A Kannada television channel telecast, in 2007, a sensational documentary on a Shiva temple (Halu Rameshwara) in Karnataka.
Located at Hosadurga in Chitradurga district, this nondescript temple has, according to the television anchor, a “Wishing-Well” from which miraculously pop up everyday articles and eatables such as banana, rice (including well-cooked curd-rice!), flowers, betel leaves, bangles, coconuts etc appropriate to the wishes made by the devotees. The anchor claimed that this miracle had been taking place for decades but nobody had been able to unravel the mystery behind it. A legend, I came to hear later, is that when the wife of one of the Mysore Maharajas did not beget a child even after years of wedlock, she visited the temple and performed a puja in the temple. At no time, a miniature replica of a cradle popped up from deep inside the well! Soon the Maharani gave birth to a baby!
The image on the left is the main temple, but the centre of attraction is the one behind, inside which the ‘wishing-well’ is located (image on the right)
Recently I got a chance to visit this temple. I was in Chitradurga as part of my official duty. As I have a passion for traveling, I make use of the evenings and holidays during my official tours to visit nearby tourist locations and historically important places. When I asked Pradeep, my colleague in our Chitradurga office, about the places of interest in and around the town, he first listed a series of well-trodden tourist locations such as Chitradurga fort (a magnificent structure indeed), Chandravalli caves, Jogimati Hill Station, etc. In addition, he also happened to mention, perhaps knowing my special interest in things called “miracles”, this temple at Hosadurga and its miraculous wishing-well. It was he who first told me about the television documentary. He also offered to take us (myself and Ravishankar, my colleague from Bangalore) to the temple. Seeing a golden chance to see a “miracle” in person, we grabbed the opportunity.
On 16 December 2007, a Saturday, we left Chitradurga in the early hours. Hosadurga, a small panchayat town, is only a three hour journey (by car) from here. When we reached Hosadurga, Balraj, our colleague, was waiting for us. Being a resident of Hosadurga and a very good host, he was to take us to the temple. After having a delicious breakfast at his house, we left the town.
Since all the three of my colleagues are persons with a religious bend of mind, they decided to visit first yet another prominent temple in the nearby village called Gavirangapura. The temple’s presiding deity is a tortoise (Kurma avatar of Maha Vishnu). This is one of the only two temples (in the whole of India) where the tortoise incarnationof Vishnu is worshipped, the other one being located somewhere in Andhra Pradesh.
Idols of Vishnu as Kurmavatar in Gavirangapura temple
Here, in this temple, a garish wall-painting done possibly by a local artist, attracted my attention. The painting is of a goddess and she is depicted with the body of a cow and the head of a woman. But in his enthusiasm to be a little realistic, the artist painted the woman with her breasts, forgetting in the meanwhile that the body of the cow was already shown with its udders – the beast now effectively has two sets of mammary glands
The goddess with two sets mammary glands!
We are side-tracking; it is now time for us to get back to our main topic – Halurameshwara and its Wishing-well. We left Gavirangapura at about 1.45 pm. We finished our lunch at a road-side restaurant (dhaba) at Hosadurga. When we reached Halurameshwara, it was about 4 O’clock in the evening. We could see a number of vehicles parked outside the temple compound. This temple attracts devotees from various parts of Karnataka, including Bangalore, if one goes by the number plates of the devotees’ vehicles. “Miracle” indeed is a flourishing business here!
The temple has two structures – the main and the bigger one at the entrance of the temple compound and the smaller one at the back. The wishing-well is inside the smaller structure. Except for two aged women and a temple priest, there was nobody in the main temple at the time of our visit. The centre of attraction undoubtedly was the wishing-well around which we could see a crowd of men and women – young and old – assembled. Everybody was waiting for their turn to witness and be part of the miracle.
To witness the miracle, one has to buy a coupon from the office and hand it over to the gatekeeper of the well. The coupons were numbered and the devotees would be called in serial order (unless, of course, you are a VIP) to offer the puja. Balraj bought a coupon for us and we waited for our turn. Since the crowd was reasonably big (though not a huge crowd), I decided to take a walk around the temple as it would take a minimum of one hour for our turn to come.
The well/pond inside the temple is connected to a tank outside. The water coming out of the temple was off-white in colour because of the offerings made to the idol. As part of the puja/offering, the priest breaks the coconuts brought by the devotees and the coconut milk is poured into the well. Pieces of coconut and bananas are also dropped in the well I could also notice a woman washing some dirty linen on the steps of the tank outside. As a result of all these, the water inside the tank also is off-white in colour. This whitish tinge of the water in this tank could possibly be the reason why the temple itself is called halu-rameshwara (Halu, in Kannada, is milk). After taking a walk around, I got back to the entrance of the temple. By now the crowd had become thinner and I could position myself (after a bit of jostling, of course) next to the door which would give me a reasonably good view of the happenings inside
The temple and the tank containing the water with a milky tinge
Apart from the light from the oil-lamps and the dim sun light seeping in through the door (there were no windows), there was no light inside. Because of this, the visibility inside the temple was poor. I could notice electric bulbs inside the temple, but they were either switched off or there was no current. The well (it is more like a small pond) is rectangular in shape. The source of water here is possibly a natural spring inside the well. A two to two and a half feet wide marble stone pavement is done on all four sides of the well. And the walls of the temple are built so close to the pavement that there is not enough space to move around the well freely. Nor is one permitted to do so. One has to climb down a few steps to reach the water level in the well. An idol is kept on a stone beam laid across the well. Flowers, bananas, betel leaves etc are also piled up on the beam next to the idol. A priest was sitting on the stone paving on the left. A man in his early twenties was standing in the water on the right.
