field trips to India to study claims suggestive of psi-phenomena the
investigators were able to observe at close range some unexplained occurrences
which took place in the presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Although no conclusions
can be reached on the phenomena observed and described in this account because
they occurred under informal conditions, it seemed worth while to report the
events because of the challenge they offer to carry out further studies of this
well-known Indian religious leader under well-controlled experimental
paranormal appearances and disappearances of objects have been reported in
various cultures. The phenomenon consists of an object appearing or disappearing
in circumstances where no physical cause of the event can be detected. In cases
where paranormal creation of the object is assumed, the process is usually
referred to as "materialization". When an already existing object is "brought"
by paranormal means from one place to another without visible means of travel,
the phenomenon is called "teleportation" and the object is referred to as an "apport."
Teleportation is said to occur in poltergeist cases (Bender, 1969; Owen, 1964;
Roll, 1974). Materializations of human forms have been reported in the presence
of mediums (Carrington, 1954; Hannesson, 1924; Richet, 1923; Schrenck-Notzing,
1920). Indian popular literature describes appearances of inanimate objects,
usually amulets made of precious materials and said to have magical properties
such as providing protective contact with a guru (Yogananda, 1969).
and disappearance of objects is of course one of the favorite illusions created
by stage magicians. With the help of astonishing dexterity, diversion of
attention, and some gadgetry, objects have "appeared" and "disappeared" on the
magic show stage without any detection of the tricks of the trade by the
audience. Enterprising showmen throughout recorded history have produced
"spirits" and demons" in religious settings in their claim to demonstrate
scrutiny the bulk of the claims for materialization and teleportation have been
explained in quite natural (and sometimes entertaining) ways (Carrington, 1920).
Nevertheless, there are a few reports which keep the question open, e.g.,
Crookes' (1874) report on Florence Cook and D.D. Home, and the reports on Rudi
Schneider by Lord Hope (1933) and Schrenck-Notzing (1920). More recently,
Eisenbud's (1967) observations of Ted Serios suggest some kind of
materialization interfering with light in photographic and television process.
In spite of
considerable research done in this area by psychical researchers early in this
century, claims of materialization and allied phenomena have generally been
frowned upon and rejected by nearly all present-day parapsychologists (Eisenbud,
1975). We too shared this point of view and did not give serious consideration
to such phenomena until our encounters with Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Baba, age 51, is a religious leader who has a large following and lives in the
State of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. He is not only credited by his
followers and many others with a variety of psychokinetic powers (such as
materializations, teleportations, and healings) but also with various forms of
extrasensory perception and out-of-body projections collectively perceived.
Several popular books have already been published about him, all of which deal
in part with his paranormal phenomena (Kasturi, 1973-4; Murphet, 1971; Sandweiss,
1975; Schulman, 1971). We first encountered reports of these phenomena when
researching deathbed visions in India in 1972-73.
subsequent visits to India in late 1973 and early 1975 we met with Sai Baba
several times and also had lengthy interviews with a number of persons,
including Indian research scientists, who had observed or experienced psychic
phenomena of various kinds which they attributed to him. E.H. made another visit
to India in January, 1976, for further observations and interviews with Sai
Baba. In a series of interviews, we had the opportunity to discuss these matters
with Sai Baba himself and to observe him in action. He speaks English but often
prefers to use an interpreter. He tends to belittle the significance of his own
psychic phenomena, calling them "small items," and he repeatedly stresses the
importance of spiritual and ethical issues. Our bid for formal experiments was
rejected with the comment that he would only use his paranormal powers for
religious purposes such as helping his devotees when they are in dire need or
for invoking faith in hitherto agnostic persons, but never for purely
demonstrative purposes. During the 11 interviews we had with Sai Baba, however,
he did spontaneously display a number of the same phenomena for which he has
become famous in India.
Sai Baba are generally not prearranged. People who want to meet him - usually
several hundred - gather outside his residence in the ashram. Twice a day he
makes his rounds for a short while and chooses those he wants to see. Many wait
for weeks in vain and are never granted an interview either in a group or in
private. Sai Baba's interview room, where most of the phenomena we are reporting
occurred, is bare, with concrete walls and floor and without carpets or any
decorations. The only furniture in the room was one armchair. During our
interviews we all sat crosslegged on the floor. The number of persons present
with Sai Baba varied from only E.H. and K.O. to about nine persons. We observed
some 21 appearances and disappearances of objects at close range, but none under
controlled conditions. We shall describe four instances of these phenomena and
then attempt a very tentative evaluation of their genuineness.
of a "Rudraksha"
The first of
these phenomena concerns the possibly paranormal appearance of a "rudraksha,"
which is similar to an acorn, about an inch in diameter, and with a fine texture
like an apricot stone. First Sai Baba presented us both with some "vibuti" (holy
ash, which is probably comparable symbolically to bread and wine in
Christianity). He gave us the vibuti after a typical wave of his right hand,
palm down, in small circular movements that lasted two or three seconds. After a
short discussion he presented one of us (K.O.) with a large gold ring,again
after having waved his hand in a typical manner.
