Sanal Edamaruku

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Sanal Edamaruku
Sanal Edamaruku in Helsinki (cropped).jpg
Born (1955-05-26) 26 May 1955 (age 66)
Alma materUniversity of Kerala
Known forPresident of the Indian Rationalist Association and founder-President of Rationalist International
Parent(s)Joseph Edamaruku
Soley Edamaruku

Sanal Edamaruku is an Indian author and rationalist. He is the founder-president and editor of Rationalist International,[1] the president of the Indian Rationalist Association and the author of 25 books and other articles.[2] In 2012, he was charged by a group of Catholics with blasphemy when he insulted the Catholic faithful while examining a claimed "miracle" at a local church in Mumbai. He moved to Finland to evade arrest.[3]

Early life[edit]

Edamaruku was born in 1955 in Thodupuzha, Kerala, India to Joseph Edamaruku, an Indian scholar and author, and Soley Edamaruku.[4] Born in a Christian-Hindu mixed marriage, he was brought up without any specific religious influence. At his parent's insistence, he was the first student in India whose official school records listed "no religion".[5]

He became a rationalist-atheist activist at the age of 15, after seeing a neighbourhood athlete's death after her family refused medical treatment because they believed in faith healing.[6]

In 1977, he obtained a master's degree in political science from the University of Kerala. In 1980, he received his MPhil degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi at the School of International Studies. While writing his thesis towards his doctorate, he began working for the Afro-Asian Rural Reconstruction Organization.[citation needed] He gave up his job in 1982 to focus more on the Indian Rationalist Association and publishing his own works.[citation needed] He also has a diploma in journalism and appeared as a regular panelist in TV channels.

Rationalist activism[edit]

Edamaruku demonstrating the trick to "create" holy ash in a village in Uttar Pradesh state in India.

Edamaruku has been active in the Indian Rationalist Association (IRA) from the age of 15. Before becoming the president in 2005, he served as the General Secretary beginning in 1983,[7] and has been the editor of its publication Modern Freethinker. His many books and articles deal mainly with rationalistic thoughts and against superstition in India. His writings in Rationalist International are translated into English, French, German, Spanish, and Finnish.[8]

In February 2011, Edamaruku was elected as a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[9] (USA) and is an Honorary Associate of New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists and Rationalist Association of UK (formerly Rationalist Press Association).[10]

Edamaruku demonstrating a levitation trick.

Edamaruku has carried out investigations and demonstrations that helped expose frauds, mystics and god men as well as conducting campaigns against superstition in Indian villages.[4] He refers to this as "Rationalist Reality Theatre."[4] These investigations have attracted the attention of print and television media throughout Asia.[citation needed] The documentary film Guru Busters[11] features Edamaruku and a team of rationalist campaigners on the road in Kerala giving public demonstrations of how to perform supposedly supernatural stunts.[12] He has helped in building Indian Atheist Publishers, which is now Asia's largest free thought publishing house. He convened the three International Rationalist Conferences held in 1995, 2000 and 2002.[8]

In December 2013, Edamaruku announced the launch of a new quarterly English language magazine The Rationalist on his blog.[13] Contributors will include international rationalists on several continents and content will focus on science, reason, critical thinking and human rights.

The Great Tantra Challenge[edit]

On 3 March 2008, while appearing on a panel TV show, Edamaruku challenged a tantrik to demonstrate his powers by killing him using only magic.[4] The live show on India TV where the tantrik chanted mantras and performed a ceremony received a large boost in ratings. After his attempts failed, the tantrik reported that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a powerful god, to which Edamaruku responded that he is an atheist.[14][15]

2012 blasphemy case[edit]

