Challenge to authority in 1987


From xnagel (Alexandra Nagel) on:

Sathya Sai Baba Discussion Club, message 1898 and 1899:

Date: 1/18/01 3:11 a.m.

Excerpt from “Charismatic authority in the Sathya Sai Baba movement” by Donald Taylor in 'Hinduism in Great Britain', Richard Burghart (ed.), 1987, London/New York: Tavistock Publications, pp. 130-131.


Sathya Sai Baba’s charismatic authority is vulnerable to challenge from both outside and within the movement. Outside the movement there are those who also claim to be holy men and who perform similar miracles. The production of a crystal ‘lingam’ from within himself is performed by so many other holy men that Sai Baba announced in 1976 that he would discontinue the practice. Others of rationalist conviction, such as Dr Kovoor, denounced him as a ‘fraudulent Godman whose miracles were nothing but plain magic’ (Rajghatta 1985: 48). To prove his point Dr Kovoor himself ‘miraculously’ produced a quantity of holy ash (vibhuti) which he distributed to eager recipients. He also challenged Sathya Sai Baba to allow his so-called miracles to be subjected to an investigation by a panel of like-minded rationalists, but Sai baba refused, and lost a considerable amount of support in doing so.
Muted challenges from within the movement sometimes result in the withdrawal of membership. Dr Bhagavantham, formerly on the Council of Management of the Central Trust (also formerly scientific adviser to the Government of India), has recently left the movement; and another, Dr Gokak, formerly in charge of the education program, has tried to demolish the myths that surround Sai Baba. Other Indian academics have also left; and it is claimed that ‘many more devotees including most foreigners have already deserted the flock’ (Rajghatta, 1985: 48).
Other challenges within the movement are more subtle, and also result in some devotees exhibiting miraculous powers, such as producing holy ash and bringing about miraculous cures. So far these powers are claimed to be
derived from Sathya Sai Baba. But it is not difficult to see that such activities are challenges to Sai Baba’s authority. Unless they are met, the movement could disintegrate into numerous thaumaturgical sects centered upon charismatic individuals. One of the ways to meet this sort of challenge is to routinize charisma, thus transforming the structure of the movement to a legal-rational type.

Another way in which Sathya Sai Baba has met these challenges has been to secure his position at the Center, by claiming to be the incarnation of the universal godhead, such that devotion to Christ, Allah, or whoever automatically comes to him. This sort of claim is not altogether unusual in Hinduism. It is interesting to note, however, that the Sai Baba advanced this claim in 1968, at a time when the movement was expanding into foreign countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Britain, and recruiting membership among emigrant ethnic Indians as much as western people. As the incarnation of the god of all gods the Sathya Sai Baba was thought to be the sole source of power. Today his devotees –whether they be Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim – firmly believe this and are encouraged to continue within their own religious tradition, but seeing their devotions as being directed to him.
A further way in which Sai Baba has met a potential challenge to his authority is to thwart any discussion about his successor. In 1963 he announced that he was the second incarnation in a series of three. The first had occurred in the human form of the Shirdi Sai Baba who was the incarnation of Sakthi. The second, himself, was the incarnation of Siva-Sakthi; and the third would be the incarnation of Siva as someone called Prema Sai to be born in Mysore State eight years after his own death. By defusing the problem of succession, he also defused the problem of authority. All authority remains firmly in his hands as long as he lives. Anyone else who claims this authority in Sai Baba’s lifetime will be recognized as a usurper or imposter.”



C. Rajghatta “Is Sai Baba on his way out?”, in 'Sunday' (Madras), September 8-14, 1985.

PS. Does anyone have a clue as to why Dr Bhagavantham left the Central Trust? And Dr Gokak?
The Indian academics?
Does anyone know this article by Rajghatta?