In November of 1999, I was sitting with Swami Sivanandamurthy in his living room. I was telling him about the Brighu reading that I had received from the Karoi Pundit.
Swamiji said, "Yes, India is a land of so many divination techniques. Everything is here." He paused for a moment and then said, "And then there is the copper plate reader."
"Copper plate reader?" I asked, with a smile on my face and my curiosity peaked.
"Yes," Swamiji said. "I have a disciple, the Vice President of India, who went to see this man in Orissa who reads copper plates. The plates are blank. Then when you ask your question your answer appears on one of the blank plates in Sanskrit."
"You're joking," I said. This was too much of a stretch for my Western mind to believe. But the man who was telling me this was Swami Sivanandamurthy. I asked him to continue.
He said, "Yes, the Vice President went to see the copper plate man back when he was the governor of Andhra Pradesh. The copper plate man predicted that he would become the Vice President, suddenly and unexpectedly. That is just how it happened. The Vice President wasn't even a contender for the position. A sudden turn of events, at the last minute, gave him the appointment."
"Interesting," I said. "I would like to go see this copper plate man. How do I find him?"
Swamiji told me that the Vice President was the one who knew the whereabouts of the copper plate man and he assured me that he would ask him next time he came to visit.
A few years and a couple of visits to Swamiji's ashram went by. I was sitting with Swamiji one afternoon when the phone rang. Swamiji answered it, had a brief conversation with the caller and hung up. "You are going to get your wish," he announced. "The Vice President's secretary will be coming to visit tomorrow. He will tell you how to find the copper plate man."
Swamiji introduced me to the Vice President's secretary, Mr. Tiwari, as "James Kelleher, a great astrologer from the USA." I found this comment both comical and embarrassing considering that it was actually Swami Sivanandamurthy who was the only one in the room who could rightly be called "a great astrologer." His deep astrological knowledge and profound intuition had been demonstrated to me on many occasions. A little embarrassed, I greeted Mr. Tiwari and then asked him about the copper plate reader. Mr. Tiwari told me that the copper plate man lived outside of Bhubaneshwara, and that his entire family had consulted this man. He graciously offered to call his brother, the former Minister of Tourism of the state of Orissa, and arrange for him to take me to get a reading. I accepted.
Later, when Swamiji was out of the room, Mr. Tiwari asked me to look at his chart and make some predictions. I declined. I told him that as long as I was at Swamiji's ashram, I didn't feel comfortable doing readings for people. I felt that Swamiji was the real authority and the one to ask. I offered to do a reading for him back in Delhi, however, at a later time.
Mr. Tiwari took me up on my offer, and when I returned to Delhi, he invited me to dinner. It is common in India that astrologers "sing for their supper." Rather than showing respect through paying a fee, as is customary in the United States, Indians frequently give the astrologer fruits, flowers, or other offerings, like hospitality and a meal. For this reason, I have never charged a fee in India. Mr. Tiwari's driver picked me up at 8:00 p.m. and drove me to his residence, near the government section of Delhi. The car pulled up through an iron gate and around a circular driveway in front of a huge, white, lighted mansion. The Vice President's mansion had beautiful gardens and a low-keyed stately appearance. Mr. Tiwari's home was next door. I did his chart, answered his questions, and then we had a fabulous dinner, prepared by Mrs. Tiwari.
"Can you tell me more about the copper plate man?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "He comes from a 500 year-old line of pundits who are devotees of Swami Achyutananda, a saint who lived several hundred years ago. The story is that the first pundit had a dream in which he was instructed to go to a certain place and find a stack of copper plates. When he awoke from the dream, he followed the instructions and actually found a stack of blank copper plates. The dream also instructed him on how to use the plates to give readings. Apparently the pundit took one disciple of his own and passed the copper plates to him at the time of his death. This tradition has been carried down for the past 500 years. When you go for a reading, the pundit asks you to think of your question. Then the answer appears on one of the plates in an ancient dialect of Sanskrit. He reads you the answer. All this is supposed to occur courtesy of the spiritual blessings of Swami Achyutananda."
I was fascinated by Mr. Tiwari's description of the copper plate man and asked him if he could give me directions to find him.
"Of course," Mr. Tiwari said. He immediately picked up the phone and placed a call to his brother in Bhubaneshwara, a large city in Orissa. His brother, the former Minister of Tourism for the state of Orissa, agreed to take me to meet the copper plate man.
