The deaths of great people have always been a mystery. People have immense interest in it and so the mass media never stops exploiting it. Even today the TV channels in western countries broadcast newer and newer stories about the death of John F Kennedy, President of America, who was assassinated on 22nd November 1963 – 50 years ago!

Even Lord Krishna’s death at the hands of a hunter, Lord Rama’s death in the river Sarayu, Buddha’s death after eating a special food given by a devoted host ,and Jesus’ death on the Cross raise the eyebrows of believers and non-believers alike. Even the death of the great exponent of Advaita philosophy Sri Adi Shankara is shrouded in mystery. His followers believe that he disappeared after climbing ‘Sarvagna Peetam’ or the mountains in Kedarnath. All these come very handy for the propaganda mill of non-believers and atheists.

Tamils also have such stories about the great saints who revived Saiva and Vaishnava faiths in Tamil Nadu after a brief spell of Jainism and Buddhism. There were four great saints Thiru Gnana Sambandhar, Appar alias Thirunavukarasar , Sudarar and Manikka Vasakar. Of the four great saints Sambandhar and Manikkavasakar became one with God by entering the fire (jyoti). Andal, the only woman in the great 12 Vaishnava saints known as the Alwars also did ‘merge’ with the god. Worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu (Saiva and Vaishnava followers) strongly believe that the saints became one with the god –the ever shining LIGHT and they celebrate such days as Guru Puja every year. Tiruppanalvar and Nandanar were others who also merged with God in the form of light/fire. Atheists in Tamil Nadu interpret it as fire accidents or arson attacks.

Vallalar became Light

If we go into the details of these anecdotes we come to know it happened not only to the saints but also to their followers. In the case of Sambandhar, he took with him a great number of people with him in to fire on the day of his wedding. Lord Rama also took a lot of people when he entered the river Sarayu. In the case of Manikka Vasakar, his devotees went first and merged with the light. Later he also joined them. The great four Saiva saints and 12 great Vaishnava saints of Tamil Nadu lived between 6th and 9th centuries AD.

Very recently another popular saint Vallalar alias Ramalinga Swamikal also became ‘light’ and disappeared. He entered his room on 30th January 1874 and asked his disciples not to open the doors. After rumours spread the Government forced the doors open in May that year and the room was empty without any trace of the saint. The Madras District Gazeteer published his disappearance. His devotees saw him in the form of Light.

Tamil woman burnt Madurai City

The greatest of the five Tamil epics is Cilappatikaram. This is purely a Tamil story- no import from Northern Indian or Sanskrit literature. Kovalan the son of a big merchant married Kannaki but fell in love with a dancer Madhavi. His chaste wife Kannaki waited for his return which he did after realising his mistake. This happened 1,800 years ago .When they decided to make a new beginning they moved to the Pandyan Kingdom from the Choza kingdom. The Pandya King of Madurai was misled by an evil goldsmith who accused Kovalan of stealing the queen’s anklet. The king executed Kovalan without proper enquiry. His chaste wife Kannaki who was compared to ancient Arundhati (Wife of Sage Vashista) by the author of Cilappatikaram, stormed into the palace and proved that the king was wrong. Both the King and the Queen died of heart attack the very same minute out of shock.

Enraged, Kannaki wanted to revenge for the great injustice done to her husband. She ripped off one of her breasts and threw it on the city of Madurai. The city burst in to flames. But she requested the god of fire ‘Agni Deva ‘not to harm the good people. The story was written in a moving style which will melt even the stoniest of hearts. Tamils believed that chaste women can burn bad people or bring showers to the parched lands (Ref. Couplet 55 in Tirukkural).

What is the truth behind all these mysterious deaths or disappearances? Millions of followers believe that it did really happen and they pay their respects on the day of their disappearance even today. We can find some explanations for such phenomena. One falls under the category of paranormal and it is called Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). Encyclopaedias explain this as a ‘fire caused death but without an external agent’. The fire was created from within the body. In many of the documented cases even the dress, the surrounding furniture of the victim had no trace of fire. Though there was no scientific proof for such Body Fire, the scientists who studied such cases were mystified.

There is scientific proof of people who can create electricity within their own bodies. They can light the bulbs or short circuit electrical systems wherever they go. Science has proof for people with magnetic powers and whatever objects made up of iron they touch, stick to them. But so far, there is no proof that for spontaneous combustion is the cause of such occurrences – it is such a rare phenomena.

Deepak Raga kindled Fire

We have one more popular anecdote where music created fire and burnt a person to death. Gopal Naik was a famous musician in the days the Moghul King Akbar. The king heard the mysterious powers of Ragas and he asked Gopal Naik to sing Raga Deepak which kindles fire. In spite of his insistence that he would be burnt to ashes if he sang the raga, Akbar suggested some preventive measures. He asked him to sing Deepak raga standing neck deep water in the river Jamuna. He obeyed king’s orders and was burnt to ashes as he sang the raaga in full spirit!

The second reason that we can think of is the effect of sound. For a Hindu who believes that the primordial sound, OM, is the basis of entire universe, nothing is implausible. Scientists knew the effect of wrong sound/noise that it can harm the buildings, break a glass and drive a man to madness. But it would take some more time for them to discover that sound can kindle fire – after all, sound acts on the same particles and matter as electromagnetic waves do. Light, microwave, x rays, infra red and ultra violet rays are all part of the same spectrum.