Tantric guru in India fails to kill skeptic

By Phil Plait | March 23, 2010 11:56 am

With all the religious nutbaggery going on in the US of A, it’s sometime easy to forget that there’s a whole planet of wackiness out there.

The outspoken and hard-working Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku had enough. When the "guru" Pandit Surender Sharma claimed he could kill a man using nothing but magic powers, Edamaruku challenged Sharma to kill him on live TV in India.

For some reason, Sharma eventually agreed, and what played out on the air is pretty funny to watch:

Gee, this would’ve looked silly without the dramatic music. If any BABloggees in India would post a transcript in the comments, I’d be grateful!

My favorite part is Edamaruku constantly smiling and shaking his head, giving Sharma exactly what he deserves: derision. Still, millions of people in India follow gurus like this purveyor of nonsense, so it’s serious business. I imagine that Sharma will lose exactly zero followers after this, given people’s ability to rationalize failure (not to be confused over being rational about failure).

I’m very glad that this guy was exposed on national TV in India, but I have to think that Mr. Edamaruku could’ve saved quite a bit of time and effort had he pointed out one simple thing:

If this guy is so powerful, why does he wear glasses?

Tip o’ the turban to Mike Wagner.

Comments (88)

  1. Jeff

    Real science example:

    Hypothesis = Explanation : a lawlike statement like acceleration is caused by and is proportional to force

    Data Set = Explanandum : the body accelerates

    Phony science example:

    Hypothesis = mumbo jumbo containing a mumbo jumbo statement

    Data Set = mumbo jumbo

    Nothing to explain with phony science, qed.

  2. Daffy

    Sadly, Edamaruku probably is risking his life…but not from meaningless rituals. Rather from some idiotic follower with a gun.

  3. Vernon Balbert

    [quote]If this guy is so powerful, why does he wear glasses?[/quote]

    Perhaps his power over life and death does not extend to being able to correct vision through magic. After all, I can shoot a gun fairly accurately, but my glasses sure help me to do it.

    That said, I’d sure like to know what the heck this mystical fool is saying. What are the magic words? I’ll bet they’re good for a laugh.

  4. NelC

    Of course, if Edamaruku dies any time in the next ten years, Sharma will claim it was because of this curse.

    I can only hope that Edamaruku lives at least as long as James Randi.

  5. XMark

    Obviously Edamaruku is a much more powerful Tantric guru.

  6. drow

    it certainly lacks the IMMEDIACY of ‘power word kill’ or ‘magic missile’, but full credit for doing the somatic component.

  7. ZomZom

    I wouldn’t have let the magic guy touch me. Too easy to get ya with something actually deadly.

  8. Mike

    Sort of a “Men Who Stare at Goats” thing, only the “goat” can laugh at you.

  9. Mapnut

    Note that this happened in 2008.

  10. Steve Ulven

    As I was about to say, #9, yeah, this is old. I saw this featured somewhere else on my RSS feed today and knew I’ve seen it before at least a year ago. I’m not quite sure why this is sudden news again, but I guess folks not familiar with it will get to see it for their first time.

  11. Matt T

    Don’t tell me I have to be the one to make the obvious “Surender” pun…

  12. ndt

    It’s news again because Sanal Edamaruku wrote a column about it for the Guardian.

  13. James Hammond

    Edamaruku’s fascinating account in the Guardian, published online today, can be found at:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/mar/23/surender-sharma-tv-ritual-edamaruku

    Om lingalingalingalinga, kilikilikili…!

  14. Isn’t it obvious? Sharma did kill him, but then magically brought him back to life instantaneously! Then he killed him again, brought him back, killed him, brought him back, killed him twice brought him back five times, then lost count and left him alive at the end.

    Seriously, though, what’s he doing at 1:43? Did the guy’s jacket have some lint that needed to be brushed off or something?

    Oh, and it seems that Sharma did rationalize it. From the Wikipedia article: “After his attempts failed the tantrik reported that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a powerful god, to which Edamaruku responded that he was an atheist.” Proof that powerful gods love atheists? ;-)

  15. Gary Ansorge

    Wondering if anyone saw last weeks Colbert show where he interviews Raj Patel. Apparently, some religious “leader” sees Raj as the re-incarnation of the greatest Buddha.

    RAj said that was just silly(ok, I’m para phrasing).

    I love when a proclaimed messiah denies his divinity. It’s so rare and refreshing.

    There’s an old saying; if you meet a (self proclaimed) Buddha on the road,,,kill him. If HE says he’s a Buddha, he’s a liar.

