Previous chapter: Materializations
The events in this chapter differ from those of the previous chapter in one respect: the ones in the former chapter were `staged' in the sense that they were part of a religious ritual, whereas the latter appear to be `spontaneous' in that they happened in normal circumstances. To the person innocent of magic, this latter fact gives added credibility to the event, because this person doesn't see any elaborate preparation going into them. But, as any student of magic knows, just because the spectator doesn't see any preparation by the magician or psychic does not mean that there was none. If the reader wishes to learn more about this, she can consult James Randi's The Truth About Uri Geller, or Uriah Fuller's Confessions of a Psychic and Further Confessions of a Psychic.
Also, normally a psychic who specializes in these `spontaneous' productions has a ready excuse when confronted by a skeptic demanding replication of the event under controlled conditions: He can say, among other things, that the event was as much a surprise to him as to everyone else, and he cannot just reproduce it on command. Or he can maintain that the `artificiality of the lab' is not conducive to psi powers; they happen in the normal course of events, not in the lab. However, neither excuse is open to Sai Baba, who claims to be omnipotent. If so, he could produce them anywhere! But Sai Baba has other excuses:
How can science which is bound to a physical and materialist outlook investigate transcendental phenomena beyond its scope, reach or comprehension? This is a fallacy on the face of it. One belongs to the material and the other to a spiritual plane. Science must confine its inquiry only to things belonging to the human senses, while spiritualism transcends the senses. If you want to understand the nature of spiritual power you can do so only through the path of spirituality and not science. What science has been able to unravel is merely a fraction of the cosmic phenomena; it tends, however, to exaggerate its contribution...
As I have said before, Dr. Narasimhiah and his group are like the Telugu men who to the cinema to see a Tamil film. They will see only the dancing, the fighting and violence, the heroes and villains, the star with a beautiful face and these kinds of superficial things, but they will lose the subtler aspects such as the music and the poetry, the plot, the dialogue, the jokes and the like.
However as I have said again and again, those who want to understand me are welcome here. It is the spirit of the investigation that is important. Foreign parapsychologists have come here and examined me in such a positive and constructive spirit. You have seen their reports. They do not write letters or make public demands.
Narasimhiah's approach was improper; that is why I rejected it. If it were not so, he would have been welcome.
Sai Baba, Interview with Karanjia, reprinted in Sandweiss, Spirit And Mind, pp. 252, 253.
The foreign parapsychologists and their reports referred to by Sai Baba would be Dr. Haraldsson and Dr. Osis, and the reports of their visits issued by them. Here is Haraldsson's report on Sai Baba's position:
Baba went into a spirited discourse, aimed at us, attacking scientists. He said that scientists could not understand the spiritual, and he insisted that the spiritual starts where science ends. We found ourselves back to our earlier discourse on the need for experimentation and empirical research on paranormal phenomena, of which he was allegedly a master.
When we showed Baba the few things that we had brought with us to test the paranormality of his materializations experimentally, he politely put them aside. It would be black magic to exhibit his powers that way, he stated.
Haraldsson, Miracles are My Visiting Cards, p. 43.
According to the story, Sai Baba was in a car that would not start because the tank was empty. He ordered that water be poured into the gas tank. Water was poured in, and lo and behold, the car went for miles.
As Jesus Christ changed water into wine to satisfy a need, so Sai Baba turned water into petrol to satisfy a different need. It happened one day as Baba was being driven along a country road in India. The car suddenly stalled and stopped. The driver examined it and found that the fuel tank was empty. "There is no more petrol in the tank," said he. `They have no wine,' said Jesus's mother (John 2:3). There was no filling station within sight and no passing traffic. Baba ordered that the petrol tank be filled with water from a nearby pond and this was done. The driver got back into the car with trepidation and nervously switched on the ignition, and the engine responded beautifully. He drove all the way to their destination hours away on a tank filled with pond water!
Kanu, Sai Baba, God Incarnate, p. 17.
Kanu was taught a lesson from this incident:
Sai Baba has caused the floods to recede in response to his command; he has multiplied food, and changed water into petrol.
Kanu, ibid., p. 16.
...Baba dipped his finger in the can and ordered the contents of the can to be poured in the petrol tank.
All were surprised. What! Water into the petrol tank? The faithless forgot to check whether the water can contained petrol or water. The order was so instantaneous, the driver was so quick and he emptied the contents into the petrol tank. He switched on the ignition and the car started...The faithless did not want to be small minded and with limited intellects, and so they joined the faithful and sang his glories. "His divine will indeed can create anything anywhere and instantly." This incident happened 18 years ago.
