The Guardian, UK, is one of the world’s most respected newspapers due to its careful investigation and serious, level-headed reporting. It does not fear taking a critical approach where deemed necessary, as its reports in the past on Sathya Sai Baba bear witness. This is also the case with the latest article, from which the more vital parts are copied here below, with some comments interspersed:-
Sathya Sai Baba was unusual among India’s grotesquely obese multitude of god-men. He was born in southern India in 1926. At the age of 14, according to his army of hagiographers, he had an epiphany: declaring himself a reincarnation of the 19th-century Marathi Sufi savant Sai Baba, he dropped his given name, Sathyanarayana Raju, and began calling himself Sathya Sai Baba…
…Sathya Sai Baba, stationed in distant Puttaparthi, away from the spiritual bazaars of Varanasi and Rishikesh, attracted only a small segment of the hippies who travelled to India. Almost all of them had heard about him from others, and virtually none of them knew what he looked like.
Unlike the Sufi Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Babai’s message was banal: there was an emphasis on vegetarianism, love and peace, but no radical insights into the condition of humanity. Nor was he in the business of converting people. Instead, in a novel touch, he urged his followers to be good practitioners of their own faith. But what made him distinct was his uniquely arresting appearance: the flowing saffron robes, the tiny body, and the woollen hair, resembling a topiary bush, that sat above his childlike face. His intellectual limitations were more than compensated for by thaumaturgy, his principal strength, and he cultivated his devotees with impressive gifts conjured from the air. Until the 1990s, Sathya Sai Baba’s influence rarely extended beyond his circle of followers. Within his own home state of Andhra Pradesh, he was rubbished as a charlatan by the charismatic and wildly popular film star-turned-politician NT Rama Rao. But when PV Narasimha Rao, a fellow Andhrite, became prime minister in 1991, it consecrated Sathya Sai Baba’s position as the most powerful god-man in India.
There are riveting accounts by devotees of encounters with Sathya Sai Baba. One westerner records being handed a “freshly glazed” photograph, produced in the swami’s palm as if by magic, with the address of his ashram on the back. “You’ve been asking for my address,” Sathya Sai Baba tells him. “Here it is. Keep it in your wallet.” There are numerous tales of patients beings healed by the swami’s sacred ash. In one of the more fantastic tales, the swami is approached by a terminally ill woman; her only hope of survival is a treatment that is available exclusively in Japan, but she does not have the means to travel. The swami smiles, points to a door and asks her to open it. She does. On the other side is Japan. (See some of the amusing comments below)
Sathya Sai Baba preferred earthly modes of transport for himself, travelling in a Rolls-Royce gifted to him by a wealthy devotee. The Sufi Sai Baba had lived in a dilapidated mosque; his supposed reincarnation’s “humble” ashram was a veritable palace. For a man claiming to be god, Sathya Sai Baba was oddly enthusiastic about science; perhaps it had something to do with his own mastery of the laws of physics. He collected vast sums of money to build super-speciality hospitals – although no one bothered to ask him why, as god, he would not make hospitals redundant by eradicating disease altogether.
To Sathya Sai Baba’s great credit, he condemned the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992 and, despite blandishments by the Hindu right, always refused to endorse their project. But proximity to power brought its own benefits. In 1993, four men entered the swami’s bedroom carrying knives; they were confronted by the police guard, overwhelmed, sealed up in a room, and then shot dead. The then home secretary of Andhra Pradesh described the killings as “cold blooded murder“. But investigations never followed.
Comment: It was Narasimha Rao and his Home Minister, S.B. Chavan (a long-time devotee of SB) who handled the major cover-up of the murders in Sathya Sa Baba’s bedroom of four of his ex-students, eventually quashing by government order the CBI investigation that was instituted because of the Puttapatthi police corruption and falsification of all evidence. A petition against Sai Baba to the Supreme Court was also rejected out of hand (see here) The Sai Central Trust and ashram authorities did everything they could, along with the police, to confuse every aspect of the entire episode. The government caused investigators to be transferred when they were getting too close to the truth… namely, that the police execution of the four young men was a result of blackmail by Sai Baba’s minions, especially his younger brother, Janakiramiah. This information leaked out to me from my very good friend, the close editorial servant of Sai Baba, once-famous journalist V.K. Narasimhan – see here.
Reports of sexual misconduct were similarly ignored. At least two young men accused the swami of putting his penis in their mouths. In 2001, India’s first Hindu nationalist prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, circulated a letter on his official notepaper condemning the allegations as “concocted“.
Comment: The Prime Minister’s letter was also signed by ex-High Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati now about to take over the running of the multi-billion dollar Sathya Sai Central Trust. Bhagwati has exposed himself in a remarkable interview with the Times of India as a mere puppet for Sai Baba in ALL his actions(see Ex-Chief Justice of India: Sathya Sai Baba “dictated my every single judgement”). The whitewash was based ENTIRELY on devotional belief, because challenges were mounted under the Right to Information Act to see what investigation or evidence collection has been undertaken, but there was nothing whatever! The BBC documentary ‘The Secret Swami’ interviewed numerous victims of Sai Baba’s sexual abuse, presenting the testimony of two only due to editorial (not legal) considerations.
Ultimately, Sathya Sai Baba’s protracted struggle to avert death demonstrated that, even as a human, he was merely ordinary. After a lifetime of self-elevating sermons on his own divinity, he feared what lay beyond life – and he feared it so severely that he ceased to be concerned by the gulf it opened up between image and reality. God spent his final days on a life-support system.
Among some of the hilarious comments made on the Guardian article about ‘one of the more fantastic tales’ were the following:-
SeculR 6 May 2011 2:40PM Why did he spend billions to build canals for miles when he could have done that in a sleight of hand? And where did he get that amount of money from? It’s that door again. He just opened it and this time there was a bank vault the other side … knockout!
SeculR 6 May 2011 12:30PM Are we all certain that this man has died? There is always the possibility that he might have gone to the bathroom one night, opened the wrong door and found himself in Japan … or anywhere for that matter. Still, let’s hope he has his mobile with him, so that he can phone home.
conifer 6 May 2011 1:16PM As long as he doesn’t find a door to come back through we’re okay.
TheSmokingMan 6 May 2011 4:04PM – conifer – 6 May 2011 12:16PM:- If he’d pointed at the door on the other side, they could have had a Chinese. They were running a dim Sum special too!!!
SeculR 6 May 2011 4:59PM Maybe he was busy financing another canal that day, got a bit distracted and missed the other door.