Round Up - A.R.Kanangi
Superstition; a crutch
Saturday, November 04, 2006 8:59:12 IST
There is only a thin line between superstition and faith. People who are frightened and confused about life and death want a crutch, even if it is shaky. The new law on superstition, however, is necessary, as it will stop some horrible, cruel practices.
If the bill on superstition was passed 45 years ago, Satya Sai Baba would have attracted arrest. He was successfully cashing on the gullibility of people by claiming to be an avatar — endowed with supernatural powers. What he actually did was some cheap tricks like getting watches and kumkum from nowhere. Yogi L.S. Rao, a contemporary, wrote in a newspaper that the rascal knew how to impress people. A baba or sadhu had to first perform some miracles in order to attract attention. When once they were won over, nothing could change their faith.
Yogi Rao – from Bangalore – was a big hit with newsmen. The beedi-smoking yogi told me: "First you have to create an image, you can’t be a sadhu if you wear trousers and jacket. In India, you have to wear saffron or pale-orange brown clothes. No shirt – the torso remains exposed. And then, you must spread the word you went to the Himalayas and kept your head at the feet of the guru. Nobody will check of course whether you have actually been to the Himalayas. That Himalaya tag is very important. And then, armed with powers extraordinary, you descend to the plains and begin performing miracles. I can do better than that rascal. I can drink nitric acid, drink water and bring it out of the nose, walk on burning embers," the yogi said.
He did hold a demonstration before newsmen. It was so convincing. And then, he failed in one demonstration. He charged a fee for the public for the performance of a unique feat. It was at Versova – at that time almost deserted – that he dug a large pond. He said he would walk on water. He had a small kutir at the place. I was with him the previous night and I strongly advised him not to perform the water feat. He would not listen and strangely enough, he appeared to be quite confident.
Next day — in the evening — he stepped into the water and went down. There were loud protests, but everyone was pacified and told to collect the ticket money from a newspaper office. The crowd dispersed and the yogi looked at me pathetically and said: “The bubble burst in the arse. It was a technical failure.” A bubble in the arse?
Very few people went to the newspaper office to get back their money. The yogi made a neat pile and went to Bangalore. “Are you not doing something wrong — cheating people?” I asked him once. “It is not cheating. People want this. They want to believe in miracles. They are confused and afraid. They all want a crutch. I am doing this for a living. My life is simple, but I have to support three wives. That rascal down south is doing the same thing — but in a big way. He is scared of me because I can expose him.”
Yogi Rao was not the only one who could expose Satya Sai Baba. There was a rationalist in Bangalore, who at a big public meeting, did all the “miracles” of Sai Baba and proved they were all just tricks. We have thousands of babas in our country who perform all such miracles and earn their living. What will happen to them if the new bill is passed and becomes an act? It is a fact they are cheating and they need to be stopped.
No human being has seen a ghost, but go to a village, which at night is pitch dark and silent: ghosts – many and varied kinds – are said to roam round the village. The villagers say they can hear the frightening moans and wailing of the ghosts, the sound of the bells round the ankles of the ghost and sudden flashes of light etc. you tell the villagers there is no ghost on earth and they will not believe you. With ghosts ensconced in their minds, they become easy victims of unscrupulous village chiefs and hoodlums. When the fear of the ghosts is put into them, they are prepared to do anything.
And very loud rituals take place to force the villagers do what the chiefs want. A man with painted face and torso does a vigorous dance, salivating and muttering something all the time — until the Goddess or the ghost enters his body. Then he does a frightening act-shuddering from head to toe. Then he issues orders – calls out names and ask that it — the demon within him — be given rice, money. And he orders fiercely that someone the landlord does not like, must go out of the village for a month. And rebellious, cheeky, inconvenient young men are bashed up till they fall unconscious because demons inside them have to be punished. Every now and then, there are reports of women charged with practicing witchcraft being exposed to cruel punishment. The women are stripped naked and paraded through the village — getting beaten up all the time. Women receive such humiliating and cruel punishment because of false charges that they are practicing black magic, that rains do not come because the rain God does not like them, crops perish because of their very presence in the village.
The superstition with regard to “sati” sees quite a few women on the burning pyre with their husbands. It is nothing but murder, but thanks to prevailing superstition, the burning horror takes place. It looks like there is only a thin line between faith and superstition. A priest tells a man who has lost a dear relative that the latter cannot enter heaven until certain pujas are performed. The man has to feed Brahmins, pay the priest money and incur expenditure on certain other items. Will the priest be liable for arrest under the new act?
Out of over 100 crore people in the country, at least half of them are ignorant, illiterate and superstitious. Our country is fertile ground for superstition. Our knowledge of the superstitions is limited. Even rationalists are dumbfounded sometimes how actually action based on superstition results in harmonious, better collective living. There is nothing wrong with being superstitious, but what is wrong is its exploitation by unscrupulous men. And all of us — even the rationalists — are in some way on the other superstitious. There is nothing surprising about this. The life and death mystery frightens people. There is no answer. There are things beyond reason — many things we cannot explain. So we cling to superstition — like the sophisticated, educated folks rely on spirituality. Both indicate a certain helplessness, a certain attempt to find some meaning. A crutch.
And today, we see the unique phenomenon of those who derive mileage from superstition and fears in the minds of innocent, gullible people, making it big. Once their own survival is ensured, they start building towns. They start colleges, hospitals, charity institutions, industrial units and other enterprises. They use the huge money they get from worshippers as well as from foreign sources to build a township. People then forget about the cheating and exploitation and give them a clean chit. It will be said they did not misuse the funds but utilised it for collective good. And if they did the tricks, they were done deliberately as per a definite vision. Nobody will arrest Satya Sai Baba today.
And I will end this piece with a Chinese joke. A China man was placing some rice at the grave of his relative in Beijing. A foreigner from Europe laughed derisively as he placed a bouquet at his friend’s grave and said: “Ho ho, will your dead relative come to eat the rice?” The China man replied: “Tell me whether your dead friend come to smell the flowers?”
Copyright © Sai Baba EXPOSED! 2005-2007. Discuss this post!
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