On 30th May 1976 Baba went to Shrishaila in Kerala via Gudalur to lay foundation stone for a college there. Mathrubhum! reported that tens of thousands of people assembled there with longing in pouring rains to have a glance of him who had proclaimed himself `God of Gods'....Though Baba did not desire publicity, the press had been invited with all paraphernalia to take photographs and report the function of the Sarvadaivathwa Swarupa. The land was transformed into a fairyland with decorations, but as Sathya Sai Baba did not like pomp and show, he ordered the rains to wash everything out. Though an elephant with well dressed girls on both sides with lights and 'thalappoli` waited to welcome the God, because the rains were heavy he could not be welcomed.
After the laying of the foundation, Baba returned to Ooty in full splendour of the great welcome of the devoted people of Kerala but on the hills the car would not move as even the car was thunderstruck by the heartfelt welcome at Shrishaila. As the car did not move, Baba could have waved his hand to repair the car with his genuine power which transformed earth into sky and sky into earth. But the car did not move, and he had to go by another car. Only after the mechanics from a well known workshop came and repaired it, the car returned to Baba's Nandanavanam...
Premanand, Lure Of Miracles, pp. 46-48.
The story of materialization of a Seiko watch was originally authored by Dr. S. Bhagavantam in 1973 and published in a Malayalam weekly titled Malayalandadu. The editor S. K. Nair and his wife were Sai Baba devotees and to neutralise the publicity got by Abraham Kovoor, S. K. Nair started a debate in his weekly on the spiritual powers of Satya Sai Baba. He first published Kovoor's article explaining that Satya Sai Baba is a hoax and then published a series of articles by Sai Baba devotees, which included a High court Judge and other well known personalities like Dr. Bhagawantam.
B. Premanand, Indian Skeptic #11, p. 2
The wonderful experience some years ago, of the world famous Seiko watch manufacturer of Japan, while he was on a tour in India was awe-inspiring.
After completing the Seiko series of watches, he made the model of a more superior type and kept it in his safe for further tests. During his holiday in India he paid a visit to Puttaparti out of curiosity. On seeing the Japanese gentleman among the devotees, Sai Baba called him and gave him a small parcel materialised from the air. On opening the parcel he was astonished to see in it the new watch that was kept in his safe in Tokyo. When he saw, with the watch, the silk ribbon and the label with the name of the watch and its price marked on it, all his doubts about the divine powers of Sai Baba simply melted away. He fell prostrate at Sai Baba's feet and worshipped him. Since then he is an ardent devotee of the Bhagavan.
On his return to Tokyo, he was shocked to see that the watch he had kept in his safe was not there. What his personal secretary told him was still more startling. The secretary said that a divine-looking person with bushy hair walked into the office one day, opened the safe and walked away with the watch."
Excerpt of an article attributed to S. Bhagavantam, in Malayalanadu, ed. S.K. Nair, 1973, Engl. translation as quoted by A. Kovoor.
A few months ago the editor of a mass-circulating weekly of India wrote me a letter saying that the Editorial Board of his weekly has decided to publish a symposium on "SATHYA SAI BABA IS HE AN INCARNATION OF GOD OR A CHARLATAN?" and wanted me to be the first contributor to the series.
My article was serialised in three issues. It was then followed by two articles countering my thesis by Dr. S. Bhagavantham, M.Sc., D.Sc., Ph.D., a former scientific adviser to the Government of India.
Dr. Bhagavantham started his article by saying that in his youth he was a rationalist like me, but after witnessing some of the `miracles' of Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba, he had to give up his rationalism!
He then continued to describe numerous `miracles' said to have been performed by Sathya Sai Baba at various times in various places. There was absolutely no mention in the two articles of any one having conducted investigations to establish that they were all genuine miracles, and not conjurer's tricks. The two articles appeared to be clear examples of how unscientific even a good scientist can become if he is victim of religio-maniacal neurosis or avarice for lucre!
In the whole lot of the miracle stories mentioned by Dr. Bhagavantham, there was only one that was amenable to investigation. I quote below that story:...[as above ed.]...
Does Dr. Bhagavantham, who is the holder of covetable qualifications in science, think that a thesis of this nature to prove the miraculous powers of a man, by any scientist, will be accepted by an academic body of scientists if it is not backed by scientific investigations and fool-proof evidence?
