Monday, January 30, 2006

The ‘Miracle’ Stones?

Last week, I visited the Qamar Ali Darvesh shrine at Shivpuri, just off the Bombay-Bangalore Highway. The shrine houses the grave of a Moslem saint, Mr. Qamar Ali, I presume. However, its actual claim to fame has a distinctly petrous nature - a levitating stone!

In the courtyard in front of the shrine lies a rather innocuous looking spherical rock, about a foot in diameter - a little larger than a soccer ball. I would estimate its weight to be about 100-120 pounds. According to the script, the stone can be raised by nine or eleven people, using only one index finger each. The lifters are supposed to yell out “Qamar Ali Darvesh!” as they are lifting the stone.

In classical Islamic fashion, women are barred from performing the levitation. Since the group I had gone with had only one other individual exhibiting an XY sex chromosome (my Mom’s brother), it was obvious that we were going to have to enlist a few more willing hands. There were a decent number of tourists around, all Moslem-looking and seeming like they had come more to pray than for the ‘touristy’ part. I went around asking them, but none of them evinced even a modicum of interest in the task at hand.

There was also, a herd of mendicants sitting under a banyan tree outside the shrine’s precincts; and I approached them next. They seemed even more loth than the people I had asked before that, with some of them bordering on what could be termed as churlish. The reason was soon obvious - labor in this country rarely comes for free, and raising a stone (even a supposedly magic one) is, after all, labor!

After promising them some rupees, their reluctance slowly started to melt, and soon we had ourselves a group of almost-merry men around the stone. My uncle and I were given quick instructions on how to place our fingers under the stone. We were also told to shout out the phrase - “Qamar Ali Darvesh” - while lifting the stone.

As we all bent down to insert our fingers under the stone, my nostrils were buffeted by a particularly unsavory stench emanating from the guys around me! Taking a shower obviously doesn’t rank very high on a mendicant’s daily or even weekly list of activities!

“One, two, three!”, one of the men counted down in Hindi. We all lifted - and I didn’t say the words. I had excepted the stone to be raised slowly, with only one finger of each person in contact with it. Surely, that would be a miracle worth witnessing! However, what the men did was hurl it upward in a quick continuous motion. Since I was much slower than the rest, the stone fell toward my side and almost crushed my feet! The fact that I hadn’t said the phrase loudly enough and that the stone fell toward me meant that I was immediately subjected to a severe lambasting from one of the mendicants in Urdu and expelled from the second attempt!

This time I chose to man the video camera instead. Once again they all placed their fingers under the stone and hurled it upward! And once again it almost fell on one of the guys heads! We paid the mendicants and after shooting some more footage of the place, we left.

So what exactly had we witnessed? Was it some sort of miracle? Of course not! It was a huge fraud. I was certain the mendicants weren’t using only one finger! Once their hands are under the stone, it’s impossible to see just how much contact they have with the stone - they could use their entire palms for all the difference it would make to a viewer! When I looked at the video footage yesterday, it just confirmed what I had always believed. Most of the guys were using more than just a single finger. We were about 10 men, each therefore only having to lift about 12-15 pounds. Certainly no big deal, if you’re using more than a finger. Besides, contrary to what I thought, the stone wasn’t raised slowly. It was just hurled upward!

The reason for the entire fraud? Like most other things in life, the incentives are monetary. The entire area around the shrine is filled with small stores selling all sorts of religious knickknacks. The stones make the shrine famous and bring these people more customers. Even the shrine itself is undoubtedly funded by donations from people who visit the place because of the stones.

It’s surprising though, just how many people will actually fall for it! Just come up with a story that sounds interesting and add a dash of religious flavor to it, and you’ll get takers fer sure!

11 comments:

_ð!®†ß¤¥ said...

Some good ol india for u after all.. Welcome to the land of beggars,snake charmers and elephants.. Guess u've never been to varanasi or puri..

Salil said...

I've been to that place. There's a pic of the stone being hurled at least 3-4 feet above the heads of the 11 men. It may not be a miracle but as a legend I see no problem in the practice being continued.

And btw, its YAAA qamar ali darvesh!

Arnold said...

abhinav - i haven't been to varanasi or puri, and i somehow don't think i'll be getting there anytime in the near future... have seen some pictures though...

salil - the two attempts made while I was there got nowhere close to 3-4 feet above their heads! most of the stalls around the place sell pictures like the one u are referring to, but even 3-4 feet isnt really very fascinating once u realize that they are using more than just a single finger...

about the fraud being practised, i don't have a problem with it either... just wish people sometimes had more sense...

_ð!®†ß¤¥ said...

please dont go there... unless you wanna act a poor lad in dire need for money and get lay some firang chick for some measly greens... /heh sounds like your favorite kind of job, tho. Get paid for laying firang chicks. But im sure u get enuf of T's&A's in goa

Kunal said...

>>"I would estimate its weight to be about 100-120 pounds."

Pounds? Pounds?!

Arnold said...

abhinav - took me about an hour to figure out what u meant by "T n A".. but i finally got it.. or at least i think i do..

kunal - umm... sorry... about 50 kilograms.. happy?!

Nitin Changlani (nitin_changlani_2006@yahoo.com) said...

Dear Arnold,
It seems that like most of us Indians, you too have excellently mastered the art of finding nooks in anything and everything relating to India. Though I don't completely dismiss your claim that with 11 people using around 1 (or more) fingers to lift up the stone, the weight to be lifted by each individual gets drastically reduced, what should have been verified is that whether the phenomenon repeats even with 12 or more individuals. After such scientific enquiry, you have every right to call anyone a "fraud".

Arnold said...

@Nitin Changlani - While I would have loved to have verified that, it was not quite possible. Those chaps wouldn't let me get anywhere near the stone once they realized my intention!

Bawi-Banter said...

http://www.margaretdeefholts.com/levitatingstone-shivapur.html

I'm not really a blogger, far from it actually, n i happened to come across this blog by chance. I read yr views in regd to the 'Qamar Ali Darvesh' dargah that u visited. I have been there n i have seen ppl lift that stone just by touching their index finger to it. I have seen different ppl come forward at different times to lift the stone. Never have i ever seen anyone conspire within themselves to use their entire hands or use their entire strength just so they can lift the stone. It happens just at the touch of their index finger n it happens bcoz the ppl who lift the stone have faith. Simple. My husband n my friends have lifted the stone. We usually have guests from abroad who have heard of this n want to see it happen with their own eyes which is another reason (faith being the first) why i frequent the dargah. As they say, some things are not meant to be understood they are only to be believed. More so here u aren't to just believe, u can see it with yr own eyes n then believe.

Btw, read another post of yours in regd to men, “Love, smhove n all that Jazz’ It was hilarious n so, so puurrrrrrfect. :-)

(Please excuse all my short forms (regd, bcoz, ppl n many many more that will follow in case I write again). Also pl excuse any typo errors if any. Cheerz :-)

Arnold said...

@Bawi-Banter: Are you suggesting perhaps that if 11 people were to try to lift the stone in a similar fashion but instead of calling out the name of the saint, were to yell out "Geronimo!", the stone wouldn't rise?

Bawi-Banter said...

Just a touch of yr finger at the base of the stone (no pressure applied) calling out the saint's name, the stone rises..

Just a touch of yr finger (no pressure applied) calling out to Gero-whosoever, the stone will not rise..

Who am i to claim i know it all, i dont.. Try it out for yrself.. Check it out with yr own eyes n go with an open mind telling yrself that there are some mysteries that exist in this world that have no answers..