Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba was an Indian guru said to have over 100 million followers in 133 countries. Regarded as a "living god,” he had a large afro, wore flowing orange robes and sometimes wows his followers by pulling wristwatches out of thin air and making holy ash appear in his hands. He said he was the reincarnation of a 19th century holy man and claimed to possess miraculous healing power. Devotees say Baba has met them in their dreams and given them advise that prolonged their life. Sai Baba was an influential and controversial guru. He ran a multibillion-dollar charitable trust and was accused of fraud and sexually taking advantage of some of his adoring adherents, some of whom believed he was a god who would come back to life after his death.

According to the BBC: “Sai Baba's followers believe he had magical abilities to produce objects out of thin air, visit people in their dreams, perform miracles and cure terminal illnesses. But his critics say that many of these activities were publicity stunts. They say that he was a persuasive fraudster who used his huge popularity to avoid being investigated over allegations of murky financial practices and sexual abuse. These charges were always strenuously denied by the guru and his followers, and were never proved. His popularity remained undimmed throughout his life - Sai Baba had ashrams in 126 countries and also ran a network of hospitals, clinics and schools that were often free. [Source: BBC]

According to The Telegraph, Sai Baba, was India's most famous, and most controversial, Swami or holy man, and one of the most enigmatic and remarkable religious figures of the last century. To his followers, Sai Baba was a living god; a claim he did nothing to disavow. He would frequently liken himself to such figures as Christ, Krishna, and the Buddha, claiming that he was the avatara of the age – an avatara being a living incarnation of the Divine. To his detractors he was a charlatan, albeit one of considerable ingenuity and enormous personal charisma and power. [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

“From humble beginnings, his following grew until by the end of the 20th century it was estimated to number more than three million people around the world. This made him a powerful and influential figure in Indian social and political life; he numbered many high-ranking politicians and public figures among his devotees and several Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Deva Gowda and Narasimha Rao, found it politically expedient to make their way to his ashram in the town of Puttaparthi in southern India to be photographed paying their respects.” == ▪ Ryan Shaffer wrote in the Skeptical Inquirer, “Sathya Sai Baba He was a “living god” for nearly forty million people worldwide, and his believers have credited him with resurrecting the dead and healing the sick. To his Hindu followers, Baba was an avatar, or an incarnation, of a god who performed miracles, including materializing jewelry and vibuthi (holy ash) out of thin air. With schools in more than thirty-three countries and educational programs in 166 countries, Baba became a global figure despite having left India only once (to visit Uganda in 1968). His supporters, including high-profile Indian politicians and American businessmen, proudly celebrated his mystical feats and humanitarian efforts. But his critics denounced him as a fraud for decades, claiming his feats were common magic tricks. Later, former followers accused him of child molestation, after which the U.S. government issued travel warnings to its citizens about the allegations. [Source:Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011. Shaffer is a writer and historian. He has a PhD in history. In 2011 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Global Studies at Stony Brook University in New York]

Websites and Resources: Gurus
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Why so many Indians flock to gurus - BBC News ; The Guru in Hindu Tradition, J Mlecko (1982), Numen (journal) ; Spiritual Gurus and Saints of Hinduism, India and the World ; Great Saints of India ; Gurus Gone Bad in India ; Guru choice and spiritual seeking in contemporary India, M Warrier (2003), International Journal of Hindu Studies ; Hindu Concepts of Teacher, Sanskrit Guru and Ācārya, Minoru Hara (1980), Sanskrit and Indian Studies ; Sanal Edamaruku's home page

Sai Baba’s Early Life

Sathya Sai Baba in the 1940s

The Telegraph reported: “Such is the mixture of myth, fabulation and hagiography that grew up around Sathya Sai Baba that the facts of his life are hard to establish. He is thought to have been born, as Sathya Narayana Raju, on November 23 1926, into a poor farming family in the village of Puttaparthi, in the arid state of Andhra Pradesh. [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