    Raj may actually BE a Buddha, since he denies it.

    Buddha hood is like cool,,,it’s not an appellation you can assign to yourself.

    Gary 7

  16. This new version of Street Fighter is really fricking slow.

  17. Michelle R

    I tried watching… But then I just kept cracking up. I had to stop. Lol…

  18. Navneeth

    Even funnier: he starts off by chanting prayers that a lot of people know and are generally in praise of various deities (absolutely nothing “eeevil”/black-magic-y about that).

    I don’t know, the whole thing looks very gimmicky to me, not just the claim by the Surender Sharma. Not to mention the image of a politician in the background.

  19. The glasses are because his eyesight is so powerful he needs something to to filter his vision so he doesn’t burn holes through people, livestock and buildings. Everyone knows that!

  20. #13 TechyDad said: “Isn’t it obvious? Sharma did kill him, but then magically brought him back to life instantaneously! Then he killed him again, brought him back, killed him, brought him back, killed him twice brought him back five times, then lost count and left him alive at the end.”

    All while imperceptibly levitating.

  21. amphiox

    “I wouldn’t have let the magic guy touch me. Too easy to get ya with something actually deadly.”

    If I remember correctly from reports back in 2008 when it happened, the guru guy tried to touch him several times and had to be WARNED OFF repeatedly by the TV host.

    That always struck me as just a hint of the menacing. . . .

  22. Patricio

    Hey Phil, I’d like to make a comment on your reasoning about wearing glasses.
    It’s the same reasoning I do about TV faith healers: they claim they can cure terrible diseases like cancer, tumors of any kind, pains, and so on, and even AIDS. But show me just one that cures a simple dental cavity! (no, they are too smart to say something like this).

  23. Rukmini Pillai

    Such vile ‘Gurus’ exploit millions of vulnerable and ignorant people in India. It is sad that the ancient, inspiring and wondrous Sanskrit chants are being used for such purposes.

  24. CW

    Heh, what a coincidence. I’m just on the SGU episode (#141) where they discussed this event. Bob Novella’s take on it was hilarious. Thanks for posting, Phil.

  25. Ron

    A new age shaman once told me “there is no such thing as a coincidence” when I told him this could be true because the word sham comes right before the word shaman in the dictionary he said he would put a death curse on me. That was in 1995.

  26. Matt T

    @Gary (#14):
    - What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Buddha!
    - He is! He is the Buddha!
    - Now, **** off!

    - How shall we **** off, O Lord?

  27. @CW #21
    SGU? Skeptic ___ ____? I’m only backlogged a full week in podcast listening, so if you’ve got more podcasts for me to subscribe to I’m in! :)

  28. I am from India and can make out the words of the “spells”. Most of them are nothing but old religious and cultural chants sung at events ranging from marriage ceremonies to baby showers to independence day celebrations. In fact we used to sing two of them right before school started in the afternoon. They were eminently silly, but I am pretty sure they were not designed to kill our teachers (although such motives did cross some our minds a couple of times…)

  29. Gary Ansorge

    23. Matt T;

    LOL.

    OK, if you’re THE Buddha, (have you ever noticed the HA at the end? I’ll bet Buddha laughs a lot), what am I wearing?

    Someone at a Dead show once asked me WHO I was. I responded “I’M God.” Then I ran away laughing,,,

    OK! Maybe that was only funny if you were there,,,

    GAry 7

  30. Russell

    I was waiting for the guy to die laughing.

  31. TheInquisitor

    I think I heard about this on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe a while back.

  32. Kees

    @ Russel: That must have been his plan all along!

  33. @Mike Wagner

    SGU = Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe

    I’m working on getting caught up on back shows. Up to #74 now.

  34. Larry

    If memory serves, I’ve seen this with subtitles somewhere. The guru was claiming that Pandit must have paid another guru to protect him, and tried more powerful spells to counteract the protection spells. Of course, after each “more powerful” spell failed, the guru claimed Pandit’s mystery guru must have protected him from that as well. So, you can see the never ending excuse circus to the guru’s followers that would fit into their belief systems.

  35. @Todd W
    Yikes! That’s a lot of listening to catch up on. My current stack of subs is to: Futures In Biotech, This Week in Virology, This Week in Parasitism, QuackCast, Reasonable Doubts, The Non-Prophets, and I just started listening to For Good Reason today.
    What a pleasant alternative to TV :)

  36. John Paradox

    Please, don’t squeeze the Sharma.

