Maharashtra was the first State to introduce an anti-superstition law; so, on Monday when a self-styled godman conjured a necklace from thin air and gave it to Amruta Fadnavis, wife of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, it not only raised eyebrows but also generated much brouhaha.
Pictures and clips of Ms Fadnavis, seen seeking blessings from Guruvanand Swami at a function at a Pune-based management institute, went viral on Monday hours after the event.
Ms Fadnavis was in town to accept an award from the city-based Suryadatta Group of Institutes. The godman too was part of the awards ceremony as ‘chief guest’.
The clips show Ms Fadnavis seeking the godman’s blessings following her acceptance speech, when the latter, with an ostensible sleight-of-hand, conjures a gold necklace out of thin air and hands it over to the Chief Minister’s wife, astonishing and delighting the applauding audience.
“The Guruji is of my grandfather’s age and as befits our tradition, it was natural that I should go and seek blessings from him when he invited me to do the same. The necklace was already in his hands when he offered it to me. It was no trick,” Ms. Fadnavis clarified after the function.
Besides the embarrassment in the context of the Maharashtra anti-superstition law, the incident has also chagrined anti-superstition activists who are waging a battle against blind faith and fundamentalist sectarians in the wake of the recent murders of communist leader Govind Pansare and rationalist-scholar MM Kalburgi.
The murder of eminent rationalist-thinker Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013 compelled the Maharashtra government to pass the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act the same year, which later became the template for the Assam and Karnataka governments.
“It is incumbent upon the godman to answer whether the necklace was a conjuring trick or no. If so, the vigilance officer ought to immediately probe the matter as it is a crime under the Anti-Black Magic Act. The incident, if true, is especially embarrassing in a state whose anti-superstition legislation was the product of long years of tireless struggle against superstition,” said Hamid Dabholkar, son of the slain Dr Dabholkar.
The Delhi-born Guruvanand Swami, known by his moniker ‘Brahm Rishi’, is formidably qualified, with a BTech (Electronics) degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), a BSc degree in Physics, and an MA in Sanskrit, Vedas, Grammar and Astrology along with a doctorate in Astrology.
The godman, who keeps an ashram in Tirupati, has hobnobbed with other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders like MP Ananth Kumar in the past. A visit to the US last year drew a sizable crowd of his acolytes.
When contacted, event organisers denied knowledge of the incident. They said they were busy with the proceedings of the awards’ function.