Sathya Sai Baba
Sathya Sai Baba
23 November 1926
|Died||24 April 2011 (aged 84)|
|Founder of||Sathya Sai Organization|
|Philosophy||Love all. Serve all. Help ever. Hurt never.|
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Sathya Sai Baba (born Sathyanarayana Raju; 23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011) was an Indian guru, a spiritual leader, and philanthropist. He claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Sai Baba's purported materialisations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces, and watches, were a source of both fame and controversy. Some have analyzed them as being mere sleight of hand; while his devotees considered them signs of his divinity. Innumerable reports of miraculous healings, resurrection, clairvoyance, bilocation, and alleged omnipotence and omniscience have been attributed to Sai Baba by both devotees and non-devotees.
The Sathya Sai Organisation, founded by Sai Baba "to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement", has over 1,200 Sathya Sai Centres (branches) in 126 countries. Through this organisation, Sai Baba established a network of free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, auditoriums, ashrams and schools.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Proclamation
- 3 First mandir and development of Puttaparthi
- 4 Stroke, paralysis and prediction of reincarnation
- 5 Africa
- 6 Later years
- 7 Old age and illness
- 8 Death
- 9 Funeral and mourning
- 10 Opening of residence
- 11 Release of will
- 12 Bibliography of works
- 13 Sathya Sai Organisation
- 14 Institutions, projects and other works
- 14.1 Educational institutions
- 14.2 Hospitals and medical care
- 14.3 Drinking water supply projects
- 14.4 Odisha
- 14.5 Educare
- 14.6 Spiritual media
- 15 Recognition
- 16 Ashrams and mandirs
- 17 Characteristics, beliefs and practices of devotees
- 18 Controversies
- 19 References
- 20 Further reading
- 21 External links
Almost everything known about Sai Baba's early life stems from the hagiography that grew around him, narratives that hold special meaning to his devotees and are considered by them to be evidence of his divine nature. According to these sources, Sathya Narayana Raju was born to Meesaraganda Eashwaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in the village of Puttaparthi, to a Raju family, in what was the Madras Presidency of British India. His birth, which his mother Eashwaramma asserted was by miraculous conception, was also said to be heralded by miracles.
Sai Baba's siblings included elder brother Ratnakaram Seshama Raju (1911–1985), sisters Venkamma (1918–1993) and Parvathamma (1920–1998), and younger brother Janakiramaiah (1931–2003).
As a child, he was described as "unusually intelligent" and charitable, though not necessarily academically inclined, as his interests were of a more spiritual nature. He was uncommonly talented in devotional music, dance and drama. From a young age, he was alleged to have been capable of materialising objects such as food and sweets out of thin air.
On 8 March 1940, while living with his elder brother Seshama Raju in Uravakonda, a small town near Puttaparthi, 14 year old Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion. He lost consciousness for several hours and in the next few days underwent a noticeable change in behaviour. There were "symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence." It is claimed that then "he began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which it is alleged he had no prior knowledge." Doctors concluded his behaviour to be hysteria. Concerned, his parents brought Sathya back home to Puttaparthi and took him to many priests, doctors and exorcists. One of the exorcists at Kadiri, a town near Puttaparthi, went to the extent of torturing him with the aim of curing him;[further explanation needed] Sathya seemingly kept calm throughout the torture.
On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and reportedly materialised sugar candy (prasad) and flowers for them. His father became furious at seeing this, thinking his son was bewitched. He took a stick and threatened to beat him if Sathya did not reveal who he really was, the young Sathya responded calmly and firmly "I am Sai Baba", a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi. This was the first time he proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi—a saint who became famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Maharashtra and had died eight years before Sathya was born.
First mandir and development of Puttaparthi
In 1944, a mandir for Sai Baba's devotees was built near the village of Puttaparthi. It is now referred to as the "old mandir". The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, began in 1948 and was completed in 1950. In 1954, Sai Baba established a small free general hospital in the village of Puttaparthi. He won fame for mystical powers and the ability to heal. In 1957 Sai Baba went on a North Indian temple tour.
Stroke, paralysis and prediction of reincarnation
In 1963, it was asserted that Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks, which left him paralysed on one side. These events culminated in an event where he apparently healed himself in front of the thousands of people gathered in Prashanthi Nilayam who were then praying for his recovery.