While we were
arguing with Sai Baba about the value of science and controlled experimentation,
he turned the discussion to his favorite topic, the spiritual life, which in his
view should be as "grown together" with ordinary daily life as a "double
rudraksha." We did not understand this term nor could the interpreter translate
it. Sai Baba seemed to make several efforts to make its meaning clear to us
until he gave up and with some signs of impatience closed his fist and waved his
hand. he then opened his palm and showed us a double rudraksha, which we are
told by Indian botanists is a rare specimen in nature like a twin orange or twin
We observed Sai
Baba closely all the time we sat on the floor. After we had admired the
rudraksha, Sai Baba took it back in his hand and, turning to E.H., said he
wanted to give him a present. He enclosed the rudraksha between both his hands,
blew on it, and opened his hands toward E.H. In his palm we again saw a double
rudraksha, but it now had a golden ornamental shield on each side of it. These
shields were about an inch in diameter and held together by golden chains on
both sides. On top of the shield was a golden cross with a small ruby affixed to
it. Behind the cross was an opening so that this ornament could be hung on a
chain and worn around the neck. Many, but not all, of the ornaments which Sai
Baba presents to people are said to be made of precious metals and stones.
Sai Baba wears
a one-piece robe with sleeves that reach his wrists. We watched his hands very
closely and could not see him take anything from his sleeves or reach toward his
bushy hair, clothing, or any other hiding place.
It was not
possible for us to examine Sai Baba's clothing. On one occasion, however, we had
an opportunity to examine two robes he had worn. He reportedly always wears
robes of the same sort and when they start to wear out he gives them away. The
two we examined contained no pockets of any kind or any signs of magician's
paraphernalia having been attached.
acquainted with a former professor of chemistry in Bangalore, Dr. D.K.Banerji.
One day Sai Baba visited him and his wife unexpectedly and "produced" some
objects for them, as he does almost everywhere he goes. As he retired for the
night in their house, he asked Mrs. Banerji to wash his robe, which she did. On
this occasion she, Dr. Banerji, and a colleague of his, Dr. P.K. Bhattacharya
(doctorate in chemistry from Illinois), carefully examined Sai Baba's robe and
found that it had no pockets. Dr. Banerji was formerly the director of the
Department of Organic Chemistry at the All India Institute of Science, which is
a leading research institute in India. These three persons reported this
incident to us during two independent interviews.
In an interview
during his third visit to Sai Baba, E.H. repeatedly saw the sun shine through
Sai Baba's thin, silken sleeves as he was sitting on a chair approximately five
to six feet away from him. The late afternoon sun was shining through the window
of the interview room where a few people were sitting on the floor around him.
Most of the interview was spent on a discussion. But Sai Baba also produced a
few objects which he gave to those present. As Sai Baba was sitting on a chair
his arms were approximately at the head-level of those sitting on the floor
close to him. The sun shining through Sai Baba's sleeves did not reveal any
shadows that might indicate the presence of hidden objects. Sitting that close
to Sai Baba. E.H. could several times see up his sleeve, which appeared to be
DISAPPEARANCE OF A PICTURE FROM K.O.'S RING
concerns the gold ring that Sai Baba had presented to K.O. during our first
visit. This ring had a large enameled picture in color of Sai Baba encased in
it. The picture was of oval shape, about 2 cm long and 1 1/2 cm wide, and was
framed by the ring. The edges of the ring above and below the enameled picture,
together with four little notches that protruded over it from the circular
golden frame, kept it fixed in the ring. Thus the picture was set as firmly in
the ring as if it and the ring were one solid article.
In an interview
during our second visit then we tried to persuade Sai Baba to participate in
some controlled experiments, he seemed to become impatient and said to K.O.,
"Look at your ring." The picture had disappeared from it. We looked for it on
the floor, but no trace of it could be found. The frame and the notches that
should have held the picture were undamaged; we examined them afterwards with a
magnifying glass. For the picture to have fallen out of the frame, it would have
been necessary to bend at least one of the notches and probably also to bend the
frame at some point, but neither had been done. Another alternative would have
been to break the picture in the ring so that it would fall out in pieces.
