Sathya Sai Baba (Telugu: సత్య సాయి బాబా) was born as Sathyanarayana Raju on November 23 1926 — or later than 1927 — with the family name of "Ratnakaram", and is a South Indian guru, religious leader, orator and described by his followers - not uncontroversially - as a Godman and a miracle worker.
According to the Sathya Sai Organization there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 114 countries world-wide. The number of Sathya Sai Baba adherents is estimated sometimes as around 6 million, and followers cite "50 to 100 million. He is considered by his followers to be an avatar and the reincarnation of the saint Sai Baba of Shirdi.
At the age of eight, Satynanarayana Raju attended Higher Elementary School in Bukkapatnam.. After that Sai Baba joined another High School at Uravakonda. On March 8, 1940, Satynanarayana Raju started behaving as if a scorpion had stung in his foot. He exhibited strange behaviour after this and entered a coma state. After some time, he got up and his behaviour worried his parents - he didn't want to eat, he would often keep silent for a long time, recited ancient shlokas or elaborated on holy Hindu scriptures. In May 1940, he proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of the fakir and Saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918) and subsequently took the fakir's name, Sai Baba.
According to Kasturi, on 20 October 1940 at the age of 14, Sai Baba threw away his books and announced, "My devotees are calling me. I have my work." He then spent the next three days under a tree in the garden of an excise inspector (government officer) and many people gathered around him. Baba taught them bhajans. From then on Sai Baba claimed to be the avatar for our age, i.e. a divine incarnation sent to Earth to bring about spiritual renewal. He has consistently maintained this position ever since. Sathya Sai Baba is listed in the 1942 school record of Bukkapatnam. In 1944 a mandir for followers of Sathya Sai Baba was built near the village which is now called the "old mandir". The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, was started in 1948.
In 1958, Sanathana Sarathi, the official magazine for the followers of Sathya Sai Baba, was published for the first time.
In 1963, during a discourse, Swami made statements claiming to be a reincarnation of Shiva and Shakti. He also claimed that Sai Baba of Shirdi was an incarnation of Shiva and that his future reincarnation, Prema Sai Baba, would be a reincarnation of Shakti. He publicly repeated this claim in 1976. Baba's biography states that Prema Sai Baba will be born in Mysore State
In the late 1960s Sathya began to gain notoriety among Western spiritual seekers. Sathya traveled only once outside India to visit North East Africa in 1968.
In 1960, Sathya Sai Baba said that he would be in this mortal Human form for another 59 years. According to a 1984 book, Sathya Sai Baba said that "In this body I will not become old or infirm as in my old body." In 2003 Michael Goldstein, an official of the Sathya Sai Organisation, reported that Baba had suffered an accident that injured his hip. As of 2005, Sathya Sai Baba sometimes uses a wheelchair.
Sathya Sai Baba had two sisters, one older brother (the late Seshama Raju) and a younger brother (late R.V.Janaki Ramaiah).
Sathya Sai Baba resides much of the time in his main ashram called Prashanthi Nilayam (abode of highest peace) at Puttaparthi. In the hot summer Baba leaves for his other ashram called Brindavan in Kadugodi, Whitefield, a town on the outskirts of Bangalore. Occasionally, he visits his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikanal.
Sathya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs in India. The first center, established in Mumbai, is referred to as either "Dharmakshetra" or "Sathyam". The second center, established in Hyderabad, is referred to as "Shivam". The third center, established in Chennai, is referred to as "Sundaram".. Sundaram is famous for its bhajan group and they have released 54 volumes of cassettes and CD's as of now, with the 54th volume having bhajans sung by Baba.