On recovering, Sai Baba announced that he would one day next be reborn as an incarnation named Prema Sai Baba in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. He stated, "I am Shiva-Sakthi, born in the gotra (lineage) of Bharadwaja, according to a boon won by that sage from Siva and Sakthi. Siva was born in the gotra of that sage as Sai Baba of Shirdi; Shiva and Sakthi have incarnated as Myself in his gotra now; Sakthi alone will incarnate as the third Sai (Prema Sai Baba) in the same gotra in Mandya district of Karnataka State." He stated he would be born again eight years after his death at the age of 96, but died at the age of 84.
"I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. I have not come on behalf of any exclusive religion. I have not come on a mission of publicity for a sect or creed or cause, nor have I come to collect followers for a doctrine. I have no plan to attract disciples or devotees into my fold or any fold. I have come to tell you of this unitary faith, this spiritual principle, this path of Love, this virtue of Love, this duty of Love, this obligation of Love."
In 1968, he established Dharmakshetra or the Sathyam Mandir in Mumbai. In 1973, he established the Shivam Mandir in Hyderabad. On 19 January 1981, in Chennai, he inaugurated the Sundaram Mandir.
In a 1993 incident, four intruders armed with knives entered his bedroom, either as an assassination attempt or as part of a power struggle between his followers. Sai Baba was unharmed. During the scuffle and the police response, the intruders and two of Sai Baba's attendants were killed. The official investigation left questions unanswered.
In March 1995, Sai Baba started a project to provide drinking water to 1.2 million people in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. In April 1999 he inaugurated the Ananda Nilayam Mandir in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
In 2001 he established another free super-speciality hospital in Bangalore to benefit the poor. The Vancouver Sun in 2001 reported that Sai Baba told his adherents not to browse the Internet after Sai Baba said, "These teachings (the Vedas) are highly sacred. Today people are ready to believe all that they see on television and internet but do not repose their faith in the Vedic declarations. Internet is like a waste paper basket. Follow the 'innernet,' not the internet."
Old age and illness
In 2003, Sai Baba suffered a fractured hip when a student standing on an iron stool slipped and the boy and stool both fell on him. After that he gave darshana from a car or his porte chair. After 2004, Sai Baba used a wheelchair and began to make fewer public appearances.
|Wikinews has related news: Renowned Indian guru Śrī Satya Sai Baba dies aged 84|
On 28 March 2011, Sai Baba was admitted to the Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital at Prashantigram at Puttaparthi, following respiration-related problems. After nearly a month of hospitalisation, during which his condition progressively deteriorated, Sai Baba died on Sunday, 24 April at 7:40 IST, aged 84.
Sai Baba had predicted that he would die at age 96 and would remain healthy until then. After he died, some devotees suggested that he was referring to that many lunar years, as counted by Telugu-speaking Hindus, rather than solar years, and using the Indian way of accounting for age, which counts the year to come as part of the person's life. Other devotees have spoken of his anticipated resurrection, reincarnation or awakening.
Funeral and mourning
His body lay in state for two days and was buried with full state honours on 27 April 2011. An estimated 500,000 people attended the burial, among them the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (India's Present Prime Minister), Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Union Ministers S. M. Krishna and Ambika Soni, as well as other political leaders and prominent figures.
Sai Baba's death triggered an outpouring of grief from followers who included Indian politicians, movie stars, athletes and industrialists. Most remembered him as a pious, selfless person who worked to help others with the billions of dollars donated to his charitable trust.
Political leaders who offered their condolences included the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Dalai Lama. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, whose birthday was that day, cancelled his birthday celebrations. The Hindu newspaper reported that "Sri Sathya Sai Baba's propagation of spiritualism and preaching of Hindu philosophy never came in the way of his commitment to secular beliefs."
Opening of residence
On 17 June 2011, officials from the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (founded as a charitable Trust in India, and legally separate from religious activities), opened his private residence in the presence of government, bank and tax department officials, including retired Supreme Court Judge A P Mishra and retired judge of Karnataka High Court Vaidyanatha, an assessor approved by the Income Tax Department, and former Chief Justice of India P N Bhagavati. In the private residence, which had been sealed since his death, they inventoried 98 kg of gold ornaments, approximate value Rs 21 crores (US$4.7m), 307 kg of silver ornaments, approximate value Rs 16 million (US$0.36m), and Rs 116 million (US$2.6m) in cash. The cash was deposited into the Sai Trust's account at the State Bank of India with payment of government taxes (thus transferring them from religious gifts to Trust assets.) The gold and other items were inventoried, assessed, and placed in secure storage. In July, district authorities inventoried an additional Rs 7.7 million (US$0.17m) in valuables in another 4 rooms. The total value of these items is believed to exceed 7.8 million US dollars.
