Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Great Tanta Challenge

Things like this make me smile a big happy smile of naturalistic joy. Earlier this month Sanal Edamaruku, president of Rationalist International challenged India's most prominent practitioner of Tantrik--a prominent superstition in India--to put his magic where his mouth is. Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to give magical advice and aid to top Indian politicians, claimed on national television that he could kill any man "in under three minutes" with his black magic. Sanal, also present on the program, invited him to give it a try. After nearly two hours of chanting and ritual (including pressing on Sanal's temples, sprinkling him with water, and waving a knife at him), the show's producers declared the attempt a failure, prompting the following:

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.
Anyone want to guess how the super-double-secret magic ritual went? From the Rationalist International website:

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 more. Sanal smiled, 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!
Pure, unadulterated awesome. Millions of people watched this happen live on India TV, and we can only hope that, for some at least, the spell of supernaturalism and religion was broken (or at least weakened) when the "most powerful wizard" in India failed to so much as give his compliant target a headache. It is these sorts of consciousness raising events that, ever so gradually, push the world toward a new age of reason.


Michael said...

I have to give the Tantrik credit. He must have actually really believed his own BS in order to participate in such a public and unfixed event. I wonder what his reaction will be, not now with shame burning in him, but a few weeks from now when he has been able to think about this.

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