B. Premanand

Suman Oak

The Life of a Skeptic, Rationalist, Humanist, Atheist and a Brave Patriot Comes to an End.
It is a custom to eulogize a person after his or her death and shower all kinds of epithets on him which at many times are not pertinent. But all the above epithets are factual statements in case of this great man who left behind him innumerable disciples, followers, co-workers, colleagues, friends and admirers to mourn his death. And the wonderful thing about all this mourning crowd is that they are all rationalists, people who think for themselves. They did not waste any time in organizing mourning ceremonies for this man of action, but went about their usual routine after learning that he is no more; as he expected them to do; he had told, ‘don’t ever give up some activity to see my body.’
This brave patriot participated in the Independence Movement at a juvenile age of 12 years. Although not incarcerated by the British, the timid principal of his school, in order to remain in the good books of the rulers, expelled this brave lad from his school. Thus his formal education, brought to an end, did not interfere with his real education any more. He was educated at home by a private tutor. His patriotism was that of an innocent child and not for gaining any political clout. It waned after this stint in patriotic movement of early 1940s, only to become a wider catholic goal reaching beyond the boundaries of a single nation.  Perhaps because he escaped from being shaped by formal education, his life took a different turn altogether.
Search for truth-the human instinct to know- took hold of him. Being the son of a theosophist, he got interested in yoga and other occult sciences and left home ‘In Search of God’ to follow Swami Ramdas who toured India without any money. Premanand too could tour without any money in his pocket because many selfless people helped and he was grateful to them. Premanand gives credit for this to human beings and not to god as did the Swami. In his search for God and spirituality, Premanand visited many a Sanyasin and Guru throughout India. But he refused to follow any of them blindly. He discovered that Swami Shivanand who extolled the healing benefits of ‘raising of the Kundalini’ to no end, himself suffered from diabetes and other chronic ailments. But the Swami gave a lame excuse that ‘he wanted to endure and not cure them as those diseases were due to his past sins.’ He also found out the truth about Swami Narayananand, the Guru of the famous Yoga Guru, B.K.S. Iyenger. This Swami produced the sacred letter ‘Aum’ on a blank paper by touching it with a burning piece of wood. He also wrote a few books on celibacy couching his non-sense in scientific words. Premanand once found him in a sexually compromising position with the landlady of the building. Premanand, the born skeptic, could not be fooled like other gullible disciples including BKS Iyenger.
His experience with many other Sanyasins and Yogis made him wiser; he was convinced that ‘the Yoga and other Tantric Knowledge imparted by these self-deluding godmen had no scientific basis whatsoever’. Without spending more time in search of god and miracles, the Hindu boy who was out to obtain magic powers like Yogis, now took a different path, in search of truth behind the so called magical powers and miracles. There are four different ways, he explains, of performing a miracle- sleight of hand, use of chemical compounds, use of mechanical means and making use of some little known facts about human body and the way it functions. Premanand explored all the miracles he came across and found out the tricks of the miracle mongers. He wrote copiously on them, performed them himself and trained innumerable workers in performing and then explaining the scientific facts that make the miracle possible. His desire, he says, is to build a research centre in India where all the miracles and psychic phenomena will be exhibited and explained with a library on religion, magic, science, etc. But sadly, he can not conjure up money that is needed for all this, from thin air.
In 1969 Dr. Abraham Kovoor, the great Sri Lankan Skeptic and Atheist came to India. His “Miracle exposure” lectures proved a turning point in the life of many youngsters involved in social reform activity. The movement for eradicating superstition is one of its outcome. Now ‘debunking spiritual tricksters’ became Premanand’s mission. He, like others involved in the movement of eradicating superstitions, took up the task of exposing the so called miracles and the miracle mongers that exploited gullible people. But unlike the other movements, he became practically a one-man crusade against the greatest of the trickster-exploiter Satya Saibaba. This Baba, as is well-known,  has influential followers among all walks of life. Recently the newly elected Chief Minister of Maharashtra, postponed the business of taking oath and forming his ministry and went to Pune to pay his obeisance to this Baba who had come there. Premanand has suffered a lot in exposing the misdeeds of and fighting law suits against Satya Saibaba risking his own life as well as the life of his family members. The episode of the Writ Petition under Indian Gold Control act and the infamous murder of six young disciples in Saibaba’s Ashram on 6 June 1993 are well-known. Premanand published the Monthly ‘Skeptic’ and a number of books exposing this fraudulent trade through his
‘Skeptic Book Club’.