    J/P=?

  37. Geri

    Edamaruku’s article in the Guardian titled “The night a guru tried to kill me on TV” can be found at the following link:

    http://tinyurl.com/yjgwa94

  38. I would have faked my own death just to shut the guy up. Somebody needs to give this the “Benny Lava” treatment.

  39. Annalee Flower Horne

    I wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to play dead, then jump up a minute later and be like “HA HA JUST KIDDING.”

  40. Toothygrin

    Jeez.. Well, if he was trying to *bore* the guy the death, it almost worked. At least, put him to sleep..

  41. Fun fact:

    “Pandit” is where we get the word and concept of “pundit”. Looks like the originals in India are about as effective and useful as the ones over here.

  42. Steve

    Isn’t this attempted murder? Even if it didn’t work and never could?

  43. jcm

    I imagine that Sharma will lose exactly zero followers after this, given people’s ability to rationalize failure (not to be confused over being rational about failure).

    Actually, the guru did provide a rationale why he could not kill Mr. Edamaruku:

    When the guru’s initial efforts failed, he accused Mr Edamaruku of praying to gods to protect him.


    Not even sleeping with a woman helped the guru.

  44. TheLoneIguana

    I was hoping for more – pulling his heart out and having it burst into flame or something. Maybe he needed that big cow-skull headpiece.

  45. @TechyDad Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Seriously, though, what’s he doing at 1:43? Did the guy’s jacket have some lint that needed to be brushed off or something?

    —-
    Ok, my guess is that he’s supposedly tugging at Edamaruku’s aura, thus making it looser and easier to haul his soul out. Sort of like rolling a clove of garlic so it loosens up the skin. Passing the knife in front of and behind him is a similar thing, severing his lifeline.

    Mind, one can do the exact same gestures and claim one is tugging away at any hang-around evil spirits (so yes, like metaphysical lint), and that one is cutting away any evil spirits hanging around you.

    You can really do just about any silly gesture and justify it. I’m sure someone has waggled a banana at someone and claimed it was to curse them, and that someone else has waggled a banana with the intent to bless them.

  46. wendy

    Yeah, I’d LOVE to know what the guru was saying. It probably went something like this….
    “I kill you! I kill you! You die! DIE! Die….no really….die….Alright, now you’re really gonna get it, funny guy…you think this is funny?! Let’s see who laughing when I KILL YOU!!! I KILL YOU!!!

    “No, seriously, this isn’t funny anymore…can somebody grab me a knife, please?”

  47. Neel Dey

    A friend of mine will post a complete transcript later (am too lazy to do it), but starting from 5:10, he’s saying how the words he used to attack Sanal will encircle the Cosmos at the speed of SOUND and the cosmic spirit will give them the energy to attack Sanal in a final decisive blow!

    BAHAHAHAHAHA!

    P.S. IndiaTV is a joke even among the completely uneducated here.

  48. justcorbly

    I recently Googled an old and lost friend, only to find she was apparently well under the influence of some psuedo-Indian guru.

    I don’t know what she, and all the others, are looking for that can’t be provided by a realistic and rational look at the universe. I don’t mean that sarcastically or cycnically. We should try to understand what compels people to seek refuge in fiction.

  49. This One

    The BA said: “I imagine that Sharma will lose exactly zero followers after this”

    Don’t be too sure. I am an ex-follower of a so-called guru. I won’t mention his name here, because the remaining disciples are very litigious, and could conceivably cause problems for Dr Plait.

    I was a hardcore true believer, but after a while, It became impossible to ignore the evidence and I began to apply reason to my life situation. Today I am completely free of religion and other superstitions. There are a good number of others who, like me, eventually saw the light and renounced the old fraud.

    Mr Edamaruku is doing good, useful work. I think we have reason to hope that some of Sharma’s followers will see him for what he is.

  50. kevbo

    Kali Ma!!! Kali Maaaa!!!!!!!

  51. Monkey

    Can anyone lend a hand here…

    I am a Canadian (canadian laptop, purchased on CDN soil) living in Taiwan. I cannot access these, or a whole host of other youtube/FORA.tv/etc clips.

    Taiwan/China nationhood status aside, is this a Canadian limitation because of my computer, or am I being censored by the Chinese, or what? I cant take part in most of these clips!! I would love to, though. Anybody else in the same situation?

    Just thought I would ask…

  52. drewski

    I can kill anybody with mystical powers, but it can take up to 120 years to work. Mystical powers work in mystical ways but oh yes, they WILL die.

