Sai Baba's silent birthday


By: Kamal G Gopal


Bulletin # 26

Date: November 28,  1999

Satya Sai Baba, said to be India's most powerful godman, celebrated his 74th birthday last week. There was no line about the event in the national newspapers. It is not too long ago that things have been quite different: Sai Baba's 70th birthday in 1995 was celebrated like a state event and kept high profile national media attention over several days.

Sai Baba has thousands of devotees in India and abroad. His Indian devotees include former presidents and prime ministers, top politicians across all party lines, diplomats, high bureaucrats, and the top industrialists of the country. His public appearances are usually marked by the presence of half the Indian cabinet. His enormous political influence flows from the belief of his disciples in his miraculous capacities. His trade mark "miracles" - he uses to 'materialize' from thin air jewelry for the VIPs among his devotees and holy ash for the masses - make thousands worship his divine powers which could interfere in the natural laws of the universe and influence the 'fate' of their lives.

As early as in the sixties, Indian Rationalists have exposed Sai Baba as a fraud and trickster, who uses simple sleights of hand to deceit the gullible. In 1965 famous rationalist Prof. Abraham Kovoor challenged him publicly to perform his "miracles" under fraud-proof conditions. Since then, in Prof. Kovoor's succession, the Indian Rationalist Association has from time to time called upon Sai Baba in public forums and in letters to face up to this demand, but for more than thirty years now the Baba kept mum. Thanks to the work of Rationalists, however, the public awareness about these simple tricks behind these allegedly divine "miracles" over the time has increased considerably. His power connections may still be intact and he may still be India's Godman No.1 (at least since his competitor Chandra Swamy is cornered by criminal prosecution), but the bad reputation to be a trickster follows Sai Baba like a growing shadow.

In November 1994 during the celebration of his 69th birthday, he was caught red-handed when he "materialized" a golden chain, a cameraman of the national TV (Doordarshan) filmed the scene and revealed -just by chance- the secret: a close-up shows him plucking the chain from the bottom of a plaque, where it has been fixed before. Sai Baba was powerful enough to get the film clipping confiscated before it could be broadcasted, but copies of the cassette, smuggled out from the Doordarshan studios, were circulated all over India and abroad In Guru Busters, Channel IV's famous documentary by Robert Eagle about the work of Indian Rationalists, which has meantime been broadcasted in twelve countries, the clipping is reproduced in slow motion, proving the case beyond doubts. Sai Baba's reputation suffered serious damage.

When the Baba visited Delhi in 1999 to inaugurate the "Sai International Center", The Asian Age, one of the leading national newspapers welcomed him with a bold headline: "Sai Baba has a trick up his sleeve, rationalists tell PM". It reported that Sanal Edamaruku, Secretary General of the Indian Rationalist Association, had called upon the Indian Prime Minister to abstain from Sai Baba's function as the PM prostrating himself in front of a religious leader was a contravention of the secular principles of the Indian Constitution. The article quoted Sanal

Edamaruku denouncing Sai Baba as charlatan and fraud and calling upon him to face up to the rationalists' challenge. It also reported about the revealing film document and about Sanal Edamaruku's public demonstrations of the godman's tricks. Sanal's statement in The Asian Age, followed by reports in other newspapers and in the TV evening news, seemed to have quenched Sai Baba's thirst for the lime light. During his few "public" appearances in Delhi, the audience was limited to his VIP devotees with personal invitation and the media were kept at safe distance.

Most of the few press photos, which appeared, had to be taken with Tele objectives and there were only a few short takes of him were available in TV news programs. And there was altogether no single picture, either in the print or in the TV, which showed Sai Baba in "divine" action. For the first time, there was no holy ash in his hand, not a crumb. But "holy ash" was produced abundantly the next day, when Sanal Edamaruku as the special guest in the Star Plus TV Science Show "Eureka" once more demonstrated and explained Sai Baba's tricks. The silence surrounding Sai Baba has fuelled speculations that the embarrassed godman has finally decided to retire. Others believe, he may be busy studying a new set of tricks for glamorous come back on his 75th birthday. Future will show the truth. Any way, there will be as many as 22 more birthdays to be celebrated by him, if his "divine" prediction about his own death is something to be relied upon. Rationalist International Bulletins may be reproduced, forwarded or quoted from by recipients if they wish.

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