Although Dr. Bhagavantham is reluctant to test the veracity of his Godman's miraculous powers, I decided to do it myself. With this aim in view I wrote the following letter to Dr. Bhagavantham:--
Sept. 11 1973
Dear Dr. Bhagavantam,
I read your story about a Japanese watch manufacturer getting his own watch that was kept in a safe in Japan, materialised in India from air by Sathya Sai Baba.
My scientific attitude does not permit me to accept this fantastic story as true without verification. My doubt is enhanced by the reported statement of his personal Secretary. The first reaction of a responsible Secretary when a stranger walks into the office and opens the safe, would be to raise the alarm and to summon the police.
As I feel it is unscientific even for a scientist to believe this type of cock-and-bull story without verification, I request you to kindly let me know the name and address of this Japanese so that I may verify the truth about it.
Your failure to help me to conduct this investigation, by withholding this information, will lead me to suspect your sincerity and honesty, and discard all what you have said about Sathya Sai Baba as utter falsehood deliberately propagated with ulterior motive and vested interest.
Yours in search of Truth,
Abraham T. Kovoor
As there was no response from Dr. Bhagavantham even after two months, I decided to pursue the matter on my own. The Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka was kind enough to provide me with the name and address of the proprietor of the Seiko watch manufacturing firm.
In my letter dated 30th October, 1973 to Mr. Shoji Hattori, president of K. Hattori & Co. Ltd., the manufacturer's of Seiko watches, I reproduced Dr. Bhagavantham's story about the miracle, and requested him to provide me with answers to the following questions:--
- Did you or any other partner of yours visit Sathya Sai Baba of India any time?
- Did Sai Baba materialise a watch from air and present it to you or to any of your partners?
- Did your personal Secretary tell you or any of your partners that a stranger opened the safe and walked away with a watch?
- Are you or any of your partners a devotee of Sai Baba?
For the benefit of numerous innocent devotees of Godmen of India I reproduce below Mr. Hattori's reply. This I do with the sincere hope that they will be sensible enough to realise the truth that these charlatans who go about in the garb of holy men have numerous agents like Dr. Bhagavantham everywhere working in collusion to propagate the huge hoax and profit materially.
K. HATTORI & CO. LTD.
Nov. 8, 1973
Dear Dr. Kovoor,
Thank you for your letter of October 30th. I can appreciate your interest in conducting scientific research of paranormal claims, but I am in no way able to further your knowledge as regards the man mentioned in your letter, Mr. Sai Baba. Neither I nor any members of my staff have ever made the acquaintance of this individual. I am sure that these reports are completely unfounded I must therefore reply in the negative to all four of your questions concerning this incident.
K. HATTORI & CO. LTD.
On receipt of this letter I wrote the following letter to Dr. Bhagavantham enclosing a photostat copy of Mr. Shoji Hattori's letter.
Dear Dr. Bhagavantham,
Absence of any response from you to my request made over two months ago has made me suspect the veracity of your story about the Japanese watch manufacturer getting his own watch that was kept in his safe in Japan from Sai Baba. To pursue my investigation in the matter, I got the name and address of Seiko watch manufacturer from the Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka.
In his reply to my enquiry, Mr. Shoji Hattori, President of K. Hattori & Co. Ltd., who are the manufacturers and proprietors of Seiko watches writes:--
"I can appreciate your interest in conducting scientific research of paranormal claims, but I am in no way able to further your knowledge as regards the man mentioned in your letter, Mr. Sai Baba. Neither I nor any members of my staff have ever made the acquaintance of this individual. I am sure that these reports are completely unfounded."
If Mr. Shoji Hattori is not the person concerned in your story, please let me know about it, and provide me with the correct name and address. Absence of any reply from you for this letter also, will only confirm my firm belief that you are an agent of Sathya Sai Baba doing propaganda for him with ulterior motive and vested interest.
Yours in search of Truth,
Abraham T. Kovoor
Since there was no reply so far to this letter also, I had to confirm my belief that Dr. Bhagavantham is in collusion with the charlatan Sathya Sai Baba to do false propaganda for him with ulterior motive and vested interest.
Abraham T. Kovoor, Begone Godmen! Chapter 3.
Of Scientists and Godmen
Several supporters of Sai Baba have written that scientists of international repute can be counted among his followers.
My dealings with one of the so-called `scientists' of international repute among the followers of Sai Baba do not permit me to credit him with intellectual honesty or associate him in any way with science.