In March 2012, Sanal Edamaruku investigated a report that a crucifix at Our Lady of Velankanni church in Mumbai was dripping water from the feet.[4] This incident, though not claimed by the Catholic Church as a miracle,[16] was believed by locals to be one. Sanal Edamaruku was invited to investigate by TV9 of Mumbai with the consent of the church authorities. He went with an engineer to the site where the alleged miracle had happened, and traced the source of the drip to the rear side. Edamaruku found that the water was seeping through the feet because of capillary action and faulty plumbing.[17][18] Moisture on the wall where the statue was mounted seemed to be coming from an overflowing drain, which was in turn fed by a pipe that issued from a nearby toilet.[19]

Edamaruku accused Latin Christian priests of regularly scamming devotees and defrauding miracles to make money, and build bigger and newer churches and convents,[20] and the Pope of being "anti-science",[21] during his appearance on a television show held to discuss the investigation. A Church representative admitted he has the "right to doubt", Christian activists said that the FIR was not for debunking the alleged "miracle" but for defamatory statements made live on television.[22] A Catholic lawyer asked Edamaruku to apologise whilst on television, but he did not, so in April 2012, the Catholic Secular Forum[23] in Mumbai filed a complaint under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code in several police stations around the city.[4][24]

The All India Catholic Union said the law was being applied incorrectly.[25] Colin Gonsalves, the founder of the India Center for Human Rights and Law, stated his opinion that no criminal offence had been committed.[26] There were further complaints that the law was being misused to suppress free speech.[27] Others spoke in his defense publicly, such as Vishal Dadlani,[28] and James Randi.[29] The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay issued statements that called for Edamaruku to apologise and for the prosecution to drop the charges, although the Catholic Church is not associated with the criminal charges.[15]

On 31 July 2012 Edamaruku moved to Finland. When fellow campaigner Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in 2013 for campaigning against human sacrifice via Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance, Edamaruku felt returning could put his life in peril. Edamaruku said, "I would do it again. Because any miracle which has enormous clout at one moment, is simply gone once explained. It's like a bubble. You prick it and it is finished."[27]


Sanal Edamaruku speaking at The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) 2013 on the topic "Indian Gurus: From Flying Fakirs and Starving Saints"

Edamaruku has been critical of India's blasphemy laws, describing them as "relics of colonial legislation" which have been abused to "hound and silence" intellectuals and artists who question religious beliefs. He considers it dangerous that any person may register a complaint of blasphemy against another, leading to an arrest and prolonged imprisonment until the suspect is acquitted by a court of law. Edamaruku argues that the real danger here is less the verdict and more the pre-trial "punishment".[30]

Edamaruku has been a critic of Mother Teresa, publicly criticising her legacy in Kolkata.[31] He has spoken out against the Catholic Church's sainthood of Mother Teresa and the 'miracle' cure of Monica Besra. The church's evidence is based on a written testimony in English by Besra, an illiterate woman who isn't able to speak the language, claiming a cure by a medallion placed on her by nuns. Edamaruku said that her cure could be reasonably ascribed to the treatment she received in a government hospital in Balurghat and the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. After investigating her care record the former health minister of West Bengal, Partho De, has agreed her recovery was attributable to her months of medical care. Edamaruku describes the 'miracle' as an "obvious fraud."[32]

Edamaruku frequently speaks of the potentially dangerous practice of superstitions, such as Hindu astrology, which is prevalent in Indian society.[33] He is a regular commentator on Indian TV channels explaining superstitions and blind belief, and is a major voice in defense of reason and scientific temper in India.[4] He has delivered lectures abroad including the US and many European countries.