  53. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Buddha hood is like cool,,,it’s not an appellation you can assign to yourself.

    “Budweiser – buddha-building since 1876.”

    [Actually, Budweiser isn't that cool, american style beer is like making love in a canoe - @$#! close to water. But it will build a "buddha" look.]

  54. Brian Too

    Yeah, Edamaruku is gonna be stone cold dead in, oh, 70 or 80 (or 90, or 60, or…) years, and Sharma will TOTALLY be responsible! He did it with one of those deferred spells! And forgot to tell us! And the death will look natural no matter how close you look!

  55. Ashwin Narayan

    It’s rather horrible that he’s actually using Hindu prayers as the “magic words”, when he’s trying to kill someone . . .

  56. Roger

    I live in Canada and I’m having no difficulty.

    I had a quick look at some othe other clips, and saw some guy dropping children off a temple and into a blanket held by people, like a group of firemen saving someone from a burning building.

    What’s with that?

    People do some barbaric things in the name of their imaginary sky dwellers.

  57. Bunk

    Obviously none of you saw “Temple of Doom.” That guy is so screwed!

  58. Mike from Tribeca

    Funny stuff, but I swear he threw in more product plugs than are in Lady Gaga’s latest video.

  59. I think the chant translates as “if you aren’t going to have the decency to die, I will at least permanently stain your suit with this goobery water”

  60. dude

    I dunno about real gurus but from what I could make out, the “magical words” were VERY mumbled as if he was an actor. Seriously, I could say the same stuff, just grab any Indian guy and he can do an imitation. Also Pandits are really popular and more like businessmen and I’ve never heard of this Surender Sharma nor can I find anything on him.

    The whole thing looks suspect especially considering how big corruption is in india. Even then, I dunno if a real pandit would have succeeded…

  61. Cairnos

    From the Wikipedia article: “After his attempts failed the tantrik reported that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a powerful god, to which Edamaruku responded that he was an atheist.”

    Oh no, this has provided evidence to all those folk who keep proclaiming that atheism is a religion, you’ve even got your own protective divinities. OF course I suspect they get quite a lot of stick at celestial cocktail parties…
    “Hey Skeptos, don’t look so down. All you have to do is believe in yourself, HA get it? BELIEVE in yourself, HA HA HA…”
    “Oh, **ck off Thor.”

  62. TheBlackCat

    @Monkey: I am pretty sure youtube, as well as a number of other popular sites featuring user content (like twitter), are blocked throughout China.

  63. Martha

    The guru kept reminding me of the mystic character in the movie, Help who was after Ringo. “Go to the window”

  64. Levi in NY

    I think it looks pretty darn silly WITH the dramatic music.

  65. Nav

    the tantric dude is chanting all the auspicious mantras to take a person’s life… its like giving sanjeevni booti (a herb that gives life) to kill someone!

  66. zedlx

    Makes you wonder why the guru accepted the challenge in the first place. Wiser ones would just give an excuse that killing is against the “code” or something. Also, curious on whether the guru is living in style by ripping off his naive followers.

  67. Cosmonut

    Hi Phil, I’m from India.
    The funny thing is, this ‘guru” isn’t cursing Endamarku or anything.

    He’s simply chanting standard Indian prayer hymns.
    Most of the time, its the Devi mantra (prayer to the goddess), that you hear everywhere during Durga puja in Calcutta !

    I wonder if the guy even understands what he is reciting !

  68. pheldespat

    Nice, but OLD news.

  69. Hahahaha… you made my day!

  70. Lars

    @Gary Ansorge #15: That old saying actually applies to the real Buddha, not the fake ones, AFAIU. It’s highly metaphoric, ofcourse.

  71. I am confused as to why this story is coming up again? It is everywhere at the moment and yet it happened back in 2008. Is there a new aspect to the story that I am not seeing?

  72. Moose

    Yeah, SGU covered it ages ago. Steve Novella was wrong though (not by much.) He was hearing “killi – killi” from the… um… practicioner. The sound mojo-man was pronouncing was more like “ghilli – ghilli”. I won’t suggest my French-English ears are fully dialed in, but it wasn’t a hard ‘K’ sound.

  73. selfification

    There is a lot of chanting in sanskrit. These are old prayers (akin to random latin prayers to the lord) praising many of the high gods in Hindu religion.