“According to legend, as a child he would avoid places where animals were slaughtered and bring beggars home to be fed. At the age of 14, after apparently being bitten by a scorpion, he began to display signs of delirium and hallucinations. Convinced that he was possessed, his parents summonsed a local exorcist who shaved the boy's head, scored four X's into his scalp, and poured the juice of garlic and lime into the wounds. Shortly afterwards, he declared himself to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, one of southern India's most revered saints, who died in 1918. Challenged to prove his claim, he is said to have thrown some jasmine flowers on the floor; in falling the flowers arranged themselves to spell out the name "Sai Baba" in Telugu.” ==

The 19th century Sai Baba was from the town of Shirdi. He combined elements of Hindu and Muslim practices and is said to have the ability to levitate, read minds, and heal the sick. He still has devoted followers today. Many of these followers were unimpressed by Raju and have never recognized him as an avatar of their saint. Meena Agarwal, a housewife from South Delhi and devotee of the 19th century holy man, told Time: "Sathya Sai Baba might have done a lot for the poor — but that at best makes him a social activist. It doesn't make him God." [Source: Jyoti Thottam, Time, April 26, 2011 ]

Sai Baba’s Career as a Mystic Guru

Leaving his family, Sai Baba travelled throughout southern India and won many followers in part through his of alleged miracles, which included conjuring things out of thin air and changing sacred ash to trinkets to Swiss watches. As the number of followers grew, they gathered around him. In 1950, he inaugurated his first ashram in Puttaparthi.

Ryan Shaffer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “In the 1940s, Baba began attracting attention when he started “materializing” items out of thin air. He then began traveling throughout South India building a following. His celebrity was cemented when Americans traveled to India on spiritual voyages in the 1960s.” [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011]

the original Sai Baba, Sai Baba of Shirdi

According to The Telegraph, “Sai Baba professed that his mission was ecumenical: the emblem of his organisation included symbols of all the world's great faiths, but his message was essentially drawn from Hindu teachings about man and God being inseparable by virtue of the atman, or eternal soul – the "universal divine spark" which is present in all beings. The atman, he declared, "can be known only through love" – a philosophy.” According to Time: “Sai Baba had a simple eight-word slogan to summarize his teachings: "Love all, serve all; help ever, hurt never." He encouraged his followers to meditate and sing devotional songs, and to take his darshan — that is, to see him in person, the better to experience his divine presence. [Sources: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==, Jyoti Thottam, Time, April 26, 2011]

“Twice a day Sai Baba, a stocky figure in a red, floor-length robe, his head crowned in a frizzy halo of black hair, would appear for "darshan" in the ashram's main temple. He would move among the adoring crowds, sometimes "materialising" vibhuti into outstretched hands and summoning favoured devotees for private audiences.” ==

Jyoti Thottam wrote in Time, “But in the mid-1970s, the Indian magician P.C. Sorcar duplicated one of Sathya Sai Baba's signature miracles... Soon after Sorcar's duplication of his magic, Sathya Sai Baba began to take on the role of philanthropist, transforming the small temple and ashram in his hometown of Puttaparthi into a multimillion-dollar complex of good works. His charitable trusts run schools, hospitals, colleges, stadia and a planetarium, as well as a piped-drinking-water project serving more than 750 villages in the surrounding areas. The projects attracted donations from around the world, most notably a $108 million gift from Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock Cafe. Tigrett gave his proceeds from the sale of the rock-music-themed restaurant chain to fund the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medicine, a free 500-bed hospital, in 1991.

Sai Baba reached the peak of his popularity in the 1990s as the media and prominent figures flocked to him. “December 1997 may have seen Sathya Sai Baba at his height. He played host to an all-star international cricket match, inviting an Indian team captained by Tendulkar to play a team of top players from the rest of the world. He had a new, state-of-the-art cricket stadium built in Puttuparthi just for the event, which was inaugurated by then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and broadcast on state-owned television. Thousands of people went to watch their cricket heroes compete for what was said to be a 20-kg solid gold trophy — and to take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch.”

