Indian Rationalist Association

India's largest rationalist organisation. Founded in 1949. Fights for scientific temper, secularism, freedom of thought and expression. Defends reason and science. Exposes superstition, blind belief, obscurantism, paranormal claims caste-based social divisions and guru-politics nexus. Strives for a post-religious society. President: Sanal Edamaruku Contact: Phone: + 91-11-6569 9012, +91-11-64630651

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sanal Edamaruku in BBC World Service

TV Swamy Ramdev and his cures!

Sanal Edamaruku calls: Stop Swamy Ramdev

Swami Ramdev expects a revenue of 40 million dollar this year. Selling India’s ancient, pre-scientific notion of health care and cure – repackaged as his very special brand – is good business. Thanks to his all-out marketing, Pranayama (ancient exercise in breath control) and ayurveda are big hits with the ever-growing and prospering Indian middle class. His daily early morning show has allegedly 20 million viewers. His 500 hospitals in the country are said to register 30,000 patients per day. His new headquarters in the “holy city” of Haridwar may soon be world’s largest center for yoga and ayurveda.

S wamy Ramdev

Swami Ramdev’s breathing routine as such may be as harmless as useless. But it comes with the stunning claim to cure all kinds of illnesses including cancer and HIV/Aids. His brand of yoga, so runs his pseudo medical argument, increases the CD4 count – the number of cells attacking the HIV virus. Such baseless and irresponsible claims, luring a vast number of patients in need of medical treatment into a false sense of security, turn Swami Ramdev’s yoga ministry a disastrous venture.

“Swami Ramdev is a dangerous man”, said Sanal Edamaruku in a press statement. ’It is high time that the authorities put a stop to his activities. Claiming such absurdities is against the law. The magical remedies act of 1954 was brought in to stop people such as Baba Ramdev from promoting dangerous ideas about curing cancer and the like. But the political class is running scared of him and of the backlash that his legal prosecution might unleash."

Quoting Sanal Edamaruku, the following article appeared in The Guardian.

TV swami offers a cure for all ills

Yoga evangelist has millions in his thrall,
but critics claim devotees are being duped

Randeep Ramesh
The Guardian, Saturday June 14 2008

At 5am beneath the Shivalik hills in northern India, Swami Ramdev sits cross-legged swaddled in saffron robes commanding the rapt attention of 500 devotees of his brand of yoga. The crowd is made up mostly of middle-class Indians, many suffering from chronic conditions for which traditional medicine has little to offer but comfort.

Each "patient" has paid 7,000 to 40,000 rupees (£90 to £500) to be among the first to spend a week at the swami's newest venture: a village of 300 bungalows offering spiritual retreat in the shadow of eucalyptus trees. Swami Ramdev's pitch is that pranayama, the ancient Indian art of breath control, can cure a bewildering array of diseases. "Asthma, arthritis, sickle-cell anaemia, kidney problems, thyroid disease, hepatitis, slipped discs and it will unblock any fallopian tubes," he tells his audience in the yoga village, who line up to have their blood tested and receive herbal remedies.

Although India has a long tradition of mystical gurus, Swami Ramdev represents a new phenomenon: the television yoga evangelist. Almost all his congregation have been drawn through his shows on India's Aastha channel. Every morning, the swami appears on television chanting prayers and explaining that ailments, physical and mental, can be treated by what looks like little more than sharp intakes of air and painful-looking body contortions. More than 20 million tune in each day in India alone. The television guru, who is also known as Baba Ramdev, is also available across the world - including Britain. He has just finished teaching on a yoga cruise from India to China, which even after attracting corporate sponsorship still charged disciples £1,000 a ticket. Last year he appeared in Westminster to give British politicians a chance to sample his yogic wisdom.

Ludy Mantri, a housewife from Mauritius, has paid 40,000 rupees and travelled 4,000 miles to see "her swami" in the Haridwar yoga village in the hope he can help her find a cure for diabetes.

"I have been on medicines every day for the last 12 years. The chanting of Om has an amazing effect and the words of Ramdev energise one through the day."

Born into a farming family in north India he retains a common touch, making rustic jokes in chaste Hindi. The guru combines this with a gentle manner and a knack for public relations. The swami sells himself as a one-person health service. He says he only charges the wealthy and that the poor get his medicines for free. He has 500 hospitals in India serving more than 30,000 a day.

It is no surprise that many sections of the Indian elite - including judges, ministers and Bollywood stars - have visited his camps. Such is his popularity that the Indian army incorporated Ramdev's techniques claiming it made for a "deadlier fighting force".

Ramdev often speaks less of spiritualism and more of the need to develop his country through yoga, portraying himself as an Indian nationalist. He attacks multinational companies for seeking to drain India of profits. He calls Coke and Pepsi good only for "toilet cleaning".

