Was the Holy Kaaba Really Flooded during Meher Baba’s Entombment (Jan. 31st – Feb. 7th, 1969)?
“Legend” has it that unprecedented rain and floods prevented Muslim pilgrims’ access to Holy Kaaba at the time of Meher Baba’s seven-day Great Darshan, when his body lay in the crypt surrounded by flowers with only his face exposed, prior to interment in his Tomb-Shrine at Meherabad, February 1, 1969. Many Baba-lovers have taken this “miraculous” event as a symbolic sign of the transfer of world pilgrimage from Mecca — birthplace of Prophet Muhammad — to Meherabad. But in recent years the accuracy of this report has been questioned. Did it really happen?
Below is the account of this incident as reported in the Baba literature, followed by a fascinating article by Thomas Peterson, a meteorologist, to whom we must be grateful for researching this topic with such excellence. (For more info, see also Tony Zois’s Mecca page at Meher Baba Travels. See also Chris Ott’s illustrated blog post for excellent commentary.)
Bhau Kalchuri’s Lord Meher (20: 6740) reports:
According to one newspaper in Bombay dated February 11th, 1969, the headlines read Torrential Rains Flood Mecca Mosque for First Time in History. The following is the translated newspaper article:
“For the first time in history, flood waters have engulfed the grand mosque here and have risen to a height of two meters around the sacred Kaaba.
“The flood waters left behind a thick layer of mud on the marble flooring of the courtyards and the chambers of the mosque. For the past ten days, hundreds of Muslims have worked around the clock to restore the shrine to its original state. Mecca, situated on plains surrounded by hills, has been badly hit by torrential rains which have fallen on Saudi Arabia’s coastline over the past weeks.”
An interesting note added by an observer of the event was that coincidentally it took one week, from January 31st, 1969, to February 7th, 1969, to clear the flood waters from the Kaaba. This coincided exactly with Meher Baba’s seven-day entombment on Meherabad Hill.
The endnote to this page reads: “At this unique period in time, when Mecca in Saudi Arabia was deluged with heavy rains from January 31st to February 7th, 1969, Muslims could not make pilgrimage to the Kaaba for those seven days due to the floods. In the minds of Meher Baba’s mandali, such as Aloba, and many of Baba’s Muslim followers, this symbolized the transfer of world pilgrimage from Mecca to Meherabad.”
In The Ancient One, Eruch Jessawala is quoted as saying:
“There was a report in the newspapers that from January 31 to February 7, 1969, the period during which Baba’s body was laid out in the open crypt of the Tomb, the Muslim pilgrims who visited the holy city of Mecca on their haj [pilgrimage], were not able to make their customary round of the Kaaba, the sacred black stone supposedly given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel, because it was submerged in six and one-half feet of water. Such a thing had never happened, even once, during the last fourteen hundred years, and on learning this I felt that Meher Baba in His present Avataric form was signifying to all the followers of His advent that His present Tomb at Meherabad was now the Kaaba of the present age.”
by Thomas C. Peterson, Ph.D.
Copyright ©1997 by Thomas C. Peterson, Ph.D.* In 2012, Thomas Peterson reports that on rereading this 1997 article he still likes it, though his knowledge of climate and extreme events (the latter being a key focus of his research) has advanced over the intervening years. About a decade ago Tom became an atheist, so the statement about believing it was divine weather was accurate when he wrote it (and thus important to keep in) but no longer is. We appreciate his permission to reprint it for the interest of Meher Baba followers.