The daily program at Sathya Sai Baba's ashrams usually begin with the chanting of "OM" and a morning prayer (Suprabatham). This is followed by Veda Parayan (chanting of the Vedas), nagarasankirtana (morning devotional songs) and twice a day bhajans and darshan(appearance of Sai Baba to devotees). Particularly significant are the darshans during October (the Dasara holidays and November (the month of Sai Baba's birth).During darshan Sathya Sai Baba walks among his followers and may interact with people, accept letters, materialize and distribute vibhuti (sacred ash) or call groups or individuals for interviews. Interviews are chosen solely by the guru's discretion. Followers consider it a great privilege to get an interview and sometimes a single person, group or family will be invited for a private interview. It is claimed by the Sathya Sai Organization that, people who receive such interviews may be startled by the materializations and the disclosures that Sathya Sai Baba as a clairvoyant reveals of their own lives. Sathya Sai Baba claims that his darshan has spiritual benefits.
In devotees' houses all around the world, there are claims from observers, journalists and devotees that vibuthi, kumkum, turmeric powder, holy water, Siva lingams, statues of deities (brass and gold), Sugar Candy, fruits, herbs, amrita (a fragrant, nectar-like honey), gems, colored string, writings in ash and various other substances spontaneously manifest and materialize on the walls, furniture, pictures and altars of Sathya Sai Baba.
The retired Icelandic psychology professor Erlendur Haraldsson wrote that he did not get Sathya Sai Baba's permission to study him under controlled circumstances. Nevertheless, he wrote, he investigated and documented the guru's alleged miracles and manifestations through first-hand interviews with devotees and ex-devotees. Haraldsson's research yielded many extraordinary testimonies of reported miracles. Some of the reported miracles attributed to Sathya Sai Baba included levitation (both indoors and outdoors), bilocation, physical disappearances, changing granite into sugar candy, changing water into another drink, changing water into gasoline, producing objects on demand, changing the color of his gown into a different color while wearing it, multiplying food, healings, visions, dreams, making different fruits appear on any tree hanging from actual stems, controlling the weather, physically transforming into various deities and physically emitting brilliant light.
These devotees and ex-devotees also claimed that they witnessed Sathya Sai Baba materialize many substances from his hand such as vibuthi, lost objects, statues, photographs, Indian pastries (both hot and cold), food (hot, cold, solid and fluid), out of season fruits, new banknotes, pendants, necklaces, watches and rings. Haraldsson wrote that the largest allegedly materialized object that he saw was a mangalsutra necklace, 32 inches long, 16 inches long on each side. Haraldsson wrote that some miracles attributed to Sathya Sai Baba resemble the ones described in the New Testament, but also with some differences. According to Haraldsson, although healings certainly figure into Sai Baba's reputation, his impression is that healings do not play a prominent role in Sathya Sai Baba's activities as in those of Jesus.
Sathya Sai Baba has explained the phenomenon of manifestation as being an act of divine creation, but refused to have his materializations investigated under experimental conditions. Critics claim that these materializations are done by sleight of hand and question his claims to perform miracles and other paranormal feats. In April 1976, Dr. H. 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". Haraldsson stated that Narasimhaiah wrote Sathya Sai Baba a polite letter and two subsequent letters that were widely publicized in which he publicly challenged Baba to perform his miracles under controlled conditions. Sathya Sai Baba said that he ignored Narasimhaiah's challenge because he felt his approach was improper. Sathya Sai Baba further said about the Narasimhaiah committee 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 [...]"
According to Erlendur Haraldsson, the formal challenge from the committee came to a dead end because the negative attitude of the committee was obvious and perhaps because of all the fanfare involved. Narasimhaiah stated that he considered the fact that Sathya Sai Baba ignored his letters as one among several indications that his miracles are fraudulent. As a result of this episode, a public debate raged for several months in Indian newspapers. Narasimhaiah's committee was dissolved in August of 1977.
