IIT-Madras was witness to many an exposition on Wednesday.

Armed with pieces of camphor, bottles of kerosene, currency and gold rings, popular rationalist Narendra Nayak waged a war against the ‘miracles’ that many ‘godmen’ claim to perform.

“A swami in Mysore would use a crystal and from the colours it showed, predict the illnesses of his devotees. He was later arrested for swindling money. In India, you need to be either a politician of a godman to make money,” he said.

Mr. Nayak said he was not against people practising religion but against the use of it to promote superstitions.

Every miracle is just a simple trick — be it producing currency notes, vibhuti or even jewellery from thin air, he said.

“These items are often hidden among fingers,” he said, unravelling a Rs. 100 note slowly, with a wave of hands, even as the audience watched fixatedly.

There was more to come. With a group of IIT-Madras students, all volunteers, he demonstrated the bhoothakula ritual that often takes place in coastal Karnataka.

“Many women there have burnt palms. Whenever someone thinks a woman’s behaviour has changed, she is made to undergo a ritual wherein a piece of camphor is burnt either on the tongue or on the palm. If the tongue or palm burns, it is believed she has mental illness. If it does not, they think she is possessed by a spirit that is protecting her,” he said, lighting a piece of camphor on a couple of students, and then on his own palm.

“Camphor directly goes into vapour state from solid. It sublimates and has a low flash point, and the heat is at the top. In fact, it hardly burns when placed on the tongue, because of the presence of saliva,” he said.

Mr. Nayak, over the years, has travelled to many villages and towns across the world to debunk superstitions and expose ‘godmen’ who exploit people.

The 61-year-old doctor from Mangalore is also the national president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations.

As the largest scientific manpower on earth, are we doing enough to reach out to people, he asked the gathered students. He screened several videos of heads of scientific organisations across the country praising the power of gurus and ‘godmen’.

“I am a humanist who believes all humans are equal, irrespective of caste, creed, race or anything. We must know the one-point agenda of many of these gurus is just to prove they are superior than us,” he said.

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