plus BBC World's film of the event in 2004

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Sai Baba is perhaps the best known of those who claim to materialize - through a process of regurgitation' of so-called holy Shiva lingams. There are many accounts and photos and film clips of this. Some fairly early accounts are as follows:-

John Hislop on lingam production

Liongam-amrit manifestations

Comment:- The occasion Hislop describes with usual fervour... "a flash of gold", "how it came up cannot be explained". However, this has been explained, not least by the person who first achieved this... the famous illusionist Harry Houdini!

"During my engagement in 1895 with Welsh Bros. Circus I became quite well acquainted with a [Japanese] of the San Kitchy Akimoto troupe and from him I learned the method of swallowing quite large objects and bringing them up at will. For practice very small potatoes are used at first, to guard against accident; and after one has mastered the art of bringing these up, the size is increased gradually till objects as large as the throat will receive can be swallowed and returned." (Houdini, Miracle Mongers and their Methods, Coles 1980, (reprint), pp. 160-161)

(See here) The lingam regurgitation has also been performed many time on Shivarathri by the Sai lookalike guru Swami Premananda, currently serving a double life sentence in Indian for rape and murder. It is also seen done by roadside fakirs (see video clip linked at foot of this page)

The silver flash from the sand was no doubt placed there by Colonel Joga Rao, a faithful servitor who, however, declared to V.K. Narasimhan and others that he did not believe in the miracles... but saw that Sai Baba was nevertheless doing good things in education and health. Joga Rao's attitude was well-know in the ashrams among many (often elder) resident Indians in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Joga Rao used to prepare all the excursions and many other public events for Sai Baba. A flask could easily be sealed and left in the sand by him in advance, then the spot indicated to Sai Baba by any simple agreed signal. The amrith which Hislop confidently claims, "is unique. There is no other taste to compare to it." can easily be reproduced using a particular tea rose essence and sugar water (See here) Tea rose essence is not often used as a perfume, except in small parts, especially in the West. Of course, other essences may sometimes be added (sandalwood, jasmine and so on).

Sai Baba later claimed the cause was that the small golden lingam weighed three tons, as heard on the BBC film!

The BBC filmed the lingam production in 2004 - but it failed completely. Sai Baba had also permitted an unprecedented live broadcast in the Indian subcontinent on holy Shivaratri day of his so-called 'lingodbhava' (bringing the egg-like ellipsoidal object out of his mouth after what looks like a painful process of 'regurgitation'). From the very clear BBC filming of the event, however, one can see that NO lingam actually emerged. Instead there was a small spurt of apparently yellowish vomit, which some believers actually claimed was the lingam in liquid golden form! The yellow colour, however, arose entirely from poor video quality (or manipulation of colour) by the devotees who caught this on videocam. By contrast, the BBC film of the very same incident (in the documentary, 'The Secret Swami'). The BBC team filmed close up and one can see clearly that there was no golden liquid or any lingam coming from his mouth, but only transparent water is seen. Before collapsing, Sai Baba held a towel to his mouth and a golden lingam appeared "somehow" in the towel. The director Eamon Hardy was observing and confirmed that no lingam came from his mouth. It is clear that most devotees will believe just anything they are told by him or his cadre. Sathya Sai Baba's claim afterwards - stated by his translator Professor Anil Kumar and captured on film - that the lingam weighed three tons should convince any sane person that this was all nothing but transparent fraudulence.

Lingodbhava of Sai baba - sickie 1Lingasm manifestation by Sathya Sai baba - sick-up 2
But the BBC filmed it much more clearly and tellingly:-

Process of supposed 'regurgitation' of the lingam by Sathya Sai Baba

Same event from a different camera angle:-

A film clip of the 'actual emergence' has been posted on the internet by devotees. One can pause the video and examine each frame separately to analyze the movements. (View the Indian poor quality film-clip by clicking here). Some claimed that, because the lingam did not appear from his mouth, it was formed in the towel from vomited 'liquid gold' (though the liquid only appeared to have a yellow colour on the badly made cheap video, while it was clear as water on the BBC professional film). From before the alleged 'emergence', Sathya Sai Baba is clearly seen to be holding something just about the size of the lingam inside the towel between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand! Now what on earth could that be, one wonders? After the vomit, he lets go of what he was holding in secret and fumbles to extract it with his right hand, taking the lingam from under the towel just where it was being held earlier, and we see a rather confused look of resignation cross his features.

