D. Nagarajan of Chennai sees things in the stars well beyond the ability of astronomers, telescopes and satellites.
Growing up in a small village in India's Madras Presidency, Mr. Nagarajan knew that the gods had gifted him with special powers. He was able to look at people's faces and ascertain their intentions. He was able to read palms and predict their future. He was fluent in numerology.
The gods had included in their gifts an ability to grasp the relevance of the zodiac to human lives, an ability that Mr. Nagarajan developed through intense study of ancient astrology.
The Madras Presidency went the way of the British Raj, and after India won its independence in 1947 the Presidency became Madras State. In 1969, "Madras" became "Tamil Nadu," or "Home of Tamils" - a sociological bow to the fact that the ethnic population of Tamils traces its origins to more than 5,000 years, and a political bow to the clangor among Tamil leaders for a state whose name reflected the dominant demographical grouping.
But Mr. Nagarajan still uses "Madras" - both in reference to the state, and to its capital city, Chennai.
"I'm an old man, and old habits die hard," the astrologer says.
His visage and bearing aren't those of an old man. Although he just turned 80, and also marked the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Vijaya Nagarajan, Mr. Nagarajan is sprightly and cheerful. In a two-hour ceremony at the Vadapalani Andavar Temple in Chennai, Mr. Nagarajan offered a running commentary on what the Brahman priests were intoning in Sanskrit, a language in which he's as fluent as his native Tamil, and English.
"They are invoking blessings from the gods," Mr. Nagarajan said. "What priests don't say in these chants is that divine blessings are given at birth. But you can also obtain additional blessings through the good that you do in life."
His own "good" consists of helping those who consult him to see perils and psychic blockages, and to create fresh roadmaps for their lives and careers. Mr. Nagarajan does not ask for fees; he will accept whatever his visitors will offer.
Since ancient times, astrology has been an important facet of Hindu belief. In contemporary India, it would be safe to say that few people take major decisions without consulting astrologers.
Even the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had her favorite astrologer in New Delhi. (He reportedly advised her not to send military forces to rid Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, of the separatist militants who had taken over the property. Mrs. Gandhi sent troops in June 1984; on October 31, her Sikh bodyguards assassinated the prime minister in her own garden.)
According to the literature, Hindus believe that heavenly bodies, including the planets, have an influence throughout the life of a human being, and these planetary influences are the "fruit of karma." Thus, these planets can influence earthly life.
Mr. Nagarajan does not advertise. People come to him through word of mouth. He has helped some of the biggest names in Indian public life, including industrialists and leaders in healthcare.
His record is astonishing. More than three decades ago, a journeyman entrepreneur named Dhirubhai Ambani asked Mr. Nagarajan what name he should choose for his textiles group. The astrologer did some calculations and came up with "Vimal." Mr. Ambani took his advice. His mills - and later petrochemical enterprises - made him a multi-billionaire. His sons, Mukesh and Anil, are among the world's wealthiest businessman.
Similar success came to a cardiologist named Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy. After a decade in the United States, Dr. Reddy came home to India and settled in Chennai. His dream was to build a heart hospital. A vacant lot in midtown Chennai was being auctioned. Dr. Reddy asked Mr. Nagarajan what his bid should be. The astrologer gave him a figure. It proved to be the winning bid.
Mr. Nagarajan also advised Dr. Reddy to change the name of his newly registered healthcare entity from "Apollo Hospital" to "Apollo Hospitals." He told the cardiologist that in time he would build an empire.
Today, some 33 years after that conversation, Dr. Reddy owns or runs 70 hospitals in India and several other countries.
So how does Mr. Nagarajan preserve his special gifts?
"Several hours of prayer and study each day," he says. "And strict vegetarianism."
Then he laughs heartily.
"Having a sense of humor helps," Mr. Nagarajan says. "I tell people not to take life too seriously. But that's one bit of my advice that many people don't necessarily follow - they are often too serious, too overwhelmed by their problems. They really should learn to be cheerful. Worrying doesn't solve problems, but laughing helps us all cope better with life."
Does that advice come from his reading the stars?
"Yes," Mr. Nagarajan says. "Don't the stars twinkle? That's because they are smiling. So shouldn't we?"