Sai Baba’s Miracles and Divinity

Sathya Sai Baba on a float in 1946

The Telegraph reported: “Sai Baba's reputation was founded largely on claims of his miraculous powers. These included the apparent ability to materialise various tokens of devotion, such as amulets, rings and pendants, out of thin air; to produce "vibhuti", or "holy" ash in prodigious amounts from his fingertips; and to manifest fully formed lingams (ellipsoids made of crystal or quartz) from his stomach by regurgitation. These feats made him the target of numerous sceptics and debunkers, who claimed that the "materialisations" where little more than legerdemain which could be replicated by any competent Indian street magician. Sai Baba consistently refused to have his powers scientifically scrutinised, explaining that they were "part of the unlimited power of God. You call them miracles, but for me they are just my way." [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

“His followers would frequently talk of miraculous healings, of being "called" to him in dreams and visions, and of Sai Baba being able to read their minds – powers that were widely held among the faithful to be evidence of his "omniscience", and which sceptics dismissed as either self-delusion or an expert use of the technique of "cold reading", whereby facts are drawn out of a subject and fed back to them later without them realising it. An Icelandic researcher, Professor Erlendur Haraldsson conducted interviews with 29 subjects on Sathya Sai's mind-reading abilities. Of these, 19 reported that he had done so correctly, and five only partially correctly. One woman whom Sathya Sai advised "should get married" was married already.==

Norimasa Tahara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Believers claim that he once instantaneously traveled to the United States, bought a watch and returned with a receipt dated with a time he had seemed to be in India. Others have said, “When he touched my body, my cancer was cured.” There is no evidence whether his performances were paranormal phenomena or magic tricks. They were sometimes criticized as being unscientific, and some believers left him.” The Indian magician P.C. Sorcar told Time, "His magical tricks never impressed me. They were not of high quality. As a performer, if your tricks get caught out, what remains of you?" [Source: Norimasa Tahara, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 16, 2014 |:|]

Sai Baba in 1996

“To his devotees Sai Baba seemed to be more God than most. One of his closest disciples, Professor N Kasturi, the author of a four volume biography, described him as "a multi-faced avatar" – the embodiment of Rama, Christ, Krishna, Buddha and Zoroaster. Perhaps his most unlikely champion was a Vatican priest, Don Mario Mazzoleni, who in 1990 published a book, A Catholic Priest Meets Sai Baba, in which he declared that Christ and Sai Baba were the same manifestation of God on earth. After refusing an invitation from the Vatican to "retreat from his heretical doctrinal positions", Mazzoleni was excommunicated in 1993. Sai Baba frequently talked of himself as being "the Supra-worldly Divinity in Human Form", and the World Saviour. When American devotee and biographer, Dr John Hislop, asked him directly whether he claimed to be God, Sathya Sai is said to have replied: "Let us say, I am the switch." ==

“Sathya Sai Baba was certainly wrong about one thing having, in 1963, announced that he would live until 2020. It remains to be seen whether another prediction is closer to the mark – that in 2028 his "third incarnation", Prema Sai, will be born in the village of Gunaparthy in Karnataka state. "With his [Prema Sai's] efforts, love, goodwill, brotherhood and peace will abound throughout the world," Sai Baba declared. "He will receive universal recognition from mankind."” ==

Sai Baba’s Followers

Jyoti Thottam wrote in Time, “Believing in the Baba was easy. Devotees were not required to adhere to any particular set of beliefs or renounce worldly pleasures; non-Hindus did not need to change their religion. "I am God," he would say. "You too are God. The only difference between you and me is that while I am aware of it, you are completely unaware." With that approach, he attracted a following of some 6 million people.” His most famous follower was cricket champion Sachin Tendulkar. [Source: Jyoti Thottam, Time, April 26, 2011 ]

According to The Telegraph: “Sathya Sai's message and his alleged miraculous powers brought him an enormous following not only in India, but also in the West. This went far beyond the hippies and spiritual seekers who had made their way to India in the Sixties in search of enlightenment. The numerous Sai groups that proliferated in Europe, America and Australia were liberally peopled with physicians, psychologists and teachers. By the 1990s the tiny village of Puttaparthi had swollen to the size of a town and an airport was built to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims. [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

Sathya Sai Baba with the poor in 1948

James Timons, 37, who visits the ashram every year from New York told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “There’s more to him than miracles. His greatest gift is unconditional love. He had a pure belief in saving everyone beyond that of Hinduism.”

