Sathya Sai Baba

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Sathya Sai Baba
Sathya Sai Baba. Photo Guy Veloso (
Born Sathya Narayana Raju
(1926-11-23)23 November 1926
Puttaparthi, Madras Presidency, British India
Died 24 April 2011(2011-04-24) (aged 84)
Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India
Nationality Indian
Founder of Sathya Sai Organization
Philosophy Shirdi Sai Baba movement
Quotation Love All, Serve All
Help Ever, Hurt Never[1][2][3]

Sathya Sai Baba (born Sathya Narayana Raju; 23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011[4]) was an Indian guru, and philanthropist.[5] He claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.[6]

Sai Baba's materialisations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces, and watches, along with reports of miraculous healings, resurrections, clairvoyance, bilocation, and alleged omnipotence and omniscience, were a source of both fame and controversy.[7] His devotees considered them signs of his divinity, while sceptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks. He further faced accusations over the years of sexual abuse and fraud, which he rejected as smear campaigns.[8][9]

The Sathya Sai Organisation, founded by Sathya Sai Baba "to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement",[10] has over 1,200 Sathya Sai Centres (branches) in 126 countries.[11] Through this organisation, Sathya Sai Baba established a network of free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, auditoriums, ashrams and schools.[12][13][14]


Early life[edit]

Almost everything known about Sathya 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.[6][15][16] According to these sources, Sathya Narayana Raju was born to Meesaraganda Easwaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in the village of Puttaparthi, to a Raju family, in what was the Madras Presidency of British India.[6][17][18] His birth, which his mother Easwaramma asserted was by miraculous conception, was also said to be heralded by miracles.[5][6][19]

Sai Baba's siblings included elder brother Ratnakaram Sesham Raju (1921–1984), sisters Venkamma (1923–1993) and Parvathamma (1928–1998), and younger brother Janakiramiah (1930–2003).[20]

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.[6][16] He was uncommonly talented in devotional music, dance and drama.[16][21] From a young age, he was alleged to have been capable of materialising objects such as food and sweets out of thin air.[22][23]


Sathya Sai Baba at the age of 14, soon after proclaiming himself as the avatar of Shirdi Sai Baba

On 8 March 1940, while living with his elder brother Sesham Raju in Uravakonda, a small town near Puttaparthi, Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion.[22][23] He lost consciousness for several hours[21] and in the next few days underwent a noticeable change in behaviour.[23] There were "symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence."[23][24] It is claimed that then "he began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge."[5] Doctors concluded his behaviour to be hysteria.[5][23] Concerned, his parents brought Sathya back home to Puttaparthi[25] 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, which further worried his parents.[23][24]

On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and reportedly materialised prasad and flowers for his family members.[26] 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. On 20 October 1940, the young Sathya responded calmly and firmly "I am Sai Baba", a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi.[5][21] 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.[5][25][27]

First mandir and development of Puttaparthi[edit]

In 1944, a mandir for Sathya Sai Baba's devotees was built near the village of Puttaparthi. It is now referred to as the "old mandir".[28][29] The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, began in 1948 and was completed in 1950.[6][29] In 1954, Sathya Sai Baba established a small free general hospital in the village of Puttaparthi.[30] He won fame for mystical powers and the ability to heal.[31] In 1957 Sathya Sai Baba went on a North Indian temple tour.[18]

Stroke and paralysis[edit]

In 1963, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks, which left him paralysed on one side.[32] 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.[6]

Prediction of reincarnation[edit]

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.[6] He stated, "I am Siva-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; Siva 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."[6][33] He stated he would be born again eight years after his death at the age of 96,[34] but died at the age of 84.[35]


On 29 June 1968, Sathya Sai Baba made his only overseas trip, to Kenya and Uganda.[32][36] In Nairobi, he spoke of his personal mission:

"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."[37]

Later years[edit]

In 1968, he established Dharmakshetra or the Sathyam Mandir in Mumbai.[38] In 1973, he established the Shivam Mandir in Hyderabad.[38] On 19 January 1981, in Chennai, he inaugurated the Sundaram Mandir.[38]

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. Regardless, 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.[39][40][41]

In March 1995, Sathya 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.[42]

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.[30]

Old age and illness[edit]

In 2003, Sathya 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.[43][44]

After 2004, Sathya Sai Baba used a wheelchair and began to make fewer public appearances.