Also inventoried at Yajurmandir were many articles stored and routinely given away as gifts in various ceremonies to devotees and those who performed selfless service, including thousands of pure silk sarees, dhotis, shirts, 500 pairs of shoes, dozens of bottles of perfume and hairspray, watches, a large number of silver and gold "mangala sutrams", and precious stones such as diamonds. There were also 750 saffron and white robes of the type Sai Baba wore.
In July 2011, a similar opening of his Bangalore-area ashram tallied 6 kg of gold coins and jewellery, 245 kg of silver articles and Rs 8 million in cash.
Release of will
On 2 September 2012, Satyajit Salian, a close aide of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, released to the media a declaration made by Sai Baba, and registered on 23 March 1967, in Bombay saying his relatives had no authority over the Sathya Sai Trust assets. The exact text of the declaration was:
I, Sri Sathya Sai of Parshanthi Nilayam P.O. Indian Inhabitant hereby declare as follows:-
1) I was born in the village of Puthaparthi District Anantpur and am at present 44 years old. I joined the school and gave up studies and dedicated myself spread Sanatan Dharma. I am unmarried and I left my parents house at the age of Twelve and have taken up religious order with saffron dress and I have no worldly/or family attachments. I declare that when I left parents' place permanently and adopted Holy order with no intention to revert back. I relinquished all my right title and interest in the family property moveable and/or immovable whatsoever and wherever they may be and that I do not own and possess any personal property, wealth or estate. Whatever is given to me by my devotees is under my management, supervision and control as a Trustee to be used for public charitable purposes. This declaration I am making so that nobody can claim under or through me in the family properties, if any.
Satyajit Sailan also attached the attestation of Indulal Sha, who is the sole surviving witness to the original document. Satyajit Sailan said he has been in possession of the document since 1998, per the directions of Sai Baba. Officials from the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust stated to the media that they would respect this will.
Bibliography of works
The Vahinis are a series of books by Sai Baba.
Sathya Sai Organisation
The Sathya Sai Organisation (or Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization) was founded in the 1960s by Sai Baba. The first Sai Centres were started in India under the name of the "Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samithi". The Sathya Sai Organisation originated "to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement." The official mission of the Sathya Sai Organization is "to help its members realize the innate divinity within".
The Sathya Sai Organisation publishes an official monthly magazine named Sanathana Sarathi, published by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust. The English translation of the word Sanathana Sarathi means 'Eternal Charioteer'.
Sai Baba stated that the main objective of the Sathya Sai Organisation "is to help man recognize the divinity that is inherent in him. So, your duty is to emphasize the One, to experience the One in all you do or speak. Do not give any importance to differences of religion or sect or status or colour. Have the feeling of one-ness permeate every act of yours. Only those who do so have a place in this Organization; the rest can withdraw."
The Sathya Sai Organisation reports that there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centres in 114 countries. However, the number of active Sai Baba followers is hard to determine. Estimates vary from 6 million up to nearly 100 million. In India itself, Sai Baba drew followers predominantly from the upper-middle-class, the urban sections of society who have the "most wealth, education and exposure to Western ideas." In 2002, he claimed to have followers in 178 countries.
Sai Baba founded a large number of schools and colleges, hospitals, and other charitable institutions in India and abroad, the total cost of which is usually estimated at Rs. 400 billion (US$9 billion). However, estimates as high as 1.4 trillion rupees (about US$31.5bn) have also been made. After his death, questions about the manner in which the finances of the organisation were going to be managed led to speculations of impropriety, with some reports suggesting that suitcases containing cash and/or gold had been removed from his personal lodgings.
Institutions, projects and other works
Sai Baba's educational institutions aim to impart character education along with excellence in academics with emphasis on human values and ethics.
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (Deemed to be University), established in 1981, called Sri Sathya Sai University for some years, of which Sai Baba was the Chancellor, has four campuses, one at Puttaparthi for men, one at Whitefield, Bangalore for men, one at Anantapur for women, and one at Muddenahalli for men.
Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School
The Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School was founded by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on 15 June 1981 in 'Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Giri' complex of Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi. This is a boarding school with separate hostel for boys and girls. The school caters to classes I to XII of the Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi [CBSE]. For 2014, it was ranked in the top 10 CBSE schools of India.
Sathya Sai Baba chaired the Sri Sathya Sai loka Seva institutions, Alike and Muddenahalli Karnataka from Madiyal Narayana Bhat, Currently it is headed by U Gangadhar Bhat. In addition, a Sathya Sai Baba University and Medical School also a hospital and research institute are being constructed on over 200 acres (0.81 km2). Baba said that the campus will be modelled after Puttaparthi and will infuse spirituality with academics.
Hospitals and medical care
Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Whitefield
The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Whitefield was opened in Whitefield, Bangalore, in 1977 and provides complex surgery, food and medicines free of cost. The hospital has treated over 2 million patients.
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Puttaparthi
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Puttaparthi is a 300-bed facility which provides free surgical and medical care and which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao on 22 November 1991. The hospital was financed and its construction supervised by Isaac Tigrett, founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues.
The hospital is equipped 11 surgical theatres, five intensive care units, two cardiac catheterisation laboratories, medical and surgical wards, and a 24-hour emergency unit. "Leading doctors specialising in the fields of Cardiology, Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, Urology, Ophthalmology etc. come from different parts of the World on their own and render their services free of cost."
The hospital has a unique history of its own. On 23 November 1990, during his birthday discourse, Sri Sathya Sai Baba while talking about the inability of healthcare access to the poor declared within one year a tertiary care hospital will come up in the village of Puttaparthi, which will provide high-end care completely free to all the patients. The hospital was constructed in a record time of exactly one year and the first cardiothoracic operations were carried out successfully.
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield
After the success of the first super speciality hospital, the Karnataka government offered Sai Baba 53 acres of land to establish another super speciality hospital in Whitefield.
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield is a 333-bed hospital, which was inaugurated on 19 January 2001 by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The estimated cost of this second hospital was Rs 2000 million. The hospital has provided free medical care to over 250,000 patients.
Drinking water supply projects
In November 1995, Sai Baba expressed his concern about the lack of drinking water in Rayalseema. In March 1995, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust commenced work on a project to supply pure drinking water to villages in the district of Anantapur. The project was completed in 1996 supplies water to 1.2 million people in about 750 villages in the drought-prone Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh.
The Chennai drinking water project, completed in 2004, supplies water to Chennai through a rebuilt waterway named "Sathya Sai Ganga Canal". Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi praised the Chennai water project and Sai Baba's involvement. Other completed water projects include the Medak District Project benefiting 450,000 people in 179 villages and the Mahbubnagar District Project benefiting 350,000 people in 141 villages. In January 2007, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust said it would start a drinking water project in Latur, Maharashtra.
The Telugu-Ganga project is a water supply scheme implemented by Andhra Pradesh, India to provide drinking water to Chennai city in Tamil Nadu. The source of water is the river Krishna in Andhra Pradesh and the Poondi reservoir near Chennai is the destination with water planned to be routed through a series of interlinked canals.
The water initially supplied by the canal was disappointing, delivering less than 500 million cubic feet (14×106 m3). In 2002, Sri Sathya Sai Baba announced a scheme of restoration and lining of the canal; as his own undertaking. With an extensive rebuilding of the canal and several reservoirs, the project was completed in 2004, when Poondi reservoir received Krishna water for the first time. The supply of water to Chennai city in 2006 was 3.7 billion cubic feet (100×106 m3). After the re-lining and reconstruction, the Kandaleru-Poondi part of the canal was renamed Sai Ganga.
In 2008, two million people in the state of Odisha were affected by floods. As a relief measure, the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization built 699 houses as part of their first phase in 16 villages by March 2009.
Sai Baba's Educare programme seeks to found schools throughout the world with the goal of educating children in the five human values. According to the Sai Educare site, schools have been founded in 33 countries, including Australia, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Peru. The Times of Zambia states, "The positive influence of Sathya Sai is unprecedented in the annals of education in Zambia. Sai Baba's education ideals as embodied in his human values-based approach in education are an eye-opener to educationists in Zambia."
