On the Pune-Satara road you come across a village, Khed Shivapur, about 30 miles away from Pune. Near the road, at the turn into the village, is situated the shrine of Karam Ali Baba. This shrine is visited by people of all religions. It is called ‘Karam Ali Darvesh Darga’. Off and on it happens to be in the lime light through the documentary produced by Film Division or on some TV channel.
There are two stones in front of the shrine, one is said to weigh 90 kilos and the other 60 kilos. For lifting the heavier stone the support of only one finger each of 11 people is needed while the lighter one needed only 9 people. The team needs just touch the stone with their fingers and cry, ‘Karam Ali Darvesh ki Jai’. And to the surprise of all, the stone becomes as light as a feather and can be raised up to the head, only by the touch of 11fingers, in case of the bigger and 9 in case of the smaller one. The number of people should just be 11 and 9, no more or no less. The cry ought to be ‘Karam Ali Darvesh’ and not any other call. There should not be even a single woman in the team.
The old myth behind this goes: Karam Ali Darvesh was a Fakir (Muslim mendicant) who had witnessed manifestation of god. No one knows how and when did he reach this place. But he expelled all goblins, spirits, fiends and devils from the village and at the age of 70 years ended his life in a Samadhi (buried himself alive). The Fakir cursed two demons, who lived in this place, that they will turn into stones and people will lift them and hurl them down on the ground.
The curse of the Fakir and the erstwhile demons now turned into boulders is a topic of great interest and curiosity. The Mumbai Door Darshan telecast the miracle in June 1987 without offering any scientific explanation. We then had to step in and demystify and relieve the boulders of the curse. We received plenty of letters; some of them taunting us, ‘here is a real miracle; how can you explain it?’ while others sincerely wanted to know whether a miracle like this is possible.
Babar reached Khed Shivapur. We had to make our way through beggars, flower vendors and pilgrims and climb 10-12 steps of stones leading to the gate of the shrine. The two big boulders are placed on both the sides of the main entrance to the shrine. One is a sand stone and the other black granite. Both are chiseled into shape like a pressure cooker with diameter and height of one foot each. They are beyond the main platform of the shrine. On the entrance there is a board announcing that women are prohibited from entering in.
A short, stunted youth with a red kerchief tied round his head stood beside the stone. I asked him, how to lift the stone, He explained, ‘11 persons should put their forefingers to the stone and shout in unison ‘Karam Ali Darvessssh’; the stone becomes light as paper and is lifted easily.’ A few men with kerchiefs tied round their heads, sitting on the railing came forward and asked, ‘Do you want to see?’ As we nodded our consent, they called others. We were seven of us and four of the fence sitters put forefingers of our right hands to the stone. They counted the fingers and made sure that they were exactly eleven. Then we shouted in unison ‘Karam Ali Darvesh’. The stone moved just half a foot up and then over turned on one side. We tried once again but the stone would not go up more than half a foot. The devotees were quite confused; then it suddenly dawned on them that the visitors have not removed their foot wares! We were ordered to remove our shoes and chappals. We did so and once again applying our forefingers cried, ‘Karam Ali!’ The result was no better. The men with the head scarves now became restless and withdrew. They were perplexed. How can the power of their sage fail them? In fact, there was no cause for confusion, for we had decided to just touch the stone with our fingers and not apply any force. Poor Karam Ali could not help!
Then we collected four visitors like us and told them to apply their forefingers and shouted as earlier. To the surprise of all the devotees, the stone was lifted high up to the shoulder which we then threw in the sand below. The pallid faces of the men with head scarves now brightened. More and more crowd gathered round us. Then we declared that we will lift the stone without shouting Karam Ali. Someone from the crowd warned us, not to be too wise since ‘even the wrestlers from Kolhapur just a couple of days before had tried and failed. It is not very easy as you think.’
Mandape, one of our activists, said, ‘let us see, nothing like trying to do it.’ We all put our fingers again under the stone and shouted ‘Mahatma Phule Ki Jai!’ We lifted the stone much above the shoulders and hurled it down. The crowd now became restless. Next we invented another tactic; why only 11 people, why won’t 10 or 12 do? We tried it very successfully not only on the stone in question but also on the other untried stone using 8 or 10 persons instead of 9.
The atmosphere was now quite conducive to exposing superstitions like the one in the question. Two women onlookers too desired to put their fingers to the stone and asked us if they too can try their hand at it. Actually women were expected not even to touch the stone. The devotees blindly support such irrational rules of religious places. They are scared of disobeying those rules so blatantly, for, that may be inviting unnecessary calamities. But at this stage we were not prepared to withdraw. We invited the women to try lifting the stone.
With those two women and four other onlookers, we – four of us – put our fingers under the stone and said, ‘come on, shout one, two, three—.‘ The stone was lifted very easily and quite high. The women looked thrilled. It was, by now, quite clear that there was no mystery behind lifting of the stone. Once the causality of the miracle is understood, the mystery disappears. We put on our shoes and were about to leave when it struck us that we have not tried lifting the stone with our shoes on. So we lifted both the stones with our shoes on and hurled them down.
Here is the explanation of the so called miracle. The fingers under the stone apply force on it. The force works equally on all sides so that it does not tilt and is held firmly. Shouting in unison helps apply the force simultaneously. Haven’t we all heard the laborers singing in unison while moving large blocks of wood or raising the water tanks to the top of the building? The stone gets lifted because force is applied from all sides. Moving up from the ground level requires the fingers to apply more force. But once it moves up from the ground all the load is borne by the muscles of the wrist and the elbow behind it. Thus lifting the stone high up becomes easy.
We do not know what happened to the daemons that were turned into the stones by the Fakir. But while hurling the stones which symbolized superstition a thought came into our minds, ‘when shall we be able to overthrow the yoke of the daemons of superstition from the necks of our people?’
Translated by Ms Suman Oak