It seems that Sathya Sai Baba must have lost his nerve on this occasion, for he did not even try producing the lingam from his mouth this time. We know from a private source who observed the event that Sathya Sai Baba collapsed directly after that and was in a terrible state when he was carried off. Very likely partly a reaction to the stress of being on live TV and of realizing he had not managed to pull it off convincingly to conceal his fraud from the cameras. But his favourite, Anil Kumar, reported that Sathya Sai Baba had to go away to 'produce' two more 'atma lingams' in private out of sight of anyone! (believe it if you can!). Was Sathya Sai Baba feeling too ill, or too camera shy? Those with perspicacious and open minds can decide the nature of this 'divine mystery'? He answered this when, having been off-stage for some time, he returned and told the audience (in front of the BBC camera!)"

TRANSCRIPT (view actual brief video clip - filesize 1Mb) :-
Tanya Datta:- There's always an explanation for everything.
(Anil Kumar's translation of Sai Baba's words in Telugu): "Out of the stomach emanated Shiva Lingas of the weight
of three tonnes. That's the reason why some strain on the face and the body

It was Sathya Sai Baba's translator 'Professor' Anil Kumar, who translated Sai Baba's words saying that his debilitating collapse at the Shivarthri festival in 2004 was due to the three tonnes of weight of the golden lingam. He claimed it emerged from his body (see here - also view how the BBC camera showed that no lingam actually emerged). Probably the fatuous blind believer Anil Kumar mistranslated Sai Baba's words... for the Sanathana Sarathi printed version of Sai Baba discourses in which he claims that the weight of the gold in the human body - and in the gold lingams he produces - was 'three tolas'. This is equivalent to the weight of three original silver Indian rupees of 11.4 grams each. So Sai Baba's lingam of three tolas would weigh just over 34 grams. In an earlier discourse he made the quite different claim that every human body contains 'five tolas' (ca. 60 grams)

In his discourse after the Shivarathri lingodbhava two years previously (13/3/2002), Sai Baba stated: "(Showing the golden Linga to the devotees, Swami said). "As you can all see, this Linga is rather bigger in size. There is a meaning behind this. This is five Tolas in weight. [one Tola is 11.66 grams. 5 Tolas = about 60.0 grams] Every human being possesses five Tolas of gold essence known as Hiranyagarbha... Gold represents energy in man and is the cause of his radiance. The gold content within each body is this size only. It is gold essence in the body that makes the eyes see, ears hear etc." (Sanathana Sarathi - April 2002, p. 127)
However, the human body cannot possibly contain so much gold! In Wikipedia we find that the amount of gold in the human body is vanishingly tiny:-

ElementPercent of Atoms Atoms
Gold0.00000030 2 x 1019
Further: "only salts and radioisotopes of gold are of pharmacological value, as elemental (metallic) gold is inert to all chemicals it encounters inside the body" (see here) Sai Baba's fantastic account of the imaginary 'Hiranyagarbha' and how it 'represents' energy [but also ''makes the eyes see, ears hear etc."] is beyond all reason and science. It is a primitive Vedic superstition, which led to the use of gold as an ayurvedic 'medicine'. It is used in ayurvedic clinics even today, despite modern scientific knowledge of all the properties of gold in all its different forms on the human body as having very little effect except some reduction of some arthritic inflammation. In short, another myth perpetrated by Sathya Sai Baba with his ignorance of science and belief in ancient mythology as superior even to modern knowledge!

Sai Baba also said in "What is the significance of Lingodbhava? God is known as Hiranyagarbha (one having a golden womb). The golden Rasa (essence) present in His womb undergoes a vigorous churning process and assumes the shape of a Linga. Linga means a symbol or a sign. Bhagavan said - As you can see, it has no distinctive features like eyes, face, etc. It has neither feet nor head. It can be placed in any manner. It symbolises the formless Divinity." (ibid p. 123)

magnetic body

Surely only a person whose entire mind is permeated with unfounded beliefs and superstitions can credit this kind of pseudo-science. Interestingly, we can also compare this with the words of Sathya Sai Baba as attributed to him directly by his one-time very close servitor Swami Karunyananda, who lived to over 100 years and spent about 4 decades living within Sathya Sai Baba's apartment. On p. 367 of the first edition of 'The Glory of Puttaparthi' (Bangalore, 1980) by V. Balu, we read:-