After Sai Baba’s death, Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “At Prashanti Nilayam, or Temple of Peace, the sprawling ashram at the heart of his empire, devotees talk of how Sai Baba appeared in their dreams, of miracles he had performed to heal them or their family members, or, like Marie Duffy, 25, of Ireland, just of the extraordinary “energy” of the place. “You can see all the buildings and you can go there, so at least part of the money was spent on something good,” Michiel Vanaerschot, 24, of Belgium said with a slight shrug. “People who don’t believe, they just can’t handle it.” [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011]

To celebrate his 70 the birthday, two American charitable organizations gave him $50 million and a Japanese business man gave him 29 pound in gold at a party attending by 10,000 people including government ministers and people from 137 countries.

Sai Baba’s Charities and Schools

Sai Baba encouraged people to love and serve all. He oversaw the implementation of waterworks systems in regions including the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, built hospitals and schools across the nation, and provided free medicine and education to save the impoverished lower classes. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

The Telegraph reported: “As his organisation grew, Sai Baba established an extensive network of schools and colleges throughout India, and his programme of Education in Human Values (EHV) was adopted by schools in Europe and America. The most extravagant display of his largesse was the Rayalaseema water project, inaugurated on his 70th birthday, which provided water to more than 750 villages and several towns in Andhra Pradesh. [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

Sathya Said Baba High School

“In 1991 he inaugurated the Sathya Sai Super-Speciality Hospital, which provided a range of medical services, up to major heart surgery, free of charge to local villagers. The hospital, which was designed by Dr Keith Crichlow, the director of the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture, was largely funded by an American follower, Isaac Tigrett, who had co-founded the Hard Rock chain of restaurants.” ==

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “Once a tiny, impoverished Indian village, his birthplace of Puttaparthi in southern India is now a small city, boasting an airport, a four-lane highway, a free hospital, a university, a music college, a space theater, a stadium and an “international” sports hall, all painted in pastel shades of yellow, orange, blue and pink. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011]

Sai Baba established many centers in the United States. For example, the USA Sai Organization lists eight locations in New York and twenty locations in Southern California.

Sai Baba’s Wealth

Sai Baba amassed a fortune in the form of a charitable trust — the Sathya Sai Trust — valued at an estimated $8.9 billion. According to filings with India's Home Ministry, the trust received $19.5 million in foreign donations in 2009 alone. A veil of secrecy concealed Sai Baba’s financial affairs and ashram activities. When he died he left behind a treasure trove nearly $8 million in gold, silver and cash. [Source: Jyoti Thottam, Time, April 26, 2011]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “But with the vast wealth have come, almost inevitably, questions about whether that money was being properly accounted for, and whose pockets it was ending up in. Those questions were fueled when police stopped a car leaving Puttaparthi shortly after the guru’s death that contained nearly $1 million in cash. Police say they and the income tax department are carrying out parallel investigations, and some Puttaparthi residents took to the streets this month to call for more transparency in the way Sai Baba’s estate is run. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011]

Ryan Shaffer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer: “One of the Trust’s most notable projects was the building of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi with donations, including a twenty-million-dollar contribution from Hard Rock Café and House of Blues cofounder Isaac Tigrett. In mid-June, nearly two months after Baba’s death, 216 lbs. (98 kg) of gold, 676.8 lbs. (307 kg) of silver, and about $2.5 million in cash were discovered in Baba’s personal chamber after it was opened for the Trust to inventory items.” [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011]

Sai Baba’s Powerful Friends

Sathya Sai Baba and Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Sai Baba’s devotees included some of India’s leading politicians and industrialists, Cabinet ministers, a former Indian Supreme Court justice as well as Goldie Hawn and Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett. India’s most famous cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, wept openly at Sai Baba’s funeral. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011*/]

