Sai Baba and the Miracle Industry

Sai Baba’s death has rekindled the debate on the so called Babas or Godmen and the Miracle Industry run by them. Sai Baba was probably the oldest amongst the current lot and has had unprecedented following for the last several decades. The fact that he has left behind a trust of Rs. 40-100 Thousand Crores (~USD 9-22 Billion) is a good indication of the quantum of the miracle business.

However, the real issue is what attracts millions of people to follow and worship the so called Godmen in the first place? Income is a secondary issue as it is directly proportional to the number of followers.

In case of Sai Baba- he initially attracted people by performing simple illusion tricks such as producing holy ash, gold jewellery, watches etc out of thin air. This made many (mostly gullible) people believe that he was a living God. Since then, many rationalists have questioned the authenticity of the so called miracles and have equated them with illusionary tricks performed by magicians. In fact, a few magicians have publicly demonstrated the tricks performed by Sai Baba to prove that these were no miracles but just simple illusions. Unfortunately, these allegations have not deterred most of his followers from continuing to have faith in Sai Baba. However, the continued scrutiny by the rationalists did make Sai Baba desist from performing the tricks in recent years.

However, most other popular Godmen have used more subtle ways of attracting followers such as claiming to cure chronic diseases through Yoga (Ramdev) or to relieve mental stress (Ravi Shankar) or spiritual enlightenment. However, the followers still look for direct remedies to their problems and somehow are tempted to believe that just following and worshiping the Godmen would solve all their problems. For example – the famous cricketer Sunil Gavaskar has shared a miracle like experience about Sai Baba wherein he claimed that his leg injury got miraculously healed by applying the “vibhuti” (holy ash) sent by Sai Baba.

Most people, through wishful thinking, seek similar quick fix and miraculous solutions to their problems. Sometimes the problem could be extremely trivial, almost laughable. But once a person gets into the habit of seeking divine solutions there is no end to it. Stuck in a traffic jam, appearing in an examination (with poor preparation), want to impress the girl next door, evading income tax and don’t wish to be caught the list is endless and includes problems much more trivial than those mentioned. If the problem doesn’t get solved people would blame it on bad luck but if it does get solved people would more often tend to believe that a divine intervention has saved them. On case by case basis, it is not practically possible to verify such claims especially when the people involved do not wish to think rationally. However, in general, we all know that each problem has a statistical chance of being resolved. In most such cases, people try many solutions simultaneously and would not be in a position to decide which solution worked in the end. By natural instinct, most people tend to believe that they were saved by a miracle – sometime just because it makes them feel special and privileged and boosts their ego indirectly.

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