According to a 1994 article written by Alexandra Nagel, a critic of the guru, the 1992 work of the Canadian skeptic, Dale Beyerstein convincingly negated supernatural stories of all kinds circulating about Sathya Sai Baba. In the 1995 TV documentary "Guru Busters" , by UK's Channel 4, Sathya Sai Baba was accused of faking his materializations and a videotape was supplied alleging fraud The same videotape was mentioned in the Deccan Chronicle, on November 23 1992, on a front page headline "DD Tape Unveils Baba Magic". Erlendur Haraldsson stated that he and his associates carried out a careful analysis of the videotape shown in the "Guru Busters"'' documentary and mentioned by the Deccan Chronicle. Haraldsson stated that the videotape's quality and resolution left much to be desired and limited the inferences that could be drawn from it. Haraldsson claimed that Dr. Wiseman took the video to a company that specialized in corporate fraud, and which possessed some of the world's best equipment designed to enhance poor quality videotapes. According to Haraldsson, after the videotape was enhanced using a threefold process, the resulting tape contained no firm evidence of fraud. The same company analyzed several still frames from the videotape, enhanced and enlarged them and the images still did not reveal any further information.
The magazine India Today published in December 2000 a cover story about the Baba and the allegations of fake miracles quoting the magician P. C. Sorcar, Jr. who considered the Baba a fraud. Basava Premanand, a skeptic and amateur magician, asserted that he has been investigating Sathya Sai Baba since 1968 and believes the guru to be a cheater and charlatan. Premanand sued Sathya Sai Baba in 1986 for violation of the Gold Control Act for Sathya Sai Baba's materializations of gold objects. The case was dismissed, but Premanand appealed on the ground that spiritual power is not a defence recognised in law.Premanand also displayed, in the 2004 BBC documentary Secret Swami, that he could duplicate some of the same acts that Sathya Sai Baba presents as miracles; such as materializations by sleight of hand and the production of a lingam from his mouth. The BBC documentary reported that even some of Sathya Sai Baba's critics believe that he has genuine paranormal powers.
The British journalist Mick Brown discussed in his 1998 book that Sathya Sai Baba's claim of resurrecting the American Walter Cowan in 1971 was probably untrue. His opinion was based on the letters from attending doctors, provided in the Indian Skeptic magazine (published by Premanand). In this same book, Mick Brown also related his experiences with manifestations of vibuthi, from Sathya Sai Baba's pictures in houses in London, and felt that these miraculous manifestations were not fraudulent or the result of trickery. Brown wrote with regards to Sathya Sai Baba's claims of omniscience, that "skeptics have produced documentation clearly showing discrepancies between Baba's reading of historical events and biblical prophecies and the established accounts.
In October 2007, Baba reportedly announced that he would appear on the moon and asked devotees to proceed to the local airport. The miracle failed to happen after clouds appeared to cover the moon and the Baba had to turn back after waiting for an hour. Police officers found it difficult to disperse the disappointed crowd and no explanation was offered by the Sai Trust for the failure of the miracle. Rationalists claimed the publicity was an attempt to boost the Baba's waning popularity.
He stresses humans should always be free from desires and states that desires bring mental pain (depression, anger, jealousy etc).
Sathya Sai Baba preaches love and the unity of all world religions and asserts that people who follow him do not need to give up their original religion. His followers view his teachings as syncretic (uniting all religions), but one scholar has said that his message remains fundamentally Hindu. He says that he has come to restore faith in, and encourage the practice of the teachings in the Vedas (Vedasamrakshana). Several books and discourses by him, such as the book Ramakatha Rasavahini teach the literal interpretation of Hindu mythology and advocate the practice of Hindu Dharma (Sthapana).
Apart from teaching the unity and equality of all the religions, Sathya Sai Baba places particular emphasis on the role of women (especially mothers) in society. He has stated that mothers build society. That is why he teaches respect for parents, especially for the mother. He also said that the level of a nation depends on their respect for women.
Across the globe, local Sathya Sai Baba groups assemble to sing bhajans (Hindu devotional songs), study Sathya Sai Baba's teachings, do collective community service (called seva), and teach Education in Human Values (Sai Sunday School). Baba's movement is not missionary and Baba discouraged publicity for him in a public discourse in 1968. Bhajans are sung at nearly every meeting with the names of the traditional Hindu deities as well as saints and prophets of other religions occasionally replaced by Baba's name.
Based on Sathya Sai Baba's teachings, his organization advocates the five basic human values. These values are sathya (truth), dharma (right conduct, living in accord with natural law), ahimsa (non-violence), prema (love for God and all his creatures) and shantih (peace).