I couldn't believe the devastation, as I looked out the window of the car on my way to see the copper plate man. Only six weeks had passed since the state of Orissa had been hit by a devastating tropical storm. Tens of thousands of lives had been lost as the 150 mph winds flattened forests of coconut trees and eradicated entire villages. The pundit's village is located two hours from Bhubaneshwara, Orissa's largest city. The village was one of the hardest hit by the tropical storm. I was wondering if the pundit had survived. Mr. Tiwari had arranged for me to meet his brother, who in turn arranged to have his son take me to see the pundit.
The pundit's village looked like a war zone. Most of the grass huts and other mud houses were gone. The road was now clear, but rubble and snapped trees lined either side. We made our way off the main road and through a maze of small dirt roads, asking people for directions as we went. Everywhere people were busy cleaning up and rebuilding their roofless, three-walled, broken homes. As we slowly moved down the narrow dirt road to the pundit's house, I was not optimistic. Although there was a chance that he had survived, it was likely that he would be occupied with the reconstruction of his home. "We have arrived," the driver said, as we pulled up to the only undamaged house in the whole neighborhood. "Incredible," I thought. "Whoever Swami Achyutananda is, he sure takes care of his disciples!"
When we arrived, the pundit was just returning from the river where he was taking his bath. He was bare-chested, and wore an ankle-length, white, cotton cloth wrapped around his waist. He told us to meet him later at the Mangala Temple and that he would give me a reading.
The area where the pundit does the readings is pure rural India. He sits in a little hut next to the Mangala Temple. People come from all over and wait in line, sometimes all day, in order to see him. I was already a vegetarian, but I was told that on the day of the reading, the questioner must not eat meat, fish, or eggs. Also, being a westerner, I was asked to change my clothes and put on a dhoti, the traditional white cloth of a Hindu, before entering the hut. Seeing my lack of appropriate attire, a local villager offered to lend me his extra dhoti, which was drying on a bush. As he helped me tie it properly, I couldn't help but notice that he seemed mesmerized by me. Finally, he asked, "European?"
"No, American," I said.
"I have never seen an American," the man said. At that moment, I became aware that as far as this man was concerned, I might as well be from outer space. I was in a part of rural India that had not changed much in the past 500 years.
As I entered the hut, the pundit bowed to me and we both sat down cross-legged on the floor. He showed me the stack of copper plates, which looked like thin copper rulers in a stack, like a deck of cards. He asked me to think of my questions. I had previously thought of four questions. Since I did not have any burning questions at that time, I had struggled a bit to come up with my questions. I decided to ask three very ordinary questions. I also decided to ask a question for my wife. I decided that she might like finding out how a particular investment might do. I had no particular emotional charge on any of these questions. There was one question, however, that I did not want to ask. It was about my wife's health. She had been getting dizzy spells that year and I was a little worried. She had not yet consulted a physician about it and I didn't want to ask the pundit, on the off chance that he might make a dramatic negative prediction.
The pundit showed me the copper plates and encouraged me to look at them closely, using a magnifying glass. Seeing that I was satisfied that they were indeed blank, the pundit began, "Think of your question and separate the copper plates using this piece of chalk," he said in the local language.
The interpreter translated and I thought of my questions, trying to block the one about my wife's health out of my mind. I knew that the idea was that the answer would appear on the copper plates somehow. What I didn't know, however, is that the questions would also appear on the plate. I took the piece of chalk and separated the stack of plates, selecting a single plate. The pundit showed me the plate, which miraculously now had finely etched Sanskrit script on it. He began to read, "You have four questions. One is about your business, one is about your health, one is an academic question and the fourth question is about your wife. But about the wife there are two questions, one is about her business and the other is about her health!"
I was flabbergasted. Not only had the pundit zeroed in on my exact questions, but he had included the one question that I had an emotional charge on, the one question that I did not want to ask. He then went on to give very brief, but accurate answers to the other questions. When he got to the one about my wife's health, however, he went into great detail, describing the symptoms exactly and even referring to an ayurvedic text which he had written on palm leaves, sitting next to him on the table. The copper plate suggested ayurvedic herbs and even gave recommended doses.
I never got to try out the herbs, because my wife's health actually improved on its own a few months later. The copper plate reading had its effect, however. It reminded me that India is a mysterious place, and allowed me to enter into a time warp, and experience a slice of what getting a reading in ancient India might have been like hundreds of years ago. Later, over dinner at his home, Mr. Tiwari's brother also told me of the many astounding predictions made for him in the past by the copper plate reader. "Yes, yes," he said in almost the same words as Swami Sivanandamurthy, "India has so many divination methods. Everything can be found here!"