The chief editor of a mass-circulation weekly wrote, asking me to be the first to contribute to a symposium on "Sai Baba Incarnation Of God Or A Hoax".
My article on Sai Baba was followed by an article by Dr. S. Bhagavantham, M.Sc., D.Sc., Ph.D., a former scientific adviser to the government of India. He began his article by saying that he was rationalist like me in his youth, but after witnessing the `miracles' of Sai Baba he had to give up his rationalism as he realised the `fact' that there were many things in life that could not be understood and explained by science. He then described about 30 miracles performed by Sai Baba and witnessed by him.
Of these miracles, I considered only one suitable for verification. This ran as follows:
"The wonderful experience, some years ago, of the world-famous Seiko watch manufacturer of Japan, while he was on a tour in India, was awe inspiring....[as above ed. ]...The secretary said that a divine-looking person with bushy hair walked into the office one day, opened the safe and walked away with the watch."
My curiosity about the authenticity of this `miracle' was roused because it was highly unlikely that the personal secretary would allow a stranger to open the safe and walk away with a watch, without raising an alarm or summoning the police. Hence I decided to verify the truth and wrote a letter to Dr. Bhagavantham requesting him to let me know the name and address of this Japanese gentleman. Since I got no reply even after a month, I wrote another letter and sent it by registered post, care of the editor of the weekly journal.
Failing to get a reply to this also, I went to the Japanese embassy in Sri Lanka, and got the address of the proprietor and president of K. Hattori & Co., Ltd., the manufacturers of Seiko watches.
In the letter addressed to Mr. Shoji Hattori I sought answers to the following:
- Did you or any other partner of yours visit Sai Baba of India at any time?
- Did Sai Baba materialise a watch from the air and present it to you or any of your partners?
- Did your personal secretary tell you or any of your partners that a stranger opened the safe and walked away with a watch?
- Are you or any of your partners devotees of Sai Baba?
He wrote back to say: "I can appreciate your interest in conducting scientific research of paranormal claims, but I am in no way able to further your knowledge as regards the man mentioned in your letter, Mr. Sai Baba. Neither I, nor any members of my staff, have ever made the acquaintance of this individual. I am sure that these reports are completely unfounded. I must therefore reply in the negative to all four of your questions concerning this incident."
A photostat copy of the above letter was sent to Dr. Bhagavantham asking him for his comments and requesting him to inform me whether Mr. Shoji Hattori was actually the person mentioned in his article and if not, to provide me the name and address of the right person.
I concluded my letter thus: `Absence of any reply from you to this letter, also will only confirm my firm belief that you are an agent of Sai Baba doing propaganda for him with an ulterior motive and vested interest.'
I am still awaiting a reply from this scientist of `international repute'. It is a pity that credulous people are incapable of understanding the reason why these so-called scientists round Sai Baba are making frantic efforts to save their `Bhagavan' from being exposed by the scientists of Bangalore University.
Who would like the goose that lays the golden eggs to be killed?
Abraham Kovoor, Times Of India, 12-9-1976 p. 8; Facsimile Reprint in Indian Skeptic No 11, pp. 5-6.
I have carefully read "Of Scientists and Godmen" September 12. The writer talks of an earlier article written by him on Sai Baba that was followed by an article allegedly written by me in a mass-circulation weekly and states that he is quoting from my article.
He goes on to give a long passage in quotations about he visit of a watch manufacturer of Japan to Puttaparthi. He also states that he had written to me some letters of which I have no knowledge. I heard earlier that such a story was being circulated about me but since it appeared that some people were getting innocent pleasure in repeating this fantastically untrue story, and others in listening to it, I did not think it worth while making any public statement about it.
Since the story has now appeared in your newspaper, I am writing to you expressing my utter surprise as none of what is contained in quotations, and allegedly written by me, had ever been written by me or even spoken by me at any place. The first time I heard of a Seiko watch manufacturer visiting Puttaparthi and my writing about this `wonderful experience' is through such cooked-up reports.
Nevertheless an individual purportedly quotes from what he considers to be my writing and appears to be so sure about it that he takes the trouble of making detailed enquiries. I began scratching my head to see if there could be a possible explanation for such an error of judgement.
