Question # 398: Is the “Levitating Stone – Shivapur, Maharashtra” true? If so, how it is possible? Because the dargah visitors consider it to be a miracle and an excuse to believe in the Sufi Saints, in this case, Qamar Ali Durvesh.
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: The Shrine of Qamar Ali Durvesh, a Sufi Saint in Shivapur (India), features an ancient stone that reportedly weighs 198lbs (90kg). Lifting this stone off the ground would normally require a lot of strength, but according to believers in the Levitating Stone miracle, it’s possible for eleven men (not more or less) to lift it up over their heads with only their index fingers, but only after shouting Qamar Ali Durvesh’s name in unison. Although there are many who believe this to be a true miracle, but to skeptics, it’s nothing more than a gimmick to scam money out of tourists and naive religious people. An eyewitness, who visited the shrine in 1984, claims that he was one of the eleven men who attempted to lift it and saw the others using their palms and applying considerable force. As for him, he could not even pronounce the saint’s name and he did only touch the stone lightly for few moments; in effect, the act was performed only by ten men. According to him, there was no levitation, but rather lifting.
In fact, the “Finger Lift” is a fairly common party trick. In fact, the truth of the matter is that the feat is based on the following three premises:
- Timing: The timing is very precise as the Saint’s name is chanted in unison. The purpose of the chanting is not to Unleash the Power Within — it’s really to synchronize the potential lifters into one single lifting unit. Consequently, all are lifting at exactly the same time.
- Weight distribution: Our fingers are pretty strong; think of carrying super-heavy plastic grocery bags. When all the 11 men lift as one, they are lifting only about 18lbs apiece, and it’s not at all hard especially when the object is stiff like stone.
- Fallible human memory: Thinking of it as mystical power gives the lifter an ability to lift the object into the air; consequently, the levitation gets higher, the object feels lighter and the whole ordeal feels spookier.
Also please refer to Question # 17: Visiting dargah (Grave Worship – Element of Shirk)
Long Answer: To start with, after understanding the history behind the levitating stone, we will examine the issue from two perspectives, firstly, the claim of an eyewitness and secondly, the associated science behind the myth.
History of the Levitating Stone
Every day, hundreds of tourists and devotees visit a shrine in Shivapur, a small village about 180 km east of Mumbai, in India, to witness a controversial “miracle” known as the Levitating Stone of Shivapur.
The Shrine of Qamar Ali Durvesh, a Muslim Sufi Saint who lived about 700 years ago, features an ancient stone that reportedly weighs 154lbs (90kg). Lifting this stone off the ground would normally require a lot of strength, but according to believers in the Levitating Stone miracle, it’s possible for a set number of men to lift it up over their heads with only their index fingers, but only after shouting Qamar Ali Durvesh’s name. This phenomenon has fascinated Indian Muslims for centuries, but many believe it’s nothing more than a gimmick.
The Levitating Stone of Shivapur is closely tied to Sufi Qamar Ali Durvesh. [According to sources,] he was born in a family of middle-class Muslims whose men were very proud of their physical strength and spent most of their time training in a gymnasium. Qamar Ali was different from the other men in his family. He became a disciple of a Sufi Pir (great teacher) who lived near his home when he was only 6-years-old, and spent most of his time meditating and fasting. Legend has it that Qamar Ali was a compassionate boy who attracted devotees with his magical healing powers, but he was always mocked by the other boys, because he was never interested in physical activities. He died in his late years, but legend has it that as he lay on his death bed, the Sufi saint cursed one of the heavy stones that local men used for training in order to prove that spiritual power was greater than brute strength. He requested that the stone be placed near his grave and reportedly said: “If eleven men place their right index fingers under the stone and then jointly call my name, I will cause it to rise higher than their heads. Otherwise, neither by themselves nor together will they be able to move it more than two feet off the ground.”
The Levitating Stone at the Shrine of Qamar Ali Durvesh, in Shivapur, is apparently the same one he cursed over 700 years ago, and men here have been using his formula to perform the “miracle” of lifting it over their heads with only their index fingers. Devotees say that the task can only be performed by 11 men, and only after shouting Qamar Ali’s name in unison. Because the Sufi Saint was a celibate and in deference to his chastity, women are not allowed to perform this feat or even touch the stone.
There are many who believe that the Levitating Stone of Shivapur is a true miracle and a testament to the powers of Qamar Ali Durvesh, but to skeptics, it’s nothing more than a gimmick to scam money out of tourists and naive religious people.
Although some photos and videos show the 11 men using their index fingers to lift the heavy stone off the ground, William Wolfe [an ESL / TESOL educator], who visited Shivapur in 1984, claims that he was one of the 11 men who attempted to lift it and saw the others using their palms and applying considerable force.
