Just asking for an address in the Railway Mandi area of this Punjab might elicit blank stares. But the moment I uttered the word 'Brighu', I was not even allowed to say anything more and the directions followed to the T.
One particular street in the area is virtually dedicated to the Brighu astrologers who are keeping alive a 5,000-year-old tradition of looking into the past and gazing at the future.
The "Brighuan di gali" (street of the Brighu astrologers) is a destination for people from all parts of the country and even from abroad as they seek out the Brighu Shastris who, despite facing stiff competition from Internet-driven modern-day astrology, still rely on the Brighu Samhita, a religious book (granth) that, as per legend, was penned by Rishi Brighu over 5,000 years ago.
"We continue to get a lot of people from all over the country and from across the world. Many of those coming here include foreigners and NRIs," Brighu Shastri Ramanuj Sharma told IANS here.
"Foreigners are great believers in the Brighu tradition. They are leaning towards traditional concepts like Brighu astrology, meditation and vegetarianism. Followers of the Brighu tradition come from all religions," said Sharma, who has a doctorate in Sanskrit.
He said that the Brighu Samhita has been safely kept in the common storehouse of three families here.
"The granth lies in a strongroom and weighs tonnes. An index has been devised for the available pages of the granth so that only the required portions are picked up when required," said Sharma, 43, a third-generation Brighu Shastri in his family.
Once an individual shares with the Brighu Shastri his details like name, date and place of birth, parents' name and the like, the search begins for his details in the Brighu Samhita. Since it is not physically possible to check all documents, the Brighu families have indexed them.
"If the name is found, the individual is called and told about his past lives and future. It is even mentioned in the documents whether the person has to be physically present to come and see his past and future. Everything is read from the exact document concerning that person and he is supposed to note it down. Sometimes, if the person, living abroad or, for some other reason, is unable to come, then our staff writes down for them and the same is e-mailed to them or sent by post," Sharma pointed out about the process.
Politicians like former president Zail Singh, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, union minister Maneka Gandhi and former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal and film stars Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjay Dutt and Bollywood's famous Kapoor family, among others, have come calling on the Brighu Shastris. But not everyone's details may be recovered from the granth.
The original Brighu Samhita, a massive database of charts of millions of people, was partially lost during various invasions of the country in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was a chance incident that a Brahmin family discovered a major part of the granth with a junk dealer here in 1923.
However, not everyone is ready to believe in the Brighu tradition.
"I have got my records checked. Some part of it was true but all major happenings in my life were not there. I cannot believe in it blindly. But some people believe in this a lot," Hoshiarpur resident Bhagwant Singh told IANS.