Ryan Shaffer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “Besides being a spiritual guru, Baba was well-connected politically in India, with high-profile believers in the two major parties: the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the left-leaning Indian National Congress (INC). These included former Prime Ministers A.B. Vajpayee and P.V. Narasimha Rao. [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011 /=/]

Journalist Khushwant Singh explained Baba’s ties to politicians in the 1995 documentary Guru Busters: “At many times some decisions and particularly the [political] appointments are made in consultation with him . . . people like Sai Baba have a national influence.” In the documentary, T.N. Seshan, then chief election commissioner of India, held up a ring Baba gave him and said, “He gave this ring out of nowhere, which is set with nine gems; there is a ruby in it, a pearl in it, sapphire in it, there is an emerald in it, there is a diamond in it . . . he realized this for me out of nowhere.” Seshan later explained, “I am not a jumbly person. I’ve got a master’s degree in physics; I have a master’s degree in administration economics from Harvard. I find nothing contradictory between the physics and the fact that I believe this [ring] came out of the blue.” /=/

Criticism of Sai Baba

Sai Baba was accused of faking miracles, being a sexual predator, fleecing his followers and engaging in dubious sexual trysts that may have had something to do with a sensational murder at his retreat in the mid-1990s. Professional magicians said that his materializations were achieved through sleight of hand. Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “His record was also deeply controversial. Allegations of sexual abuse of teenage boys surfaced repeatedly, although no charges were ever brought; video evidence seemed to show that some of his trademark miracles, regurgitating a golden egg or producing a Rolex watch out of thin air, were merely sleight of hand. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post July 12, 2011*/]

Jyoti Thottam wrote in Time, “His influence afforded him a large measure of impunity. When a 2004 BBC documentary aired accusations that he had sexually abused boys and young men, the claims caused alarm among his followers outside India but were never investigated or prosecuted by Indian authorities. Sathya Sai Baba dismissed the accusations as the mere "cawing of crows." [Source: Jyoti Thottam, Time, April 26, 2011]

Sathya Sai Baba Indoor Stadium

Ryan Shaffer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “In 2000, Sorcar explained that Baba’s miracles, such as making vibhuti (holy ash) appear, are “common tricks” using sleight of hand (“P.C. Sorcar: Baba’s a Bad Trickster” 2000). In that example, he says, the holy ash is from a capsule hidden in the palm of Baba’s hand, which is then crushed with his thumb to make the ash appear. Likewise, Basava Premanand (1930–2009), one of the most respected Indian rationalists, started investigating Baba in 1968. Premanand, who was the head of Indian Skeptics and wrote thirty-five books (five in English), devoted years to examining Baba (Polidoro 2003). He released his findings about the sleight-of-hand techniques used in Baba’s “miracles” to the public as early as 1976. [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011 /=/]

“Perhaps more damaging was Tal Brooke’s 1970 book Lord of the Air (later called Avatar of Night), which recounted the author’s doubts about Baba upon learning of his sexual activities with young boys. The allegations did not go away. In 2004, stories of sexual abuse and child molestation surfaced in the BBC2 documentary The Secret Swami, in which journalist Tanya Datta interviewed former Baba devotees in the United States who said they had been sexually abused by him. The documentary featured interviews with government leaders who called the claims “baseless.” On the other hand, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in 2001 about “inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader” and later confirmed it was referring to Baba.” /=/

Lalitha Rajaram attended a Baba event in Delhi as a young girl in the 1990s. “At the event, she was told by her friend to watch Baba carefully so as not to miss anything he did. She concentrated on Baba, closely following his movements with her eyes. Her concentration was abruptly shattered when Baba, through his handlers, told her to leave. Rajaram surmised that Baba saw her in the audience and, being wary of skeptics, did not want her there. Why would a god not want someone to watch him closely? More than likely because he was not a god but rather a human who lived within the laws of physics like the rest of us.” /=/

Assassination Attempt of Sai Baba

On June 6, 1993 Sai Baba was the victim of an apparent assassination attempt. Four armed men broke into his private rooms. His chauffeur and cook were killed, but Sai Baba managed to escape unscathed. The attackers were shot dead by police. After that, pilgrims entering the ashram had to pass through metal detectors. [Source: The Telegraph, 24 April 2011 ==]