On 28 March 2011, Sai Baba was admitted to the Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital at Prashantigram at Puttaparthi, following respiration-related problems.[45][46] 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.[47]

Sai Baba had predicted that he would die at age 96 and would remain healthy until then.[48] After he died, some devotees suggested that he might have been referring to that many lunar years, as counted by Telugu-speaking Hindus, rather than solar years,[49] and using the Indian way of accounting for age, which counts the year to come as part of the person's life.[50] Other devotees have spoken of his anticipated resurrection, reincarnation or awakening.[51][52]

On 29 March 2011, Sathya Sai Baba was listed on the Watkins 100 Spiritual Power list.[53]

Funeral and mourning[edit]

His body lay in state for two days and was buried with full state honours on 27 April 2011.[54] 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,Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Union Ministers S. M. Krishna and Ambika Soni, as well as other political leaders and prominent figures.[55][56][57][58]

Sathya Sai Baba's death triggered an outpouring of grief from followers who included Indian politicians, movie stars, athletes and industrialists.[59] Most remembered him as a pious, selfless person who worked to help others with the billions of dollars donated to his charitable trust.[59]

Political leaders who offered their condolences included the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,[54][60][61] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa[62] and the Dalai Lama.[63] Famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, whose birthday was that day, cancelled his birthday celebrations.[64][65] 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."[66]

The Government of Karnataka declared 25 and 26 April as days of mourning and Andhra Pradesh declared 25, 26, and 27 April as days of mourning.[54]

Sathya Sai Baba Samadhi at Puttaparthi

Opening of residence[edit]

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),[67] 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.[68] In the private residence, which had been sealed since his death, they inventoried 98 kg of gold ornaments, approximate value Rs 210 million (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.[69] The total value of these items is believed to exceed 7.8 million US dollars.[70]

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.[71]

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.

These items and goods are believed to have been donated over the years by Sathya Sai Baba's devotees from all over the world as religious gifts.[72][73]

Release of will[edit]

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.[74]

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.[75][76]

Bibliography of works[edit]

The Vahinis are a series of books by Sathya Sai Baba.[77]

Sathya Sai Organisation[edit]

The Sathya Sai Organisation (or Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization) was founded in the 1960s by Sathya Sai Baba.[10] The first Sai Centres were started in India under the name of the "Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samithi".[78] The Sathya Sai Organisation originated to "to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement."[10] 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.[79][80] The English translation of the word Sanathana Sarathi means 'Eternal Charioteer'.[80]

Sathya 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."[81][82]

The Sathya Sai Organisation reports that there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centres in 114 countries.[83][84] However, the number of active Sathya Sai Baba followers is hard to determine.[6] Estimates vary from 6 million[85] up to nearly 100 million.[86] 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."[15] In 2002, he claimed to have followers in 178 countries.[87][88]

Sathya 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).[89][90][91] However, estimates as high as 1.4 trillion rupees (about US$31.5bn) have also been made.[92] 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.[91][93][94]

Institutions, projects and other works[edit]

Educational institutions[edit]

Sathya Sai Baba's educational institutions aim to impart character education along with excellence in academics with emphasis on human values and ethics.[95]

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Puttaparthi, A.P., India

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning[edit]

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (Deemed to be University), established in 1981, called Sri Sathya Sai University for some years, of which Sathya 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.[96]

Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School[edit]

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.[97]


Sathya Sai Baba chaired the Muddenahalli-Sathya Sai Loka Seva School and Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust Educational Institutions in Muddenahalli. He has also taken over the Sri Sathya Sai loka Seva institutions, Alike, Karnataka from Madiyal Narayana Bhat,[98] Currently it is headed by 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.[99][100]