I recall that some years ago, a friend from Kerala sent me what he called an English translation of an article that appeared in Malayalam in one of the local papers containing an account of several miracles said to have been performed by Baba, and asked me if I had written that or any portion of it. I promptly replied that Malayalam is not my mother tongue, that I could not write in the language, and moreover the contents were so fantastic, untrue, and unrelated to my experience that I could not have written anything even remotely like it in either English or in any other language. Presumably, someone wrote that and put my name on the article and published in Malayalam.
Possibly the present writer thinks I had written it and is quoting from that, or a similar hoax perpetrated in my name. I can find no other explanation. I am not the author of the story regarding the visit of a Japanese watch manufacturer to Puttaparthi.
S. Bhagavantam, Times Of India, 29-11-'76; Facsimile Reprint in Indian Skeptic No. 11 p. 7.
From the explanation given by Dr. Bhagavantam in his published letter about the seiko watch story, several questions have to be answered by him which he did not answer while alive.
- Is it necessary that one has to know Malayalam language for one's article to appear in Malayalam journals? If that be so how did his article in Malayalam and other languages appear in Sai Baba's journals `Sanathana Sarathi in different languages?
- If the article published in Malayalanadu by the editor who is a Sai Baba follower is not his, why did he not refute it in the journal? And if the Editor refused to publish the same go to the Press Council whose chairman was also a Sai Baba devotee?
Dr. Bhagawantam was no exception to it. Just look to the fate of my letters dated 15-12-1981 and 17-3-1982 received by him on 15-1-1982 and 25-3-1982. Along with the letter I had sent Rs5/- postal order to him for sending his reply by registered post. Because the miracles published in that article authored by him were proved false after investigation, he kept silent. I wanted to know whether he would refute the authorship of that article also and it was in english and published in several journals including Sanathana Sarathi the official magazine of Satya Sai Baba.
B. Premanand, Indian Skeptic #11, p. 3
Sathya Sai Baba's charismatic authority is vulnerable to challenge from both outside and within the movement. Outside the movement there are those who also claim to be holy men and who perform similar miracles... Others of rationalist conviction, such as Dr. Kovoor, denounced him as a `fraudulent Godman whose miracles were nothing but plain magic' (Rajghatta l985:48). To prove his point Dr Kovoor himself `miraculously' produced a quantity of holy ash (vibhuti) which he distributed to eager recipients. He also challenged Sathya Sai Baba to allow his so-called miracles to be subjected to an investigation by a panel of like-minded rationalists, but Sai Baba refused, and lost a considerable amount of support in doing so.
Muted challenges from within the movement sometimes result in the withdrawal of membership. Dr Bhagavantham, formerly on the Council of Management of the Central Trust (also formerly scientific adviser to the Government of India) has recently left the movement; and another, Dr Gokak, formerly in charge of the education programme, has tried to demolish the myths that surround Sai Baba. Other Indian academics have also left; and it is claimed that 'many more devotees including most foreigners have already deserted the flock` (Rajghatta, 1985:48).
Donald Taylor, "Charismatic Authority In The Sathya Sai Baba Movement", Hinduism in Great Britain, ed. by Richard Burghart, Tavistock Publications, London, 1987, p. 130.
When he was a boy, someone asked Sai Baba for a sign: `If you are Sai Baba, show us some proof now.' Baba replied, ` Yes, I shall. Place in my hands those jasmine flowers,' he commanded. It was done. With a quick gesture he threw them on the floor and said, `Look!' They saw that the flowers he had so casually flung onto the floor had formed the name SAI BABA in Telugu
Kanu, Sai Baba, God Incarnate, p. 11.
Once...someone at a Thursday meeting voiced the desire that was in many minds. `If you really are Sai Baba, show us a sign.'
Satya saw the need of this. `Bring me those jasmine flowers', he said, pointing to a large bouquet in the room.
The flowers were placed in his hands, and with a quick gesture he threw them on the floor. All present looked in awe: the flowers had fallen to form the name `Sai Baba' in Telugu script, the language spoken in the village. This flower-writing was not something that required imagination to help; the words were strikingly clear, as if arranged with meticulous skill, all the curves and convolutions of the Telugu letters perfectly reproduced.
Murphet, Man Of Miracles, p. 59.
