Natteri Adigal, 29 November 2007,
Sathya Sai Baba is not a Nobel laureate like Dalai Lama. But, he counts Dr Michael Nobel, son of Alfred Nobel, among his staunch devotees. Former Chief Justice of India PN Bhagwati was the chief guest as Baba cut the cake on his 82nd birthday in November.
THE PLANS of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) for a manned mission to moon has had mixed response from the people. The advisability of putting an Indian on moon – before ensuring that no Indian is forced to seek railway tracks to relieve himself / herself every morning – has been justified with sermons on ‘nationalism’ by people reposing unquestioning faith in India’s tremendous capabilities. The move has been strongly condemned by others, who say that the funds happen to be collected by relieving their pockets compulsorily, through a maze of invisible taxes and duties. But, faith is quite a difficult commodity to analyse. It always has takers as well as sceptics.
So was it the case about a different kind of moon mission on the October 4 this year at Puttaparthi, 500 kilometres off Hyderabad. Prasanthi Nilayam in this town is the headquarters of Ratnakara Sathyanarayana Raju, with no achievement to boast of – in the strict academic and material sense of the term. However, millions have full faith in the divine nature of this person, whose following is put at between 50 and 100 million. Out of these, an estimated six million adherents firmly believe him to be the Bhagawan (god). Shortly after aarti was performed for this ‘Bhagawan’ at 6 pm that day, the noted academic Prof Anil Kumar made a startling announcement. He said there would be a repeat of what happened during the epic Mahabharat war – ‘Vishwa Viraat Roopa’. Ardent Hindus believe that their god Lord Krishna revealed his cosmic form to warrior Arjuna and rumours had been doing the rounds that Sai Baba had decided to give a similar darshan to people all over the world by appearing on the moon. The professor instructed devotees present to proceed to the airport and thousand made a beeline for the airport, from where to sight the moon between 7 and 8 pm. The instruction also reached millions of Sai devotees through calls and SMSs.
According to the official weblog of the headquarters, “. . . at 6.15, Bhagawan also emerged from his residence and proceeded to the airport. There, Swami’s car was surrounded by devotees and had difficulty moving around – Swami could not come out of the car completely due to the crush of the crowd. After around 45 minutes at the airport, Swami started back to his residence, the car making its way very slowly through the road which was clogged with people and vehicles.” In short, the promised ‘miracle’ turned out to be a damp squib. The thousands of folk from neighbouring villages who rushed to the airport were disappointed as a cloud cover hid the moon. The police had a tough time in clearing the traffic on the airport road to enable the Baba to return to his abode amid tight security. There was no word from Sai Trust as to why the ‘miracle’ failed to materialise.
Australia-based Barry Pittard, a former devotee and lecturer at Sathya Sai College in Whitefield who has been leading a campaign against the ‘cult’, ridiculed the whole exercise as another gimmick at fooling people. Baba’s faithful devotees, on the other hand, believe that only the clouds played spoilsport. Ironically, there were numerous claims of having sighted him on the moon on that day, and even afterwards. One such claim said, “We were gifted to see the Divine Face of Swami in the Moon on 20th November 2007 clearly. His Hair, Eyes, Nose and Mouth were clearly seen without any blemish. We started crying, looking at this DIVINE LOVE.”
Sathya Sai Baba is not a Nobel laureate like Dalai Lama. But, he counts Dr Michael Nobel, son of Alfred Nobel, among his staunch devotees. On Baba’s 76th birthday, six years back, Nobel launched a digital radio network vowing to spread his message of global harmony and peace. Even people, who take the ‘Bhagawan’ claims with a lot of incredulity, cannot but admire his contributions to the society at large. He has been instrumental in creating ‘institutions of excellence’ which are very different than others – they are addressed at providing medical care and advanced education to the poor public, and not to the privileged.
Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs several general hospitals, world-class super-specialty hospitals, dispensaries, eye hospitals and mobile dispensaries. The 220-bed super-specialty hospital at Puttaparthi was designed by Keith Critchlow, architectural adviser to the Prince of Wales, and was inaugurated on Sai Baba’s 72nd birthday in 1997 by the then Prime Minister. The 333-bed facility at Bangalore has the most advanced ICUs (Intensive Care Units), CCUs (Critical Care Units) and OTs (Operation theatres) in the country but it focuses on treating the most poor. Inaugurated in 2001 by the then Prime Minister, it has handled more than two million cases. Food and medicines are provided free of cost at Sai Baba hospitals. Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in Prasanthi Nilayam is the first college to receive A++ rating by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) of UGC (University Grants Commission). But, unlike IIMs, it does not seek out the crème de la crème but lifts up the ordinary. The trust also runs an Institute of Music and an Institute of Higher Learning, specifically for women in Anantapur.
Last year, the Baba asked his devotees to implement Rs 200 crore drinking water project that provides water from the river Krishna in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai city, the capital of Tamil Nadu. Both state governments had miserably failed to implement the programme since decades, with all the taxes and duties fleeced by them going only to maintain a bloated bureaucracy. The felicitation for the feat in January 2007 by the Chennai citizens’ conclave at Nehru stadium saw four chief ministers at the dais with Sai Baba, including the hardcore atheist chief minister Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu. He said the work that Sai Baba was doing could be taken as a measure to define god.
As it should happen to any mortal, whether ordinary or divine, the miraculous powers of Sai Baba however seem to be waning with age. The godman has been confined to a wheelchair since 2005 and has made very few appearances due to failing health. He did make a brief appearance on Thursday (November 22) at the Hall to deliver the convocation address of Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, attended by Ashok Chavan, minister for Industries, Maharashtra; Geeta Reddy, minister for Industries, Andhra Pradesh and the noted industrialist AVS Raju.
Even though Sai Baba’s attempt to perform another miracle of appearing on the moon on October 4was a non-event, it would be savage to call it as mooning. After all, he has been able to perform what has proved to powerful governments to be mooning. The godman has achieved the projects out of funds that flowed in voluntarily, unlike the government that indulges in extravagant mooning!
As for the reactions among the faithful for the ‘failure’ of the moon mission on October 4, one devotee Dattaswami says, “Even if this miracle is done, our atheist-friends will say that some laser technology was adopted. Our friends have disposed all the earlier miracles also as magic. When Lord Krishna gave the cosmic vision to Kauravas, they did not believe it and concluded that it was some magic show. . . The whole scene is to be understood carefully to conclude the concept. . . Every time, every devotee needs the exhibition of a miracle to establish the existence of unimaginable . . .god established by the unimaginable limits of infinite space (indicated by the airport) inferred by mind (indicated by moon) in the medium of human body (indicated by Shri Baba sitting there). Since the moon was not visible, which infers the unimaginable limits of space, the airport infers the unimaginable limits of space. It is for this reason of invisibility of moon (mind is invisible), the airport was selected as the place.”
Of course, the explanation may not be comprehensible to ordinary mortals. But, then, faith is quite a difficult commodity to be comprehended by analysis!