Godmen in India have often been accused of indulging in criminal activities under the guise of religion in order to procure followers, fame and funds. According to Edamaruku, most are charlatans, and quite a few have amassed great wealth and property from "miracles" that are nothing more than sleight of hand.[34]

Edamaruku considers the Indian rationalist movement an "inspiring example for many western rationalists to awaken, activate and rejuvenate their own organisations", with India's rationalists being "on the frontline of the battle between science and superstition".[35]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Australian writer Greg Egan used the story of Edamaruku, the Indian Rationalist Association and the Tantra Challenge in his novel Teranesia.
  • Edamaruku appears as a character in Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's novel French Lover.
  • Angela Saini's book Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World has a chapter "Chariot of Gods" that describes Edamaruku's work.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rationalist International".
  2. ^ Pinter, Andras; Levin, Jelena; Bockman, Pontus (13 May 2016). "Episode #22, Featuring Sanal Edamaruku". The European Skeptics Podcast. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  3. ^ Dissanayake, Samanthi (2 June 2014). "The Indian miracle-buster stuck in Finland". BBC. BBC.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Shaffer, R (March–April 2013). "Blasphemy, Free Speech, and Rationalism: An Interview with Sanal Edamaruku". The Humanist. Retrieved 23 February 2013."Blasfemia, libertad de expresión, y el racionalismo: Una entrevista con Sanal Edamaruku". The Humanist/Europa Laicismo. March 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  5. ^ Kumar, Shikha. "I thought Jesus was Cinderella's brother". DNA India. Diligent Media Corporation. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  6. ^ Lad, Vrushali (6 May 2012). "Batting for reason in a land of faith". Hindustan Times. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  7. ^ Quack, Johannes (2012). Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-19-981260-8.
  8. ^ a b Zuckerman, Phil (2010). Atheism and Secularity. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-313-35181-5.
  9. ^ "CSI announces new Fellows". Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Rationalist Association (UK) Board of Directors and Supporters". Archived from the original on 8 March 2012.
  11. ^ "Eagle & Eagle".
  12. ^ "Eagle & Eagle".
  13. ^ Edamaruku, Sanal. "Embarking on a Great Journey". Blogspot. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  14. ^ "The Great Tantra Challenge". Archived from the original on 18 March 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2008.
  15. ^ a b "India TV's Great Tantra Challenge". National Public Radio. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  17. ^ White, Jon. "Miracle buster: Why I traced holy water to leaky drain". New Scientist. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Why Jesus wept in Mumbai: The church versus the rationalist". Firstpost. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  19. ^ McDonald, Henry (23 November 2012). "Jesus wept … oh, it's bad plumbing. Indian rationalist targets 'miracles'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Dissanayake, Samanthi. "The Indian miracle-buster stuck in Finland". BBC. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  24. ^ Ashley D'Mello & Vijay V Singh (16 April 2012). "FIR against rationalist, cops call him for questioning". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 14 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  25. ^ A Rationalist Fights to Disprove Miracles in India (Audio file). Public Radio International. 23 November 2012.
  26. ^ Dube, Priyanka (4 December 2012). "Indian rationalist stays in Finland fearing arrest for hurting religious sentiments". IBNLive. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  27. ^ a b Dissanayake, Samanthi (2 June 2014). "The Indian miracle-buster stuck in Finland". Retrieved 4 June 2014.
  28. ^ Ghose, Sagarika. "Support pours in for Indian rationalist forced to live in Finland fearing arrest". CNN-IBN. Archived from the original on 22 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  29. ^ Randi, James. "A Matter of Very Great Concern". JREF. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  30. ^ Shaffer, Ryan (15 February 2013). "Blasphemy, Free Speech, and Rationalism: An Interview with Sanal Edamaruku". The Humanist. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  31. ^ Henry McDonald (23 November 2012). "Jesus wept … oh, it's bad plumbing. Indian rationalist targets 'miracles'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  32. ^ Edamaruku, Sanal. "Catholic Church manufactured an ovarian miracle for Mother Teresa". Church and State. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  33. ^ Guttormson, Joel. "Meet the Amazing TAMers: Sanal Edamaruku Part 2". TAM 2013 James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 28 February 2014 – via YouTube.
  34. ^ Sarkar, Sonia. "Gods of Bad Things". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  35. ^ Edamaruku, Sanal (28 May 2006). "Why Rationalism?". Indian Rationalist Association. Retrieved 2 November 2015.

External links[edit]