In the beginning was the Rodent, and the World was with Him, and the World was Him — Dinkaluiah! Masha’Dinka! Dinkaya Namaha!

Welcome to the Gospel of Dinkan, the Almighty Mouse. The Ultimate Fighter. The Saviour. The Omnipotent Supreme Being. The God of All Gods.

Dinkoism, the religion that worships Dinkan the Mouse, is now making waves across (where else!) God’s Own Country, Kerala, inspiring awe, amusement and agitation — though not necessarily in that order. This is not your run-of-the-mill religion.

As a follower, aka Dinkoist, says, it is perhaps the only religion in the country that elicits fun in the faithful and fear among the rest. It is a spoof religion. There are already a dozen dedicated Facebook pages and several Twitter handles. One of the pages boasts nearly 50,000 followers spread across the globe. And the number is soaring, thanks to ‘devotees’, including atheists, agnostics and liberal believers who see Dinkoism as a critique of traditional religions. Clearly, the spectre of the red chaddi-clad rodent is haunting many for the right reasons.

Who is Dinkan?

To the uninitiated, Dinkan, before being anointed the Supreme Being, was a comic superhero immensely popular among children in Kerala during the 1980s and 1990s. The Dinkan stories — similar to those featuring the Mighty Mouse in the US from the 1940s to the 1960s — were serialised in the children’s magazine Balamangalam (now Holy Balamangalam to Dinkoists), owned by the Kottayam-based Mangalam Publications. “It was a sensational hit during those times,” recalls N Somasekharan, who created the cute gnawer in 1983. The comic was drawn by artist Baby.

Somasekharan and Baby set Dinkan’s story in the fictional Pankila forest — the Holy Land for Dinkoists — where animals in distress get instant help from their saviour mouse with magical powers. “I was an atheist in those days,” says Somasekharan, whose creation ended up becoming an atheist mascot. “But I soon got influenced by the writings of Swami Vivekananda.” He now divides his time between spiritual activities and charity work. Balamangalam shut shop in October 2012, leaving Dinkan — which had already been picked up by social media and bloggers — as a counter-god to lampoon established deities.

“The fun is that there is no process. Everyone is welcome to Dinkoism. There is no authority. No certificate is issued,” says 23-year-old Jithin Mohandas, a blogger and atheist based in Chengannur, south Kerala, who actively campaigns for Dinkoism. Perhaps it is the world’s first crowdsourced religion in the real sense of the word.

There is no question of conversion, so obviously no ghar vapsi either. And by being a counter-religion rooted in agnostic traditions, Dinkoism goes a step above atheism as well,” quips a Dinkoist who teaches journalism at a north Kerala college.

To the ‘devotees’, Dinkan is farcically serious business — humour, said Groucho Marx, is reason gone mad. “Dinkan is the Ultimate Answer, and we will never let anyone pooh-pooh our lord,” says a Dinkoist who works with an IT consultancy firm in Bengaluru. “The public at large should understand that, like the faithful of other religions that spread terror and chaos across the globe, we too get offended if our Lord is belittled or denigrated,” he mocks. “But violence is not our way. Lord Dinkan does not endorse violent ways to defend Dinkoism.”

Mocking in style

Dinkoists have made hilarious copies of practices from most religions. Apart from the Holy Book Balamangalam, they reverently call tapioca (kappa), the favourite food of the Rodent God, the Holy Root, and try to propagate the religion whenever they get a chance. In fact, their (mock) protests against Professor Dinkan, a Malayalam film starring popular hero Dileep, helped the religion hog the headlines in January this year. Claiming their ‘sentiments’ were hurt as the film was named after their Lord, a group called Mooshika Sena (the Rat’s Army) marched to Dhe Puttu, a restaurant in Kochi which serves the classical Kerala breakfast of steam cake, owned by Dileep. “At the end of their protest, the agitators marked their concerns by eating lavishly from the restaurant,” guffaws Mohandas.

On February 28, Dinkoists held a faith healing camp in Kochi at which several ‘devotees’ who ‘complained’ of myriad ailments were “healed” by Dinkoist ‘evangelists’, sparking off protests from several religious groups, especially Christians.

They took on the Dinkoists on social media earnestly, only to be countered by fans of the spoof religion, who said the event acted as a mirror to their beliefs and practices.

In March, the parody religion made headlines again when Dinkoists held a ‘Grand Gathering of Dinkoists’ at the famous Mananchira Square at Kozhikode in north Kerala. The event was attended by a decent crowd of academics, writers, bloggers, professionals and journalists. The gathering was criticised by hardline Muslims and Hindus alike. While Muslim groups raised objections to the ‘Stoning the Jackfruit’ ceremony at the event (an obvious parody of the Stoning of the Devil during Hajj), several Hindu believers took offence to the depiction of a mouse as god, which they felt was a mockery of the likes of Hanuman and Lord Ganesha.