“I was one of the 11, and I was unable to pronounce his name, and in fact said nothing. This means that only 10 men were trying, not 11,” Wolfe wrote on Quora. “I also only lightly touched the stone with my right index finger and did this for just a moment, but I carefully observed the other 10 men. They put their entire hand under the stone and applied a considerable force. I could see their biceps flexing. I only touched it for a few moments because they lifted it rapidly with the force that they were applying. There was no levitation, but rather lifting.” (//www.quora.com/Is-the-Levitating-Stone-Shivapur-Maharashtra-true-and-has-any-one-witnessed-this)
He is certainly not the only one to contest this “miracle”, but the general skepticism doesn’t seem to have affected the popularity of the Levitating Stone one bit. Hundreds of people still flock to Shivapur to witness this [so-called] “magical” feat with their own eyes. (//www.odditycentral.com/travel/the-levitating-stone-of-shivapur-a-controversial-miracle.html)
Solving the Mystery
The “Finger Lift” is a fairly common party trick. It’s used by primary school kids doing sleepovers, high-school students trying to impress each other, and many people trying to push a spiritual barrow. The Finger Lift also goes under the name of “Stiff As a Board, Light As a Feather”.
The subject/[object] [is] seated in a chair, or on a table, or lying down on the floor. Then [a number of people] gather around, and are told to try to lift the subject/[object] using either just one single finger, or your two index fingers joined into a single lifting unit from two clenched hands. As [one] would expect, [they] couldn’t lift [it] (either with a single finger, or with two fingers joined together). Then, the magic began. First, [they] were told to chant a song, or rub your own two hands together, or to pile all …hands of the potential lifters one at a time on top of the head of the subject/[object], or to press on their shoulders — or something. It didn’t matter exactly what it is — there is always some kind of silly ritual that didn’t seem to make any sense.
Then [the people are] instructed to count to some number, or to chant a song [or shouting the Saint’s name, in the question under consideration], and then at a certain point, to try to lift. And then — lo and behold — your fingers acquired magical strength and [they] could lift the subject/[object] effortlessly into the air.
Here’s what’s really going on: good timing, weight distribution and fallible [human] memory.
- Timing: In the first [failed] attempt to lift the subject/[object], everyone is lifting their fingers at different times, so all are trying to lift the subject/[object]’s entire weight by himself at each moment. In the second attempt, because of the timed chanting and ritual, all are lifting at the exact same time.
Dr. Karl says “There are lots of videos of this Finger Lift on YouTube. One of them claims that “it’s an old Romanian trick”, while others have Chinese or Africans doing it. But they all have the timing in common. For the first doomed attempt to lift the subject/[object], there was no effort to get everybody to do the lift at the same instant. In fact, there was deliberate vague misdirection, along the lines of “so go ahead try to lift”. And in all of the videos on YouTube, you can see that the lifters are very much out of time with each other. That means that for the brief instant each person is trying to lift the subject/[object] by themselves, they are fruitlessly trying to lift the entire 50–80kg weight of the subject/[object] on one (or two) fingers. But for the second successful attempt, the timing is very precise. The purpose of the chanting of the numbers/ [name], or the prayer, or song is not to Unleash the Power Within — it’s really to synchronize the potential lifters into one single lifting unit.”
- Weight distribution: When …all [of the 11 men in our case] lift as one, they are lifting only about 18lbs apiece. Think about when one is trying to carry super-heavy plastic grocery bags and don’t want to make a second trip from the car. Our fingers are pretty strong! Take [eleven] people doing this at the exact same moment, and it’s not that hard to lift someone with your fingers, especially if the subject/[object] is holding her body “stiff as a board” [and stone in our case]. Louis Cyr, the old-time French-Canadian strongman (1863–1912) could lift 553lb (250.2kg) with a single finger (his right middle). The old-time American strongman of the early 1900s, Warren Lincoln Travis, lifted 560lb (254kg) on his 50th birthday with a single finger.
- Fallible [human] memory: So many of us did this as children, our memories start to play tricks on us. The levitation gets higher, the subject/[object] feels lighter and the whole ordeal feels spookier. Dr. Karl says “Every person who has described this to me has described the strange mystical power that gave them the ability to not only lift the subject/[object] into the air, but also, to effortlessly hold them there. But every time I have seen it done, the lifters just barely lifted the subject/[object], and could not hold them there, and in fact, almost dropped them in their haste to get them down to the ground again. And that is what you will see on YouTube.”
(The last section is based on the following internet resources:
- Article ‘Lift that finger’ by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Great Moments in Science – ABC Science, Published 27 May 2008 (//www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/27/2257305.htm)
- Has ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ ever worked? by Debra Ronca, Published 20 October 2014 (//science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/has-light-as-feather-stiff-as-board-ever-worked.htm)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.