In a country where renunciation is seen as almost a divine virtue, Ramdev announces that he has long ago given up sex - because "it is not love". The adoration he inspires was seen in 2006 when Indian communists accused the guru of using human bones and animal parts in ayurvedic drugs produced by his pharmacy. His followers rioted and attacked the party headquarters. The Communist party backed down when it saw where public sympathy lay.In an interview with the Guardian, Ramdev said that the problem with communists was that they did not have "faith in spirituality and are philosophically against religion. My cures are clean but the communists have an agenda."

There is little controversy about his basic assertions. He says that following his yoga teachings for 30 minutes a day, along with a vegetarian diet of raw or lightly boiled food and no alcohol or tobacco, clears clogged arteries, reduces blood sugar and lowers blood pressure.

But the swami defended his more extravagant claims that yoga could cure terminal illnesses such as cancer. He also said he had evidence that breathing exercises could help Aids patients recover by enabling a rise in the number of cells that the HIV virus destroys.

Ramdev has an explanation for his success with cancer - that yoga oxygenates the blood which kills the tumour. "Yoga is self-healing and self-realisation. I have many cases of cancer which I can provide where patients have recovered. We have cured blood, throat, ovarian, uterine and throat cancers with yoga."

In the case of HIV, he says scientists "have not understood [it] properly". He says that "through yoga and lifestyle changes people increase their CD4 count [the cells the HIV virus attacks]. The truth seen for the first time does appear like a miracle."

Such claims have angered many doctors. Mohammed Abbas, The president of the Indian Medical Association, said that although yoga is "good exercise, it cannot be used to make ridiculous claims about curing HIV or cancer. This is false hope for ill people."

The swami says patients are tested and improvements measured by "independent" doctors. Asked whether he has run any tests to analyse treatment, he offers a ook of testimonies from disciples convinced they have been cured of cancer, cirrhosis and kidney failure.

Some have called for the swami to be prosecuted for "peddling quackery of the highest order".

"Claiming such absurdities is against the law," said Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association. "The magical remedies act of 1954 was brought in to stop people such as Baba Ramdev from promoting dangerous ideas about curing cancer and the like.

"The political class is running scared of this man and the backlash that such a prosecution might unleash."

Godmen on the run

Kerala: Sweeping out Pandora’s box

The southern Indian state of Kerala is busy cleaning up. Target of the ongoing rigorous sweep is a new brand of godmen and astrologers, who managed to build up flourishing business during recent years without coming to public attention. In fact, most Keralites had not been aware that there was any 'living god’ in their state – except the hugging 'world star’ Mata Amrithanandamayi. But suddenly Pandora’s box sprang open.

It started with a media report in a prominent Malayalam weekly 'Kerala Sabdam' in the first week of May about a red corner notice, issued by Interpol in the United Arab Emirates about a Keralite with the name Santhosh Madhavan. Investigation by the local media turned the spotlight on godman Amrutha Chaitanya and his palatial ashram in the port city Kochin, where he received local politicians, film stars, businessmen and senior police officers. Chaitanya alias Madhavan was identified as the man, who had duped a rich businesswoman in the UAE. The Kerala police – under pressure – arrested the godman and raided his ashram and flat. Besides various illegal-possession-items like sandalwood, ganja, a tiger skin and a police uniform, they found a collection of porn CDs that recorded his raping of minor girls living in a charitable protectory run by him. Nine minor girls complained that they had been raped by him. Investigations of Madhavan’s financial circumstances brought to light that he was operating a dubious real estate business worth many million dollars, in which he acted as a front man for some so far unknown prominent personalities.

Santhosh Madhavan had been a school dropout and small time temple priest. In the late 90s, he familiarized himself with astrology, grew an impressive beard, and started a lucrative career as a godman. In a short span, he managed to cultivate a celebrity clientele and to secure political patronage. He enjoyed quasi immunity, till the furious public pressed for his arrest.

After Madhavan, rationalists and media exposed more under-cover godmen and astrologers with high connections and persumed criminal background. For one month now, the media is reporting godmen scandals nearly every day. Meantime some 60 people have come under the scanner. Some of them absconded. It is reported that they meet their clients now abroad.

After rationalists and progressive media set the trend, youth organizations of the political parties jumped on the bandwagon and started to hunt enthusiastically for godmen – preferably for those close to their competitors. The Hindu-conservative BJP saw to it that Muslim godmen and Christian faith-healers were not spared either. As a result, the spiritual morass has been drained considerably. The great survivor - so far - is the hugging 'goddess'. However, Amrithanandamayi too has decided to play safe and left Kerala for an extensive trip abroad.