The Telegraph reported: “According to ashram officials the assassination attempt was the result of a struggle between rival factions of devotees who had been denied positions of influence in the ashram. But the attempt on Sai Baba's life hinted at other, darker currents that had begun to eddy around his mission. Not least of these were allegations that young male devotees had been sexually abused by their guru in the course of private audiences. These allegations were given wider currency with the advent of the internet, and an international campaign by devotees in Europe and America calling for his prosecution. But Sai Baba seemed impervious to criticism. He was never investigated by the Indian authorities, and pilgrims continued to flock to his ashram in their hundreds of thousands.” ==

According to some accounts the attackers were four boys armed knives. In the BBC2 documentary The Secret Swami, journalist Tanya Datta reported that the police claimed they had to fatally shoot the boys after the boys attacked them with knives. A report from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s organization to investigate corruption and special crimes, discovered flaws and contradictions in the police reports, and it was rumored that police killed the four boys in cold blood. ▪ Datta said, “Some police officers were arrested but never charged. The case was eventually dropped.” She further reported, “Critics say police connections ensured that Sai Baba wasn’t even interviewed, despite being one of the witnesses to the events of that night.”[Source:Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011 /=/]

Ryan Shaffer wrote: “Attempts by the former Home Secretary to reopen the case were unsuccessful, and the reasons behind the killings as well as the boys’ motives for entering Baba’s bedroom remain unknown. Premanand later published a book titled Murders in Sai Baba’s Bed Room that discussed the CBI’s description of the police cover-up and destruction of evidence.” /=/

Sathya Sai Baba (far right) not long before his death being honored by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Sai Baba’s Death

Sai Baba died on April 24, 2011 at the age of 84 after illness due to respiratory and kidney problems. The circumstances surrounding his death were also full of controversy. Ryan Shaffer wrote in the Skeptical Inquirer: “For one, Baba’s death contradicts his prediction posted on his website: “He is expected to leave His body [in] 2019” (International Sai Organization 2011a). After he was put on life support, medical specialists from the United States, Britain, and Australia traveled to Puttaparthi to help Baba. On April 5, as rumors of his illness spread, hundreds of devotees attempted to break into the hospital and attacked officials “for not allowing them to have a glimpse of the ailing Baba.” The next day, doctors reported progress when Baba’s alertness improved, but the state government worried about the impact of the organization becoming leaderless. Knowing the region was dependent on Baba, it sent a five-member team “to find out whether there is any system in place for running the scores of charitable schemes” created by Baba under the trust. [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011 /=/]

“While Baba remained in the hospital, a miracle was proclaimed with followers and reporters flocking to see a four-foot wax figure of Baba “oozing perfumed oils from its feet”. The Times of India noted, “Devotees refused to consider that the wax idol could be melting in the sweltering heat and the oil was a resultant residue”. The same day, the Deccan Herald noted that the “idol stopped releasing the liquid after it was shifted to the ground floor of the residential complex” The next day, Baba’s liver stopped responding to treatment and he was pronounced dead due to multiple organ failure. The faithful flocked to Puttaparthi, paying their respects in prayer, and a memorial service was held with full state honors. In attendance were governors from two Indian states, four former or current chief ministers, and two Andhra Pradesh ministers. /=/

Sai Baba's body lay in state at his ashram till his funeral. Raj Verma, whose son and daughter-in-law are ardent devotees of the Baba, flew to Puttaparthi to have one last look of him. "They were so distraught that they even left their children behind," he told Time. "They believe that he will come back to life again. You cannot question such strong belief." P.K. Khandelwal, a devotee in New Delhi, told Time, "I feel like I have lost everything."

500,000 People Attend Sai Baba’s Funeral

Nearly half a million people gathered in Puttaparthi for Sai Baba’s funeral. He was buried with full state honors. In keeping with the tradition of respect for Hindu spiritual leaders, his body was wrapped in orange clothes. The funeral was attended by high-ranking officials and celebrities.