Premanand and other like minded activists have kept up Dr. Kovoor’s movement and his famous challenge of offering One Lakh Rupees to anyone who could demonstrate psychic abilities under fraud proof conditions, even after his death in 1978. This amount has been increased to twenty one lakhs by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti but there had been no takers so far. Premanand was convinced that to clear people’s minds of superstitions and blind faith he has to nurture their brains that were atrophied, for generations by religious indoctrination and belief in god. He had to train them in rational thinking and expressing their minds with courage.
For nearly three decades the Rationalist Premanand visited thousands of villages and towns in India exposing godmen and their tricks and conducting science workshops to spread critical thinking. He has visited 49 foreign countries. Acknowledging his mission he was given a fellowship by national council for Science and Technology Communication by the Government of India.
Premanand disapproved those rationalist activists who started well and then joined some leftist political movement or promote things like naturopathy, yoga, etc., and dilute the rationalist movement. While he was on his death bed some religionists spread a rumour that he has now started believing in god and supernatural powers. He was quite drowsy and was not able to respond to any queries. But when he was told about the rumour, he opened his eyes indicating that he was steadfast in his convictions even at that moment. To declare this to the public he signed a ‘Deathbed Testimonial’ and also put his thumb impression to it (since his hands were too week to produce a clear signature) in presence of the doctors who attended on him, Shri Narendra Nayak and others.
This death bed testimonial made on 20th Sept. 2009 is a proof of his commitment to atheism and rationalism the convictions with which he lived his whole life.
Despite being an atheist to the core Premanand did not deny the right of faith and worship to any human being who is so inclined. He did not tell people not to believe for, he thought, it was for them to decide whether to believe or not. Swami Manavatavadi of “Kids’ Kingdom Un-Orphanage” praises Premanand as the only Indian Humanist who wanted to have prolonged discussion with him. When Swami was described by some one as a religious spy, Premanand retorted, ‘rationalism is not a gang of criminals to fear being spied. Only criminals are afraid of spies.’ Premanand accepted Swami’s institution as a member of FIRA and held its National Executive Committee meeting along with a National Seminar on Scientific Thinking, Rationalism and Tolerance arranged by the International School of Humanitarian Thoughts and Practice in Kurukshetra on May 5, 2002. Swami Manavatavadi praises Premanand for his ‘clean, clear, brave, non-partial, non-prejudiced, non-casteist, non-lingo fanatic, open and democratic’ attitude towards all. A truly rare spirit!
Premanand had more than his share of personal grief. He thinks he had been a failure with both of his children. Kabir was murdered and Sumedha died of a heart attack. But his greatest personal failure, he thinks, is that he could not change his own people; may be because of lack of time with them. He is unhappy that whatever changes he could bring about occurred too slowly. He was happy with his school at Thikkody. Here about 50 children of various castes and religion were being taught in an atmosphere where superstitions had no chance to spoil the thinking of these youngsters. But sadly enough, this egalitarian school was shut down by the Kerala Government just in three years time.
In Nov. 2006 he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. Just a couple of weeks after it he attended the rationalist meeting when Banglore Vicharvadi Sangha was founded and the 6th conference of FIRA (of which he is the founder) organized by the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, in Pune. The Samiti presented him with an award for his contribution to rationalist movement in India. Despite his failing health, he completed and opened to public his long cherished project -a Permanent Exhibition on the method of science- at Pedannur. Plenty of awards and accolades came his way. He founded many an association and institution. Despite all this fame and honour and despite being born in Brahmin family with huge landed property in Kerala, Premanand remained a humble penniless activist.
For Premanand, being a rationalist or a free thinker was not enough; it was more important to help others also to know enough of the realities of life to be able to reject gods and godmen and thereby create a humanistic and rationalist world for all to share. For that, he wanted that activists go to younger people and not waste their time on the older generation.
If Premanand had ten more years of active life he would like to record about 1500 or so miracles (so far he has been able to record only 150.) Also his science exhibition that is made up of posters only, he would like to develop into a laboratory with working models for hands on experience for children.
His message to us all is, ‘All spiritualism is a mere delusion and only Science and Scientific attitude towards life can save people .’