Extravagance and wasteful

showpieces for publicising Sai Baba


Date: 06-25-02

By: Robert Priddy

Document date: 04-29-02


Website: http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/

One cultural difference between many devotees from the East and the West is the attitude towards show and extravagance. It originally appealed greatly to spiritual Westerners that SB's life was an example in living without material luxuries and in an eco-friendly, non-consumerist way. His doctrine was very markedly against waste of money, time, energy and food (his ‘Ceiling on Desires’ recommendation).  His giving away of necessities to the poor and distribution of food etc. are practical aspects of this philosophy. 

It is understandable that ashram facilities for visitors have been much improved since the 1980s, considering the enormous amounts of money donors have also given for this purpose. (The price for the right to use a one-room flat with minimal furnishing for up to one month per annum (and no longer!) had reached $US 7,000.-  by 2000, plus daily rental costs while in occupancy!   

Through the years I have learned that an appreciable number of Sai followers from Europe and the US feel that increasingly large-scale time-, energy- and money-consuming aspects of the showpiece festivities put on by the powers-that-be in these matters, such as for some of the birthday celebrations and major festivals, could well be considerably reduced. Why promulgate a program of ‘Ceiling on Desires’ while wasting time, energy, money and food on constant festival binges?   Much material and effort goes into lengthy preparations and extensive light and flower decorations for the constant round of festivals major and minor which are popular mainly with the wider Indian public. (That these are especially welcome as holiday breaks of monotony for the very poor peasantry of the whole region, who swell the numbers greatly and also may receive free food and some even gifts of clothes etc. is certainly at least no argument against them). 

Far from all members are able to reconcile this with Baba's teachings about correct use of money and the primacy of care to the poor, nor the expensive developments of the lavish marbled temple compound (the Kulwant Mantap) with its unnecessary 150-plus huge chandeliers, the very costly "Eternal Spiritual Heritage Museum"   (http://home.no.net/anir//Sai/saiorg/AX.html#waste) and a huge architectural hodge-podge celebrating the Sai universal mission, "Chaitanya Jyothi"  (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/saiorg/AX.html#jyoti) reportedly costing over US$5 million, was added in 2000. Numerous other wasteful building projects have taken place, including the huge and ostentatious luxury apartment building for statesmen VIPs that is seldom in use, the Sri Kasturi Reading Room that was pulled down after a few years to make room for other projects. An ashram shopping centre built only around 1995 has been replaced recently by a much larger one. All this bad (non-prescient?) planning is also seen in the demolition of the one-time Shanthi Vedika at P.N. which became a hindrance, the permanently unoccupied luxury apartment villa built beside the Western Canteen and Roundhouses for a Princess (of Thailand?) and the demolition of the Sai Ramesh Hall at Whitefield after only a few years of use to be replaced by a more lavish structure. A very luxurious 'lingam-shaped' temple at Muddenahalli, between Puttaparthi and Bangalore, managed by the Sathya Sai Central Trust, cost over Rs. 200 million when built around 1993 on the lines of the Prashanthi Nilayam mandir, with a luxury apartment complex for SB and his entourage. He visits the adjoining school complex, but has not (yet) stayed in the apartment. 

Many Indians and other Easterners – who make up the overwhelming majority of visitors to SB’s ashrams - evidently want their god-guru constantly to be surrounded by outward signs of his greatness and make great financial efforts to affect this. He condones many such efforts, according to his own explanations, solely because of the devotion and goodness of those who make them. Yet this going along with such extravagance has only encouraged more and bigger showpieces, which he also invariably accepts and certainly also seems to revel in himself. For example, silver motorised chariots, golden thrones, huge light displays, pomp-filled birthday and many other celebrations. In discourses, SB has also criticised expensive aspects of ceremonies as the ostentatious Golden Chariot at the Paduka celebrations and asked for it to be sold and the money used for service instead, but he continued to mount it yearly even after this disavowal. Other wasteful projects include the expenses of laying a cricket field and other arrangements for an international cricket match in 1997 with its 20kgs. solid gold Cricket Unity Cup (http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/saiorg/AX.html#cup) and solid silver trophies, excessive Las Vegas type illuminations and other showpieces at SB birthdays and many more festivals. 

That teacher preaching ‘Serve All, Love All’ should use such huge funds for such publicity in Andhra Pradesh, where many live on the poverty line and clean drinking water still is extremely scarce in huge areas, is beyond serious explanation. The tasks of correction and maintenance of the incomplete and often malfunctioning super-costly ‘Water Project’ that SB caused to be installed with improper planning and undue haste (to be complete for inauguration on his own 70th birthday!), were soon shed onto the AP State authorities. Facts about the malfunctioning are known to Indian experts in water management and not least to the Central Trust, but t admitted and all such problems are suppressed on their publicity website. 

All in all, some of the paperwork directives from the Overseas Chairman and others calling for financial support for such projects have confronted many of us with the fact that the SSO has slid gradually further and further away from SB's teachings, especially from his insistence on the importance of quality of spiritual work and an organisation based on inner motivation, rather than one supposedly ‘run by leaders’ to achieve worldly projects.