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The Nadi Readers

( Nadi Reader in Old Delhi)
The man who performed my reading is holding the Nadi leaves on the table
My translator is on the right

“The will is not free, it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect-

but there is something behind the will which is free.”
- Swami Vivekananda

This is how it feels . . .

Imagine if you traveled to a far away and ancient city

and while wondering there you hear of a secret library,

unlike any other on earth

and you are given directions and go there

and it takes a long time

and the streets you travel are busy and crowded

 filled with people and cars

and the long-sought street the library is on,

is non-descript

and does not stand out in any way

and you go up the steps

and at the second story upstairs flat

there is an unremarkable door


you remember the restaurant you ate at once

where you lifted a bowl of soup to drink

on a delightful night of nothing special

and saw the most amazingly wondrous sight:

an orange chandelier glowing in the bowl you held


 then looking deeper, you see yourself,

with a different face

living a different life

with different parents

and friends

wearing exotic clothes


  you look into the eyes of the one whom you see looking back at you

and pass through the bright doorway of the here and now

into a shabby room with faded paint

and dirty walls and windows

where a dark-skinned man with a red bindi mark on his forehead

and bright white shining teeth is singing in ancient Tamil

reading off a tiny script no more than 1/8” high

inscribed long ago in Sanskrit on a palm leaf

now bound between two strips of wood

and what he is reading is all about 'you.'


Recently, only several thousand years ago,

at the direction of a Chola King, this very text

you are now hearing

was originally written down in Sanskrit

and then many years later

translated into ancient Tamil, the South Indian language

The writing was etched in black ink on a palm leaf

which has passed through the more recent ancient dynasties

that ruled India:

the Cholas, the Muslims, Vijayanagar, the Portuguese, the Mughals,

the Dutch, the French and finally the British

who last and ignorantly burned and destroyed much of the library

and auctioned off the rest.

(It is now thought that over 60% of the library has been destroyed)


the brown-skinned man singing before you is singing

to you about your life

reading the etchings on a palm leaf

that were first recited by a Rishi

who had overheard a conversation between Lord Shiva

and his consort Parvati . . .

It was a conversation in which Parvati asked Shiva

to recite the fate of her children,

which Lord Shiva then does

taking a long, long time to do so

and when I heard the story of my own life

sung and read out

starting with the names of my own parents,

Norman and Marjorie,

that they are deceased,

that I have an older brother from your Father's first wife

and that my partner's name is 'Gilda'

my mind is stunned with wonder

and I believe I could be Parvati's child . . .


If you understood what is being said

or what is going on here,

then ‘you’

will no longer exist



will pass through a bright doorway into the here and now

where you are sitting in a shabby room and there are children playing outside

and you are hearing about your own life

written in a palm leaf book thousands of years ago

and stored in a temple in South India


The 'book' is written on rectangularly cut palm leaves

(about 1/16" x 2" x 20")

with two cords holding together the pages

bound between two 3/16" wooden boards 


The Palm Leaf manuscript

has been pulled down from dusty, old, wondrous stacks

of that ancient library

especially for you

based only on your thumbprint

It is a book that holds

several pages written about


as you are right now, this moment, today,

your history, how you came to be here

what you did in your past life

what you will do in your future life

and somehow this book

or the writer of this book

knew that you would come to this library

to hear this text read out to you today!

right now . . . !

it is your Nadi

or destiny!


and the chandelier glows in the soup bowl

 turns blue and sparkles and brightens into a white brilliance


it seems that someone has light

and that someone knows ‘you’

where ‘you’ have been

what ‘you’ have done

who you have met

and what will happen to ‘you’ in the future


'You' hear that this leaf or book was spoken and written

thousands of years ago by someone you never met

by someone, your parents never met

by someone, your partner never met

who knew the day you were born

the month and the time

and knew that 'you' would come today

this day, this week, this year, this life

and this book would be waiting for 'you'

everything entering into this single moment

all together


like the reflection of the moon that night

with your dear friend Anthony

on a still country lake in summer,

when the universe peeled back it's blanket of stars

and the incredible blessing of it

full of peace and wonder

poured out over the lake

and swept ‘you’ both away.

the 'you' that was then

and now

and never


When the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree,

he remembered all his past lives.