Over the course of human history, people have seen many weather events they attributed to divine action. One example is the typhoon that hit the Japanese coast in 1281, destroying the fleet of the invading Kublai Khan. The Japanese called it kamikaze, which translates as “divine wind.” Another famous example is the parting of the Red Sea. Movies depicting this event usually show Moses walking up to the shore and raising his staff causing the sea to instantly part. But the Bible states that “. . . the Lord took it [the water] away by a strong and burning wind blowing all the night, and turned it into dry ground” (Exodus 14:21). Using numerical simulations, a meteorologist and an oceanographer determined that in a shallow, long, narrow channel corresponding to the Gulf of Suez (the arm of the Red Sea that lies between Egypt and the Sinai), a 20 meter per second wind, equivalent to a moderate storm, blowing down the channel all night could cause a 2.5 meter drop in water level (Doron Nof and Nathan Paldor, 1992, “Are there oceanographic explanations for the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea?” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 73, pp. 305-14). This 2.5 meter drop is enough to create considerable dry land in the northern end of the Gulf of Suez with deep areas retaining water on both sides of the fleeing Israelites. Once the wind stopped, the water would return to its original depth very quickly.
Whether one considers these or other such incidents divine weather depends not only on one’s spiritual views, but also one’s affiliation with those involved in the event. For example, I wonder whether Kublai Khan believed that typhoon was a divine wind? The purpose of this article is to document a recent possible case of divine weather and put it into historical perspective. The event is the rain and flooding of Mecca during Meher Baba’s final illness. In keeping with the opening of this paragraph, let me start by freely indicating my biases: I believe that Meher Baba is the Avatar of our age and that the flooding in Mecca was not simply coincidental. While this event may be minor in the cosmic scheme of things, I decided I should document this incident now (1997) because … well, because I can. In documenting this I am using four sources of relevant information:
1. Knowledge of historical climatology of the region. I am a research meteorologist and my biggest project is compiling/creating a global historical climate data base which is used by scientists to put present climatology into historical perspective.
2. A 1979 letter from the office of the Saudi Arabian mission to the United Nations in response to an inquiry of mine about this event.
3. Specific knowledge about the meteorological factors operating that day. Two years ago at a meeting sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, I had the opportunity to get to know a Saudi meteorologist. He provided me with background information on the storm.
4. Information about the effects of the rain. In 1996, an information officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, through assistance from the Saudi Institute of Public Administration, provided me with three newspaper articles about the “Great Flood of Mecca.” These articles had datelines Mahalliyat (Riyad), al-Nadwa (Mecca), and Ukadh (Jedda) with all three dated 7 Dhu’l-Qa`dah 1388 (25 January 1969). I am very grateful to Carl Ernst of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for his translation of these articles from Arabic to English.
As we all know, Arabia is a desert. Conditions are present that inhibit the formation of rain clouds. Rain forms as moist air rises. As the air rises, the pressure decreases so the air expands. This expansion cools the air. When the air cools enough, water condenses and cloud droplets form. The condensation of water vapor into cloud droplets releases latent heat which warms the air slightly. If this heat makes the air in the cloud warmer than the air at the same level around the cloud, the air parcel will continue to rise, the cloud will grow, and may eventually rain. There are three common factors that cause the initial rising of the air: solar energy heating the ground during the day which warms low level air, low level air being push by the wind up against a mountain or against other low level air trapped near the base of the mountain, and air being lifted by the conditions in large-scale storm systems.
Just as rising air cools, sinking air warms. The Earth’s great deserts are in regions where there is large-scale slow sinking of air (air rising in tropical thunderstorms has to go down somewhere). As this air sinks, it warms enough that rising surface air, even with extra heat from condensation of water, remains colder than the sinking air surrounding the would-be cloud. This inhibits surface air from rising and therefore the formation of clouds and rain.
While there is little rain in Arabia, near surface air around the coasts can be quite humid. The surface water of the Red Sea is usually very warm and therefore evaporates a considerable amount of moisture. So the lack of rain is not due to lack of low level moisture but due to warm upper level air.
Topography of the region:
Mecca (or Makkah) lies about 30 km west of the al Hijaz mountain range that roughly parallels the Red Sea coastline. The mountains near Mecca rise up to more than 2,000 meters. The Red Sea is about 65 km away across the coastal plain. Since Mecca is so close to the mountains, heavy rains on the steep, rocky slopes would run off and flow downstream into Mecca very quickly.
Weather conditions during the storm:
Two key features combined to produce the storm. The first was an unusually strong intrusion of cold air aloft. Due to large-scale atmospheric waves, cold air at upper levels often moves south into the Middle East. This time the wave was stronger than usual and penetrated farther south, bringing cooler air above Mecca.
