The Mohammedan Fire walker witnessed by Mgr. Despatures, the Catholic bishop of Mysore in India
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Friar Herbert Thurston - The Physical Phenomenon of Mysticism
The Fire Walk of which we read in M. Leroy's pages took place at Mysore, a native State in southern India about 250 miles from Madras. All this took place, in 1921 or 1922, in the park of the Maharajah's summer palace.
The account is contained in a letter sent him by Mgr. Despatures, the Catholic bishop of Mysore, who was himself an eye-witness. He had received beforehand a formal invitation from the Maharajah requesting the pleasure of his company, as if to a concert or a luncheon party, and with the view of fostering the excellent relations which existed between the sovereign and his Catholic subjects, the bishop accepted.
The ceremony was fixed for six p.m., but Mgr. Despatures, suspicious of possible imposture, was there in good time and went to examine the preparations beforehand. He found that a shallow trench had been dug about a foot deep, some thirteen feet in length and a little more than six feet in width. This had been filled to a depth of about nine inches with red-wood charcoal. There was no question, he tells us, about the genuineness of the fire; the heat which exhaled from it was stifling. Close by was standing a Mohammedan from the north of India who was the hero of the occasion; but the bishop points out that the man had had nothing to do with the preparation of the fire-pit.
The Maharajah, who was also suspicious of trickery, had seen to this himself. Incidentally, one gathers, not without surprise, that no religious significance attached to the rite in the minds at least of the more educated natives; it seems to have been for them, as for the European guests, simply a curious spectacle, like the performance of a conjurer. At the hour appointed the Maharajah with his family and suite arrived in state, and took up a position about twenty-five yards from the trench, a fact in itself significant of the heat evolved. After which the letter proceeds:
Letter sent to M. Leroy by Mgr. Despatures, the Catholic bishop of Mysore
The Mohammedan, according to Indian usage, came and prostrated himself before the sovereign and then went straight to the furnace.
I thought that the man was going to enter the fire himself, but I was mistaken. He remained about a yard from the brink, and called upon one of the palace servants to step into the brazier. Having beckoned to him to come forward, he made an appeal into which he seemed to put all his powers of persuasion, but the man never stirred. In the meanwhile, however, the Mohammedan had drawn closer to him, and then unexpectedly taking him by the shoulders he pushed him into the little lake of glowing ashes. For the first moment or two the Indian struggled to get out of the fire; then suddenly the look of terror on his face gave place to an astonished smile, and he proceeded to cross the trench lengthwise, without haste and as if he were taking a constitutional, beaming contentedly upon those who were standing round on either side of him. His feet and legs were perfectly bare.
When he got out, his fellow servants crowded round him to ask what it felt like. His explanations must have been satisfactory, for one, two, five, and then ten of the palace household plunged into the trench. After this it was the turn of the bandsmen of the Maharajah’s band, several of whom were Christians. They marched into the fire three by three. At this juncture several cartloads of dried palm-leaves were brought down and thrown upon the embers. They blazed up at once, breaking into tongues of flame higher than a man’s head. The Mohammedan induced others of the palace servants to pass through the flames and they did it without taking harm. The bandsmen went through a second time, carrying their instruments in their hands and with their sheets of music on top.
I noticed that the flames which rose to lick their faces bellied out round the different parts of the instruments and only flickered round the sheets of music without setting them on fire. There must, I think, have been two hundred people who passed over the embers, and a hundred who went right through the middle of the flames. Beside me were standing two Englishmen, the head of the Maharajah's police force (a Catholic), and a civil engineer. They went to ask the royal permission to try the experiment themselves. The Maharajah told them that they might do it on their own responsibility. Then they turned to the Mohammedan and he motioned to them to go forward. They crossed without any sign of burning.
When they came back into my neighbourhood, I asked them what they thought of it. "Well," they said, "we felt we were in a furnace, but the fire did not burn us." When the Maharajah stood up to mark the close of the proceedings, the Mohammedan, who was still standing close to the trench, fell writhing upon the ground, as if in an agony of pain. He asked for water; they brought it and he drank greedily.
A Brahmin who stood near me remarked: "He has taken upon himself the burning of the fire."…
I was in full possession of my faculties. I went round the trench before the proceedings began; I went back to it again after all was over; I spoke with those who passed through the fire, and I even said a Hail Mary or two with the view of arresting any exhibition of diabolic power. ... It was beyond doubt a real burning fire which consumed the charcoal and sent up in flames the cartloads of palm leaves that were thrown upon it, but it was a fire which had lost its power of injuring those who crossed it and all that they took with them. . . . How can we account for it all? I do not think that any material cause can explain it. No expedient, at any rate, had been employed to produce such an effect. I am forced to believe in the influence of some spiritual agency which is not God.
(SIGNED) M. DESPATURES, BISHOP OF MYSORE