He looked into life as one would look at a mirror

and he saw . . .


Imagine what it is like for a person to live without such a mirror

to never see oneself

to never have a memory of who 'you' are


'You' and 'I'

is this person



this palm-leaf book in this ancient library

is a mirror of who 'you' and 'I'

is, are

have been

and will be


To understand this is a great mystery

It is to see who arranged the petals on a flower

and as they are so incredibly perfect and wondrous

but you have seen them . . .

you became a poor artist or a monk or a renunciate

or a parent or a thief


You are saint and sinner

 lover and hater

perhaps you cared for someone 

so much

that you cried

and felt the pain

of not getting what you want

and after much time had come and gone

and the water of many lifetimes

had flowed beneath that bridge


became thankful for the pain

and for all that you have been given


for in spite of all that is

it is always forever

taken away from us

and with tears

you give up


 dissolve utterly


This has happened before

it is happening now

 it will happen again


I am reminded of a dream that Carl Jung relates

in his autobiography: Memories Dreams and Reflections


"I was walking along a little road through a hilly landscape;

the sun was shining and I had a wide view in all directions.

Then I came to a small wayside chapel.

The door was ajar, and I went in.

To my surprise, there was no image of the virgin on the altar,

and no crucifix either,

but only a wonderful flower arrangement.

But then I saw on the floor sat a yogi- in lotus posture,

in deep meditation.

When I looked at him more closely,

I realized he had my face.

I started in profound fright and awoke with the thought:

“Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me.

He has a dream, and I am it”

I knew that when he awakened I would no longer be."


This is the hole in the universe and if it is true,

and it seems to me that it is,

then what is going on is a great mystery

it has been going on for a long, long time.


Having the Nadi readers find my leaf

is the most amazing 'thing' that I experienced in India.

The biggest slap across the face of free will I ever received.

It should change my life

It should change all our lives


The pictures above are Nadi readers outside of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu.

They are a father and son. After my experience in Old Delhi where they found my leaf

I wanted to visit other Nadi Readers to see if they too could find my leaf.

 Although they looked, they were not able to find it.

They were, however, glad to share with me about the Nadi tradition

and their understanding and practice of it.


The Nadi readers who did find my leaf,

including my Father's name and my Mother's name and middle name

were in Old Delhi

(You can see their picture at the top of the page)


Struck with the accuracy and life-changing implications

of what the Delhi readers

had told me, I decided to visit South India

and go to the Saraswati Mandir temple in Thanjavur and

visit the main temple where most of the Nadi leaves are still kept

in an ancient library.

On the way, I visited several other Nadi readers in Tamil Nadu

to see if they also could find my leaf.

None of them did.

I never made it to Thanjavur.

On my way there, I traveled through the south of India

to the state of Tamil Nadu where

I stayed on the beach at Mamallapuram

next to the Shore Temple

where the oldest temple in all of South India is built.

While I was there, on the morning of

December 26, 2004, the Tsunami hit.

It changed my 'plans' for the time being.



I still hope to find out more about the Nadi tradition that has so much to say,

about how life works and the law of karma.

The Nadi readings are a slap in the face of free will . . .

How could I have used my free will if all of what they told me was true

(and it certainly seemed to be, at least about this life)

and it was written down over a thousand years ago?

The Indian tradition believes 100% in fate or destiny born of karma

and 100% in free will.

This does not make 'sense'

and they know it . . .

neither does an endless universe

(The tendency in India is to put more emphasis on fate.

The tendency in the West is to put more emphasis on free will)

Both of these are considered to be the 'true' principles of life

and together they offer a stunning dilemma.


If the Nadi readings are true, it seems that most of us

do not use our free will very much.

I certainly had not.

How could my mother's name and middle name be known and written down

a thousand years ago?


