B. Premanand, Guru Buster!
From: Electronic Newsletter of the Georgia Skeptics, Volume 7, No 1,Document date: 12-??-1994 (Winter 1994)
By: Oscar Gunther and Brian Siano
Satya Sai Baba walks onto a platform, standing next to an enormous urn. He explains that, as a god-man, he is able to produce any material out of thin air, in this case, food out of the urn. A man in the audience stands up and asks for a banana.
The guru announces that a banana has been requested, reaches his hand into the urn and pulls out... a mango! Consternation. This has never happened before; could the gods be angry? The guru asks the man to repeat his request: a banana. Repeating the request to the urn, loudly and distinctly, he once again reaches in and retrieves... a coconut.
B. Premanand is at it again.
B. Premanand is India's top debunker, a Randi in chapals, kurta, and jogging sneakers. He has spent the last 40 years investigating miracles and, after witnessing 1,146 of them, he has yet to see one he can't duplicate through natural methods.
As head of the Indian CSICOP, he leads an army of skeptics in ongoing investigations of India's many god-men. He has been jailed and beaten, his life has been threatened, and his car has been sabotaged. India's god-men wield great political power, and number high government officials (including Supreme Court justices) among their followers. Owing their authority to the gullibility of their uncritical disciples, the god-men have a vested interest in maintaining their aura of divinity. And B. Premanand has been steadily chipping away at their empires.
HOLY ASH, TONGUE SKEWERS AND LOTS OF FIRE
For instance, there is Sai Baba's miracle of ash, with which Premanand opened his lecture. The ash is light, grey, and smells thickly of sandalwood. Baba's followers collect it as their god-man seemingly produces a never-ending supply of it from his hand; sometimes they eat it, or rub the holiness into their skins.
Premanand did the same thing, giving a pinch of the stuff to each member of the audience; in India, where his lecture crowds sometimes reach from 25,000 to 50,000, he can still manage to produce more than enough ash. Then Premanand let us on the secret: the ash is kept in a small ball in the crook of the thumb and forefinger, and it's made of sandalwood and baked cow dung. The reactions of some of the audience were appropriately colorful. (He and Sai Baba get it from the same store.)
Sai Baba's poor followers get ash. His more affluent followers get Rolex watches, diamond necklaces, and Parker pens, stamped "Made in U.S.A." Premanand recently filed suit in the Indian Supreme Court against Sai Baba under the Gold Control Act. The guru claims to create gold out of thin air, which is a violation of the statute that prohibits the private, unauthorized production of gold. In a landmark decision (which, incidentally, took three years and demonstrates the extent of the god-man's influence), the Court ruled that he actually materializes the gold as he claims.
Other miracles were presented and explained. A crystal bell, sans clapper, was made to ring on command. (Premanand had strapped a small bell to his armpit under his shirt.) He pushed a skewer through his tongue without any blood or pain, though the convenient tongue-shaped bend in the skewer hidden by his hand MIGHT have made things easier. Premanand held his arm in kerosene flame without any harm, and later he and DVS committee member Dr. Larry Weinstein ate a burning piece of camphor. The explanations for these are pretty simple: the flame isn't held in one place long enough to burn the skin, and one's exhaled breath has enough carbon dioxide in it to put the fire out before it burns. But it was Premanand's demonstration of eating glass that knocked the audience on its collective ear.
ON TOP OF THAT, GLASS-EATING!
Not in a million years would we have guessed just how Premanand did it. He took out a clear light bulb (not a frosted one, for reasons we shall soon see), wrapped it in a handkerchief, and smashed it on the table. He gave a piece of the glass to Larry Weinstein, so he could verify that it wasn't clear candy or anything but thin glass. Weinstein then placed the chip on Premanand's tongue. The sounds of Premanand's crunchy chewing filled the room, while audience members began to get decidedly uncomfortable. Premanand then swallowed a glass of water, pouring it into his mouth from a distance to show he wasn't simply spitting the unchewed glass into the water.
Then he gave his explanation. When one chews the glass, one must chew it VERY finely, into sand, and make sure that one has eaten something thick (like a banana, perhaps one from Sai Baba's magic urn) so that the sand doesn't settle in the stomach. In other words, Premanand really DID eat glass; and I'm sure I wasn't the only skeptic who was expecting a subtle and clever trick. (Kids, don't try this at home!)
But the lecture was more than a magic show. Premanand pointed out that the gurus we get in the States are the ones who couldn't make it big in India. In fact, many were gurus Premanand had discredited years before. But they came to America, built up groups of followers (the richer or more famous, the better), and then returned to India in triumph.
It's hard not to think of Premanand as an inspiring figure.
Considering the scale of his opposition, the recent wave of paranormalist belief in the United States pales by comparison.
He demonstrates that it's a noble task to keep frauds from flourishing, that it's the good fight and it can be fun too.
And the magic urn? Members of the Indian CSICOP had climbed underneath the platform, evicted the guru's henchman who had been handing him food through corresponding holes in the platform and urn, and did their part in dismantling the god-man's reputation.
(The above article was reprinted from Grain of Salt, the newsletter of the Delaware Valley Skeptics, March 1989.)
INDIAN SKEPTICS REQUEST HELP: A LETTER FROM B. PREMANAND
Convenor, Indian committee for scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal.
10 Chettipalayam Road
Tamilnadu - India
18 October 1993
We hope you are regularly receiving the copies of Indian Skeptic every month through CSICOP newsletter swap. We have so far posted to you issues up to October 1993.