"Sri Karunyananda also enlightened me about the lingam which Sri Baba used to materialize from his body on Shivarathri day. Sri Karunyananda was near at hand once when a solid gold lingam was brought out by Sri Baba. The lingam was quite big and heavy and the corners of Sri Baba's mouth had been hurt a little as it emerged! What pain the passage of such a big and heavy substance must have caused Sri Baba as it came out through his throat, thought Sri Karunyananda.
Sri Baba quieted his doubts; "When I will its birth, it is born only as a very soft, pliable substance. It is soft as it emerges from the stomach and comes up the throat. It hardens only at the time it is ejected from the mouth." "

As pointed out by former devotee, Sanjay Dadlani, this account has been spread around, such as in the book 'Sri Sathya Sai Baba - a story of God as man' (1985) by former long-term ashram resident M.N. Rao, and so we can all see how Sai Baba has changed his mind about how the lingam is formed, and probably has forgotten how he once explained it. Further, when Sathya Sai Baba resumed the lingam business again two decades after he stopped the yearly show - when his crisis with the major sexual abuse allegations began and something was badly needed to help slow the thinning out of his followers - he pronounced of the lingam he 'brought forth' then: "This lingam will not break even if it is dropped from a height with force. This is Amruthtatwam (symbol of immortality). It is changeless. You cannot see such a manifestation anywhere in the world. It is possible only with Divinity." (Sanathana Sarathi - March 1999, p. 73). If that were really so, how come that Swami Premananda did exactly the same year upon year up until he won himself a double life sentence for rape and murder in the early '90s? Or how come the regurgitation of lingams is a known fakir trick, which can be seen on various films (see short video clip of an Indian fakir 'regurgitating' a lingam here)

Finally, the eternally changeless 'atma lingam' this year changed into itself from yellow vomit into a lingam... how come? If the lingam really is made of gold, then it can surely be changed by heating it sufficiently, or putting it under a steam hammer. If not, then we have been deceived by Sathya Sai Baba as to what it is supposed to be. If it is so eternal and changeless, then why not clear up all questions by getting an advanced physics laboratory to see if they are able in any way to change one (Sathya Sai Baba has dozens of them)? Yes, why not? Or are they too holy to stand up to any test of truth? Or is it all a great con?


Sathya Sai Baba's delusions of grandeur on the public record reveals him to have a semi-literate villager’s mind, holding a discourse which surpasses even his sheer ignorance of atomic physics and magnetism. The subject of Sathya Sai Baba s discourse on Sivarathri, March 13, 2002, was magnetism with a capital M. Magnetism is physical magnetism which  – we are taught –  is also the metal gold, but not just that either, for it is love, or ‘the magnet of love’ (as well as being ‘reputation’?) but it is also material magnetism, (which also repulses)  because it is divine magnetism (which only attracts)… even though it is also a kind of ‘animal magnetism’. He speaks of magnetic flowers and says the body is a magnetic temple! Finally, it is ‘embodied’ in the legless, faceless linga and so on…  

Sathya Sai Baba evidently can’t hold two ideas at once separate from one another and the result is sheer mental melt-down! The entire aimless ramble goes takes him into mental pitfalls and semantic minefields! At least his crushingly boring and repetitive discourses were temporarily lightened by light relief and heavy farce) of his 2002 Shivarathri discourse. But the applause that greeted some of the weirdest statements makes one wonder if many more enthusiasts are not also loose on their rockers… even if most applause would have been from all the local uneducated villagers? So much for this "universal spiritual teaching" (bodha)?

The discourses of Sathya Sai Baba are becoming wilder and woollier, more irrational and confused as the years roll by. He speaks of the golden linga (i.e. an egg-shaped and egg-sized spheroid) as being "without legs" and "without a head"! His symbolic and rollicking piffle fantasy world gets curiouser and curioser:-

"Linga signifies a symbol. It means a representation." (Swami shows the golden Linga materialized by His circling Hand during the beginning of this discourse) "It has no eyes, face or mouth. It is not possible to say that either here is the head or here are the legs." (Swami turns the Linga around.) "It may be said to be on this side or on that side. Where is the head and where are the legs? Therefore, this that has no form is called Linga."
(From the full translation of his discourse 13/3/2002 on the Premsai website made by eager students in many languages, which were later suppressed by the ashram and Organization authorities (these verbatim complete transcripts and translations are often too revealing of Sai Baba's many howlers which are mostly - but not always - edited out by the Sai censors)

The time has come, the swami said
to speak of many things
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
of cabbages and kings
and why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings
Or why a linga has no legs
And even lacks a head…
(with plaudits to Charles Ludwidge Dodgeson aka Lewis Carroll)

The Sathya Sai Baba Lingam Question and 'Liberation' More Fully Examined

The production of lingams at the Shivarathri festival was discontinued in the 1970s, according to Sathya Sai Baba, because people were being injured due to the size of the (undisciplined) crowds. Many devotees mourned this because they were told - and unquestioningly believed - that to see the lingam actually emerge was to have the guarantee of 'liberation' (i.e. Moksha or the condition whereby one allegedly does not ever have to be reborn into the world in a new body).