A view of the wishing-well, the idol, and the prominent players involved
At present a new coupon number is being called and the owner of the coupon shoves his way to the temple. He hands over a coconut, a few ripe bananas and a bunch of flowers to the priest, who keeps the bananas and the flowers on the pavement on his left and then breaks the coconut smashing it on the pavement. The coconut milk and pieces of coconut fall into the well. The devotee is asked to perform a puja to the idol. He is then asked to sit on the pavement at the rear-right corner of the pond and pray for his wishes to be fulfilled. (In the meantime a new number is being called and the exercise is repeated). I was expecting that the article would pop up on its own from inside. I could observe nothing of those sorts. (Ravishankar, however, told me later that he did notice a single instance of a piece of banana popping up even when the water was left undisturbed for some time). Instead, the man standing in the pond stirs the water violently with his hand, searches for something, then picks up a torn betel leaf and a piece of crushed banana from somewhere in the pond and hands them over to the devotee. He also does not fail to interpret the “meaning” of the miraculous gift – the betel leaf is an indication that the all the wishes of the devotee would be fulfilled in the near future!
This exercise was repeated with a few more devotees, each one getting a betel leaf, flowers, or a piece of crushed (rotten) banana. None of them got a cradle or any other items which would unambiguously symbolize their wishes without the need of an interpreter. Perhaps, one needs to be part of a royal family for the divinity to come out with an unequivocal message! The entire drama was so irksome that I lost interest, yet I decided to wait for our turn to come.
A temple assistant gathers the ‘miracle’ gift to be handed over to the devotee
We decided that Balraj would offer the puja and I would be the one to accept the miraculous prasad. Our coupon number was called out, Balraj did the puja with all the required devotion, and I went to the rear side of the well to accept the prasad. But it seems we made a mistake. The gatekeeper boy announced that we would not be given the gift, as the denomination of the coupon we had bought was not sufficient for the gift to pop up! It was enough only to perform a mere puja. Unaware of the hike in tariff, Balraj had bought a coupon of lower denomination! I was getting a bit disappointed as I was about to lose a golden chance to observe the drama from close quarters. But Balraj, an seasoned marketing professional and a local heavyweight, was not the one to give up so easily. He asked me to wait and demanded the man, the prasad-picker: “Hey, look, we are local persons, get the prasad!” Realizing the futility of arguing with Balraj, he bends, stirs the water and, lo, picks up a fully peeled and crushed banana! Persistence pays! While handing over the banana, he did not forget to tell me to take that home and perform a puja to fulfill my wishes! This divine interpreter did not have a clue that my wish had just been fulfilled – a pseudo-miracle had just a moment ago got exposed!
Where is the “miracle”?
Try as I may, I could not see any miracle in the whole drama enacted in the temple. What I could see was a bunch of con-men swindling the unsuspecting (in fact, extremely credulous) devotees, who refused to use even an iota of their brain cells. Had these devotees asked themselves a few simple questions, they would not have fallen prey to these day-light robbers and wasted their time and money. Given the above narrative, any rational person would have asked:
1. Why did the omnipotent and omnipresent god decide to manifest himself/herself/itself through a miracle specifically at this place and nowhere else?
2. How authentic is the information related to the visit of the MysoreMaharani to this temple? Doest it belong to the category of an urban legend?
3. If one assumes that this information related to the Maharani’s visit is correct, one should ask: What made the temple deity to bring forth a miniature cradle for the queen, whereas the lay persons had to satisfy with flowers, betel leaves and rotten bananas? Why did the god have a preference for the Maharani over laypersons? Would it not have been a better and a convenient (for the Maharani at least) miracle, had a baby itself popped up from the well!?
4. Why did the person who picks up the prasad frequently stir up the water? Why did he not leave it alone?
5. Why did the god decide to bring up a banana for me, an unbeliever, after my friend Balraj demanded (almost threatened) to have one?
How to investigate this miracle?
To have a proper investigation of this “miracle” the cooperation of the temple authorities is a must, which is impossible to come by. Assuming that permission is granted, how should one go ahead?
1. Clean up the well and its surroundings thoroughly.
2. Find out the source of the water.
3. Prevent the temple authorities from coming near the well when a devotee performs the puja.
4. Do not allow the devotees to drop anything inside the well as part of their puja.
5. Allow the prasad to pop up on its own without any kind of interventions from the temple authorities, devotees, or anybody else.
After these precautions are taken, if a banana or a betel leaf still pops up, one can reasonably assume that a miracle does occur.
Rational explanation of the “miracle”
In the absence of an investigation as detailed above, the only rational explanation possible is this: the temple authorities are conning the devotees!
1. The temple authorities can dump whatever they want to inside the well before the devotees are given access to it.
2. It is also possible for the temple priest (who sits on the right side of the idol) to clandestinely drop bananas, betel leaves, flowers, etc into the well at regular intervals or whenever he wants to.
3. The articles kept next to the idol on the stone beam can also be dropped into the well unnoticed by the devotees.
4. The devotees themselves may be dropping some articles when they conduct the puja.
5. The articles thus dropped inside the well may pop up under pressure from the upward stream of the water spring inside the well.
6. The frequent stirring of the water also helps to bring forth the articles dumped in the well.
7. The man, who hands over the articles to the devotees, picks up the items not only from the reasonably visible part of the pond but even from the dark corners of the well, including from the surface of the water just below where the temple priest sits. This enables him to fool the devotees easily.
My experience in this temple only reinforces my conviction that there are no miracles in this world, only conmen and credulous devotees.