Sri Sathya Sai Super Specialty Hospital, Whitefield (suburb of Bangalore), Karnataka, India

Hospitals and medical care[edit]

The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs several general hospitals, two speciality hospitals, eye hospitals and mobile dispensaries and conducts medical camps in rural and slum areas in India.[101]

Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Whitefield[edit]

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.[102]

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Puttaparthi[edit]

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.[30]

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."[103][104][105]

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.[106]

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield[edit]

Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital, Whitefield (suburb of Bangalore), Karnataka, India

After the success of the first super speciality hospital, the Karnataka government offered Sathya Sai Baba 53 acres of land to establish another super speciality hospital in Whitefield.[107]

The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield is a 333-bed hospital,[108] which was inaugurated on 19 January 2001 by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.[109][110] The estimated cost of this second hospital was Rs 2000 million.[111] The hospital has provided free medical care to over 250,000 patients.[112]

Drinking water supply projects[edit]


In November 1995, Sathya Sai Baba expressed his concern about the lack of drinking water in Rayalseema.[113] 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.[113] 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.[42][114]


The Chennai drinking water project, completed in 2004, supplies water to Chennai through a rebuilt waterway named "Sathya Sai Ganga Canal".[115][116] Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi praised the Chennai water project and Sai Baba's involvement.[117][118] 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.[42] In January 2007, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust said it would start a drinking water project in Latur, Maharashtra.[119][120][121][122]


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.[123]


Sathya 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.[124][125] 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."[126]

In Canada, the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian research and educational organisation, ranked the Sathya Sai School of Canada as one of the top 37 elementary schools in Ontario.[127]

Spiritual media[edit]

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 Sathya Sai Baba's message of global harmony and peace.[128]


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 Sathya Sai Baba in addressing the problem of providing safe drinking water to the rural masses.[129]

In January 2007, an event was held in Chennai Nehru Stadium organised by the Chennai Citizens' Conclave to thank Sathya 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.[130][131]

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, said the country would remember Sathya Sai Baba as someone who "inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life."[59]

The Indian Department of Post released a commemorative stamp on the spiritual guru on the occasion of what would have been his 88th birthday during November 2013.[132][133]

Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital, Puttaparthi, A.P., India

Ashrams and mandirs[edit]

Prasanthi Nilayam[edit]

Puttaparthi, A.P.
Main article: Prasanthi Nilayam
Chaitanya Jyoti Museum devoted to the life and teachings of Sathya Sai Baba

Puttaparthi, where Sathya 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 Sathya Sai Baba; the latter has won several international awards for its architectural design.[134] There is also a planetarium, a railway station, a hill-view stadium, an administrative building, an airport, an indoor sports stadium and more.[135] 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.[136][137] It was reported that well over a million people attended Sathya Sai Baba's 80th birthday celebration, including 13,000 delegates from India and 180 other countries.[138][citation needed]

Hill in Prashanthi Nilayam with statues of Hanuman, Krishna, Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva, Buddha, Christ, Zarathustra.

Sathya 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.[139]

Sathyam, Shivam, Sundaram[edit]

Sathya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (spiritual centres) in India. The first mandir, founded in Mumbai in 1968, is referred to as either "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".[38][citation needed]

Beliefs and practices of devotees[edit]

Certain scholarly sources describe the Sathya Sai Baba movement as Hindu.[140][141][142] Sathya Sai Baba's followers considered him to be the avatar of Shiva and Kalki.[143] But John D. Kelly, as of 2006 a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, wrote in an article 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.

Internationally, Sathya Sai Baba devotees gather daily, or weekly on Sundays or Thursdays or both, for devotional songs,[144] prayer,[145] spiritual meditation, service to the community (Seva),[146] and to participate in "Education in Human Values" (SSEHV)[145] known as "Bal Vikas" (Blossoming of the Child).

