Has the idol aged or is this a mockery of Shri Viththal?

Yadneshwar Nigale

This happened in Madgaon; South Goa’s cultural centre and educational capital. The hair of the idol in the Viththal Mandir turned grey. The idol appeared to have grown old overnight. The bad omen was promptly connected with the recent accidental death of the temple priest. The rumor spread like wild fire. Everybody, right from the ministers to the lowly clerks, wanted to see the miracle with their own eyes. People gathered in thousands. Not one of them considered the possibility of the hair turning grey because of some whitish liquid or ointment inadvertently stuck to the head of the idol; despite the fact that we all are bound by our constitution to nurture scientific outlook. The next day the temple priest performed the usual ceremonial ablution (pouring water etc.) on the idol, and the sticky white layer of milk and curds of the previous ablution got washed away. The idol when anointed with oil regained its youthful look!

The pity of it all is that, this happened in Madgao,  less than a year after the Maharashtra ANS (movement for eradication of superstition) had organized a Yatra (march) for investigation of miracles in this city; the city that has produced a number of eminent persons who raised Goa to its glory. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, the president of ANS had accompanied the march and had delivered a speech examining and investigating miracles and incidents that appear to be miraculous. He illustrated with examples, how on critically examining the so called miraculous incidents, their scientific causes come into light and the aura of mystery disappears. These incidents then become ordinary facts of life. Sadly, the large crowds that listened to him attentively forgot his message when they gathered to see the grey hair of their favourite deity.

Critical examination destroys the halo around miracles:

Although miracles are impossible, everyone seems to be enamoured of the phenomenon. Crowds gather wherever a miracle like incident takes place. Some shrewd men in the society take advantage of this psyche of the people and utilize it to increase the supposedly inherent majesty and nobility of a place where they have vested interest. Such an incident occurred three years back in Dicholi Borde, in the temple dedicated to Lord Vadeshwar (Shankar). In the courtyard of this temple there is a statue of a horse made of plaster. It has five heads. There is a tiny mound, resembling the Shiva’s phalus under the belly of this horse. One fine day, some passersby saw that water was dripping from the horse’s belly on the Shiva’s phallus below it. It surely was, for them, a miracle- a horse performing ‘Abhishek on a Shivalinga’! In a very short while people from all directions crowded over there. To add to the mystery, Mahashivaratra (Shiva’s festival) was, coincidentally, just a couple of days ahead. This helped the superstitious people to add two and two and connect the horse’s Abhishek to lord Shiva’s miracle.

The incident really was one that very commonly occurs. The plaster of horse’s body had developed cracks. During the consecration of the horse on certain occasions, water seeped into the belly of the horse through these cracks. The inside of the horse was plastered with wax. But on this day, due to the summer heat, the wax melted and water started dripping through the cracks on to the mound below. The mound consisted of cement and mud. The dripping water shaped the mound into a few Shivalingas. In this incident neither did the horse perform any ‘Abhishek’ nor were there any Shivalingas below its belly. But the wild imagination of the devotees is equally matched with their utter inability to think- think logically and rationally. They have no need to examine the occurrences. They readily see miracle in any unusual happenstance.

Now with such a social psyche, if the eyes of a deity’s idol start watering, it sure is a miracle. Such an incident took place in the Chamundeshwari Temple of the Mysore state, during the British Raj. It wasn’t a miracle but a machination of the temple priest. It happened thus: The eyes of the idol started watering all of a sudden. The temple priest promptly brought this to the notice of the Maharaja. He instructed, Sir Mirza Ismail, the Divan of the state, to investigate into the matter. He in turn sent one investigating officer to the temple, who minutely examined idol and its surroundings. This revealed that the crown Placed on the head of the idol was hollow and connected through tube to the indentations in the eyes of the idol by the side of the nose. The wax on the indentations was scratched out. So, when the crown was filled with water it oozed out of the idol’s eyes-the sacred tears of the deity. Why did the priest indulge in this machination? The priestly class did not approve of a Muslim becoming their Divan. But the Maharaja could neither be intimidated nor fooled. Both the miracle and the temple priest were exposed.

