Professor N. Kasturi, Sai Baba’s ‘official’ biographer
Posted by robertpriddy on February 20, 2012
Commissioned as his official biographer by Sathya Sai Baba, “Professor” N. Kasturi was his utterly devoted servant and had been a teacher of history to pre-university classes for 32 years and an itinerant poet-cum-public speaker before Sai Baba called him permanently to ‘His Feet’. His four-volume work ‘Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram‘ ( or ‘Truth, Goodness, Beauty’) was only begun to be published about a decade after he had moved to the proximity of Sai Baba at his ashrams, living mostly in a tiny and modest apartment allocated to him until his death.
The whole approach of Kasturi towards his Sadguru, eventually his every perception, was clearly modelled on the belief induced in him by Sai Baba that he was the one and only full avatar of God in this aeon. Having been a devotee of the long-deceased Hindu guru, Ramakrishna Parmahamsa, Kasturi was fallow ground for Sai Baba’s further indoctrination… not longer dry ritual and doctrine but the exhilaration of experiencing one he regarded as the Divinity itself… a reborn Vishnu, Rama and Krishna.
Kasturi collected every scrap of hearsay from villagers around in Puttaparthi and applied himself to weaving it into a constant eulogy and wordy glorification, making it much more of an enthusiastic and devoted fairy tale than a research, let alone a remotely documented study. As Professor Haraldsson scathingly replied when first we met in Bangalore in 1988 and I innocently praised Kasturi’s biography, that it is a most unreliable and far from impartial account. I was quite shocked at Haraldsson’s scepticism, but then he had already published his book in which he definitively disproved Sai Baba’s claim to have resurrected the US millionaire Walter Cowan.
Kasturi’s ‘biography’ reads like the systematic application of Hindu iconography to Sathya Sai Baba, which greatly weakens its credibility and will surely be seen mostly as second-hand story-telling by religious scholars and researchers everywhere. The mythology has now largely fallen apart at the base in that even central dates and events have been shown not to be in accordance with official school registers or even with the calendar. These are the kind of facts that are of a fundamental and often conclusive nature for historians and objective researchers of all kinds.
Sesham Raju, elder brother of Sathya Professor Kasturi, who I met on several occasions and interviewed, was evidently a very naive person without any known research qualifications, though he once held a teaching post as professor of history (without having a Ph.D). In his ‘official biography’ he hardly mentioned the elder brother, Mr. Sesham Raju (born 1911), who lived in Puttaparthi and who Kasturi knew well. Sesham Raju was the only properly educated member of Sai Baba’s family and was well-placed to have known most of what happened, causing him to write a critical letter in 1947 to Sathya. Kasturi only refers to Sathya’s arrogant reply – a letter famous among devotees for correcting’ his elder brother and boasting greatly about himself. Sesham’s letter is never reproduced in Sai Baba literature (surely it would have been too disrupting of the myth), so only Sathya’s reply letter is presented – an outwardly ‘loving’ rebuttal and supposed evidence of SB’s prescience as to his own future.
Kasturi chose not to report Sesham’s highly sceptical views of the claims of Sai Baba and the stories about him. Living in Puttaparthi from the 1970s until his death in 1985, Sesham was unwilling (or under great pressures not) to write or speak out in public due to the consequences it would have, both for the Sai empire and no doubt for himself and family. Unfortunately therefore only reports by persons who met him and learned his views are available. Most likely Sathya would have warned Kasturi not to listen to his elder brother, whose evidence would very possibly have destroyed the entire childhood mythology. Kasturi mentions Sesham passing in connection with Sai Baba’s schooling. The shortcoming of this is shown by a report I received from a former Malaysian devotee of Sai Baba (no cobra in cot of Sai Baba).
Kasturi never learned journalistic rigour for, though a teacher of history (never becoming a university professor), he engaged a lot in humour and poetry or in radio talks on spiritual subjects. The extremes of Kasturi’s flowery praise and ultimate support of every claim made by Sai Baba, with never a whiff of critical awareness – combined with Kasturi’s own account of his extreme servitude and yet how he was sometimes severely punished by Sai Baba for almost no reason – cause the suspicion that fear and flattery were among Kasturi’s personal motives, as was evident in the words and actions of a large number of those aspiring to be among the closest disciples.
THE RUMOUR MILL AND ITS EDITORS
If the accounts by Kasturi and a few others from the earlier years who were able to question contemporaries of the young Sathya Sai Baba are correct, he behaved as an incarnate deity even as a young man. However, Kasturi overlooked or minimised the significance of the numerous instances by not going into detail on how Sathya Sai Baba was subject to most ordinary social and other limitations (being bullied as a boy, not being accepted by his parents or elder brother as other than a boy and so on). He mostly skirted around anything that could be controversial or cast the slightest suspicion on Sai Baba’s veracity. Sathya Sai’s younger brother – Janakiramiah – told my close friend V.K. Narasimhan that the parents had terrible difficulties with Sathya Sai Baba as a son for he was so unruly and disobeying. Sathya Sai Baba was a frequent truant at school and was what we typically call a ‘drop out’. And this behaviour from one who lays so much weight on respecting and obeying parental wishes! Kasturi’s rosy adulation of him as ‘Bala Sai’ and a reborn mischievous baby Krishna etc. was developed at second-hand, long after Sathya Raju renamed himself Sathya Sai Baba and grew up.
Kasturi told Prof. E. Haraldsson that, though he is somehow divine, “Swami is also very human”… seemingly a belated half-admission that Sathya Sai Baba suffers from faults and sins like any other person… for surely Kasturi cannot have failed to encountered lies, sexual proclivities, deceptions and dishonourable avoidance of justice?