Followers believed in seeking the spiritual benefit of Sathya 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.[21]


Accusations against Sathya Sai Baba by his critics over the years have included sleight of hand, sexual abuse, money laundering, fraud in the performance of service projects, and murder.[7][9]

In 1972 Abraham Kovoor made the first public criticism of Sathya Sai Baba[147] when he looked into a claim publicly narrated by one devotee[147] that Sathya Sai Baba had created a new model of a Seiko watch, and found the claim to be untrue.[148][149]

In April 1976, Hosur 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 Sathya Sai Baba three widely publicised letters challenging him to perform his miracles under controlled conditions. The letters were ignored.[150] Sathya 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.[151] 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 ..."[152] 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 Sathya Sai Baba ignored his letters to be one of several indications that his miracles were fraudulent.[153] As a result of this episode, a public debate raged for several months in Indian newspapers.[154]

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 Sathya 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.[155]

A 1995 TV documentary Guru Busters, produced by filmmaker Robert Eagle for the UK's Channel 4, accused Sathya Sai Baba of faking his materialisations.[156] 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".[157] 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.[158]

In 1998, British journalist Mick Brown stated in his book The Spiritual Tourist that in his opinion claims of Sathya Sai Baba resurrecting American devotee Walter Cowan in 1971 were probably untrue.[159] His opinion was based on letters from the attending doctors presented in the magazine Indian Skeptic, published by Basava Premanand.[159][160] Brown also related, in the same book, his experiences with manifestations of vibuthi from Sathya Sai Baba's pictures in houses in London, which he felt were not fraudulent or the result of trickery.[161] Brown wrote with regards to Sathya 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."[159]

The Vancouver Sun in 2001 reported that Sathya Sai Baba told his adherents not to browse the Internet[162] after Sathya 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."[163]

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 Sathya Sai Baba, and suggested that they could be explained as sleight of hand.[164] The documentary also presented interviews with Alaya Rahm where he alleged sexual abuse by Sai Baba.[7] 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.[165]

In 2004, the BBC produced a documentary titled The Secret Swami, as part of its series "The World Uncovered".[166] One central theme of the BBC documentary was again Alaya Rahm's sexual abuse allegations against Sathya Sai Baba.[167] 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.[167] 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 Sathya 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.[7]

Responses to criticism[edit]

Sathya Sai Baba and his followers strongly rejected any allegations of misconduct.[12] Devotee Bill Aitken was quoted by The Week as saying that Sathya Sai Baba's reputation had not been harmed by the negative stories published about him. He said that the more detractors railed against Sathya Sai Baba, the more new devotees went to see him.[168]

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 Sathya Sai Baba since childhood, but with every criticism he had become more and more triumphant.[169]

In the book Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition, Lawrence A. Babb wrote of Sathya Sai Baba, "Whoever he is, he is certainly more than the mere parlour magician many of his critics claim that he is."[6]

Sathya 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.[170]

The Times of India on 26 December 2000 quoted Sathya 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.[171]

In an official letter made public in December 2001, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then Prime Minister of India and a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba),[88] 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.[172][173]

Notable followers[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Howard Murphet (1971). Sai Baba: Man of Miracles. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-584-10241-3. 
  • Samuel H. Sandweiss (1975). Sai Baba the Holy Man and the Psychiatrist. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-960-09581-0. 
  • John S. Hislop (1985). My Baba and I. ISBN 978-0-960-09588-9. 
  • Phyllis Krystal (1994). Sai Baba: The Ultimate Experience. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-877-28794-0. 
  • Don Mario Mazzoleni (1994). A Catholic Priest Meets Sai Baba. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-962-98351-1. 
  • Erlendur Haraldsson (1997). Modern Miracles: An Investigative Report on These Psychic Phenomena Associated With Sathya Sai Baba. p. 315. ISBN 978-0-803-89384-9. 
  • Vladimir Antonov (2008). Sathya Sai Baba – The Christ of Our Days. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-438-25276-6. 
  • Tommy S. W. Wong (2009). How Sai Baba Attracts Without Direct Contact. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-448-60416-6. 
  • 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. 
  • Tommy S. W. Wong (2011). How Sai Baba Attracts Without Direct Contact (Book 2). p. 102. ISBN 978-1-460-98043-9. 

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