Satya Sai Baba (also Sathya Sai Baba) (November 23, 1926 - April 24, 2011) is a famous South Indian guru who has millions of followers around the world, especially among Hindus. He is renowned for his humanitarian endeavors as well as for his promotion of religious harmony. In particular, he was known for his humanitarian organizations that are found in the city of Puttaparthi in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
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. His followers consider him to be an avatar (a "descent" or incarnation of God). His alleged miracles, materializations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects, proved to be a source of both fame and controversy; devotees considered them signs of divinity, while skeptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks.
Satya Sai Baba (born Sathya Narayana Raju) was born on November 23, 1926 into a poor Hindu family in the town of Puttaparthi, India. Biographers have claimed miracles heralded his birth. He was also said to have been gifted in devotional music, dance, and drama from a young age.
When he was 13, he was stung by a scorpion and lapsed into a coma for several hours. On awakening his behavior was noticed to have changed. He began to sing in Sanskrit, a language of which he had no prior knowledge, and his body became rigid. Local doctors and exorcists failed to cure him. Then, he rose and began to materialize candy and flowers as gifts. When questioned, Sathya proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of the Hindu Saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918) and thereafter adopted his name. Soon thereafter, he also claimed to be an avatar for the current age, a position he maintained for the duration of his physical life.
In 1944, a mandir (temple) for Sathya Sai Baba's devotees was built near the village of Puttaparthi. The construction of the Prashanthi Nilayam ashram was begun in 1948 and completed in 1950. In 1954, Sathya Sai Baba established a small free General Hospital in the village of Puttaparthi.
In 1963, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks. On recovering, Sai Baba gave a discourse announcing that he would be reborn as Prema Sai Baba in the neighboring state of Karnataka. 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."
After 2004, Sai Baba used a wheelchair and his failing health forced him to make fewer public appearances. In 2003, he suffered a fractured hip when a student standing on an iron stool slipped, and both the boy and stool fell on him. After that, he gave darshan from a car or his porte chair.
In March 2011, Sathya 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 hospitalization, during which his condition progressively deteriorated, Sai Baba died on April 24, 2011, aged 85.
Sathya Sai Baba taught the unity of all world religions adding that people who follow him do not need to give up their original religion. He also placed emphasis on respecting parents, especially the mother. He consistently advocated the five basic human values: satya (truth), dharma (right conduct, living in accord with natural law), ahimsa (non-violence), prema (love for God and all his creatures) and shantih (peace).
Additional teachings espoused by Satya Sai Baba include:
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 town of Puttaparthi, where Sathya Sai Baba was born, was originally a small village where one can now find an extensive University complex, Chaitanya Jyoti (a World-Religions Museum that has won several international awards for design), a spiritual museum, a Planetarium, a railway station, a hill-view stadium, an administrative building, an airport, an indoor sports stadium and more. High ranking Indian politicians, like the former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee have been official guests at the ashram in Puttaparthi. On Sathya Sai Baba's 80th birthday celebration, it was reported that well over a million people attended, including 13,000 delegates from India and 180 other countries.
Sathya Sai Baba established several ashrams. He spent much of the time in his main ashram called Prashanthi Nilayam (abode of highest peace) at Puttaparthi. In the hot summer Baba he would leave for his ashram called Brindavan in Kadugodi, Whitefield, a town on the outskirts of Bangalore. Occasionally, he visited his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikanal. 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 were the darshans during October (the Dasara holidays and November (the month of Sai Baba's birth). During darshan Sathya Sai Baba walked among his followers and often interacted with people, accepted letters, materialized and distributed vibhuti (sacred ash) or called groups or individuals for interviews. Followers considered it a great privilege to get an interview and sometimes a single person, group or family would be invited for a private interview.
Sathya Sai Baba established a number of free educational institutions, charitable organizations and service projects that are spread over 10,000 centers in 166 countries around the world.
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 35,000 sq ft (3,300 m²) 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.
Sathya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (Hindu temples) 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".
In various books, magazines, filmed interviews, and articles, Sathya Sai Baba's followers have reported the occurrence of miracles and healings of various kinds attributed to him. Sathya Sai Baba's devotees believe that he relieved his devotees by transferring their pain to himself. Daily, he was allegedly observed to manifest vibuthi (holy ash), and sometimes food and small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches.
In devotees' houses all around the world, there are claims from observers, journalists and devotees that vibuthi, kumkum, turmeric powder, holy water, Shiva 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.
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.
Sathya Sai Baba 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 were 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". 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…"
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.
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. "The Findings" contains testimonies of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The Findings also contains 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.  In the years 1999 and 2000, Sri Sathya Sai Baba has repeatedly belittled the internet and discouraged its use.
The Guardian and Daily News & Analysis 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.
In an official letter released to the general public, in December 2001, A.B. Vajpayee (then Prime Minister of India), P.N. Bhagawati (Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India), Ranganath Mishra (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 V. Patil (Member of Parliament, India; Formerly of the Lok Sabha & Union Minister) all signed a letter that called the allegations against Sathya Sai Baba "wild, reckless and concocted allegations made by certain vested interests" and that they "unequivocally condemned" the allegations as "baseless and malicious".
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.
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