Since this 'major miracle' (as it is claimed to be by true believers) had been a powerful draw on believers to visit the Shivarathri festival, Sathya Sai Baba revived the showpiece in public again after the allegations of his major sexual misconduct had broken on a large scale on the Internet and had thinned visiting crowds (and doubtless reduced the sum of financial donations). Indicative of the decline after the allegations is the fact that his visitors to his 76th birthday were easily accommodated within the Kulwant Mantap with max. capacity ca. 15,000. The much larger capacity Hillview Stadium was not needed and the crowd consisted overwhelmingly in Indians and with far fewer Westerners than usual. After 1999, when he suddenly resumed the lingam production, foreigners came again in greater numbers (the only explanation is that they hoped that this would grant them liberation from this 'world of appearances' or samsara.

Two films made and edited by followers of the lingam 'production', from 2000 and 2001, show Sai Baba apparently 'materialising' a golden lingam which emerges from his mouth. In the sequences from 2001 (one taken head-on, and one from the side filmed by Dr. Sara Pavan) we see that Sathya Sai Baba holds a towel before his mouth and fiddles for about 5 seconds, appearing to put the regurgitated lingam back in his mouth, before letting it come out in full view slowly (but it drops before he catches it) is interesting.

The high quality BBC film in which Sai Baba transparently faked the appearance of a lingam from a towel he held up briefly in front of his face and then collapsed showed him being half carried off stage by worried attendants. Afterwards they claimed he had actually materialized two more golden lingams through his mouth when in private! His very visible collapse was most likely an act - he is known for acting a lot and has various 'routines' known to frequent interviewees (eg. the act of testing a ring on a potential recipient's fingers to see what would be the correct size - then producing another, often visibly by sleight of hand). While bringing out the lingam from the towel, Sai baba looked very embarrassed. He most probably realized how compromising the BBC filming was. Afterwards he claim in public that the reason for the collapse was that this small golden egg-shaped lingam weighed three tons!! Yet when he put it on the flimsy table before him it did not even bend!
See the BBC's filming of the 'regurgitation' and of his collapse in brief video clips - with transcripts.

Lingam explanations & Harry Houdini

There are three main possible explanations of the lingam showpiece:-

1) It is a genuine lingam production in the stomach of the object emerging through his throat.
2) It comes up his throat when he gags, but he puts it back into his mouth behind the towel to let it seem to emerge. (This would mean that it is indeed a 'regurgitation', as it has also often been called by devotees.
3) It is brought into his mouth by hand behind the towel (the violent seeming regurgitation being only a fake movement).

After following these matters for 20 years, I now find 2) the most likely, then 3) and 1) most unlikely. I believed for about 18 years that the lingam productions were most likely all genuine - though with some difficulty, I admit. I also had films of the so-called 'lingodbhava' from before he stopped in the 1970s. The whole episode looked very much the same as nowadays. By 1968 the crowds descending on Prashanthi Nilayam to see the lingams come forth became so undisciplined that injuries occurred. Sai Baba gave this as the reason for stopping the lingam feat on Shivarathri. He did however perform it once more in the 1970s. In 1999 the sex abuse testimonies began to pour in and became the main subject of discussion even on the veranda where Sai Baba's trusted special guests sit waiting for him (a boring process!). He laid down a very strong threat about such talk, but devotees faded away in considerable numbers and many also declared their resignation from his organization. Therefore it is easy to see that the reintroduction of the lingam production on Shivarathri was a way to regenerate the crowds, and it was most successful too. It was not announced, but the word spread immediately and by 2001 the crowds were considerable again. He pronounced after the lingam production in 2000 that everyone who saw this actually emerge would gain liberation from the cycle of birth/death, and this would apply again in future. No doubt the difficulty of seeing this supposed 'emergence' also caused him to put the lingam back in his mouth and let it come out again to satisfy all whose view was blocked or whose attention had faltered at the precise moment. That is showmanship... hardly the genuine actual 'divine act' he had always presented this to be.

