As all followers know, Sathya Sai Baba only gives prominence within his movement to those who always praise him beyond measure and who are willing to lie at his feet, kiss them or at the very least touch them most reverently in public. Of course, though some top politicians do this too, because such people are more important than him (and very important to him), he has to give them prominence too when they visit him.
Since his early years, Sathya Sai Baba has had people touch his feet in reverence. After 70 years or so of this, he declared he would not allow anyone to touch his feet in worship (padanamaskar) because the same divinity is present in everyone as it is in himself. That promise was very soon broken, as so many others have been. Once again the complete contradiction of his words and his actions is evident. See the latest procession of feet-kissing or feet-worshipping followers (short video from 85th birthday celebration, 2010)
A great thing has been made out of this worship of the supposed ‘holy lotus feet’ since the earliest days. He was seen as having honoured close devotees on his birthdays by letting them bathe and oil his feet.
A further inducement to touch Sai Baba (and his feet are most touched) came when Mrs. Ratan Lal once tried to touch his gown when he was about to be photographed.
“Before the camera clicked, Smt. Ratanlal rushed forward to set right the folds of the robe. Everyone was astonished when Bhagavan shouted at her loudly, “Don’t touch me!” and she retreated quickly. After the camera clicked, Baba held the photo coming out of the camera and gave it to Joga Rao As he held it in his palm, the picture developed gradually.” The image was of Dattatreya in a white garment with three heads and six hands. “Sai Baba later clarified to Smy. Ratanlal would not have survived if she had touched him“. See this fully described here.
If touching Sai Baba’s robe could sometimes produce such extremely powerful results, touching his feet or his hands would seem to be a means of getting a powerful spiritual experience. Many say that they have strong experiences when they touch his feet etc., but – of course – this can simply be because they have prayed and waited for ages before they got so far.
There is hardly a single follower I have seen who, when the opportunity of touching Sathya Sai Baba’s feet seems to be coming close, are not eager to do so. All his students and servitors do so whenever they are allowed. When I was there I naturally also wanted to see if there was any effect from touching his feet, and he actually pushed a foot into my knee as I sat on the sand one day. I did not feel anything other than a certain satisfaction that he had taken notice of me too. A day or so later he pushed his other foot at me… it seemed to have some meaning, but then what? Altogether I was never very taken by the foot worship thing – and lying flat on the ground before him to kiss his feet, which those who can like to do, looks awful really. Subservience, servility, sycophancy, slavery… are words that come to mind, and much of calamitous, suffering India is far too full of all those influences already. But Sathya Sai Baba does not mind having his feet touched or kissed one bit, despite his denial that he and his devotees are not one (and the same?). In India it is, for many Hindus, traditional for children to touch their father’s feet as a sign of reverence, but it can be taken to extremes. It was amusing to see two American devotees in the canteen for Westerners at the ashram when one said he had received padanamaskar that morning. The other jumped up and loudly exclaimed, “Hey, buddy, so did I. Put it there!” and they did the high-five together!
In earlier times there were dozens of photographs of Sathya Sai Baba’s feet available at shops near the ashrams and many on the Internet… but these have thinned out considerably. So one may get an impression of how these feet were presented to the public, see:-
Concerning devotees’ worship of Sai Baba’s feet, I once referred to the virtual hysteria of many followers at darshan (when Sai Baba walks by) to get to his feet by hook or by crook, as ‘feet fetishism’. I was attacked for that – See my response here.