More sensational than the above was the news that the image of Jesus Christ was shedding tears of blood. This happened quite recently, just six months back, in the house of Mascharhenus a resident of Kamurli Village, in Sasashti Taluka. The news, as usual, spread like wild fire. Devotees-both educated and uneducated, from all around gathered into Kamurli to see the miracle with their own eyes. But none of them thought over whether it is possible that the reddish tears really contain blood. In fact, Christianity does not approve of performing miracles. Jesus Christ himself denounced performing miracles. He correctly maintained that belief in miracles misleads people and hides the truth from them. Despite this teaching of Jesus Christ, the Catholic nations of Europe are replete with idols of weeping Madonna. Tears flowing from the eyes of an idol is no more a miracle there. Everybody there knows that idols of plaster, being porous, can easily be made to shed tears. Adding some chemicals the tears become bloody!

Vision of a Trident- a psychological ‘miracle’

The most controversial Tantrik (versed in the Tantras-charms, rites, precepts), Chadraswami, in order to enhance his phony self imposed nobility, concocted the miracle of ‘drinking milk by Ganesh idols’. Dr. Yashpal and Dr. Jayant Narlikar immediately explained the physical causes of this incredible phenomenon that was given enough publicity by the media. And yet, there are quite a few individuals who believed that the idols drank only that milk offered by pious men only and not any others. But the fact, as explained by the two eminent scientists, is that ‘sipping of milk by the Ganesh Idol’ is not at all a miracle. It is caused by two scientific processes happening simultaneously. They are ‘Capillary action’ and ‘Surface Tension’. A simple experiment can explain these processes. If you keep a corner of a blotting paper dipped into the ink bottle, the ink absorbed by the blotting paper rises up against the gravitational force. Any groove or scratch resembling a capillary can cause Capillary action. So the idols do not ‘drink milk’; the milk is simply absorbed. Moreover not only the Ganesh Idol but any idol for that matter can exhibit this property and ‘absorb’ milk or any liquid (beer or rum for example) offered by both pious and impious men and women, on any day and at any time; because the natural laws are universal. There is no miraculous or supernatural power involved in it.

Last year, a rumor of another miracle spread that ‘marks of the letter Om and trident’ in red colour are seen on Shivalingas. Devotees in huge queues gathered in all Shiva temples. It was only a rumor. Some devotee of Shiva might have seen  such marks on the Shivalinga. Of course the question remains; why should Shiva’s devotee happen to see such marks? The science of Hypnotism has an answer to this question. A devotee can go into a hypnotic state because of the combined effect of his intense devotion towards god; his earnest longing for meeting his god and his getting engrossed in Bhajan, Poojan, and Kirtan. He is self hypnotized and feels that he has met with his god. A devotee whose ‘mind’s eye’ sees a Shivaling with the marks of Om and Trishul (trident) in red on it, and worships that Shivalinga with all concentration will get self hypnotized and actually see the Om and trishul marks. For him the marks are real and right there. He reveals this ‘reality’ to fellow devotees. The possibility of their seeing such marks is meager but they too want to be ahead in the race for devotion and may pretend to have seen the marks. Such is the root of rumor.

If a stone idol starts sweating, should it not be considered a miracle? Such a miracle did take place in the Jain Mandir situated in Dhule city, about four years back. A rumor spread that the three huge idols of Shreyasnath, Sheetalnath and Kunthunath in that temple have started sweating. Thousands of devotees flocked to the temple. The crowd became unmanageable. A mild Lathi charge was called for to stop the hooligans from taking advantage of the painful jamming. The simple question-as to how can a stone idol sweat, did not strike any devotee. Finally journalist took the initiative and with help of geologist explained the so called miracle.

These idols are carved out of basalt rock. The unique atmosphere created by the stone structure of the temple caused dampness on the idols. This was the combined result of three factors- the high temperature outside the temple, the comparatively much cooler atmosphere in the sanctum sanctorum and the moist air of the temple. As the dampness on the idols increased, it condensed into water and trickled down the idols. This was an atmospheric process. But for the gullible devotees it was a miracle.

This same mentality was revealed in the episode of ‘Viththal’s hair turning grey’ with which we began. The people mortgaged their ability to reason and connected the graying of deity’s hair with his aging. Isn’t this an inadvertent mockery of the deity ‘Shri Viththal’? Once you assume that the god has become old, the next step automatically leads to his demise. The concept of God is a pious and a noble concept. The God in this concept is ever young and immortal, completely free from old age and death.  But regretfully our reasoning ability has freezed and rusted because of complete lack of use!

(Translated by Ms Suman Oak)