The BBC reported: “Sai Baba has been buried, unlike most Hindus, who are cremated. However, burial is the custom for people Hindus esteem as holy men. Sai Baba was buried with full state honours inside the public hall in the ashram - or spiritual centre - in Puttaparthi, the southern town where he was born and from where he blessed the millions of devotees who visited him from around the world. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi were among thousands of mourners paying their respects to the guru. [Source: Sanjoy Majumder, BBC, April 27, 2011 ]

Sathay Sai Baba's funeral in 2011

“TV pictures showed priests chanting and carrying out the last rites next to the guru's corpse, which has been on display in a transparent casket. Many devotees saw Sai Baba as a living god. "Long live Baba!" The chant echoed down the street outside the ashram. Thousands of people were packed tightly in the narrow lane, many of them seated in the ground, their hands joined in prayer as they murmured his name. The overwhelming emotion is one of grief and intense devotion. "I cannot believe he's left us," sobbed one man. "What will we do now? Who will we turn to?"

“A multi-faith service preceded the actual funeral ceremony. Muslim, Christian and Sikh clerics read from their scriptures before orange-robed Hindu priests took over. It was yet another illustration of Sai Baba's brand of ecumenical spiritualism which attracted so many, cutting through social and religious boundaries. The hall was decorated with huge portraits of the guru, with his characteristic dark, curly hair and trademark robes.

“Sai Baba was given a gun salute and state honours before his body was prepared for burial by priests chanting verses from sacred texts and anointing the guru's body with oil, herbs and flowers. The body was then covered with an orange cloth - the colour of holiness in Hinduism. The actual funeral was closed to the public with only family and members of his charitable trust attending.

“The streets around the ashram were choked with people, and several of the devotees wept. Hundreds of thousands of devotees watched the proceedings on a giant screen that has been set up outside. Huge numbers of Indians and foreigners, among them cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, have bade a final farewell to the guru. The burial site of Sai baba is now expected to become a memorial, according to the Hindu newspaper.”

Sai Baba Lives On in Puttaparthi

Norimasa Tahara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “After a long drive through the rocky wilderness, I felt as if I had arrived at an oasis in the desert when my destination finally came into view...Three years after his death, Sai Baba’s presence is still overwhelmingly felt by people in Puttaparthi. Three-wheeled taxis run along the streets with portraits of mop-headed Sai Baba and his message plastered on the back. The message reads, “God is in you.” Thousands of Sai Baba adherents, both at home and abroad, maintain ascetic practices at training centers, or ashrams, in the town. Many followers you meet there speak about Sai Baba, starting with what they call the miracles he has performed. [Source: Norimasa Tahara, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 16, 2014 |:|]


“One evening in late December, I heard the gentle sound of singing coming from the ashram where Sai Baba stayed. It seemed that followers were singing to honor Sai Baba. Prashant Srivastav, 75, a local volunteer, said: “He waved his right hand in front of me, and while I was staring at it, a pen appeared. He handed it to me, saying, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ I accepted it as his will.” Srivastav looks back on the experience in 2010 as the greatest moment in his life. Following the guru’s wish, he recently wrote and published a book about Sai Baba with the pen. He proudly considers himself among those who took care of Sai Baba in his final years. |:|

“Puttaparthi, which was once a rustic village, has developed into a tourist town with the increased popularity of Sai Baba. People post photos of him because they long for resurrection of a saint who declared that he would be reborn and return to this world.” |:|

The next leader of the Sathya Sai Trust was not immediately named after Sai Baba’s death, but board members promised that Sathya Sai Baba's charitable work would continue uninterrupted. "There is or will be no vacuum and we firmly believe that Baba will continue to guide the trustees," the board said in a statement. Many people remain dependent on Baba’s humanitarian organization for free medical care and drinking water. According to one prediction there will be at least one person who will claim to be the third incarnation of Sai Baba. How that person will be received by Sathya Sai Baba’s followers is anyone’s guess. [Source: Jyoti Thottam, Time, Apr. 26, 2011, [Source: Ryan Shaffer, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 35.5, September/October 2011]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except funeral, Public Radio International, and Puttaparthi, Trip Advisor

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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