They (the Nadi readers) could not have read my mind

and then written it down on the palm leaf

I was in the room the whole time.


I was allowed to take a picture of my leaf and had it independently translated.

It had been written down, in ancient Tamil, which is like Latin to modern day English.

They were not reading my mind.

It seems that what and who we think we are, we are not.

It seems that almost all of what we think is free will is fate.


I was told that while the readings are considered to be very accurate

up to the present (parabdha karma).

As to the future, they accept free will,  the effect of present actions and understanding

which can be changed by the Nadi readings

as well as any other action (agama karma and kriyamani karma).


Some people will say, "I do not believe in such things. I do not believe in Astrology"

I reply, 'Have you ever studied the field? How you ever looked into it?

Have you ever had a reading?'

I would say that if anyone really explores it,

not the short superficial readings that you can find

in the daily paper or a magazine,


a full Jyotish  reading performed by a competent Vedic astrologer

you will find that Vedic Astrology and what it tells you is simply impossible to dismiss

Water is wet and fire will burn, this is not a matter of belief, but, of direct experience.

Belief and doubt are both irrelevant.


Even so, all children need to test the flame with their own finger


Just so, you must test astrology yourself.


If we know the seed

we can know the tree, what its fruits will be

as well as the 'parents' of the seed.

According to the same principle

it is possible by an 'examination' of any present moment, to see the future and the past

Astrology does not simplify the world or one's life.

On the contrary, by throwing light (jyoti) upon the qualities, processes and events of life,

it makes them even more mysterious.


Life is a cloth woven warp and woof from karma . . .

We call it 'cause and effect'.

The 'cause' is the effect concealed

The 'effect' is the cause revealed

It is incomprehensible


worthy of wonder


I will close with how I began this article . . .

a mysterious saying from the Indian tradition by one of its greatest men.

Because such a thing as the Nadi leaves are true and because it was known

to the greatest men of the ancient Indian tradition, that they could say:


“The will is not free-it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect-

but there is something behind the will which is free.”
-Swami Vivekananda


My Nadi reading was the most amazing thing I encountered in India



Several friends of mine have visited the Nadi readers in Old Delhi and recently have been asked for what I think to be large amounts of money: "48,000rs so priests could do puja for the next 240 days of nonstop chanting to remedy his karmas."

When I went in 2004 there was a donation of 500rs that was optional. 

The readings were still amazing and 'mind-blowing.'


So, be warned in advance and do what you think is best. Do not volunteer any information about your birth date, name of parents or siblings, etc. If they ask you, 'Does you fathers name begin with a 'N,' and it is true, simply say, 'Yes.' Otherwise, you will not believe it if they find your leaf. Like things all over the world and especially in India; along with amazing phenomenon that are true, there are a lot of fakes and scams, so keep to these few and simple suggestions.


Above: (picture of nadi leaf)



For more articles about the Nadi on the web:


Interview with a Nadi Reader


Wikipedia on Nadi


For Related Stories and Articles by Peter Malakoff:


Tragedy Fate and Nemesis- A consideration of fate and free will
This essay and stories within it, consider the relationship between the loss of the sense of tragedy and the rise of 'New Age' thinking.
Stories of DH Lawrence, Carl Jung, Isak Dinesen, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Nemesis, Darius, Tyche Polycrates, Eisenhower and Gandhi are all brought together here.


The Seed and the Soil
A short piece on the ancient metaphor of' the seed and the soil'.
This metaphor provides a fundamental paradox for any consideration of free will and the environment or factors other than 'I' or 'us'.


Character and Fate
The word for character in ancient Greek was ethos, from which we get our word "ethics."
Heraklitos, writing at the dawn of Western philosophy,

held that a person's 'ethos' is their daimon, or fate

- "Ethos anthropos daimon"
A man's character is his fate


God Willing
"And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow.

Except (with the saying): "INSHALLAH" ('God willing).
A look at the Islamic idea of fate and free will, with the ancient Islamic story,

"An Appointment in Samarra" as told by Somerset Maughm, set to music.

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