On 23 November 2001, the digital radio network Radio Sai Global Harmony was launched through the World Space Organization, United States. Michael Oleinikof Nobel (distant relative to Alfred Nobel and one of the patrons for the radio network) said that the radio network would spread Sai Baba's message of global harmony and peace.
On 23 November 1999, the Department of Posts, Government of India, released a postage stamp and a postal cover in recognition of the service rendered by Sai Baba in addressing the problem of providing safe drinking water to the rural masses.
In January 2007, an event was held in Chennai Nehru Stadium organised by the Chennai Citizens' Conclave to thank Sai Baba for the 2 billion water project which brought water from the River Krishna in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai city. Four chief ministers attended the function.
Ashrams and mandirs
Puttaparthi, where Sai Baba was born and lived, was originally a small, remote South Indian village in Andhra Pradesh. Now there is an extensive university complex, a speciality hospital, and two museums: the Sanathana Samskruti or Eternal Heritage Museum, sometimes called the Museum of All Religions, and the Chaitanya Jyoti, devoted exclusively to the life and teachings of Sai Baba; the latter has won several international awards for its architectural design. There is also a planetarium, a railway station, a hill-view stadium, an administrative building, an airport, an indoor sports stadium and more. High-ranking Indian politicians such as the former president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Andhra Pradesh former chief minister Konijeti Rosaiah and Karnataka chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa have been official guests at the ashram in Puttaparthi. It was reported that well over a million people attended Sai Baba's 80th birthday celebration, including 13,000 delegates from India and 180 other countries.
Sai Baba resided much of the time in his main ashram, Prashanthi Nilayam (Abode of Highest Peace), at Puttaparthi. In the summer he often left for his other ashram, Brindavan, in Kadugodi, Whitefield, a town on the outskirts of Bangalore. Occasionally he visited his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikanal.
Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram
Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (spiritual centres) in India. The first mandir, founded in Mumbai in 1968, is referred to as either the "Dharmakshetra" or "Sathyam". The second centre, established in Hyderabad in 1973, is referred to as "Shivam". The third, inaugurated on 19 January 1981 in Chennai, is called "Sundaram". The Dharmakshetra was established on the occasion of the first world conference (of SSSO). Many people from various of parts of the world attended the conference which was held at Bharatiya vidya Bhavan campus at versova, Bombay. It consists of various service centers for devotees like a hospital and eye care center. The educational center consists of various training centers. As a part of Bal Vikas the technical training is provided freely to the children from poor backgrounds by the youth wing of the organization.
Characteristics, beliefs and practices of devotees
Reliable sources often describe Sai Baba’s following as a "movement". A CIA study states “A worldwide mass religious movement is growing around the Indian holy man and miracle worker, Sathya Sai Baba.” Later noting, “The Sai Baba movement is likely to eventually become another worldwide religion.” Among scholars, we find it referred to often as either a “New Religious Movement” (NRM) or as a cult, it appears it is not immune to what Robbins and Zablocki, two social science researchers, call “the divisive polarization, which, at least until recently, has plagued the academic study of religious movements.” referencing a wide divide of two camps within academia, each preferring one term over the other (i.e. NRM or cult) for such groups'; It's been noted by Eugene Gallagher, that in more modern times "'New Religious movement', on the other hand, is a classification preferred by most academics, who see 'cult' as a pejorative term and intend to replace it with a more neutral label.” It is regarded by most scholars to be of Hindu persuasion.
Sai Baba claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, and his followers considered him to be the Avatar of Shiva. Sai Baba of Shirdi was known to combine Islamic and Hindu teachings; still Charles S. J. White, of The American University at Washington D.C., noted of Sathya Sai Baba in 1972, that "there is no discernible Muslim influence." Stephanie Tallings, in The Harvard international Review, noted Sai Baba’s following is drawn from people of all religions, ethnicities, and social classes. Lawrence A. Babb, of the Amherst College in Massachusetts, labelled Sai Baba movement as a cult in the 1980s, calling it "deeply and authentically Hindu..." and noted, " The most striking feature of this cult, however, is the extremely strong emphasis given to the miraculous." However, a scholarly review claims Babb misapplies the word “cult”, responding, "the so-called 'cult' of Satya Sai Baba seems to possess all such characteristics which are, according to the author, central to a religious movement." Deborah A. Swallow, of the University of Cambridge, referred to it as a cult and said that the "ritual and theology, then, unlike Sai Baba [of Shirdi]'s, is distinctly Hindu in form and content." But John D. Kelly, a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, wrote about Hindu missions in Fiji that the Sathya Sai Organization (which is part of the movement) rejected the label Hindu. According to Kelly, they see their founder as the "living synthesis of the world's religious traditions" and prefer to be classified as an interfaith movement. But he observed that Sai Baba mission is a Hindu mission as active as Christian or Muslim missions. In a 2001 scholarly book Tulasi Srinivas, notes, “The Sathya Sai global civil religious movement incorporates Hindu and Muslim practices, Buddhist, Christian, and Zoroastrian influences, and "New Age"-style rituals and beliefs.’ And in the appendix of the book (p. 349) lists 10 scholarly authors/researchers in both Europe and America who all refer to it as a New Religious Movement (NRM).
