THE LEVITATING STONE OF SHIVAPUR
The circular 70 kg stone in the courtyard;
note indentations in the
soil where it has previously landed.
The courtyard is hot in the noon-day sun, and shadows
are minimal. I am allowed to approach the stone just as long as I don't
I photograph the stone while the mullah beckons a group of onlookers and three non-Moslem men off the street. They include a puzzled young man who is passing through the town on his scooter and had paused to buy something from a roadside stall, and a stick-like old man who looks incapable of lifting a cushion, let alone a rock. Including Thite there are now eleven men in all.. I ask one of the more muscular participants to first try lifting the stone single-handedly. He barely moves it an inch off the ground. "Viney," I whisper to Thite, "I would like to know whether the stone vibrates as you lift it, and how heavy it is when raised."
A volunteer agrees to try
and lift the stone
single-handedly for my camera.
That's as far as he could go
.I ready my video camera as the men surround the
They stoop, place the index finger of their right hands under the rim of the rock, count to three, and then bawl, "Qamar Ali Darveeeesh!" The stone, like a living thing, flies up in the air, a foot above their heads. Caught off guard, I frantically move my video camera upwards to keep it in focus. The men scatter as it falls to the ground with an enormous thud. I take a deep breath. Thite turns to me, incredulous. "It didn't vibrate," he says, "but it was light! Light as Styrofoam!"
On the second attempt, I capture it on film. Once again, the stone leaps skywards well beyond the men's fingertips, spins and, as they dodge out of the way, it crashes to earth.
Ready? Get set...
Qamar Ali Darv....eeessshhh!
Then I try variations, changing one parameter at a time. I have to be tactful about this, so as not to appear disrespectful, but the mullah is right: none of them work. I pack away my camera, the mullah courteously bids us "Khuda hafiz" (May God be with you) and disappears into his office.
So what, I ask myself, am I to make of this? No
question about the fact of the phenomenon. With a quota of randomly selected
participants, it doesn't appear to be rigged. Yet how does it happen?
Western pragmatism tells me there has to be an explanation.
Experiments with controlled levels of electromagnetic energy have been known to replicate poltergeist-like activity so I scope out the area for transmission or microwave towers. There aren't any. Could the courtyard itself be a powerfully charged electromagnetic field? Would Qamar Ali Darvesh have known this in the fifteenth century?
I recall a party game: four of us could lift a fifth after a ritualistic laying on of hands. The explanation? The stiffened hands layered over the subject's head, lends strength to the tensor muscles and thus allows the participants to lift a heavy object with relative ease. Two hundred pounds distributed evenly among eleven men, would work out to about eighteen pounds each which, if the above theory is correct, might be feasible with a stiffened index finger. However, if this is so, then twelve participants should be able to lift the stone to a greater height. Not so. At my request, twelve men had surrounded the stone like a football huddle and raised it to mid-thigh level, after which it fell back with a dull thump. Eleven men with four fingers under the stone raised it almost waist high, but no further.
Lamasery monks in Tibet have been known to levitate a massive rock at the entrance of a cave, in response to a particular volume, pitch and vibration of drums and horns. Does sonic resonance force the Shivapur rock to rise? If so, a series of similar words uttered at the same pitch and volume as "Qamar Ali Darvesh" should bring about an identical result. It doesn't.
Viney Thite is equally perplexed. "Perhaps it was the gestalt effect of all eleven of us directing our thoughts towards Qamar Ali's words. Maybe we generated an extra surge of energy as we shouted his name in unison. Or maybe it's none of those things." He pauses thoughtfully to look out of the car window. The hills lie folded against the horizon, and small dust devils spin across the sepia fields. "India is an ancient land. It has its secrets," he says. "Perhaps we are not meant to uncover them all."
* * * * * *
In retrospect, I've quit looking at this with an analytical eye. It would be simplistic to believe that all Moslems (or other fundamentalist religious denominations for that matter) across the globe subscribe to the concept of the brotherhood of Man. But Moslem Sufi saint, Qamar Ali Darvesh preached it .and six centuries after his death, still symbolically demonstrates it every time eleven men of varying faiths, gather around his stone and invoke his name.
October 10th, 2001
I went back to Shivapur in November 2007. I still don't have any answers as to why the stone levitates only provided certain parameters are met.
Updated video clip: Levitating Stone of Shivapur
IF YOU GO:
The Shivapur shrine is not a tourist attraction and there are no organised trips to the Dargarh. There are no entrance charges, but visitors may add their contribution to a donation box if they so wish. The town is a four hour trip by car from Mumbai, via Pune. Alternatively, daily trains run between Mumbai and Pune and the most convenient way to get from Pune to Shivapur is by taxi. It is a half hour journey (about 30 km). The best time to visit is in the cooler months of November to February.
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