The SKEPTICAL INQUIRER asked the Indian magician B.Premanand for his perspectives about the Indian Rope Trick and levitation claims in general. Premanand is chairman of an Indian National Skeptics group and has exposed 1,146 claims of "miracles" in India. He toured and lectured in the United States in late 1988 and early 1989 - ED.
There are many stories behind all Indian magicians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries claiming that they did, the Indian Rope Trick. Professor Vazhakkunnam, who taught me magic in the late 1930s, gave his version of how the trick may have been done, although he told me he never tried it: Vazhakkunnam said that perhaps it had been done before electricity came. His speculation was that it was done at night in the open where there were a lot of trees, so the metal wire could be tied horizontally to the trees and the rope suspended vertically on the metal wire. This helps the boy get lost in the foliage of the tree and come down unnoticed and hide in the basket.
The best levitation trick, even now, is done in the open, with people around. A person lies on the ground, and a large bedsheet hides him, except for his head, which pokes through a cut in the sheet. After the chanting of the mantras, the person slowly levitates up to about five or six feet, with the bedsheet around his body. This is done with two sticks that are hidden on the two sides of his body. (See sketch) After the bedsheet is put over the body, the sticks are taken in the hands and slowly raised up, while the person also slowly rises, first sitting and then standing, with only his head protruding outside the sheet. Two curves at the ends of the sticks give the appearance of the person's feet. This is the simplest and most astonishing levitation and is done with just two sticks. It has been done for hundreds of years, and is still done today on the street or in an open field.
In 1977 when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to India with his disciples and showed the trick of hopping in the sitting yoga position, we challenged him - as the teacher who teaches levitation - to fly from Old Delhi to New Delhi, about two miles. He agreed to do this the next day if we came up with 10,000 rupees (about $1,000 U.S.) He thought we did not have the money. The next day, when we came with the money, he told us that Transcendental Meditation is not for demonstration purposes! He refused to do the levitation flight. Thus he was exposed. Mahesh Yogi has more than half a dozen helicopters in India for flying around the country. Why does he need them? He has never once shown himself flying.
Raising the rods makes the legs appear to be floating.
This past year he has been charged in a court of law in India for having money that was unaccounted for and being in possession of smuggled articles. He claims that if one percent of humanity would practice TM, the world would turn out to be peaceful, moral, truthful, and so on. But the practice of TM did not change Maharishi Mahesh Yogi! So how could it change the world?
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Last update: 22 July 1998