Tantra fails in live TV programme

The Great Tantra Challenge

On 3 March 2008, in a popular TV show, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged India’s most “powerful” tantrik (black magician) to demonstrate his powers on him. That was the beginning of an unprecedented experiment. After all his chanting of mantra (magic words) and ceremonies of tantra failed, the tantrik decided to kill Sanal Edamaruku with the “ultimate destruction ceremony” on live TV. Sanal Edamaruku agreed and sat in the altar of the black magic ritual. India TV observed skyrocketing viewership rates.

Everything started, when Uma Bharati (former chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh) accused her political opponents in a public statement of using tantrik powers to inflict damage upon her. In fact, within a few days, the unlucky lady had lost her favorite uncle, hit the door of her car against her head and found her legs covered with wounds and blisters.

India TV, one of India’s major Hindi channels with national outreach, invited Sanal Edamaruku for a discussion on “Tantrik power versus Science”. Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to be the tantrik of top politicians and is well known from his TV shows, represented the other side. During the discussion, the tantrik showed a small human shape of wheat flour dough, laid a thread around it like a noose and tightened it. He claimed that he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes by using black magic. Sanal challenged him to try and kill him.

The tantrik tried. He chanted his mantras (magic words): “Om lingalingalinalinga, kilikili….” But his efforts did not show any impact on Sanal – not after three minutes, and not after five. The time was extended and extended again. The original discussion program should have ended here, but the “breaking news” of the ongoing great tantra challenge was overrunning all program schedules.

Now the tantrik changed his technique. He started sprinkling water on Sanal and brandishing a knife in front of him. Sometimes he moved the blade all over his body. Sanal did not flinch. Then he touched Sanal’s head with his hand, rubbing and rumpling up his hair, pressing his forehead, laying his hand over his eyes, pressing his fingers against his temples. When he pressed harder and harder, Sanal reminded him that he was supposed to use black magic only, not forceful attacks to bring him down. The tantrik took a new run: water, knife, fingers, mantras. But Sanal kept looking very healthy and even amused.

After nearly two hours, the anchor declared the tantrik’s failure. The tantrik, unwilling to admit defeat, tried the excuse that a very strong god whom Sanal might be worshipping obviously protected him. “No, I am an atheist,” said Sanal Edamaruku. Finally, the disgraced tantrik tried to save his face by claiming that there was a never-failing special black magic for ultimate destruction, which could, however, only been done at night. Bad luck again, he did not get away with this, but was challenged to prove his claim this very night in another “breaking news” live program.

During the next three hours, India TV ran announcements for The Great Tantra Challenge that called several hundred million people to their TV sets.

The encounter took place under the open night sky. The tantrik and his two assistants were kindling a fire and staring into the flames. Sanal was in good humour. Once the ultimate magic was invoked, there wouldn’t be any way back, the tantrik warned. Within two minutes, Sanal would get crazy, and one minute later he would scream in pain and die. Didn’t he want to save his life before it was too late? Sanal laughed, and the countdown begun. The tantriks chanted their “Om lingalingalingalinga, kilikilikili….” followed by ever changing cascades of strange words and sounds. The speed increased hysterically. They threw all kinds of magic ingredients into the flames that produced changing colours, crackling and fizzling sounds and white smoke. While chanting, the tantrik came close to Sanal, moved his hands in front of him and touched him, but was called back by the anchor. After the earlier covert attempts of the tantrik to use force against Sanal, he was warned to keep distance and avoid touching Sanal. But the tantrik “forgot” this rule again and again.

Now the tantrik wrote Sanal’s name on a sheet of paper, tore it into small pieces, dipped them into a pot with boiling butter oil and threw them dramatically into the flames. Nothing happened. Singing and singing, he sprinkled water on Sanal, mopped a bunch of peacock feathers over his head, threw mustard seed into the fire and other outlandish things more. Sanal smiled, nothing happened, and time was running out. Only seven more minutes before midnight, the tantrik decided to use his ultimate weapon: the clod of wheat flour dough. He kneaded it and powdered it with mysterious ingredients, then asked Sanal to touch it. Sanal did so, and the grand magic finale begun. The tantrik pierced blunt nails on the dough, then cut it wildly with a knife and threw them into the fire. That moment, Sanal should have broken down. But he did not. He laughed. Forty more seconds, counted the anchor, twenty, ten, five… it’s over!

Millions of people must have uttered a sigh of relief in front their TVs. Sanal was very much alive. Tantra power had miserably failed. Tantriks are creating such a scaring atmosphere that even people, who know that black magic has no base, can just break down out of fear, commented a scientist during the program. It needs enormous courage and confidence to challenge them by actually putting one’s life at risk, he said. By doing so, Sanal Edamaruku has broken the spell, and has taken away much of the fear of those who witnessed his triumph.

In this night, one of the most dangerous and wide spread superstitions in India suffered a severe blow.

