When he was dumped by the JDS for a second time last November, the BJP’s B.S. Yediyurappa provided an obscurantist spin to his physical wellbeing by claiming that he was facing a “death threat” and that former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his family were indulging in maata-mantra (black magic) to get rid of him.
“I am facing a threat to my life. I am aware of the places where they are performing the pujas to finish me off. Many of his opponents have suffered this fate fate in the past, and I could be the latest victim,” the ten-day chief minister of the “hi-tech state” said, with a desperation that beggared belief.
Soon after, Yediyurappa’s former party colleague, Uma Bharati, too accused her political opponents of using tantrik powers to inflict damage upon her. In fact, within a few days, she had lost her favorite uncle, hit the door of her car against her head, and found her legs covered with wounds and blisters.
But does black magic work? How does it work? Who makes it work? Should politicians be allowed to get away with such ridiculous claims in 21st century India?
Earlier this month, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to be a tantrik of top politicians and is a wellknown face on Hindi television, to demonstrate his powers on him. Thus began an unprecedented experiment in rationalism—and television.
On Rajat Sharma‘s ultra-tabloid channel India TV, the tantrik and the rationalist were invited for a “Tantrik power versus Science” discussion.
During the discussion, the tantrik showed a small human shape of wheat flour dough, laid a thread around it like a noose and tightened it. He claimed that he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes by using black magic. Sanal challenged him to try and kill him.
The tantrik tried. He chanted his mantra: “Om lingalingalinalinga, kilikili” But his efforts did not show any impact, not after three minutes, not after five. The time was extended and extended again….
Now the tantrik changed his technique. He started sprinkling water and brandishing a knife in front of him. Sometimes he moved the blade all over his body. Then he touched Sanal’s head with his hand, rubbing and rumpling up his hair, pressing his forehead, laying his hand over his eyes, pressing his fingers against his temples. When he pressed harder and harder, Sanal reminded him that he was supposed to use black magic only, not forceful attacks to bring him down. The tantrik took a new run: water, knife, fingers, mantras.
But Sanal kept looking very healthy and even amused.
After nearly two hours, the anchor declared the tantrik’s failure. The tantrik, unwilling to admit defeat, tried the excuse that a very strong god whom Sanal might be worshipping obviously protected him. “No, I am an atheist,” said Sanal Edamaruku. Finally, the disgraced tantrik tried to save his face by claiming that there was a never-failing special black magic for ultimate destruction, which could, however, only been done at night.
Bad luck again, he did not get away with this, but was challenged to prove his claim this very night in another “breaking news” live program.
The encounter took place under the open night sky. The tantrik and his two assistants were kindling a fire and staring into the flames. Once the ultimate magic was invoked, there wouldn’t be any way back, the tantrik warned. Within two minutes, Sanal would get crazy, and one minute later he would scream in pain and die.
Didn’t he want to save his life before it was too late?
The countdown begun. The tantriks chanted their “Om lingalingalingalinga, kilikilikili” followed by ever changing cascades of strange words and sounds. The speed increased hysterically. They threw all kinds of magic ingredients into the flames that produced changing colours, crackling and fizzling sounds and white smoke.
While chanting, the tantrik came close to Sanal, moved his hands in front of him and touched him, but was called back by the anchor. After the earlier covert attempts of the tantrik to use force against Sanal, he was warned to keep distance and avoid touching Sanal. But the tantrik “forgot” this rule again and again.
Now the tantrik wrote Sanal’s name on a sheet of paper, tore it into small pieces, dipped them into a pot with boiling butter oil and threw them dramatically into the flames. Nothing happened. Singing and singing, he sprinkled water on Sanal, mopped a bunch of peacock feathers over his head, threw mustard seed into the fire and other outlandish things.
Nothing happened, and time was running out. Only seven more minutes before midnight, the tantrik decided to use his ultimate weapon: the clod of wheat flour dough. He kneaded it and powdered it with mysterious ingredients, then asked Sanal to touch it. Sanal did so, and the grand magic finale begun.
The tantrik pierced blunt nails on the dough, then cut it wildly with a knife and threw them into the fire. That moment, Sanal should have broken down. But he did not. He laughed. Forty more seconds, counted the anchor, twenty, ten, five, it’s over!
In this night, one of the most dangerous and wide spread superstitions in India suffered a severe blow.
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