April 25, 2011

The Day After

Sathyanarayana Raju [23 November 1926 — 24 April 2011]. LIE [Lie In Ease]!

The day before Mr. Raju died, Martin Rees, a British astronomer and latest recipient of the Templeton Prize, wrote in an article that was published by the New Statesman,

... [But] we shouldn't set up this debate as "religion v science"; instead, we should strive for peaceful coexistence with at least the less dogmatic strands of mainstream religions, which number many excellent scientists among their adherents.

Nothing exemplifies better what this "peaceful coexistence" can degenerate into, than the cozy relationship that existed between many men and women in India who called themselves scientists and Mr. Raju, a b-grade magician, who was known to the deluded as "Sathya Sai Baba".

On this day after his death, as a mark of deep disrespect to the deceased Sai Baba, and in defiance of Martin Rees, I post the article, "On Science and Godmen" by Dr. Abraham Kovoor, originally published in the Times of India, and republished online in the Indian Skeptic:


Times of India 12-9-1976 P:8

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.

"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 Bhagawan.

"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."

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?

ABRAHAM T. KOVOOR replies to people who claim that miracles have the support of scientists.

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?

If the scientific community chooses to follow Martin Rees' advice, and ignore Kovoor's admonishment, perhaps I should rephrase Thomas Jefferson's denunciation, "What a conspiracy this, between the scientists and the church, sing tantarara, rogues all, rogues all, sing tantarara"!

  1. Although I agree with Kovoor's assessment of "Mr. Raju", and think that the latter is an impressive and stupendous fraud, I don' think the thesis of the co-existence of religion and science can be undermined merely by adducing examples of religious con-men or fraudsters.

    Let us not forget that there are some examples of scientists who turned out to be fraudsters. Would such examples undermine the thesis that science and ethics can co-exist peacefully?


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