The Very Important Message from Prashanti Nilayam
Sai Baba's Shirdi lies
By: Sanjay Dadlani
To get to the heart of this issue, I have relied almost wholly on an independently-researched biography of Sathya Sai Baba, 'Love Is My Form' (hereafter referred to as 'LIMF'), which was produced by a team of devotees to commemorate his 75th birthday. The work is scintillating in the amount of new information turned up, old sites revisited and the sheer number of the Baba's contemporaries being interviewed about his history. Unless directly stated and to avoid confusion, Shirdi Sai Baba will be referred to by his full name whereas Sathya Sai Baba will be referred to by his civil surname ('Raju') and nickname ('Sathya').
Much has been made of Sathya Sai Baba's declaration to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, and rightly so since everyone is in agreement over the fact that the proclamation was a pivotal event in the Puttaparthi Baba's life. The basic story goes like this: On the 23rd May 1940, the young Sathyanarayana Raju woke up and drew a sizeable crowd to him and proceeded to materialise various eatables for them. Raju had been exhibiting extremely strange behaviour for the previous couple of weeks after suffering an alleged scorpion bite, his moods having ranged from bitter weeping to manic laughter after being in a comatose state for several days.
The moods and the materialisations were increasing gradually with each passing day until this day, when Raju's father, Venkappa, could take no more. Brandishing a stick, he pushed and shoved his way through the crowd and stood before his son. Prof. Narayana Kasturi (Sathya Sai Baba's authorised biographer) relates the scene as follows:
“Arming himself with a stick, he moved a step nearer and threatened to beat it out of him. ‘Are you a God, or a ghost or a madcap? Tell me!’ he shouted. Prompt came the answer, the announcement, that had been held back so long, ‘I am Sai Baba.’
“Further argument became impossible Venkapa Raju was stunned into silence; the stick slid from his hands. He stood staring at Sathya, trying to grasp the implications of that announcement, ‘I am Sai Baba.’ But, Sathya continued, ‘I belong to Apasthamba Suthra; I am of the Bharadwaja Gothra; I am Sai Baba; I have come to ward off all your troubles; keep your houses clean and pure.’ ... The elder brother, Seshama Raju went near him, and asked, ‘What do you mean by 'Sai Baba'?’ He did not reply, but only said this much: ‘Your Venkavadhootha prayed that I be born in your family; so, I came.’” - Sathyam Sivam Sundaram 1, Chapter 5.
These events are described further in another of Kasturi's works - 'Easwaramma - The Chosen Mother' - with major revisions that allow much more verbosity on the father's part:
"Someone in the crowd turned to Venkapa. 'Sathya gets sugar candy in his palm from nowhere when he waves his hand. He gets flowers that are already strung. Look! He gave me these. Everyone got something.' Venkapa was outraged. 'Sugar! Flowers! The cheat! Everything, a trick!' he yelled. 'This must be the last!' and pushed himself towards the boy. Easwaramma [Sai Baba's mother] stood alone on the edge of the crowd. She closed her eyes tight , not to see the stick coming down on Sathya's head. She prayed to the village gods.
"Venkapa reached Sathya. 'Stop this stupid drama! Tell me, are you a ghost or a rogue or a madcap? Are you a God? Are you Narasimha or Narayana?' 'I AM SAI BABA!' said Sathya, calm and fearless, for he spoke the Truth! Easwaramma gasped. This was someone no one knew! 'Sai Baba?' his father queried, 'Sai Baba?' The lathi [cane] had fallen from his hands but he went on angrily. 'You may be Sai Baba or Hai Baba. It doesn't concern us. But you had better leave this boy and this place!' He was apparently addressing the spirit he thought dwelt in his son ... But there was yet another problem to worry the family and every curious man and woman of Puttaparthi: who or what was this 'Sai Baba'?"
Further into the story we find a statement that describes the reaction of the Puttaparthi villagers as one of "fear and amazement" to the mention of the name 'Sai Baba'. Enquiries into the meaning of this name led them to the house of a government officer who lived in nearby Penukonda and who was a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, who promptly denounced the young upstart as a victim of mental derangement.
