Written by Cecilia Gatto Trocchi
Posted under the author's permission
Document date: 24 April 2003
Sai Baba's movement is linked to its founder' figure, born in 1926 in India near Bangalore, in a well-to-do family. After spending an adolescence full of psychic problems and several nervous crisis, he declared he was the incarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, a worshipped saint in India who had achieved a syncretism between hinduism and some aspects of Islam. He used incense ashes (called vibhuti) as a sacramental substance. The new Sai Baba, in 1963 after a new "crisis of possession", stated he was Shiva the god.
He started performing "miracles", gathering a more and more numerous group of followers. Today, in India, he can count about 30 millions devotees, and he has created the greatest religious centre in modern India, with hospitals, schools, orphanages, and universities. In the rest of the world his followers are about 2 millions, very inclined to make rich grants.
The religious message is centered on Sai Baba himself, who says "I am God, I am the truth and I lead you to truth". The miracles he performs in front of his devotees are the strongest point of his Darshan, a public interview (don't forget Sai Baba literally means "Holy Father") in the town of Puttaparthi where thousands people go every year. He materilizes jewels, watches, and he uses vibhuti as his predecessor from Shirdi did, but stating he materializes the holy ash from nowhere.
He says he is God's complete avatar, superior to Christ in his completeness, he can answer the needs of the new spirituality which sees in him the God on earth, the Cosmic Christ able in performing prodigies. It is not by chance that the New Age considers him as a light and a privileged channel for being in contact with the Divine.
Sai Baba offers his followers the Bajans, hymns to the many gods of India, yoga meditation with a special mantra "so ham". Its repetition brings to the identification with the supreme God.
Sai Baba's doctrinal mistakes are evident: he pretends the Holy Trinity coincides with the Indian Trimurti: the Father is Brama, the Son is Vishnų and the Holy Spirit is Shiva.
Christ is one of the many divine avatar, one of the so many incarnations, among which he, Sai Baba, is the most important.
Sai Baba's symbol is the daring syncretism: he calls God an immanent reality, a cosmic energy that can be called Allah, Yaveh, Mazda, Brama.
In spite of his strong syncretism, Sai Baba does not say all religions are equal: to obtain salvation, we must only follow his person and his teachings, Some Indian rationalists, such as Premananda, have questioned Sai Baba's supposed miracles, which have been analysed by C.I.C.A.P., the Italian Board for the Control on Paranormal Statements.
Cecilia Gatto Trocchi
Lecturer of Cultural Anthropology at Chieti University and teacher at "La Sapienza" University in Rome, Cecilia Gatto Trocchi made several reserches on the field in Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Sudan, Southern America, India, analyzing religions, myths, rituals. She analyzed by using the method of observation while taking part in the many magic-religious groups. She manages the Observatory of Magic-Symbolic Phenomena at the Chair of Cultural Anthropology of Chieti University. She is promoter member of the Italian Society for the Studies of Psychopathology and Religion. She is scientific adviser for the magazine of Psycosomatic Psychiatry of differences "Psiche Donna". She published several essays among which: Viaggio nella magia (Laterza, 1997), Nomadi spirituali (Mondadori, 1998), Le Muse in azione (Franco Angeli, 2001), Storia esoterica d'Italia (Piemme, 2001).
Take a moment to read Robert Priddy's view on the above articleIt is always interesting when persons who are involved in cultural anthropology, such as Cecilia Gatto Trocchi, approach the subject of Sai Baba. One important consideration in modern social research is to make clearly known the researcher's position with respect to the subject of research. This is not so clear from Ms. Trocci's article as it appears because one statement made by Sai Baba (eg. the sentence "Christ is one of the many divine avatar, one of the so many incarnations, among which he, Sai Baba, is the most important.") stands alone almost as if put by the author. I would then ask Ms. Trocci kindly to indicate whether her approach is based on (former) personal involvement, (eg. 'action research') or as an independent participant/observer, or as an 'outside observer' basing research on documentation only?
The author makes it fairly evident that she neither necessarily accepts (nor definitively rejects) many of Sai Baba's claims. However, seeing that there is no reliable objectively-sourced documentation supporting the claimed numbers of his followers, she may have fallen victim to the the much propagated groundless propaganda of Sai Baba and the Sai movement. Eg. the following statement: "Today, in India, he can count about 30 millions devotees, and he has created the greatest religious centre in modern India, with hospitals, schools, orphanages, and universities. In the rest of the world his followers are about 2 millions, very inclined to make rich grants."
The Sai Baba ashrams are extensive, and the building complexes and social activities are many, it is true. Because they are mostly centralised at Puttaparthi and Whitefield, they seem the more imposing. Of course, in the largely very decentralised religious culture of India, the chief centres of Indian religious pilgrimage remain at Tirupati and Puri etc., while the Kumbha Mela is still completely unsurpassed as an Indian religious gathering. Elsewhere on this website I have detailed how I know that this and other figures were taken 'out of the air' from as early as the 1970s by SB (reminiscent of the way he pretends to take jewels out of the air - see the recent indisputable exposure here by a royal jeweller of the falsity of an alleged "green diamond" SB gave me in 1986). There is no sound statistical survey to support either of the numbers of followers requoted above. Several reports from different pro-SB sources insist on varying figures of from 40 to 60 million, and one (by Mrs. Mikkelsen of Denmark) even on 70 million devotees! At the 70th birthday celebrations, which I attended, SB told a friend of mine that there were 3 million visitors. This figure was repeated everywhere. However, even a photo of the entire gathering at his birthday celebrations shows clearly that the figure is less than one tenth of that number, compared for example to this years 3 million crowd at Mecca, or even to Woodstock's 1 million plus. The ashram's own engineer, Mt Ashok, estimated less than 300,000 in toto on the basis of his work providing spaces and shelter etc. The number of foreigners registered at the ashram through the entire period did not reach 19,000, though everyone in the Sai organisation and general movement throughout the world was issued with an open invitation. It is a fact, however, that massive amounts of donation monies are transferred from abroad, some of which is known about, most of which is kept under wraps... the entire Sai Baba undertaking being unaccountable to no one, in actual fact.
After 18 years of deep involvement and long periods at the ashrams at all seasons, it is perfectly clear to me that this movement even today maybe could have up to about 6 or 7 million followers of some level of commitment. Visitors these days are increasingly villagers and/or group pilgrims who visit many other supposed holy places, and can now even take the cheap train for the free junkets on festival days at Puttaparthi. Not only does the Sathya Sai Organisation 'massage' its figures a lot to make them seem as impressive as possible (which I know from a number of sources around the world and from the pressures to which we were subjected on this matter by the Organisation), but the numbers circulated by the Organisation in the form of uncontrollable general summaries of activities are still hardly impressive. Add to this the fact, told me by one of SB's nearest servitors for 2 decades, his personal interpreter for many years, translator and editor (and censor!) of his discourses from Telugu and Sanskrit to English, V.K. Narasimhan, whose full confidence I had, "Baba multiplies all figures by ten", along with numerous examples. It is in the interests of objectivity that I point out this fact, so little realised due to massive disinformation, not to criticise Ms. Trocci genuine attempts to come to grips with this phenomenon.