The second feature was strong, low-level winds moving across the Red Sea toward Mecca. These two features are undoubtedly related. The surface air was modified by the warm water of the Red Sea so it arrived warm and moist. I’m not sure of the exact direction of the low-level winds. My source indicated that where mountain-induced precipitation such as this falls in Saudi Arabia is highly dependent on the specific direction of the low level winds relative to the topography. Conditions this day were such that the low level winds pushed the moist air over the area around Mecca and directly against and up the mountains east of Mecca.
How much rain fell?
I was told that there were no rain gauges in Mecca in January 1969, so we can’t know exactly how much rain fell. But even if there were rain gages, they would most likely be in town where people live while the heaviest rains probably fell in the mountains. So we don’t know how much rain actually fell. The newspaper article said that “heavy” rains fell Wednesday, January 22, 1969, on Mecca, the city of Jedda, and the surrounding areas and that it rained very hard for several hours.
The letter from the Saudi Arabian mission to the United Nations erroneously dated the event in February 1969. This letter was a response to my inquiry asking if it was true that rain and floods prevented circumambulation of the Kaaba in February 1969. Since it was written a decade after the event, the Muslim calendar is different from the Julian calendar, and it was in direct response to a leading question (i.e., is it true that Mecca flooded in February 1969?), it is not unreasonable for the Chargé d’Affaires to miss the correct date by a few days.
The Great Flood of Mecca:
The effects of the rain on Mecca are well known. People lived through them and they documented them in the newspaper articles. Heavy rains fell and torrential floods surged into the holy shrine, destroyed a number of houses, and washed away a number of cars. The flooding caused a breakdown in communication and completely halted travel between Mecca and Jedda. A photograph with the articles showed a roofless house with a wall partially caved in and debris littered around it.
Pumps were used to remove water from the sacred shrine. The sanctuary then had to be cleaned of the mud and water that collected there. Circumambulation of the Kaaba could not take place during the flooding. One of the articles dated Saturday 25 January 1969 stated that pilgrims and residents were able to circumambulate the House of God “yesterday afternoon, but water remained in a number of places.” That would imply pilgrimages recommenced the Friday after Wednesday’s flooding. However, the same article mentions the efforts in the “past 36 hours” to cope with the flooding. This makes me think that the article was actually written Friday. If so, pilgrimages restarted Thursday afternoon. Either way, the point was clearly made that pilgrimages and circumambulation of the Kaaba were stopped for a while by the flooding.
Mecca had severe enough flooding to prevent circumambulation of the Kaaba. But, like the kamikaze, this does not mean that this divine weather is not without precedent. When examining meteorological records for Port Aden, Yemen, a colleague mentioned that he read an interesting confirmation of an unusually large rain amount in January 1903: the observer wrote a comment that the streets were awash and water was coming into his building. The point being that flooding in the Arabic Peninsula is rare, but it does happen from time to time.
The rain and flooding occurred Wednesday, January 22, 1969. Meher Baba died, or as we prefer to say, “dropped his body,” on January 31, 1969. When he was entombed shortly after that, the world had a new center of pilgrimage. I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the events that halted (temporarily) pilgrimage to and circumambulation of the Kaaba were related to the opening of this new site of pilgrimage. It should be made clear that, though one of the articles mentioned pilgrims, the Chargé d’Affaires indicated that the flood did not occur at the annual pilgrimage time, so it is not accurate to say that [Hajj] pilgrims were unable to circumambulate the Kaaba. Rather he indicated that it was people performing Umra or everyday circumambulation that were unable to do so for a short while. Therefore, this occurrence was not regarded as anything special by the Muslim world.
*Permission to reproduce this article in full or in part is freely given. However, if the article is significantly edited, please change the authorship from “by” Thomas Peterson to “based on a document by” Thomas Peterson. Also, if it is published, the author would appreciate seeing a copy of the publication. E-mail: tcp [at] bellsouth.net (posted July 6, 2012).