When Sai Baba
made us aware of the picture's absence we were sitting on the floor about five
or six feet away from him. We had not shaken hands when we entered the room and
he did not reach out to us or touch us. As we sat cross-legged on the floor, K.O.
had his hands on his thighs and E.H. had noticed the picture in the ring during
the interview and before this incident occurred. E.H.'s first reaction was that
the picture had suddenly become transparent. Two persons, Dr. D.Sabnani from
Hong Kong and Mrs. L.Hirdaramani from Ceylon, whom we had met for the first time
during the interview, certified that they had observed the large golden ring
with Sai Baba's picture on K.O.'s left hand before the picture disappeared. When
the picture could not be found, Sai Baba Somewhat teasingly remarked, "This was
During our next
interview, which took place two days later, Sai baba asked K.O. if he wanted the
picture back, to which K.O. replied that he did. On Sai Baba's demand, K.O. gave
him the ring which he took in his hand and asked, "Do you want the same picture
or a different one?" "The same," K.O. replied. Sai Baba then closed his fingers
around the ring in his palm, brought it to about six inches from his mouth, blew
at it lightly, and then stretching his hand toward us, opened it. In it was a
ring. The enameled picture was like the one that had been framed in the first
ring; the ring itself, however, was different. The first incident, the
disappearance of the picture, was obviously more evidential than was its
reappearance, about which there is not much we can say.
3. RING AND
NECKLACE FOR Mr. AND Mrs. KRYSTAL
aforementioned interview we observed an interesting phenomenon. A lawyer from
Los Angeles and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Krystal, were present with us. Their 33rd
wedding anniversary was around that day and Sai Baba seemed to be happy about
the occasion. He waved his hand and as he opened his fist we saw a golden ring.
He handed it to Mrs. Krystal, telling her to put it on one of her husband's
fingers, as is customary for the bride to do at a traditional Indian wedding.
Sai Baba's open hand was still stretched out in the air without having touched
his clothing or any object. We watched closely. Immediately thereafter Sai Baba
waved his hand again for two or three seconds, turned palm down, and quickly
closed it. His arm was approximately horizontal to the ground, which was not a
position favorable for slipping something out of his sleeve by means of gravity.
We observed at close range as Sai Baba loosened the grip of his fist so that he
could hold a large, bulky necklace in his hand. Its double length was about 20
to 29 inches and it contained a variety of different kinds of stones interspaced
by small golden pieces. Attached to it was a picture of Sai Baba surrounded by a
golden rosette frame about two inches in diameter. This necklace was presented
to Mrs. Krystal.
OF VIBUTI (HOLY ASH)
incident of possible materialization that we observed and will report upon here
occurred in the open. We sat cross-legged on the ground in a long line of people
as Sai Baba walked by. He stopped in front of Professor Hasra, a friend of Dr.
Banerji, whom we mentioned above. Professor Hasra was sitting second to the left
of K.O. and third from E.H. Sai Baba waved his right hand. As we were sitting on
the ground and he was standing, his hand was slightly above the level of our
His palm was
open and turned downwards, and his fingers were stretched out as he waved his
hand in a few quick, small circles. As he did this, we observed a gray substance
appearing close to his palm. This substance appeared just below and at his palm,
and Sai Baba seemed to grasp it into his fist with a quick downward movement of
his hand as if to prevent it from falling to the ground. K.O., who sat slightly
closer to Sai Baba than did E.H. observed that this material first appeared
entirely in the form of granules, like very rough-grained sand. Sai Baba then
poured the granules into the palms of Drs. Hasra and Banerji and most of them
disintegrated into amorphous ash which they smeared on their foreheads. The
point is that the granules were very fragile and would have lost their structure
if produced by the magician's art of quick movements ("the hand is faster than
the eye") which were invisible to us. When K.O. first saw the vibuti (holy ash),
the granules were intact. This ostensible materialization of vibuti is a
frequent occurence and Sai Baba produces it several times as he walks among the
crowd. We observed many such incidents, but only this one at so short a
paranormal appearance and disappearance of objects has been a tough problem for
psychical research in the sense that observations are rarely permitted under
conditions which would exclude all possible normal causes. We were prepared to
make instrumented observations with movie cameras and small sealed or locked
enclosures wherein we hoped the objects would appear. Unfortunately, we were
told not to use these in Sai Baba's interview room. We filmed him outdoors,
waving his hand and producing holy ash, but not at close enough range for
decisive analysis. All we have are observations made under semi-spontaneous
conditions. Therefore, all our conclusions have to be extremely tentative.