Kanu describes an event that occurred over forty years before he wrote, and the event Murphet describes occurred long enough in the past that reconstructing the exact sequences of events from the memories of witnesses would be futile in both cases. However, this effect is easily explained using basic principles of conjuring such as the highly histrionic Sai Baba had every opportunity to know about. Sai Baba was born into a theatrical family, and learnt stagecraft from his earliest childhood. (See Kasturi, Sai Baba, Vol I. pp 20-50; Premanand, Lure of Miracles p. 68). To create this effect he need only have prepared the calligraphic message in advance, and placed it on a length of material in a corner of the room, covered by a piece of similar material. Nothing at the time would have called attention to this apparently innocent piece of material on the floor. He may easily have hinted about `signs' and `proofs' that he was who he said he was in a suitably subtle way. For instance, he need only have denied that any sign or proof was necessary. Then one of his audience members would have been sure to question this, suggesting that he can't give a sign, or that he should give a sign. Having been given the request for a sign, he would issue the command to bring the flowers he had kept in the vase, and then throw them in view onto the apparently empty piece of material. He could then cover the flowers with another piece of material, and continue discoursing about something or other for a short while. Then he need only lift the covering cloth together with the strewn flowers by picking up the top two pieces of material together from the corners. Baba would then have stood back to reveal the jasmine flowers spelling `Sai Baba'. All eyes would have been on the flower-spelling message which allows Baba ample time to appropriately dispose of the crumpled two pieces of material with strewn flowers inside. Of course no one would have thought to check that cloth at all.
Once, they said, on the birthday of Lord Krishna Baba was walking aimlessly, it seemed, about the sitting room of their Madras home. Suddenly he turned to Mrs. Hanumantha Rao and remarked: `There are some devas (angels) here waiting to give me a bowl of sweets.'
As she looked, seeing nothing, he held out both hands and took from the air, as if from some invisible person, a large, carved-glass bowl. The bowl seemed suddenly to materialise. Baba handed it to Mrs. Hanumantha Rao.
Howard Murphet, Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles, pp. 73,74.
From an invisible person indeed! The details of this narration are consistent with Baba having received the glass bowl from an assistant stationed outside the window of the room in which the `materialization' occurred. Sai Baba's pacing seemed odd, because the others were seated (and their full view of the outside of the window was obscured). By pacing about, Sai Baba was the only one aware of when the assistant was ready outside the window. Baba even made sure to provide verbal cover in case anyone were to have stood up at an inopportune time and seen the assistant. Had this happened, Baba would have been able to cover easily, saying, "oh what an angel you are!" and so on. No one would have been the wiser.
Candies from an empty bag; statues out of sand; light from Baba's forehead, etc.: The stories are very numerous. But it is plain that these `miracles' are easily explained using basic principles of conjuring. For instance:
From an empty bag he would produce sweets or fruit. If a school friend had lost a pencil or rubber he would `produce' one of those from the bag. If someone was sick he would bring out `herbs from the Himalyas' and give these as a cure.
Murphet, Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles, p. 53.
Sai Baba's childhood techniques are those of many child magicians. These simple types of sleight of hand are often independently discovered by children with talent in this area; and of course, as I already mentioned, Sai Baba grew up amongst people who practised these sorts of things. Children who grow up to be magicians practice their skills constantly. For instance, the great Indian conjurer, P. Sorcar has written about his obsession with sleight of hand as a boy:
I carried a pack of cards and other small articles in my pockets and went on practising with them all on my way to school.
P. C. Sorcar, Indian Magic, Hind Pocket Books Pvt Ltd., Delhi, (no date) p. 19.
Another standard manifestation of Sai Baba's powers, practised especially often in his earlier years, was producing various objects out of the sand by a river. Here is one account, from the Raja Of Venkatagiri:
On 10 or 11 September, we, a group of people in three or four cars, went from the Venkatagiri Palace to the Pellakur Garden on the bank of the Swarnamukhi River. There Swami produced from the sand a statue of Sri Rama. First he made a drawing on the sand in front of him, and then he took with his hands the statue out of the sand.
quoted in Haraldsson, Miracles Are My Visiting Cards, p. 89.
There is an obvious prosaic explanation for this one: Sai Baba leads people to the general area where the statues are to be produced from sand, for example. Of course the statue will have been previously placed there, and is simply produced, with suitable fanfare. Some may object to this as an explanation for all of these materializations, on the grounds that in some cases Sai Baba asks the `subject' to select the spot to sit in. In this sort of case prearranging several statues in the sand in strategic places would allow the impression to be created of free choice of location on the part of the subject. But he need not go to such trouble. Magicians point out that laypeople are notoriously bad at remembering important details that are needed to explain how the trick is done (on this, see Randi, The Truth About Uri Geller, and Fuller, Confessions and Further Confessions). If the devotee is told later by Sai Baba that she, the devotee chose the spot where they were sitting, that is the way she will remember the events later.