I consider 2) most likely in the early days, but not in the last 2-3 'emergences' where 3) is almost certain). In short, all are most likely faked one way or another. Therefore fakes:

  • The technique of swallowing things - not least lingams - so as to regurgitate them is performed by all kinds of wandering fakirs, Tantrics, nagas, 'yogis', showmen in India. This feat (or trick) was first recorded as having been performed by Harry Houdini (1874-1926). The famous escapist and illusionist experimented at swallowing a potato attached to a thread, so he could practice the act of regurgitation. Later he could do it with egg-shaped objects the size of the lingams Sai baba produced, and without any string or other aid than drinking water (maybe with an emetic too), and regurgitated them with ease on stage (see The object can be kept in the stomach or throat for several hours at least before regurgitation is stimulated by some physical means (massage, vomit-inducing medicines and so forth). Such regurgitation is not described anywhere so far discovered in Indian scripture or esoteric literature before the death of Houdini! He performed this act in public as 'magic'. Since then the same delusion has been practiced by diverse wandering fakirs and gurus in India. Later, in the 1920s, a famous German magician, Waldo, performed regurgitation widely (see

  • One can see a lingam production from the mouth by some roadside magician/fakir who a German film crew met around 1990, which shows how common this kind of 'feat' is in India. On the same film we see who could swallow a very large number of very large nails, then regurgitate them four or five at a time. The nails could be seen on X-ray in an extended part of his lower throat. ( 'Das Mysterium Der Shiva - Heilige Männer'. It was shown in Germany in a series called 'Terra X - Rätsel alter Weltkulturen' 'Ein film von Eberhart Thiem, Helga Lippert, Arno Peik") and the team also filmed Sai Baba 'making' vibuthi etc. (I saw them in action at Brindavan)

  • Swami Premananda (formerly of Sri Lanka and Tiruvannamalai, now in prison in Tamil Nadu for life for rape and murder) produced three lingams at Shivarathri (before his trial) witnessed by a good friend of mine. There are many reports of him having done the same as Sathya Sai Baba year after year, once even when visiting UK. He was also celebrated as ' the avatar' in his ashram's publications etc.
  • There is no reason why the very young Sai Baba should not have learned this technique at the time when he got involved in activities like performing in public and doing peculiar feats, as described once even in Prof. Kasturi's 'official' biography 'Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram'. (See end of 3rd chapter of Vol. 1., p. 20 in some eds.) Sathya Sai Baba copied another artist - a young girl - who picked up a kerchief with her eyelids from the ground when bent over backwards. Sathya Sai Baba surpassed this "tortuous feat" in public by picking up a needle with his eyelids from the same position. A kind of Tantric or fakir performance, for which feat Sathya Sai Baba was said to have had to suffer a dreadful eye affliction afterwards! Somewhat unbelievable, but still revealing - even that Kasturi believed it.
Houdini on Regurgitating Objects at Will "A number of years ago, in London, I watched several performances of one of these chaps who swallowed a hatful of stones, nearly the size of hen's eggs, and then jumped up and down, to make them rattle in his stomach. I could discover no fake in the performance, and I finally gave him two and six for his secret, which was simple enough. He merely took a dose of powerful physic [emetic--ed.] to clear himself of the stones, and then was ready for the next performance. During my engagement in 1895 with Welsh Bros. Circus I became quite well acquainted with a [Japanese] of the San Kitchy Akimoto troupe and from him I learned the method of swallowing quite large objects and bringing them up at will. For practice very small potatoes are used at first, to guard against accident; and after one has mastered the art of bringing these up, the size is increased gradually till objects as large as the throat will receive can be swallowed and returned." Houdini, Miracle Mongers and their Methods, Coles 1980, (reprint), pp. 160-161.

In order to produce an effect such as the production of the lingam, all that is required is the swallowing of the lingam ahead of time, and its regurgitation at the appropriate point in the ceremony. Note that the description of Sai Baba's swallowing of water prior to the regurgitation, and the churning of the stomach muscles both correspond to the standard hatha yoga technique described by Swami Satchidananda. The reader interested in further information which bears on this might enjoy reading the Chari article referred to above. In it Chari describes a scientifically studied street performer who makes his living doing regurgitations. He is able to swallow as many as 10 live snakes at a time, and regurgitate them in a `reptilian ball with a diameter of about 5 inches'.(Chari, op. cit., p. 168).

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