When the top professional ex-journalist V.K. Narasimhan took over from Kasturi, initially in the early 1980s, he was instructed by Sathya Sai not to publish accounts of dreams, healing powers or other miraculous phenomena… the sort of material in which Kasturi had until then literally revelled in – in Sanathana Sarathi, in his ‘biography’ of Sathya Sai Baba and in his self-effacing autobiography (‘Loving God‘). Narasimhan managed to stick to this fairly well, with lapses here and there.
In later years, and especially after the sex scandal in 1999, when Sai Baba’s outreach has become international and his institutions grew increasingly dependent on a flow of donations from followers, the Sathya Sai Organization began to tone down the claims that smacked too much of megalomania and it was considered better in most cases to keep quiet rather than draw more attention to the incredible. It seems that Sathya Sai Baba – through his appointed propagators – eventually accepted the need to sanitize the literature about him. The SS Org. tried, such as through internal directives to national leaders and their members, to suppress the more fantastic claims of Sai Baba – the exorbitant declarations of Supreme Godhead and Creator of the Universe and miracles without limit written about by besotted bhaktas. Web pages were modified or removed and reprints of discourses were more carefully edited, such as to exclude some of the major blunders he made, most probably in the hope that the vast donations would not wither further. This need was dictated by gaining credibility for its work in extending the Sathya Sai Baba influence and the various works they undertake (doubtless mostly with the best of intentions) which increasingly require social acceptance and the public ‘blind eye’ to the activities of Sathya Sai Baba himself.
A large number of stories that are constantly repeated even today have been shown to be inventions, while many others simply cannot be true because they defy all feasibility. Indeed, there is no limit to what is possible in most Sai devotees’ minds, for “Swami is the all-powerful Godhead”, which largely would follow from that were it fully believed. The many miracle stories, often embroidered out of subjective experience, misunderstanding and sheer inventions, were the daily bread and wine of a mass of devotees… a fact to which I can attest through my hundreds of conversations with followers from many countries of the world through two decades. Too trusting at first, I came through experience to learn that invented stories were one way of achieving prominence in the Sai Baba movement. The uneducated Indian villager is often unable to distinguish myth from fact, especially with religious stories, which are freely embroidered without any sense of deceiving others. This applied not only Puttaparthi villagers living in grinding poverty and searching for ways to get ahead and be helped by foreign visitors, but also among trusting, educated and too-gullible Westerners. Add to this that Sathya Sai Baba positively throve on rumour and myth (see here).
There are countless baseless rumours, accounts of miracles, ‘stories’ and the like circulating in the Sai movement. Many unlikely stories about Sai Baba – especially those spread by him personally – are supported and encouraged by Sai Org. office-bearers, and even the wildest fables are tolerated as an enhancement of Sai Baba’s fame without any refutation of them.Rumours making Sathya Sai Baba seem much more than he was, are allowed to spread unhindered, while Sai followers and officials frequently denounce as rumours anything that casts a critical light on any of Sai Baba’s words or acts. The Sai following imagines itself to be the cream of the world’s spirituality, destined to save humanity from catastrophe, and their agenda is to expand their numbers and influence at almost any cost, certainly at the cost of fact and truth.
Prof. Kasturi also showed signs of problems in keeping total trust in Sathya Sai Baba – at least privately – when he told me in his later years that Sathya Sai even claimed that what was recorded on a tape Kasturi made in his presence was NOT WHAT HE HAD SAID! It was evident that he had some doubt about this… and he wondered what I made of it. I must admit that I was somewhat befuddled and had to disregard it as best I could. Then I did, but not any longer, though! Sai Baba’s response to those who dared to even suggest a possible discrepancy in what he said or did was, according to some observers, as if to rise up like a cobra. If he thought he was being confronted, he would avoid being held to account by a wide range of clever diversions. Following Kasturi’s ever-repeated lead, blind devotees would put everything untoward down to ‘His Mystery’ and call it “His divine leela” or the like. SSB saw how devotees swallowed everything (well, most of them most of the time). Incidentally, he once claimed in a discourse that he is ‘the lion among animals, the eagle among birds’ (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol 8, p. 13). Since he also claimed that he appeared as a hamadryad to devotees in the past, he is then ‘the king cobra among reptiles’. One can divine what he is driving at… massive pride and no real compassion to anyone who arouses him, as also pointed out by his one-time chosen ‘soul-brother’ in his teenage years (the Krishna who shared his sleeping room for years but then left him permanently).
Sai Baba repeatedly warned against listening to or spreading rumors. He compared this to dogs barking at nothing (eg. p. 130, Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 13). Remarkably, however, his ashrams and movement were and still are certainly far more subject to rumours and non-confirmable stories than any other place I have ever been. Many originated from him in private interview sessions but which sometimes were then reported outside, where they conveniently could be dismissed by the hierarchy as ‘just hearsay’, which he then neither needed to confirm nor reject. Why was all this soon so widespread in the Sai movement?
A regime of secrecy, unaccountability and suppression of fact developed in the entire Sai movement early on, along with a burgeoning semi-militarization of the ashrams which had to cope with the thousands of undisciplined visitors and often frenzied people from every country and class. This regime was extended to what was accepted in written for or said in Sai gatherings. Early on the ashram officials would exclude the mildest critics – whether they contested various miracles or Sai Baba’s countless claims of super-divinity and actions which could not be reconciled to his own words or teachings. Authoritarian ashram officialdom increased enormously after the 1993 murders in Sai Baba’s bedroom and critical or doubtful persons would be banned from the ashram, while anyone could be – and was – summarily excluded from the Sathya Sai Organization without their having any chance of redress or even without being offered any explanation. This reached the point of cultist frenzy after 2000 and the developing exposé of Sathya Sai Baba’s fraud, untruth, failed predictions, cover-ups and abuses of faith.