Leaves of life
individual's past, present, future and previous births are recorded
on Ola leaves say the believers. Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne and Vidushi
of seven sages
Where did the ola leaf reading originate? Three
thousand years ago, seven rishis (sages) in India set themselves
a mission. They would write down the fate of as many people
in the world as they could.
forecasts are said to have been originally written on goatskins,
later transcribed onto copper plaques and then onto ola leaves.
The script was initially written in Sanskrit and was translated
to Tamil only a century ago. It seems that they were tutorial
exercises set by the ancient sages to their pupils who were
set the task of composing the horoscopes of persons yet to
be born in a series of dates and times.
said that the leaves were unearthed during colonial times
by the British, who then auctioned them off. The ones that
were left over and retrieved are the leaves that can be found
and read today.
Source: Virtual Library
a rainy Monday morning. But the inclement weather does not deter
the steady stream of people making their way down a literally unknown
lane on the seaside off Galle Road, Bambalapitiya. It's a mixed
bunch that enters the building. Youngsters hiding behind their grandmothers'
saris, stern-faced men clasping heavy files and folders, anxious-looking
young couples and schoolchildren dragged along by eager mothers.
What is the
force that draws them here? The building is not impressive, there
is no signboard informing patrons of what is in store for them.
There's no smiling receptionist to greet you. Though apprehensive
at first we too enter, up the winding staircase and onto the landing
looking out to the sea. There is still no one to greet you, just
a throng of people. There seems to be an unwritten set of rules
to follow. Slip off your shoes
and join the queue.
At 8 a.m. the
main door opens and everyone scrambles to be the first in. The procedure
after that is simple. When your turn arrives, you place two thumbprints
on the given paper. You are then asked for your birth-date, which
is quickly noted down, as is your gender. After that, it's time
to wait. The door closes. By around nine, everyone is impatient.
Yet there's not a murmur from the crowd.
are called out as a form of identification. It is then that you
are told when to come back. But what is the ultimate goal of this
tedious exercise? Simple, it's to fulfil a need that grips this
country. It's the inherent desire to know your past, present and
future being read by a complete stranger.
and there's astrology. Numerous are the times we've listened to
interpretations of our horoscopes. Now there are even computer-generated
life histories. They analyse your life, your personality through
your handwriting and your body language. There's hypnosis and there's
mind reading. And then there's the ola leaf.
But what are
these ola leaf readings? "The horoscopes of people, Asian and
non-Asian written on ancient ola or palm leaves have been found
in southern India, particularly in Tamil Nadu," says P. Jaisankar,
the head of the ola leaf readers down Galle Road who have been practising
the art in Sri Lanka for the past 19 years. "The ola leaf contains
the life histories of nearly every human being on earth."
the ola leaf readers, every individual's life can be split into
12 chapters. The first or general chapter must be read, if you are
to discover your fate in relation to the other chapters. The other
chapters range from education, marriage and lifespan, to employment,
details and particulars relating to parents and siblings. For whoever
is courageous enough to check it out, there is even a chapter on
your previous birth.
When the thumbprint
and birth-date are handed over to the readers, they shortlist a
number of bundles, which carry roughly 50 ola leaves each. Once
the thumbprint has been studied it can be categorised into one of
the 108-thumbprint varieties. Amongst them being Magudamse Saghu
Rekha, Erusuti Eruwal Rekha and Sanggumani Vatta Rekha. But isn't
each thumbprint unique? "Yes, it is. But there are a few common
traits in the lines, loops and dots." It is by using this method
that the matching bundles are found. On the appointed day, the leaf
is read whilst a tape recording is made. There are several readers
and translators, one pair dealing with a given leaf. The other Indian
readers in Sri Lanka at present are B. S. Sendhil, Shanmuga Sunderam,
Kalyana Sunderam, R. Sekhara and Gopal. The readers are selected
by their gurus in India as only a few are blest with the ability
to read, they say.
sentence or part of it is read, it is followed by a translation
in the required language. There is no discussion between the reader
and the person seeking the horoscope except initially when he is
asked to verify that the leaf is indeed his. Questions such as the
initials of his parents' names, number of siblings and age are asked.
Yes or no answers are expected. After this initial communication
the person can choose the chapters to be read. No more questions
are asked. The relevant chapters are noted at the bottom of the
general leaf as reference.
Most of those
who visit here on a regular basis, swear by the ola leaf readings.
M. Silva from Kalutara first visited 'Shri Kowsika Agasthiya Nadi
Astrological Bureau' on seeing a notice in the papers five years
ago. He's been a regular ever since. "I've mainly questioned
them on my children's education and marriage. They once told me
that my daughter's first marriage would not be a success, and that
she would have a second marriage and one child. This troubled us
and we resorted to fulfilling a vow that they asked us to do for
the marriage to work. And it has."
The vows vary
depending on the religion of the person concerned. Most are encouraged
to give alms to the poor and help out in temples, kovils and churches.
is also a regular visitor. He first came here out of curiosity after
completing his A/L examination. "They reeled off everything
that was going on in my life at the time. They also foretold aspects
of the near future, which did come true." He also took some
of his foreign friends along and their readings too proved to be
accurate and satisfactory.
But there are
the disbelievers. "When I first visited, the entire reading
was very accurate, they even told me where I live,"says Maria
(30). "But I went back to them out of curiosity without my
tape, and got them to read it again. It was a far cry from the first
reading and I haven't gone back since."
is another disbeliever. "I felt that they retrieved most of
the information from me. While the past and the present was very
accurate, the future was hazy."
Some of our
questions still remain unanswered. How is it possible that each
and every person in the world has a pre-written leaf? "Not
everyone has the balma to have their leaves read, and some of the
leaves did get misplaced during the last three thousand years. It
all depends on an individual's karma," insists Mr. Jaisankar.
at the establishment also said that they are yet unsure of how many
generations have been covered by the ola leaves. Some leaves not
found in Sri Lanka at the moment have to be collected from their
main base in Tanjavur, famous for its ancient temples in southern
The ola readers
are confident that each individual's fate is pre-destined and written
down word for word on an ola leaf somewhere.