(Source: B. Premanand,, Science Versus Miracles, 1994)
EFFECT : Holy ash (vibuthi) from an empty wooden vessel
On Shivaratri day Satya Sai Baba takes a wooden vessel containing vibhuti (cow-dung ash powder supposed to be sacred) and empties it on the head of the Shirdi Sai Baba statue. After showing it empty, he puts his hand through the neck of the vessel and out flows vibhuti for several minutes. He first uses his right hand, then the left hand, and again the right hand.
PROPS : A vessel with a big belly and a neck through which the hand can pass easily. Vibhuti, water and a bottle which can also pass through the neck. A robe with double sleeves and some thread or rubber bands.
METHOD : Mix the vibhuti in water into a dough and fill it in the vessel. Press it with the bottle so that dough adheres to the sides of the vessel and the center portion is empty. Allow it to dry. Fill the center portion with dry vibhuti. Put on the robe and fill both the inner sleeves with vibhuti and tie them with a thread or rubber band so that it does not fall out.
Show the vessel with vibhuti. Turn it over and let the vibhuti fall on the idol or statue. Show it empty. Now hold the vessel with mouth up, put your right arm into the vessel at the same time releasing the vibhuti from the sleeve into the vessel. Turn the vessel slowly and allow the vibhuti to fall out through your hand. When the flow stops, remove your arm and show the vessel is empty. Now hold the top up and put your left hand in, releasing the vibhuti hidden in the left sleeve. Then turn the vessel over and let the vibhuti slowly fall through your left hand until it is empty. Now remove your left hand, insert your right hand and slowly scrape the vibhuti placed into from the sides of the vessel. Thus you can create more vibhuti than the vessel appears to hold.
Since it is very easy to expose this trick, Satya Sai Baba stopped producing vibhuti from a vessel since 1978.
EFFECT : Shiva Lingam emerging from the mouth
On the night of Shivarathri, while the devotees are engaged in singing bhajans, Satya Sai Baba goes into labour. He squirms with pain, his right hand pressing on stomach, heart and neck. While wiping the tears, sweat and saliva with a towel, he suddenly gives birth to an oval gold or stone linga from his mouth.
PROPS : An oval stone or a stone linga, one well starched, bath towel, and a flower-pot.
METHOD : The oval stone or the linga in hidden inside the towel and placed in the flower vase as a decoration. While the right hand presses your body to the sound of groans, you take the towel and start wiping the sweat and tears. When your hand reaches your neck, saliva flows from your mouth. Under the pretence of wiping the saliva, the towel is applied to the mouth. The Oval stone is placed half inside your mouth and when you lower the towel, it appears as if the oval stone is emerging from your mouth. Satya Sai Baba has stopped performing this trick also after we demonstrated it in Anantapur... [...]
Personal remark: Even if the trick is not executed this way, we must note that the "regurgitation" (not the materialization!) of objects, even of of considerable size compared to the esophagus, is commnly performed by many fakirs in India, and this performance was also made by the great Houdini. A basic component of this exercise is to drink a good quantity of water, that makes easy the regurgitation. Sai Baba, during the lingam's "materialization", acts exactly this way. This is, anyway, a performance which requires training and cannot be performed for a long time, because of the physical stress to which the "magician" is subjected; and in fact, Sai Baba stopped its performance 20 years ago (we are writing in 1999). Let's read what reported by John Hislop at this regard:
"Baba had reached a decision to halt the yearly public viewing of the birth of the lingam as it flashes from his mouth and comes to rest in his hands, cushioned by a silk handkerchief. Although that public portion of the holy festival of Mahasivaratri was now terminated, nevertheless the lingam would be created by Baba each year again and again, for it is a principal sign by which we may know the Avathar. In respect to the oval, eggshaped lingam which Baba produces from within his body on Mahasivaratri night, he says, "It is not possible for you to understand the divine purpose and gauge its potential, or to know the significance of its manifestation. In order to bear witness to the fact that Divinity is among you, it becomes necessary for me to express this attitude of mine. Otherwise the atmosphere of hatred, greed, envy, cruelty, violence, and irreverence will overwhelm the good, the humble, and the pious. ...it is the most fitting symbol of the Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent Lord. Everything starts from it and everything is subsumed in it." [...]