Sai Baba was known for his quote "Love All, Serve All. Help Ever, Hurt Never." Internationally, his devotees gather daily, or weekly on Sundays or Thursdays or both, for devotional songs, prayer, spiritual meditation, service to the community (Seva), and to participate in "Education in Human Values" (SSEHV) known as "Bal Vikas" (Blossoming of the Child).
Followers believed in seeking the spiritual benefit of Sai Baba's darshan, scheduled for morning and afternoon each day. Sai Baba would interact with people, accept letters, materialise and distribute vibhuti (sacred ash) or call groups or individuals for interviews. Devotees considered it a great privilege to have an interview and sometimes a single person, group or family was invited for a private interview for answers to spiritual questions and general guidance.
In 1972 Abraham Kovoor made the first public criticism of Sai Baba when he looked into a claim publicly narrated by one devotee that Sai Baba had created a new model of a Seiko watch, and found the claim to be untrue.
In April 1976, Hossur Narasimhaiah, a physicist, rationalist and then vice-chancellor of Bangalore University, founded and chaired a committee "to rationally and scientifically investigate miracles and other verifiable superstitions". Narasimhaiah wrote Sai Baba three widely publicised letters challenging him to perform his miracles under controlled conditions. The letters were ignored. Sai Baba said that he ignored Narasimhaiah's challenge because he felt his approach was improper, adding that "Science must confine its inquiry only to things belonging to the human senses, while spiritualism transcends the senses. If you want to understand the nature of spiritual power you can do so only through the path of spirituality and not science. What science has been able to unravel is merely a fraction of the cosmic phenomena ..." Narasimhaiah's committee was dissolved in August 1977. According to Erlendur Haraldsson, the committee's formal challenge came to a dead end because of its negative attitude and perhaps because of the fanfare surrounding it. Narasimhaiah held the fact that Sai Baba ignored his letters to be one of several indications that his miracles were fraudulent. As a result of this episode, a public debate raged for several months in Indian newspapers.
Indian rationalist Basava Premanand, who began campaigning against Sai Baba in 1976, unsuccessfully attempted to sue him in 1986 for violations of the Gold Control Act, citing Sai Baba's purported materialisations of gold objects. When the case was dismissed, Premanand unsuccessfully appealed on the grounds that claimed spiritual power is not a defence recognised in law.
A 1995 TV documentary Guru Busters, produced by filmmaker Robert Eagle for the UK's Channel 4, accused Sai Baba of faking his materialisations. The clip from the film was mentioned in the Deccan Chronicle, on 23 November 1992, in a front-page headline "DD Tape Unveils Baba Magic". But Haraldsson stated that, on investigating the DD video, researchers did not find evidence of fake materialisation. According to Haraldsson, the video was taken to a company that investigates corporate fraud, which found that it did not provide firm evidence of sleight of hand.
In 1998, British journalist Mick Brown stated in his book The Spiritual Tourist that in his opinion claims of Sai Baba resurrecting American devotee Walter Cowan in 1971 were probably untrue. His opinion was based on letters from the attending doctors presented in the magazine Indian Skeptic, published by Basava Premanand. Brown also related, in the same book, his experiences with manifestations of vibuthi from Sai Baba's pictures in houses in London, which he felt were not fraudulent or the result of trickery. Brown wrote with regards to Sai Baba's claims of omniscience, that "sceptics have produced documentation clearly showing discrepancies between Baba's reading of historical events and biblical prophecies, and the established accounts."
