Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku questioned the weeping statue and fights against Indian superstition
Updated: Aug 9
Interview: MIIKA AUVINEN Photos: ESKO JÄMSÄ
Sanal Edamaruku is known all over India as an opponent of superstition and an advocate of religious freedom. Edamaruku's colleagues have been killed by extremist religious radicals. Due to the threat of violence, Edamaruku now lives in Finland.
Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku is a well-known public figure on TV in India. There are videos on YouTube where he and his group tour India, reproducing miracles and showing that there is a logical explanation for them.
Today, Edamaruku lives in Helsinki. He runs a publishing house that publishes basic works of thought and scientific classics. He also runs Rationalist International from Finland. The aim of the organization is to promote rational thinking and the secularization of society and decision-making.
In the Gurubusters documentary from the 90s, Edamaruku and his partners conjure holy ashes from scratch and ignite flames by soaking the paper in water. The rationalist comrades of Edamaruku also push needles through their cheeks and bury their heads in the sand to expose the miracles of the gurus.
- A guru once said on TV that he could kill people with his spells. "I let him try to kill meon live TV", Edamaruku says.
WHILE CONSTITUTIONALLY INDIA IS A SECULAR STATE, GURUS, HOLY MEN AND ASTROLOGY HAVE A GREAT SOCIAL IMPACT.
A video of the guru’s attempt to take Edamaruku’s life with mantras can be found on YouTube.
Edamaruku has a clear goal in his activism.
- I want people to be sure of themselves, to stand on their own feet without fear, Edamaruku says.
- There is nothing wrong if someone wants to practice spirituality. In India, however, holy men do not always act on the basis of empathy. They want to make money. I appreciate any action done on the basis of empathy. In a world of superstition, empathy has no place, Edamaruku continues.
Originally, Edamaruku arrived in Finland with a return ticket. Two rationalists, Narendra Dabholkar and Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, were shot on the street in India shortly after Edamaruku arrived in Finland. At that time, he canceled his return to India.
- If I return to India, I may be a victim of similar violence myself. There are religious radicals everywhere in India, Edamaruku says.
Politics and influential gurus
India is officially a secular state with no state religion. About 80 percent of the country’s population is Hindu, and there are also a significant number of Christians and Muslims. Many religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism were born in India.
There is a big difference in attitudes towards spirituality between Finland and India. Edamaruku says that Finland is a kind of oasis of religious freedom and freedom of conscience in the world.
- Although India is a secular state according to the Constitution, gurus, holy men and astrology have a great social impact. People are afraid of witchcraft and seek help from healers for their health problems. They cannot always decide the direction of their lives themselves. Finland has genuine religious freedom, and no one is persecuted, Edamaruku describes.
Edamaruku has many examples of excesses, such as gurus who grabbed wealth and the superstitions connected with politicians. According to him, India’s pride, a well-begun space program, is also associated with superstition.
- The Indian Space Agency makes scale models of spaceships that are blessed in temples. In addition to this, astrologers calculate the optimal days for launches, Edamaruku says.
A topical example of the significance of superstition is that in India, some gurus claim to have a solution to the corona epidemic. Baba Ramdev, for example, had his own brand, which he said would be a cure for Coronavirus. However, authorities soon intervened and stopped marketing the stuff promised to provide security from the pandemic.
- There is genuine religious freedom and freedom of conscience in Finland, and no one is persecuted, Sanal Edamaruku says.
"I would not accept that I have to live in hiding in my homeland."
A crying Jesus statue attracted public and media attention in Mumbai in 2012. Sanal Edamaruku was asked to look at the miracle - perhaps they thought a famous skeptic would embarrass himself in a live broadcast without any explanation. For example, sensational press had previously called the crying statue a miracle.
The source of the miracle was a blocked sewer line. Due to capillary action, the water had risen along the pipes out of the blocked sewer and passed along the wall, eventually causing the statue to “shed tears”.
Edamaruku waited until the discussion part of the TV program to share his findings. A war of words followed on live TV. According to Bishop Agnelo Gracias, a representative of the Catholic Church in the debate, Edamaruku's claim about the superstition of the Catholic Church was not true, as the weeping statue had not been officially declared as a Miracle.
THE INDIAN SPACE AGENCY MAKES SCALE MODELS OF SPACESHIPS THAT ARE BLESSED IN TEMPLES.
After the exchange, Edamaruku was accused of blasphemy against the Catholic faith by hurting religious sentiments. The debate was very heated, for example, arguing about cases of exorcism, the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini, and how the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno in Rovio in 1600. The debate can be found on Youtube, though is abridged.
Edamaruku arrived in Finland because of the blasphemy charges: he would have merely imprisoned in India during the investigation. He had plans to return to India, but the murders of other rationalists made him stay in Finland. Edamaruku has a residence permit and livelihood in Finland. So he did not apply for asylum.
Edamaruku has been offered the opportunity to return to India. However, this would mean apologizing to the Catholic church or hiding from hostile parties.
- I would not like to live in hiding in my own country. I have strong convictions and clear opinions. I want to give speeches and appear on TV without harassment. I don't want to be intentionally killed.