    3:00:
    Announcer: “Is anything happening to you?”
    Sanal: “Watch him! He is physically pushing me. He is forcing me.” Laughter!
    3:30:
    Sanal: “Brother! You have no strength. This is all useless.”
    Sharma: “Just wait, you’ll know later.”
    4:00
    Announcer: “Pandit? How long are you going to take?
    Sharma: “Another 15 minutes”
    Announcer: “Oh I see, and what will we see in 15 minutes?”
    Sharma: “Aren’t you seeing the effect? Did you see his head spin round and round due to the powers?”.
    Announcer: “I don’t see anything”
    Sanal: “Till now nothing is happening to me. Nothing has happened. This is all completely useless.”
    4:50
    Sanal: “There is no meaning in these Mantras, they have no powers, they are completely useless.”
    Announcer: “Pandit sir, you have 15 minutes left to prove your position..”
    Sharma: “I will prove it for sure that Mantras have power and that it will …”
    Announcer: “Sure.. you have the water, you have the knife with you…”
    Sanal: “Go on, go one, do whatever you have to do”
    Pandit: (what #47 said.. I only speak broken Hindi and I like his translation) “The mantras I used to attack Sanal will encircle the Cosmos at the speed of SOUND and the cosmic spirit will give them the energy to attack Sanal in a final decisive blow!”
    Announcer: “I’ll give you another 15 minutes, please continue!”
    6:20
    Sanal: “Please don’t touch physically. Please do it without touching my body.”
    6:38
    Sanal: “Look at his. He keeps physically touching me. This isn’t a dance.”
    Announcer: “Please, without contacting him do this. What did we talk about? Mantras and their powers.. what are their powers?”
    Sanal: “Please don’t push me. Nothing else has happened. These mantras are completely powerless.”
    7:07
    Announcer: “You have 3 more minutes”
    Sharma: “You are going to die! You are going to die!”
    Announcer: “You have 3 minutes, you have taken 12 minutes…”
    7:28
    Sharma: “Do you take protection from a lot of Gods and Godesses?”
    Announcer: “Do you believe in Gods?”
    Sanal: “Abolutely not! I am an atheist!”
    Sharma:
    Sanal: “Look here you took 15 minutes! My body is ok. I have not lost consciousness. Your mantras are powerless and completely useless.”

  74. JT

    @Rabbitpirate

    Edamaruku wrote a column about it in the Guardian recently. That’s why it’s been making the rounds again.

  75. Robert

    Awesome! i hope he sent the fraudster a claeaning bill.

  76. VJBinCT

    In India (and I think in much of the Arab world as well) shaking the head side-to-side or diagonally is actually agreement, like shaking the head up-and-down here in the west. I still find this a little disconcerting at first when I visit India, but get used to it in a bit.

  77. Neel Dey

    And Phil is absolutely right, he’s not going to lose any followers with this. I remember some 6-7 years ago Edamaruku was on a news channel exposing this major fraud guru called Sathya Sai Baba and his “miracles” (stuff that Randi could do drunk) and that guy still has a gazillion followers. Most of them responded with the hindi equivalent of “meh, we don’ need no stinkin’ reasons fer everythin’!”.

    @VJBinCT: Not to my experience it isn’t. Atleast not in Bombay.

  78. Phil, you are right. Today most of such gurus who claim to prevail tantra are fraud. They are simply letting the credibility down… althouh I admit such thing exist but owmers nfver claim to do so…nice job.

  79. selfification

    @VJBinCT: Ah the Indian head wag! Not all of us do it, but I do and had a blast confusing all the US professors my freshman year. I don’t really do it any more except when talking to my parents.

  80. DaveS

    Ron@25, love it, real superior human being, that guy.

    I was cursed in Latin by a Gypsy in front of the Vatican. No lightning bolts there, either.

  81. Margaret Cantrell

    Can we get some subtitles on this? PLEASE!

  82. onshay

    Well that’s not fair at all!! The guy didn’t even have the respect to give the guru the required 80 years it takes to perform the ritual!

  83. Ella

    I read somewhere that apparently after hours of trying to kill him the “guru” played dirty and tried to finish him off by applying excess pressure to the temples.

    I lol’d at the glasses comment btw!

  84. wjv

    I wonder if the guru can still be charged with attempted murder???

  85. Jimmy Olson

    I’d be afraid to challenge someone to kill me like that, becauase they might try to poison me or something.

  86. blakut

    It would’ve been cool if he collapsed to the floor. Everyone would’ve gone “OMG!!!!!!” and then just get back up again and say: “LOL, FOOLED YOU NOOB!!!!”

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