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|Abraham Thomas Kovoor|
10 April 1898|
Thiruvalla, Kingdom of Travancore
|Died||18 September 1978
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Abraham Thomas Kovoor (April 10, 1898 – September 18, 1978) was an Indian professor and rationalist who gained prominence after retirement for his campaign to expose as frauds various Indian and Sri Lankan "god-men" and so-called paranormal phenomena. His direct, trenchant criticism of spiritual frauds and organized religions were enthusiastically received by audiences, initiating a new dynamism in the Rationalist movement, especially in Sri Lanka and India.
Early life and career
Abraham Kovoor was born in a Saint Thomas Christian family at Thiruvalla, Kerala. Kovoor was the son of Kovoor Eipe Thomma Kathanar, Vicar General of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. He was educated at Bangabasi College, Calcutta. After working briefly as a junior professor in Kerala, he spent the rest of his life in Sri Lanka, teaching botany in several colleges before retiring in 1959 as a teacher at Thurstan College, Colombo. He also practiced hypnotherapy and applied psychology.
As a rationalist
After retirement Kovoor devoted his life to the rationalist movement. He spent most of his time building up the Ceylon Rationalist Association, and he was its president from 1960 to his death. He edited an annual journal, The Ceylon Rationalist Ambassador. In 1961 he traveled in Europe and established contact with the World Union of Freethinkers. Under the pseudonym Narcissus, he wrote newspaper and magazine articles about his encounters with the paranormal. These articles were translated and published in India, initially in Malayalam by Joseph Edamaruku (Kovoor’s pseudonym was no longer used), and later in other Indian languages.
A controversy arose when Kovoor was awarded an honorary doctorate by the obscure (and now defunct) Minnesota Institute of Philosophy, calling itself the theological seminary of a "Church of Materialism." Kovoor had never visited the US. A strong critic of fake diplomas and doctorates used by charlatans, he later returned the honorary doctorate.
Kovoor died on September 18, 1978. "I am not afraid of death and life after death," he wrote in his will.[this quote needs a citation] "To set an example, I don't want a burial."[this quote needs a citation] He donated his eyes to an eye bank and his corpse to a medical college for anatomical study, with instructions that his skeleton eventually be given to the science laboratory of Thurstan College. All of these wishes were honored.
Publications and Kovoor's challenge
After his numerous encounters with god-men, astrologers, and other people who claimed to have psychic powers, he came to the conclusion that there was no objective truth behind such claims. He wrote, "Nobody has and nobody ever had supernatural powers. They exist only in the pages of scriptures and sensation-mongering newspapers." His books Begone Godmen and Gods, Demons and Spirits, about his encounters with people claiming psychic powers, are still bestsellers in India.
In 1963, Kovoor announced an award of Rs. 100,000 for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under foolproof and fraud-proof conditions. The challenge listed 23 miracles or feats that godmen (and Western mystics and performers such as Uri Geller and Jeane Dixon) were claimed to perform, such as reading the serial numbers from currency in sealed envelopes, materializing objects, predicting future events, converting liquids from one kind to another, and walking on water. Some sought publicity by taking on his challenge, but they forfeited the initial deposit amount. The Sri Lankan Rationalist Association, led by Professor Carlo Fonseka, renewed the challenge in 2012 and increased the reward to Rs. 1 Million. (Similar challenges have been posed by Basava Premanand and James Randi.)
Focus on Sathya Sai Baba
One of the main targets during his miracle exposure campaign was Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India. Sai Baba,who died in April 2011, was perhaps the most prominent god-man in India. Sai Baba was observed to materialize vibuthi, or holy ash, among numerous other documented miracles. Kovoor believed that the Baba performed materialization through sleight of hand. As a demonstration, Kovoor produced holy ash seemingly from nowhere and distributed it amongst the audience. He would then demonstrate to his audience the sleight of hand, explaining that, after some practice, anybody could perform the feat.
To his death he remained convinced that all holy men used this manner of showmanship. He has provided many rational explanations for Sai Baba's other reported miracles, including materialization of large objects, bilocation, appearance of vibhuti and amrita on images in devotees houses, and healing of the sick and wounded. Kovoor wrote repeatedly to Sai Baba, requesting a meeting to discuss the Baba's miraculous powers, but he felt he was not taken seriously. Upon receiving no response, Kovoor communicated his intention to come to one of Sathya Sai Baba's ashrams, at Whitefield near Bangalore, and he again received no response. When Kovoor arrived at Whitefield, Kovoor was unsuccessful as Sathya Sai Baba had already fled for his main ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi.