The whole program is video-recorded and is available. If you want a copy, please contact:

Email: Click here for contacting Sanal Edamaruku by email.

Great Tantra Challenge

“Reason has won the day”
Now click & watch

the Great Tantra Challenge online!

The story of Sanal Edamaruku challenging India’s top tantrik Surinder Sharma on live TV to demonstrate his magic powers on him raised enthusiasm and curiosity all around the world. Our website got nearly two million hits in two weeks. We received hundreds of appreciative letters and congratulations every day. One of the first reactions came from James Randi: “Sanal! My congratulations for this excellent demonstration of rationality over superstition”, he wrote, “reason has won the day”.

The story appeared on SWIFT (web page of the James Randi Educational Foundation) and on Richard Dawkins’ website, to name the two most prominent. Meantime it has been overtaken by hundreds of sites and blogs and is touring the Internet in many languages.

Superstition about Hypnotism

Sanal Edamaruku exposes “New Age Hypnotic Guru” Sivanand on Live TV

After the “Great Tantra Challenge”, it was the turn of a New Age guru. On the evening of 15th March 2008, India TV invited “New Age Hypnotic Guru” Sivanand for a show. As pre-planned, Sanal Edamaruku was posted initially in the audience.

After the viewers got warmed up with a video clip full of confusing images, pendulum swings and psychedelic music, with artificial smoke fumed up on the podium from both sides, Hypnotic Guru Sivanand started his show. Spotting Sanal in the front row, he tried to take advance bail and said that his hypnosis was no tantra or mantra but a New Age scientific way to ensure instant strength and stamina. It will make the person intelligent, clever and physically powerful, he claimed. His clients always got power and intelligence in seconds after he hypnotized, the Guru asserted.

Hypnotic Guru touched their foreheads and told them to relax and fall into deep sleep. He counted up to three, and they both were seen sleeping. They slept standing till he put them down on two chairs. From then onwards, he would switch continuously between talking to the anchor, the audience and his subjects. Very soon the lady became the sole focus of attention, while the role of the man was limited to a sleeping decoration piece throughout the program.

His customers, Hypnotic Guru explained, came to him to get strength and confidence, to loose tension and to develop their will power and mind control, and he had a success rate of 90 per cent. In between his sentences, he addressed the lady with commands like “you become stronger … and stronger… now… one, two, three”, “power… power” etc. After some time, he asked her to raise her arm, and she did. She seemed to understand clearly which out of all his sentences were meant for the anchor, which were meant for the audience and which were for her. The Hypnotic Guru even allowed the anchor to ask her to narrate her experience about sea and mountains, and alas, she did it!

The Hypnotic Guru then began his grand finale. The lady was put flat down on two chairs, the middle part of her body remaining straight without support. This was the Hypnotic Guru’s ultimate proof. “This is only possible under hypnosis!” he declared triumphantly, as hypnosis could unleash unimagined capacities of the human body. To crown his success, he called a boy from the audience and asked him to climb up and carefully stand on her thighs. She remained stable. After half a minute, the boy was taken down.

Sanal Edamaruku walked up to the podium at this moment and announced: “This has nothing to do with hypnosis.” He said: “It is a normal capacity of the human body and I can show you the same exercise without any hypnosis!” Upon his request, a middle aged man volunteered for the show. Sanal positioned him on three chairs, the first for his head, the second for his hip, and the third for his legs. “Be confident”, Sanal said to him and removed the middle chair that was under his hip. To everyone’s surprise, the man remained stable without falling down. “He is not hypnotized”, said Sanal. Human hips have this strength and only we need confidence to remain on two chairs without falling down.”

Sanal then asked the same boy to stand on the man’s thighs. Yes, it worked without hypnosis. The volunteer did not fall down. He explained that he was feeling fine. There was spontaneous great applause from the audience. More people wanted to try. And while the game went on, Sanal Edamaruku explained his proof that Hypnotic Guru was a charlatan.

Firstly, there was a long list of flaws and mistakes in his “hypnosis”, which contradicted medical knowledge and experience and proved his demonstration a drama. A psychiatrist in the audience supported this observation and added some points. And secondly, Sanal Edamaruku continued, the subject of his demonstration was not freely chosen, as pretended, but well known to him, prepared for the show and was acting. Sanal Edamaruku and some others had witnessed the over-enthused young lady telephoning some friends before the beginning of the program and proudly announcing “her show”. Moreover, from these phone conversations they understood that she was an amateur actress who had just passed the entrance test of the Delhi School of Drama!

The Hypnotic Guru Sivanand had no medical or psychiatric education and was practicing this quackery on several thousand people over the years.

Though the two and a half hour long program ended there, the audience did not want to go home, but thronged Sanal Edamaruku to congratulate him for the exposure and to bombard him with so many questions they had always wanted to ask but did not know whom to ask.