You would have by now read about the six murders in the bedroom of Satya Sai Baba on June 6, 1993. As the Sai Baba with the collusion of the police has committed this crime, and as the State and Central Ministers and the President of India are inner circle members of the Sai Baba Mafia, on July 27, 1993, with great difficulty we have filed a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh for an impartial enquiry into the murky happenings in Sai Baba's alleged abode of peace where his very near accomplices were murdered. The petition came up for admission on September 28, 1993. The government pleaders tried their best to refer the case to the full bench of the High Court where many such cases are pending the report of the judicial commission as to whether the courts have powers to order an impartial enquiry or a CBI enquiry. Mr. K. N. Balgopal, our advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India at New Delhi, produced the recent judgment (in which he himself had argued the case for the petitioner in September 93) where the bench of the Supreme Court which included the Chief Justice of India, stated that the Courts are supreme as far as the upholding of law, justice and Constitution are concerned, and when the State and the Central Government fails to uphold law, justice and the Constitution they have the powers to order an impartial enquiry into the allegations. After seeing the judgment, the Hon. Judge issued notices to the State and Central Government to file their counters within four weeks and posted the case for orders on November 4, 1993.
On September 26, 1993, at Hyderabad I would have been dead. After showing the video cassette to some of my friends in Hyderabad on Sai Baba wherein his miracle of producing a gold necklace was exposed I was returning back to my hotel sitting at the back seat of a motorcycle, at about 11:30 p.m. Our motorcycle was knocked off by another vehicle. Nothing happened except a few skin bruises, and I was alive to file the writ petition.
The three advocates, Mr. K. N. Balgopal from Delhi, and Mr. B. Tharakam and D. Vijay Kumar from Hyderabad, have taken up the work free. But we have to pay them their actual expenses. The air travel of Mr. Balgopal comes to Rs. 10,000 for every hearing (e.g. for the first visit, and the expenses). We are wondering how we will be able to send the air tickets for the 4th November hearing. The average income of our members is in between Rs. 10,000 to 20,000 per year!
We will be happy if you will share our expenses in the following ways:
1. By collecting annual subscriptions for Indian Skeptic from your willing members which is US $12.00 or its equivalent in your currency.
2. By enlisting life subscribers for Indian Skeptic which is US $150.00 or its equivalent in your currency.
3. By collecting even $1 or more from each member.
4. By ordering for the press clippings on the murky happenings at Sai Baba's bedroom (about 300 clippings in English) at U.S.
MORE ON PREMANAND'S EFFORTS
By Rebecca Long
B. Premanand published the text of his petitioner's affidavit, challenging the dubious police investigation into the murders in Sai Baba's abode, in the November 1993 issue of Indian Skeptic.
In this affidavit Premanand describes how Baba's network includes eminent national and international government figures, including India's President, Prime Minister, and Home Minister. These dignitaries visit Baba's premises using an airstrip constructed by the government.
Premanand writes that the financial fortune Baba has amassed exceeds the amount involved in the Securities Scam which rocked the Parliament. Premanand also states that Sai Baba has been notorious for the death of numerous foreign nationals, including many women whose bodies bore marks of grievous torture, and that several boy students at the Baba's educational institutions have committed suicide after being sexually abused. Large quantities of dangerous explosive materials have been found on Baba's premises.
The information below, concerning the investigation into the murders in Sai Baba's abode, is condensed from B. Premanand's affidavit published in the November 1993 issue of Indian Skeptic.
- On June 6th, 1993, four assailants tried to enter Sai Baba's abode to deliver what was purported to be a telegram from another Godman. On being intercepted, a scuffle ensued which culminated in the assailants whipping out daggers and knives.
Sai Baba was present and admonished the assailants. After activating a siren to alert the inmates, he quickly went to his bedroom through a secret passage and bolted the door.
- The police suppressed information and changed their story regarding the circumstances of their arrival on the scene.
Most of the police are devotees of the Baba and have previously helped him cover up controversies of strange deaths and suicides involving foreign and Indian devotees.
- The local police, along with inmates of the Baba's compound, are trying to prevent an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
- It is strange that the assailants were trying to gain entry to deliver a telegram when it is well known that both the sender and the Baba have access to telephones, telex, and fax machines.
- When police reached the compound, the place was teaming with inmates who had gathered in large numbers armed with sticks, bamboo and other things. The assailants are said to have panicked on seeing the policemen and climbed onto the first floor where they locked themselves in the Baba's chambers. In an attempt to nab the assailants, the police are said to have tried to make a forceful entry into the room where the assailants had locked themselves. It appears that the assailants attacked the police when they broke down the door, whereupon the police shot all the assailants despite the fact that they knew the assailants did not possess firearms. [Premanand contends that the police deliberately shot the assailants to destroy evidence, and are therefore responsible for man-slaughter unless their innocence is established.]
- The bodies of the Baba's four personal aides who were allegedly stabbed by the assailants were removed to a hospital run by Baba before the police arrived. Their bodies were not taken to the Government Hospital for post-mortem examination, and post mortem reports were never provided to their relatives.
- The police claim to have shot the assailants with pistols whereas reports declare that the wound marks on the bodies were made by a 303 rifle.
- The four assailants were among the most trusted lieutenants of the Baba. The incident appears to revolve around attempts by a section of the Baba's followers to gain control over his financial empire. It is possible that the assailants knew or saw something which could have exposed the Baba to the public.
- The State Home Minister at the time was a well-known devotee of Sai Baba and came out openly as the official spokesman in his defense. The police are not likely to act in any manner contrary to the dictates of the State Home Minister.
As Premanand writes in his affidavit, "It is high time the clandestine activities going on within the Ashram were revealed to the public. It is in the public interest to know the true picture behind the so-called pursuit for love and religion which the self-styled Godman preaches."