Let us spell
out some hypothetical normal explanations for the incidents we observed:
1. We might
have been in altered states of consciousness, like mass hypnosis, and have
responded to skillful suggestion techniques by "seeing" what was not there and
overlooking actual, observable events. For example, the late Carl Vett (personal
communication) exaplained his observations of the Indian rope trick in this way.
We are both psychologists and can state with confidence that we did not undergo
any altered states during our interviews with Sai Baba. We were very much on our
guard at all times. Moreover, the objects produced (the double rudraksha and the
gold ring with the enamel picture) are still in our possession.
2. The objects
might have been provided by an accomplice in the interview room. This is not
possible because objects also appeared when we were alone in the room with Sai
Baba. Moreover, the seating positions often excluded such a possibility, e.g.,
when he was seated at some distance from the other persons. Those present were
visitors who varied from interview to interview. Only at our first visit in 1973
was an interpreter used who was also an "officebearer" of Sai Baba's
interview room might have contained concealed devices which somehow ejected the
objects we observed. The room was barren of anything which could be so used. Sai
Baba usually sat cross-legged on the concrete floor out of reach of any possible
containers, such as a shopping bag on a windowsill, in which packages of vibuti
or other small objects might be concealed. The place where he sat varied from
interview to interview, and he was not positioned at one particular spot when
the incidents occurred. He also produced objects outdoors and in a private room.
4. Sai Baba
might have concealed the objects on his person and produced them by
sleight-of-hand. We heard rumors about this possibility which suggested hiding
places such as the sleeves of his robe, hidden pockets, and even his hair.
However, we found no one who could offer firsthand observations or who could
name someone who had made firsthand observations supporting this hypothesis.
hypothesis 1-3 to be unreasonable and not worth further discussion. However, the
sleight-of-hand hypothesis needs careful consideration because magicians do make
objects seem to appear and disappear by this method.
Now back to our
experiences with Sai baba. We made some 20 observations of ostensibly paranormal
appearances of objects in his hand. None of these occurred under controlled
conditions and we were not able to examine him physically or to take other
necessary precautions. Therefore, at this stage we obviously do not have
sufficient grounds for accepting the claims made about the genuineness of the
reported phenomena. It must also be stated that under the given conditions we
were not able to detect any evidence of fraud.
of the following points leads us to regard Sai Baba's phenomena as possibly
history without clear detection of fraud. According to those who have had a long
association with Sai Baba, the seemingly paranormal flow of objects has lasted
for some 40 years, or since his childhood. Most of the persons we met who had
had even just one meeting with him reported having observed some ostensible
materialization phenomena. We did not meet anyone who claimed personal
observations indicative of Sai Baba having produced the objects by normal means.
2. Reports of
the occurrence of other psi-phenomena, such as ESP over distance, giving
messages in dreams, healing, out-of-body projections collectively perceived, and
PK of heavy objects.
3. Variety of
circumstances in which objects appear: during private interviews, while
traveling in a car, outdoors in the presence of crowds, in private homes, etc.
Almost every time we saw Sai Baba,in public or in private, objects were
of objects apparently in response to a specific situation or on the direct
demand of the visitor. We encountered many witnesses who testified as to such
occurrences: the appearance of statuettes of a deity on request, a ring with the
picture of a visitor's favorite deity, etc.
production of large objects, e.g., a bowl the size of a dinner plate, and a
basket of sweets 20 inches in diameter.
of objects at a distance from Sai Baba, such as prayer beads appearing on the
windshield of a car being driven along an open country road, holy ash appearing
on Sai Baba's pictures (observed by two senior research scientists), fruit
appearing directly in the visitor's hand, etc.
prominent scientists in India have had the opportunity of observing Sai Baba
extensively and have become convinced about the genuineness of the phenomena.
Among them is Dr. S. Bhagwantam, former director of the All India Institute of
Science (the most prestigious scientific institute in India) and a prominent
nuclear physicist in India. We have already mentioned Dr. D.K. Banerji and Dr.