The lingam has been seen by the writer a number of times. On the occasion of one Mahasivaratri night, I was sitting quite close to Baba. When the moment came, I saw a flash of gold come from his mouth and saw the lingam caught in the silk handkerchief held by his hands. It was of gold. How an object that size came up Sri Baba's throat cannot be explained. At another Mahasivaratri, the lingam was translucent, and there was a clearly visible flame in the center of the lingam."
(from John Hislops's "My Baba and I")
We ascertain one more time, the total lack of a minimum logic in what Sai Baba proposes. He infact feels "bound" (although nodoby asked him...!) to materialize every year the lingam to witness the presence of God (i.e. himself) among humans. And this despite the fact tha for over 20 years nobody has seen the materilization, but some few "fortunate" inner people! Thus God acts to make himself recognizable to humans, but they are not enabled to see it! Remarkable, don't you think? Moreover SB ensures us that, as usual, we cannot even suppose to understand purpose, power and signifiance of the lingam. Therefore the lingam is an invisible and incomprehensible testimony of the divinity: that practically is equal to say that is is nothing of all this... The conclusione is worthy of the best "Sai style": infact, despite the lingam is beyond our comprehension possibilities, with the usual "flying contradiction" SB informs us of its purpose: he must materialize it, "Otherwise the atmosphere of hatred, greed, envy, cruelty, violence, and irreverence will overwhelm the good, the humble, and the pious." Bu then it is comprehensible! Anyone is able to undesrtand that. Where's the mistery? Anyway the results of lingams are under evrybody's eyes: the world is so good, peaceful and full of harmony since SB materializes then! Let's not say foolishnesses, please...
Some remark on Hislop's testimony on lingam's "birth". First of all we must considera that John Hislop (like most of us) very probably doesn't know how certain tricks are performed. So the fact that he says: "I was sitting quite close to Baba", is not warranty of the absebce of tricks. Hislop, like me and almost all of us, simply was not able to recognize tricks. He then says...
Further remark: This year, for the Shivaratri festival 1999 (casually the last of the millennium...), Sathya Sai Baba repeated the "materialization" of the lingam, galvanizing his audience. I had the chance to see the official video of the event: and also this time Sai Baba has drunk a good quantity of water, and besides the lingam's "birth" it seemed to me a little troubled: could it be the signs of age...? At this link, you will find some images of the event; here is instead what Sai Baba says about it:
"Embodiments of love! As pointed out by the Vice Chancellor in his speech, I used to bring Atma Lingams from this body on the occasion of Sivarathri in the earlier years. Lingodbhavam (emergence of Linga) used to take place on every Sivarathri. To witness this sacred event, lakhs would gather in a small hall. Consequently, there used to be a stampede resulting in injuries to devotees. Due to this I discontinued Lingodbhavam in public. There is a specific time for this. It may take place at any moment between 8 and 10 in the night. It takes place at the right time irrespective of the place I am in. It is bound to take place. It is natural on this Sivarathri night. Those who are fortunate to witness this sacred Lingodbhavam are free from all sins. [in order to enjoy this grace] one must see how it emerges. But some people may not be able to see this even if they are sitting close by. Witnessing the emergence of the Lingam is of utmost importance. Once it emerges, everyone will be able to see it and it has its own benefits. There are many such important aspects attached to this auspicious occasion."
(quoted from the Shivaratri discourse of 14 February 1999)
The stampede is evidently a pretence, since in Prashanti Nilayam there is confusion during any festival, event or celebration: for example, why does Sai Baba has never suppressed the celebration of his own birthday, which is perhaps the event creating the greater stampede in his ashram? Moreover, in the above passage he acts a subtle psychological process:
1) SB states that he "creates" the lingam every year, as an unavoidable fact: consequently (since this fact has for the devotees a powerful symbolic value), he underlines the loss of many of these events, the ones no more publicly performed, and he charges of signifiance the barely perfomed materialization;
2) SB says that those who could see closely the "birth" of the lingam are free from sin; if this arguments has grip on those who assisted to the event (and very easily it does have grip), it follows that possible strange things, noted during the "birth" will pass in background... compared to the liberation from sins.
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