Legacy and criticism
The Malayalam movie Punarjanmam (1972), Tamil movie Maru Piravi (1973) and Telugu film Ninthakatha were made on the basis of his case diary. Aamir Khan’s character in PK (film) (2014) is inspired from Kovoor. Bharathiya Yuktivadi Sangam declared a national award called the 'A. T. Kovoor Award for the Secular Artist'. The first recipient was Indian film star Kamal Haasan in acknowledgment of his humanist activities and secular life.
His work remains controversial in India. In 2008, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, leader of Shiromani Akali Dal, imposed an "immediate ban" on Kovoor's God, Demons and Spirits, translated into Punjabi by Megh Raj Mitter. Basava Premanand is regarded as Kovoor's spiritual successor in India.
Books by and on Kovoor
- Begone Godmen - Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, India
- Gods, Demons and Spirits - Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, India
- Selected Works of A T Kovoor- Indian Atheist Publishers, New Delhi, India
- Exposing Paranormal Claims - Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu, India
- Soul, Spiril, Rebirth & Possession - Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu, India
- On Christianity - Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu, India
- On Buddhism - Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu, India
- Astrology & Hinduism - Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu, India
- Kovoor Kannda vaigynanika sathyaGalu, Anuvaada (K. Maie Gowda, Govt of Karnataka publications).
- Devaru Devva Vijnana, Anuvaada (Navakarnataka Publications).
- Kora Iravukal, Veerakesari Publications, Colombo
- ManakolangkaL, Veerakesari Publications, Colombo
- Kovoorinte Sampoorna Kruthikal (Complete Works of Kovoor) - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku.
- Kovoorinte Thiranjetutha Kruthikal (Selected Works of Kovoor) - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku. Prabhat Book House, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.
- Samsarikkunna Kuthira (The Talking Horse) - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku. Current Books, Thrissur, Kerala, India.
- Yukthivadam(Rationalism) - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku. Current Books, Thrissur, Kerala, India.
- Anamarutha - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku. D C Books, Kottayam, Kerala, India.
- Indriyatheetha Jnanavum Parapsychologiyum - Translated by Joseph Edamaruku. Indian Atheist Publishers, New Delhi, India.
- Yukthichintha(Rational Thought) - Translated by Johnson Eyeroor. Current Books, Kottayam, Kerala, India. http://www.puzha.com/malayalam/bookstore/cgi-bin/book-detail.cgi?code=157
- Aur Dev Purush Har Gaye - Tarakbharti Parkashan, Barnala, Punjab, India
- Dev, daanav aur Ruhain - Tarakbharti Parkashan
- Tey Dev Pursh Har Gaye - Tarakbharti Parkashan, Barnala, Punjab
- Pret Atma Puner Janam Te Kasran - Tarakbharti Parkashan
- Kramatan Da Pardan Phash - Tarakbharti Parkashan
- Dev, Daint te Ruhan - Tarakbharti Parkashan
- Deviyo Saha Bhoothayo - A Translation by Dharmapala Senarante
- Ma Kala Gaveshana - A Translation by Dharmapala Senarante
- "Dr Abraham T. Kovoor: The Rationalist of Indian Subcontinent". Die Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen. 1998-01-30. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
- "Punjab bans rationalist literature". International Humanist and Ethical Union. 22 March 2008.
- Rahul Singh (1997). "Magic Realism,". In Satya Pal Ruhela. Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Press, 1972-1996. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-81-7533-041-2. republished article from The Times of India - The Sunday Review of 27 Aug. 1995
- Johannes Quack (2011). Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. Oxford University Press. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-0-19-981260-8.
- Selected Writings of Abraham Kovoor
- The Rationalist of the Indian Subcontinent
- The Miracle of the Ganga Water: Essay by Abraham Kovoor
- Dr. Bhagavantham and Sai Baba
- Challenge of James Randi
- "Kovoor" in Rationalism, Humanism and Atheism in Twentieth Century Indian Thought
- James Randi paying respect to Dr. Kovoor on YouTube