Just as we were looking at him on the top of the hill (from below the hill) we could see a brilliant light resembling the rising sun, and the rays of that light were unbearable. This brilliance of light started from his head and fell all over the place. There was suddenly a lot of light behind him as if the sun had risen.
Mrs Radhakrishna's description quoted in Haraldsson, op. cit., p. 251.
In these reports, Sai Baba is at the top of a hill at sunset, and he is being watched from below. What seems miraculous is that the light was so bright, even though it was twilight. But the report is consistent with Baba having a carefully arranged mirror or two banded onto his forehead which deflects the sun visible from the top of the hill, but not from the bottom, onto the spectators below, blinding them as per their descriptions. Amazing effects can be created with mirrors!
Haraldsson mentions two cases which he considers to be worthy of consideration. `The Calicut case' (p. 264) is to my mind, very weak. Two people reported seeing Sai Baba in a hospital room, one a devotee of some standing who was told by Baba to expect him. She was just about to be operated on for cataract surgery not the ideal eyewitness! The other, a paramedical assistant, heard footsteps in the devotee's room, entered it, saw Baba and promptly fainted. If someone has previously seen pictures of Sai Baba, then has a vision of Sai Baba and faints, this cannot be taken to be evidence of genuine bilocation of Sai Baba, without at least having information about why he was subject to fainting. For all we know, the man was suffering from a neurological disorder that causes both fainting and hallucinations. This Haraldsson does not provide.
`The Manjeri case' (Haraldsson, ibid., p. 267-284) is different in that it seems reasonably clear that a man actually came, behaved like Baba, and the question is the identity of the visitor. An excerpt of Haraldsson's description:
Early the next morning, 13 December, a stranger wearing a yellow robe appeared at the Rao's door, chanting, `OM'. According to Mrs. Rao, who admitted him, he said, `Don't get panicky. I am here to protect you, your husband, and your child.' He then asked for Sailaja and went to the corner of the veranda where she was lying. Sailaja told us he spoke to her in Malayalam (the national language of Kerala) saying: `You called me last night and now I have come in the morning and will cure you.' Then the visitor demanded that he be seated in the puja room rather than in the waiting room where he had been invited to sit. He went there and sat beneath a portrait of Baba that hung among the pictures of several other deities and saints. Mrs Rao compared the visitor's appearance with Baba's picture and found them to be similar. Mr. Rao and Sailaja joined them. Baba waved his hand in his characteristic manner, produced vibhuti, and applied it to the girl's disfigured leg, saying that she would be well in three days' time. He was very warm and reassuring about the problems of all three of the Raos, held little Sailaja on his lap and asked her to sing some Sai Baba songs. Since she knew none, he taught her songs of the kind that are sung at his ashram. With the distinctive wave of his hand, he produced a song book which was printed in the Malayalam language by a Sai Baba organization but which, we were told, had not yet been distributed in that area. Sai Baba asked them to invite their neighbours. Some came and they all joined him in bhajans."
Haraldsson, ibid., pp. 268-9.
