, is done by hand. India boasts that it uses no mechanical aids in balloting or vote counting -- and that includes adding machines.