Other primary teachings are:
Sathya Sai Baba's teachings are said to be realized by observing the following four principles:
Prominent Indian newspapers regularly cite Sathya Sai Baba's teachings and publish segments to his discourses.
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in Prashanti Nilayam is the only college in India to have received an \"A++\" rating by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (an autonomous body established by the University Grants Commission). Besides this institute, there is also an Institute of Music and an Institute of Higher Learning in Anantapur, which is a women's college.
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi (also known as the Super Specialty Hospital) is a 220 bed facility providing advanced surgical and medical care free of cost to the public. It is situated 6 kilometers from the guru's ashram and was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao on November 22 1991 and was designed by the Prince of Wales's architectural adviser, Keith Critchlow The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Bangalore is a 333 bed facility with advanced operation theatres, ICUs and CCUs meant to benefit the poor. The hospital was inaugurated on January 19 2001 by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Other eminent participants were Abdul Kalam, Michael Nobel (grandson of Alfred Nobel), Noah Samara and Anji Reddy. The hospital has served 250,000 patients, free of cost, from January 2001 to April 2004.
The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital was opened in Whitefield, Bangalore, in 1977 by Sathya Sai Baba to provide free care to poor local villagers. Since that time, the general hospital has grown to a building that provides complex surgeries, food and medicines free of cost. The hospital has, since its inception, treated over 2 million cases.
The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs several general hospitals, two super specialty hospitals, dispensaries, eye hospitals and mobile dispensaries and conducts medical camps in rural and slum areas in India.It was in the year 2000-2001 the largest recipient of foreign donations. The Trust has also funded several major drinking water projects. The first drinking water project, completed in 1996, supplies water to 1.2 million people in 730-800 villages in the drought-prone Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. The second drinking water project, completed in 2004, supplies water to Chennai (formerly known as Madras) through a rebuilt waterway named "Sathya Sai Ganga Canal". The Chennai water drinking project was praised by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi. Karunanidhi said that although he is an atheist, he differentiated between good spiritual leaders like Sathya Sai Baba and fake god. The third drinking water project, expected to be completed in April 2006, would supply water from the Godavari River to half a million people living in five hundred villages in East and West Godavari Districts. Other completed water projects include the Medak District Project benefiting 450,000 people in 179 villages and the Mahbubnagar District Project benefitting 350,000 people in 141 villages. In January 2007, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust revealed that it would undertake another drinking water project in Latur, Maharashtra.
His Educare (formerly called Education in Human Values) program seeks to found schools in all countries with the explicit goal to educate children in the five human values and spirituality. According to the Sai Educare site (authorized by the Sathya Sai Organization), schools have been founded in 33 countries world-wide.
All the local Sai Samithis (Sathya Sai Baba groups) are part of a hierarchical structure called the Sathya Sai Organization. The chairman of the organization is Michael Goldstein of the U.S. The logo of the Sathya Sai organization is a stylized lotus flower with the text of five human values in its petals. They are Love, Peace, Truth, Righteousness and Non-violence. This text version has replaced the old logo with the symbols of the 5 or 6 world religions in the petals.
The Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust is the official publisher of the Sathya Sai Organization. It publishes the international monthly magazine called Sanathana Sarathi in English and Telugu. According to their website, they shelve over a thousand books and provide Sai-related literature in 40 languages. The book trust also supplies CDs, DVDs and audio tapes. In various nations, similar publication trusts are maintained in their own native language.
On November 23 2001, the digital radio network "Radio Sai Global Harmony" was launched through the World Space Organization, USA. Dr. 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.
In January 2007 the Baba was given a big felicitation in Chennai Nehru stadium organised by the Chennai Citizens Conclave for thanking him for the 200 crore water project which brought water from the River Krishna in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai city. Four chief ministers attended the function. The notable news about this event was that Sai Baba was sharing the same dais with Karunanidhi (Chief Minister of Chennai) who is a very well known hardcore atheist against Hindu gurus / godman and that Karunanidhi was felicitating Sai Baba. This was covered in all newspapers.