In the light of the propensity for exaggeration, Mrs. Rao's comment that the visitor's appearance was similar to Sai Baba can virtually be taken to be a confirmation that the visitor did not seem to be the same person. The fact that Haraldsson's informants said that there were resemblances but none led off by plainly taking it or saying that the visitor simply was the person in the picture, indicates that the resemblances were not such as to suggest identity of the visitor with Sai Baba, but rather someone else of similar physical stature, with his hair more or less similar to Sai Baba's, wearing a robe in a similar way, and behaving like Sai Baba. He apparently came by bus (p. 270) and told people not to follow him when he left, (ibid.) further confirming the same suggestion. Also the only supposed identification of the visitor as Sai Baba in a `blind test' cannot be properly called a blind test. "... in the spring of 1963, Panikker even performed a recognition test. Panikker told Dr Osis that he had approached the daughter of T. B. Moosad (the Raos' landlord), an eighth grade student who was supposed to have been present at the Rao's bhajan, when she was returning home from school. He showed her Baba's photo and asked: `Have you seen this man anywhere?' When she replied affirmatively, he asked her where she had seen him. `In this house' she said, pointing to it. `He was singing bhajan and we all participated.' " (Haraldsson p. 272). This is listed by Haraldsson as a correct identification in a blind test. (Table I #11 p. 279). There are two fatal flaws in this: first, showing an eighth grade student a picture of Sai Baba and asking if he'd been around is totally inadequate. If Panikker had wanted to learn if the girl could identify the visitor as Sai Baba as opposed to an aspirant holy man dressed to look like Sai Baba, he needed to dress up five or six people who are of the same physical type and look as Sai Baba in Sai Baba-style robes, take photos of them in poses just like the pose of the photo of Sai Baba used, show the girl the various photos including the actual Sai Baba photo, and ask the girl to choose the photo of the man she saw singing bhajans. It also would have been helpful to dress these people up with both yellow robes and red robes, to see if a set of photos with one yellow robe would lead to the identification by the colour of the robe! Anyone who knows how easy it is for police to set up a line up which will lead the victim of a crime to falsely identify whichever suspect the police want the victim to identify by using secondary features, articles of clothing etc., will know that Panikker's method cannot be called a `blind test'. Secondly, Panikker's investigation could not have been in the spring of 1963. The visitor is supposed to have appeared in December 1963, and Panikker only became involved in the case years later. Has this now become a case of backwards time travel on the part of Panikker as well as a case of bilocation? (The date given seems to be a typo, as is Premanand's date below of 1964, apparently, though in that case whose error this is not clear.) The importance of proper investigation is also made clear by Premanand's analysis of the Manjeri events.
A correspondent wrote in the Illustrated Weekly Of India of 3-10-1965, that Satya Sai Baba appeared on 13th and 28th of December 1964 in a house in Manjeri (Kerala) and stayed there for hours, talking, resting, singing, consoling, teaching and granting boons; all the while he was also at Venkatagiri and Whitefield.
Satya Sai Baba dismissed this phenomenon explaining that, though it may appear strange, it is his very nature and just his way. He says that when he wants anything, he just waves his hand, and when he wants to get anything done, he just wills it. When he wants to go to any place, he just goes. He says that unless we know the way the Universal and the infinite behaves, we cannot understand him...
In 1965 or thereabouts another person by name Neelakantha Baba appeared on the scene, and proclaimed himself an Avatar.
The editor of the Illustrated Weekly Of India describes the appearance of Neelakantha Baba in the issue of 10-12-1972. He says that there was a striking resemblance to Satya Sai Baba, with the same bee line mop of fuzzy hair on his head, the same bright eyes that hold you, the same gentle smile, the same saffron robes that drape him from his shoulders to the feet. He also performs similar miracles with the wave of his hands in the air and produces vibhuti. His followers claim that he heals the sick, even resurrected a devotee whose heart beats had stopped. This miracle man is bhagavan Sri Neelakantha Thathaji, who is about 37 years old whom his followers describe as Master, Guide, Guru and God Incarnate.
There is every probability that Neelakantha Baba or some one else knew the secrets of the Satya Sai Miracles, being trained to act as a double in such appearances at two places. It should be noted that while the Manjeri appearance uttered the words `Hari OM' while departing (the usual words of Neelakantha Baba) instead of `Sai Ram' (of Satya Sai Baba).
It will be interesting if we can find out whether Baba appeared at Manjeri, Venkatagiri, and Whitefield in the same car or whether they had different cars. While taking leave, the Baba who appeared at Manjeri ordered his disciples not to follow him further and they meekly obeyed him. This trick of appearing at two different places at the same time would have been quite risky if the secret of the appearance and the names of the places were disclosed or leaked...It is quite possible that the Satya Sai Organisations wisely thought it better to avoid these risks in future, and therefore did not repeat the trick again. On the other hand the double who was trained for such occasions, having tasted the pleasure and comfort of becoming another Avatar himself, with all the name, publicity, wealth and pleasure, left the organisation to become an independent Avatar, entirely autonomous in all respects, and continued to exhibit all the miracles of Satya Sai Baba.
Khuswant Singh says about Neelakantha Baba in a very interesting way, almost making us feel the humanly qualities. "He asked me to come near him. I edged forward. He rubbed his thumb on his palm and dropped a pinchful of ash in my hand. He repeated the gesture and a brown berry (Rudraksha) appeared in his hand. `Wear it around your neck' he advised me. He pinned a badge with his picture on my shirt, gave me one to fix on my car and slipped a ring (with his picture) on my finger...He invited us to his Ashram at Om Nagar in the Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh, for his daughter's wedding next December, blessed us and gave us leave."
Premanand, Lure Of Miracles, pp. 29-31
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