Hitting the bullseye

Dinkoism turns the ‘burden of proof’ concept on its head, says 23-year-old Mohandas. He and an army of dedicated non-believers and liberals defend Dinkoism on social media forums such as the Free Thinkers Group, where intense verbal battles are fought around religious beliefs. “Usually when someone says he believes in God, it is his responsibility to prove the existence of God,” he says. “But in our society the burden of proof lies with the others to prove that God doesn’t exist.” The theory of Dinkan dramatically reverses this idea to expose the fallacy in such arguments. So, what is the difference between Ganesha and Dinkan? asks Mohandas. “Both are Gods. Dinkan, of course, arrived on the scene late, even though he ‘existed’ several million years before Ganesha did,” he beams.

It seems the strategy is working. “Dinkoism shows me how hollow and ridiculous some of my religious practices are,” says a 34-year-old executive from Thrissur who works with an MNC in Abu Dhabi. A practising Hindu, she says, “For instance, I had never seen Lord Ganesha as an impossibility. But Dinkoism makes you see how ridiculous the concept of a God with an elephant’s head and a human body is.” She says a spoof religion is, perhaps, “the need of the hour.”

Says Sanal Edamaruku, editor of the internet publication Rationalist International, who now lives in exile in Finland, “To expose the absurdities of religion, polemic and humour are effective weapons.” He points out that there are more than a hundred parody religions across the world. These facilitate a lighter, more creative atmosphere while raising serious social and philosophical questions on religion and debunk the absurdities of religious faith. “It is a welcome strategy,” feels Edamaruku.

“Dinkoism can be a breakthrough moment in the history of religious criticism,” notes C Ravichandran, writer and rationalist thinker. Dinkan’s popularity leaves tremendous room for critique of religion, which was not possible a few years ago, despite the fact that rationalist movements have been active in this part of the world for several decades. “There is definitely more to the Dinkoist movement. Maybe, its roots are in the enlightenment process of the past,” notes Sreehari Sreedharan, an IT professional and commentator.

A new wave

“We must look at Dinkoism from a global perspective,” says Dr C Viswanathan, a Kozhikode-based orthopaedic surgeon and atheist scholar. Globally, new atheism has given rationalist movements a fillip thanks to the works and activities of the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Donnet. Now science-based living, reasoning and rational thoughts enjoy unprecedented acceptance globally, he notes. Dinkoism has its roots in the new discourse on religion that came up after 9/11, says Viswanathan, adding that the attacks did to religion what the atomic attack on Japan did to nuclear weapons. It changed the discourse dramatically. “Religious extremism became part of the popular discourse. Critique of religious extremism is seen as critiquing religion itself. Most thinking people have realised how dangerous the idea of religion can be.”

That’s where Dinkoism becomes relevant, in exposing the fallacies of religion, explains Shiju Joseph, psychologist and social commentator in Thiruvananthapuram. When a Dinkoist quotes his Holy Book, even “citing” the line and para, it puts a believer in a quandary, forcing him to re-examine his fascination towards holy literature, he notes.

According to him, Dinkan delivers a double whammy to believers of established religions. First off, it makes them squirm at the thought of Dinkoists imitating (mockingly) practices they have revered.

Second, Joseph explains, they realise that Dinkan is a better God as he calls for eternal pacifism and compassion (Dinkoism “says” the herd should never make conversions a mission and never discourage those who leave the clan, instead love them even more so that they will regret and return.)

Spoof, according to Joseph, is a simple, light-weight yet powerful mode of communication. “To put it simply, the human brain always looks for simpler efforts to explain and understand things to save its energy.” Also, the fact that Dinkan is a very childish hero makes his selection even more important. “Sigmund Freud said religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis,” says Joseph. “So Dinkan, the kid-comic hero helps express the very idea that religion is an expression of illogical childhood fantasies.”

Getting serious?

But some fear that at least a few followers of Dinkoism take it too seriously, ignoring its progressively parodic character. There are chances that this could become just another religion, given the way some people are promoting it, cautions an IT executive from Bangalore who calls himself a Dinkan sceptic.

Edamaruku says one should be careful lest the gullible section of the society takes the humour seriously and starts believing it. In the US, some parody religions have serious followers who believe that these jokes are spiritually significant.

“That’s my worry too,” says the Abu Dhabi-based executive. “I already see some such souls around me. Dinkan help them!”