On June 6, 1993 four people who were armed with knives were killed after they had intruded in Sai Baba's bedroom. The intruders had killed two aides of Sai Baba. The incident was widely published in the Indian press. Sathya Sai Baba claimed in his 1993 Guru Poornima discourse on July 3 that jealousy among his followers was behind the incident, without giving a detailed explanation of the events. The former Secretary of the Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh, V.P.B. Nair, who came from of a police background, expressed in the BBC documentary his opinion that the four assailants in 1993 had unnecessarily and illegally been shot by the police. There are other opinions from the eye witnesses who were present in the Mandir premises on that night, that police did the right thing to protect the life of several others, as the four people were armed and had already stabbed two people to death. The debates about Sathya Sai Baba were fueled by a document published in 2000 called "The Findings", written by David and Faye Bailey (former followers who together wrote three books on Sathya Sai Baba ), in which they described their disillusionment with the guru. According to an article in Salon.com in the year 2001, a great part of the Findings contains testimonies of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The Findings contain allegations of fakery, claims that Sai Baba does not heal sick people and allegations of financial irregularities with charity projects, such as the Super Specialty Hospital and water project. David Bailey previously wrote, in his two books about Sathya Sai Baba, that he personally witnessed manifestations, healings, miracles and was saved from a car accident by Sathya Sai Baba. The Daily Telegraph stated that Sathya Sai Baba rubbed oil on the genitals of a young male devotee. The testimonies of sexual abuse of young men were shown in TV documentaries, including "Seduced by Sai Baba" by Denmark's national television, and documentary film "Secret Swami" by BBC. The TV documentary "Seduced By Sai Baba", produced by Denmark's national television and radio broadcaster Danish radio aired in Denmark, Australia and Norway.
Al Rahm, a father of one of the young men who claimed to have been sexually abused by Sathya Sai Baba, spoke with Dr. Michael Goldstein, in the USA about the alleged sexual abuse. According to Rahm, Dr. Goldstein responded by saying that he hated the idea of having wasted 25 years of his life and that he accepted Sri Sathya Sai Baba's statement "Swami is pure" as the truth. Dr. Goldstein further stated that he did not support an investigation of the sexual abuse allegations, although he felt that Sathya Sai Baba was not above the law. He said that it was against his "heart and conscience" to believe the allegations because he had personally observed Baba interact with students very frequently, in very informal circumstances, and he had never seen anything inappropriate, ominous or anything indicative of fear or apprehension. Isaac Tigrett, co-founder of the Hard Rock Café and a prominent follower of Baba, stated in the BBC documentary that his admiration for the Baba will not change even if the charges of child sexual abuse and murder were proved beyond all doubt. In this same documentary, Khushwant Singh stated that Sathya Sai Baba's popularity could not be ascribed to any type of publicity campaign. Singh compared Sathya Sai Baba to Mahatma Gandhi, in that Gandhi never had any publicity but became nationally known through word of mouth According to the BBC reporter Tanya Datta, numerous sexual abuse victims have undergone a genital oiling by Sathya Sai Baba that they believe is part of Hinduism. Singh reacted to this by saying that this genital oiling is not part of Indian tradition.
According to the journalist Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com the fact that the Baba has high ranking Indian politicians as his supporters and the charity works done by the various organizations associated with the Baba help to explain why he has not been brought into a court of law in India. The Indian consulate website states that crime victims must file charges with the police. In an article that was published in the India Today magazine in December 2000, it was stated that no complaints had been filed against Sathya Sai Baba by any alleged victim, in India. The magazine stated they are in possession of an affidavit signed by Jens Sethi (an ex-devotee) and reported that he filed a complaint with the police in Munich.
