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James Randi Educational Foundation
March 8, 2002

Baba's Back

Dr. Abraham T. Kovoor was a free thinker, rationalist and psychiatrist, from Kerala, South India, who later spent his life in Sri Lanka. He was the president of the Rationalist Association of Sri Lanka and a very prominent skeptic with whom I corresponded frequently back in pre-fax and pre-e-mail times. I never got to meet the gentleman, unfortunately for me.

I reproduce here, from the Indian Skeptic — journal of the Indian Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal — with the kind permission of the Committee — an exchange of correspondence that examines a claimed miracle of Sathya Sai Baba. This "miracle" is one that was brought up to me by an American follower of Sai Baba a few months ago at one of my lectures. Now, thirty years after this rather conclusive exposure of the miracle as a trumped-up story, one might think that believers in this unlikely godman would have had serious doubts about his divinity, but apparently not. The devotee who flouted this wonder before me as an example of proof, relished his imagined victory....

Dr. Kovoor writes:

I was invited to give a lecture at the Indian Institute of technology at Guindy. During a conversation before the lecture, one of the professors at the institute told me that the majority of youths who take to the study of science and technology do so not because they have any scientific attitude, nor aptitude, but just because such a course helps them to get lucrative jobs. And the reason why some of the eminent scientists of India have given up their science, and have become devotees of godmen of that country, is because they have found that they can make more money by being in collusive devotion to such hoaxers, than by continuing scientific pursuits.

A few months ago the editor of a mass circulation weekly of India wrote me a letter saying that the Editorial Board of his weekly had decided a 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 serialized in three issues, then followed by two articles countering my thesis by Dr. S. Bhagavantham, M.Sc., D.Sc., Ph.D., a former scientific advisor to the Government of India.

[Dr. Suri Bhagavantham, described by an admirer as "an eminent nuclear scientist," though he never earned any degree at a university, said to an audience about Sai Baba that "He is a phenomenon, He is transcendental, He is divine, He is an incarnation, He is our nearest kith and kin; turn to Him for the eternal message. That alone can save us." Gee, then I wonder why, in the 1980's, this admirer suddenly left the movement, without any explanation? Maybe he just got smart?]

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 Sai Baba, he had to give up his rationalism. He then began to describe numerous "miracles" said to have been performed by Sai Baba in various places. There was no mention in either of the two articles of anyone 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 a victim of religio-manic neurosis or avarice. In all the miracle stories mentioned, there was only one that was amenable to investigation. I quote that story below.

Dr. Bhagavantham:

The wonderful experience, some years ago, of a world-famous watch manufacturer of Japan, while he was on tour in India, was awe-inspiring. After completing the Seiko series of watches he made a model of a more superior type, and kept it in his safe for further tests. While touring India he paid a visit to Sai Baba's abode just out of curiosity. On seeing the Japanese gentleman among the devotees Sai Baba materialized a small parcel from the air and gave it to him. On opening the parcel he was astonished to see the same watch that was kept in his safe.

When he saw along with the watch, the silk ribbon and label with the new name of the watch and the 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 worshiped him, and since then has been an ardent devotee.

On his return to Japan, he was shocked to see that the watch he had kept in his safe was not there. What his personal secretary told him was even 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.

[Plucking watches out of the air — rather clumsily, viewed from the magician's point of view, but well enough to please the devotees — is a favorite trick of Sai Baba. It's only prosperous members of his audience that receive these; the others settle for cheap gold-colored rings with badly-printed portraits of the godman. People from Seiko apparently got into the habit of visiting Sai Baba's public performances. Sam Dalal was a magician/writer living in Calcutta, India, back in the '70s. I lost contact with him long ago. He told me that Sai Baba "materialized" a Seiko watch for a Seiko watch company executive visiting India. Curious, Sam asked for the serial number from the executive, and traced it to a distributor's warehouse not far from the site where the "materialization" took place. And think about it: why would a magically-conjured-up wristwatch have a serial number?]

Dr. Kovoor continues....

Does Dr. Bhagavantham, who is the holder of coveted 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? As Dr. Bhagavantham was 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 him:

Colombo-6 11/9/73
Dear Dr. Bhagavantham,

I read your story about a Japanese watch manufacturer getting his own watch that was kept in a safe in Japan, materialized 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 by 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 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 to discard all that you have said about Sathya Sai Baba as utter falsehood deliberately propagated with an ulterior motive and vested interest.

Yours in search of Truth, Abraham T. Kovoor

When there was no response from Dr. Bhagavantham after two months, I decided to pursue the matter myself. The Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka provided me with the name and address of the proprietor of Seiko, the watch manufacturing firm. In my letter dated 30/10/73 to Mr. Shoji Hattori, president of K. Hattori & Co. Ltd., the manufacturers of Seiko watches, I reproduced Dr. Bhagavantham's story about the miracle and requested him to provide me with the answers to the following questions:

1. Did you or any partners of yours visit Sathya Sai Baba of India at any time?

2. Did Sai Baba materialize a watch from air and present it to you or your partners?

3. Did your personal secretary tell you or any of your partners that a stranger opened the safe and walked away with a watch?

4. Are you or any of your partners devotees 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 realize 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 to profit materially.

Seiko-Japan (address given) 8/11/73
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.

Sincerely yours,
Signed, Shoji Hattori,

President K. Hattori & Co. Ltd.

On receipt of this letter I wrote to Dr. Bhagavantham, enclosing a photostat copy of Mr. Shoji Hattori's letter, and said:

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 confirm my firm belief that you are, an agent for Sathya Sai Baba, doing propaganda for him with ulterior motives and a vested interest.

Yours in search of truth, Abraham T. Kovoor.

Since there has been no reply, it confirms my belief that Dr. Bhagavantham is in collusion with Sai Baba.

We miss you, Dr. Kovoor. Your confrontational manner seems to remind me of another skeptic, who is probably just as unloved as you were by the godmen he regularly calls to account. I can't quite think of his name....

Note from the editors of

An article concerning the same subject, written by Abraham Kovoor is available on our site - Begone Godmen!