P.K.Bhattacharya in the Department of Chemistry at the All India Institute of
Science in Bangalore. We can also mention Dr. K. Venkatessan of the same
institute who has worked in research at M.I.T.and Stanford University. Further
we can mention Dr. V.K.Gokak, a former president of Bangalore University. We
have met all these men, and they told us of a number of phenomena that they had
observed in a variety of circumstances.
interest, of course, is the wearing apparel in which objects might be concealed.
Sai Baba wears a robe with sleeves of about the same length and width as those
of our Western jackets. This garment is buttoned from the neck down, about the
length of the sternum bone, and does not have any other openings or pockets that
we could see; it is all one piece down to his ankles. As stated above, we had
the opportunity of examining one of his discarded robes and found no pockets,
slings, suspicious seam corners, or any other hiding places in it.
brought out by several witnesses was that the kinds of things Sai Baba produces,
for instance ash, would soil his robe if they were concealed in it. We saw him
produce ash as many as four times during one appearance. After each production
his hands were dirty with ash, but neither we nor the witnesses we interviewed
ever detected ash on his clothes. Sometimes the ash was produced in large
quantities - two palms held together filled with ash, as witnessed by a college
teacher and her psychologist husband. Among other things produced were Indian
sweets and foods cooked in butter, which would certainly soil anything they
contacted. One of us (E.H.) observed the production of oil, and a medical doctor
who was formerly a faculty member at a medical school observed amrita, also a
liquid, coming out of Sai Baba's hands.
We consulted a
professional magician living in New York, Douglas Henning, who has given
sophisticated performances in large cities in several countries. He was
recommended to us as one of the most knowledgeable magicians in the world. He
viewed a movie on Sai Baba and discussed our observations of objects appearing
and disappearing. He was certain that he could by his magician's art duplicate
all the cases he saw on the film. However, he considered the ring incident to be
beyond the skills of magicians. He also said that if Sai Baba does produce
objects upon demand,this would be a feat no magician could duplicate.
interviewed a British-trained Indian dental surgeon, Dr. Eruch Fanibunda, who is
an amateur magician and has written two books on magic. He has taken motion
pictures of Sai Baba and traveled with him, but has not observed any magician's
impressive incident we personally observed was the disappearance of the enamel
picture of Sai Baba from K.O.'s ring. The sleight-of-hand hypothesis seems
inapplicable because Sai Baba's hands, or those of potential accomplices, never
came near the ring during the incident. We do not have a reasonable normal
explanation for this disappearance.
We realize that
without adequate experimental conditions the evidence will never be conclusive.
However, it seems to us that the variety and richness of the phenomena
associated with Sai Baba may provide unique research opportunities for both
Western and Indian scientists.
 We wish to
express our gratitude to Sri Sathya Sai Baba for his kind cooperation in this
research was financed through the A.S.P.R.'s James Kidd inheritance fund and by
an anonymous donor in Iceland to whom we are grateful.
 A goldsmith
later examined this ring and found that it is made of gold. It was appraised at
 A goldsmith
later examined this ornament and found that it contains 22-carat gold. Its value
was appraised at $80. The small ruby was examined by the Gem Testing Laboratory
of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Because of the closed setting
behind the stone it was not possible to determine whether it is a natural or a
synthetic ruby. A botanist's microscopic examination of the rudraksha showed it
to be a genuine example of its species.
of the American Society for Psychical Research Vol.71, January 1977.
developments in poltergeist research, Proceedings of the Parapsychological
Association, 1969, 6, 81-102.
The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1920.
The American Seances with Eusapia Palladino. New York: Garrett Publications,
Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism. London: Burns, 1874.
World of Ted Serios. New York: Morrow, 1967.
case of Florence Marryat. Journal of the American Society for Psychical
Research, 1975, 69, 215-233.
Remarkable phenomena in Iceland. Journal of the American Society for Psychical
Research. 1924, 18, 239-272.
of a series of sittings with Rudi Schneider, Proceedings of the Society for
Psychical Research, 1933, 41, 255-330.
Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram: The Life of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Parts I-III.
Baba, Man of Miracles. London: Frederick Muller, 1971.
We Explain the Poltergeist? New york: Garrett Publications, 1964.
thirty Years of Psychical Research. (Trans: by S.deBrath.) New York: Macmillan,
Poltergeist. New York: New American Library, 1974.
Sai Baba. The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist. San Diego, California: Birth Day
publishing Company, 1975.
Schrenck-Notzing,A. Von. Phenomena of Materialization. New York: Dutton, 1920.
Baba. New York: Viking Press, 1971.
Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946.
Society for Psychical
5 West 73rd
New York, N.Y.