Sathya Sai Baba did not give a detailed public rebuttal to the accusations of sexual abuse. In his Christmas 2000 discourse Sai Baba said that people disseminate false negative stories about him because they have been bribed. Koert van der Velde, a reporter for Dutch newspaper Trouw, claimed in a critical article that Sathya Sai Baba forbade people to look at the internet. In the years 1999 and 2000 Sri Sathya Sai Baba has repeatedly belittled the internet and discouraged its use.
The Guardian and DNA stated that, although Sathya Sai Baba has not been charged over old allegations of sexual abuse, a travel warning was issued by the US State Department about reports of "unconfirmed inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader", which officials later confirmed was a reference to Sai Baba. The Guardian further expressed concerns over a contingent of 200 youths travelling to the Baba's ashram in order to gain their Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
According to The Telegraph, Glen Meloy (an ex-devotee) organized a campaign that concentrated on "e-bombing" allegations against Sathya Sai Baba to various agencies and officials. The Telegraph stated that the most conspicuous success of Meloy's campaign came when, in September 2000, UNESCO withdrew its participation in an educational conference at Puttaparthi, expressing "deep concern" about the allegations of sexual abuse. The Telegraph also stated that despite all the allegations made against Sathya Sai Baba over the years, he has never been charged with any crime, sexual or otherwise.
Bill Aitken stated that Sathya Sai Baba's reputation has only increased despite negative stories being published against Baba, by rationalists, critics and skeptics, for at least a generation. Aitken contended that critics are so distemperate in their dislike that their vituperation comes across as near comical. Aitken also expressed the opinion that the BBC is ultimately governed by the Anglican establishment and does not criticize public icons like the Queen, who happens to be the head of the Anglican church. Aitken felt that the Church of England can have no objection to programs that weaken perceived threats, such as the Sai Movement. Aitken also expressed the opinion that the more detractors rail against Sathya Sai Baba, it seems even greater numbers of people flock to see him.
In an interview with an Asian Voice correspondent, Mr Ashok Bhagani, a trustee of the Sai Organization in the UK, said that he believed the allegations in the Secret Swami BBC documentary were completely without facts, baseless and have never been proved. Mr Bhagani also stated that when devotees are selected by Baba for a private interview, there is always someone else present in the room, and this is especially the case when women and children meet him. Navin Patel, a biochemistry student at the Sathya Sai Arts College in Bangalore during the 1970s, told Asian Voice that he visited Baba's ashram many times and studied at Baba's college long enough to know the allegations are untrue. Patel claimed the Secret Swami BBC documentary was very misleading and was based on only two westerners who had their own monetary agendas. Patel expressed the opinion that western journalists were bashing Baba collectively.
The secretary of the Puttaparthi ashram, K. Chakravarthi, refused to comment on the accusations. Anil Kumar, Sathya Sai Baba's principal translator, believes that the controversy is part of Baba's divine plan and said that every great religious teacher has had to face criticism in his/her lifetime. Kumar said that allegations have been leveled at Sai Baba since childhood, but with every criticism Baba becomes more and more triumphant.
Thorbjørn Meyer, in a letter to the DR, called the allegations undocumented and untrue. In the Seduced documentary, Peter Pruzan stated that he believed Sathya Sai Baba is not a pedophile nor does he perform conjuring tricks. Pruzan claimed that he personally experienced Sathya Sai Baba's "wholly extraordinary powers" both in Baba's presence as well as in Denmark.
A number of political figures criticised Sathya Sai Baba including K. Chandrasekhar Rao, leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and former Union Minister, who suggested that Sathya Sai Baba should restrict himself to religious functions and not involve himself in politics. Sai Baba's followers responded by calling a 'bandh' in which shops and business establishments were shut down to protest against the remarks of the Telangana leaders, and effigies of the critics were set alight. K. Kesava Rao, President of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, maintained that Sathya Sai Baba's comments had been "misinterpreted" and that the remark was not political. Digvijay Singh, Congress secretary-general, disagreed with suggestions that Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy could have instigated Sathya Sai Baba to make his statement, and confirmed that his party approved plans for the creation of a separate Telangana state. "With due respect to Sai Baba we can say that the work for setting up the second state reorganisation commission will go on," he said.