Claims of sexual abuse
In January 2002, a documentary produced by Denmark's national television and radio broadcast company, Danmarks Radio (DR), named Seduced By Sai Baba, analysed videos of public manifestations of Sai Baba, and suggested that they could be explained as sleight of hand. The documentary also presented interviews with Alaya Rahm, former devotee of the cult, where he alleged sexual abuse by Sai Baba. As a result, in 2002 the Parliament of the United Kingdom discussed the possible danger to male children of British families intending to visit the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba in case of individual audiences with the guru.
In 2004, the BBC produced a documentary titled The Secret Swami, as part of its series "The World Uncovered". One central theme of the BBC documentary was again Alaya Rahm's sexual abuse allegations against Sai Baba. This documentary interviewed him together with Mark Roche, who had spent 25 years of his life since 1969 in the movement and alleged abuse by Sai Baba. The show also featured allegations from Sai Baba critic Basava Premanand. Premanand stated in the documentary that, in his opinion, Sai Baba faked his materialisations. Here, he claimed that Sai Baba was "not just a fraud, but a dangerous sexual abuser". According to his interview, he had stories which spanned 30 years, and he stated that his stories were similar, a common practice being the rubbing of genitals with oil by the spiritual leader. Among his claims were that one ex-devotee claimed Sai Baba "put the oil on his hands, told me to drop my pants and rubbed my genitals with the oil". Premanand theorised that many Indian boys were abused but were never heard from because they were too afraid to speak out, alleging Sai Baba was well-connected with the elite and powerful of India.
Sai Baba and his followers reject any allegations of misconduct. Devotee Bill Aitken was quoted by The Week as saying that Sai Baba's reputation had not been harmed by the negative stories published about him. He said that the more detractors railed against Sai Baba, the more new devotees went to see him.
In the article Divine Downfall, published in the Daily Telegraph, Anil Kumar, the ex-principal of the Sathya Sai Educational Institute, said that he believed that the controversy was part of Baba's divine plan and that all great religious teachers had to face criticism during their lives. Anil Kumar also said that allegations had been levelled at Sai Baba since childhood, but with every criticism he had become more and more triumphant.
In the book Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition, Lawrence A. Babb wrote of Sai Baba, "Whoever he is, he is certainly more than the mere parlour magician many of his critics claim that he is."
Sai Baba publicly responded to the allegations on 25 December 2000:
Some people out of their mean-mindedness are trying to tarnish the image of Sai Baba. I am not after name and fame. So, I do not lose anything by their false allegations. My glory will go on increasing day by day. It will never diminish even a bit if they were to publicise their false allegations in the whole world in bold letters. Some devotees seem to be perturbed over these false statements. They are not true devotees at all. Having known the mighty power of Sai, why should they be afraid of the 'cawing of crows'? One should not get carried away by all that is written on walls, said in political meetings or the vulgar tales carried by the print media.
The Times of India on 26 December 2000 quoted Sai Baba as saying:
Jesus Christ underwent many hardships, and was put to the cross because of jealousy. Many around him could not bear the good work he did and the large number of followers he gathered. One of his disciples, Judas, betrayed him. In those days there was one Judas, but today there are thousands. Just as that Judas was tempted to betray Jesus, the Judases of today, too, are bought out to lie. Jealousy was the motive behind the allegations levelled at him.
In an official letter made public in December 2001, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then Prime Minister of India and a devotee of Sai Baba), P.N. Bhagwati (Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India), Ranganath Misra (Chair Person, National Human Rights Commissioner of India and Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India), Najma Heptulla (President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; UNDP Distinguished Human Development Ambassador) and Shivraj Patil (Member of Parliament, India; Formerly of the Lok Sabha & Union Minister) all signed the following statement:
We are deeply pained and anguished by the wild, reckless and concocted allegations made by certain vested interests and people against Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. We would normally expect that responsible media would ascertain the true facts before printing such a calumny – especially when the person is revered globally as an embodiment of love and selfless service to humanity.
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- Official Letter, http://www.saibaba.ws/images/letter_pm_india.gif
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- Vladimir Antonov (2008). Sathya Sai Baba – The Christ of Our Days. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-438-25276-6.
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- Tulasi Srinivas (2010). Winged Faith: Rethinking Globalization and Religious Pluralism Through the Sathya Sai Movement. Columbia University Press. p. 430. ISBN 978-0-231-14933-4.
- David Smith (2016). "Hinduism" Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-85880-9.
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