The general mood of the biographies present Puttaparthi and it's cultural milieu as a typical backwoods village isolated from the outside world, symbolically (even literally) represented by it's geographical locale, a valley surrounded with high hills. As such, the name and fame of Shirdi Sai Baba could not penetrate this inaccessible village and nobody knew who he was. The biographical literature acts as if Raju's declaration was a stunning event for precisely this reason; since no one knew of Shirdi Sai Baba, 'who is this strange figure who has possessed this little boy, our darling?'
Hagiographers like Ra. Ganapati ('Baba Satya Sai') inform us that several years prior to his declaration, Raju formed a club amongst his schoolmates known as the 'Pandhari Bhajan Group', whose main aim was to walk through the streets of Puttaparthi and surrounding villages singing loud hymns in praise of Lord Vitthala of Pandharpur. As Raju composed almost all of the hymns himself, it is related that several cryptic references to Shirdi and the Baba who lived there abounded throughout them. Again, we are informed that although the villagers relished the public sing-songs, they were puzzled by the Shirdi references.
In rounding off this introduction, we can take note of the most emphatic statement of Shirdi ignorance in Puttaparthi, incidentally made by Sathya Sai Baba in the only full-length interview that he has given to the media in 1976:
Q: What makes you so sure that you are Shirdi Baba incarnate?
Baba: The knowledge of My own authentic experience, of course. Since no one who knew Shirdi Baba is alive today, there is no evidence except My own knowledge and experience. The very fact that I announced that I am Shirdi Baba 40 years ago, when I was only 10 and when nobody in this part of the South had known or even heard of Shirdi Baba proves this fact.
The influence of Shirdi Sai Baba started to become prevalent in Raju's own activities only after his move to study at the Samithi Elementary School in Bukkapatnam, which is located across the Chitravathi river four miles away from Puttaparthi. Bukkapatnam is home to an extended temple complex - with separate shrines dedicated to Lakshminarayanaswami (Vishnu), Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman - and is located directly opposite Raju's school and at which Raju spent almost all of his free time with friends. There was another temple dedicated to the goddess Chowdamma located outside the town which was also a favourite haunt of Raju's, where he often ate his lunch in solitude. G.V. Sathyanarayana and T. Kesappa, two classmates of the young Raju, testify that after lunch he would be lost in thought while gazing constantly at a small picture of Shirdi Sai Baba which he always carried with him.
LIMF contains the following unattributed story: Gummagatta Suba Rao, a local government clerk, lived with his wife, Thippamma, in one of the rooms of the Lakshminarayanaswami temple complex. As part of fulfilling her daily religious duties it was Thippama's habit to circumambulate the temples, and she occasionally noticed Raju sitting behind the inner shrine in the Hanuman temple. Her suspicions raised, she hid herself one day in order to observe Raju. After a picture of Shirdi Baba picture was materialised and worshipped by Raju, Thippamma saw the boy light camphor on his palm and offer arati to the picture. He then materialised fruits and powdered dried ginger mixed with powdered sugar as an offering to the deity, ostensibly of Hanuman. A footnote informs us that this ginger preparation is similar to that of sanctified food given in the actual Shirdi shrine.
In spite of the verifiability (or not) of this story, it begs the question as to why mention of Shirdi Sai Baba is made in connection with the young Raju as far back as 1941, when Raju was believed to be just eleven years old (working from the school-registered birthdate of 10th October 1929). We have previously noted Sathya Sai Baba's testimony that no one knew of Shirdi Sai Baba in the immediate area of Puttaparthi until he declared himself as the latter's reincarnation in 1943. Indeed, a culture of Shirdi Sai worship existed in Puttaparthi contary to Sathya Sai's contention:
"Thippamma's daughter, Nagalakshmi, would perform Shirdi Sai Baba worship at home. Sathya would stay after school, sitting in a corner of Subba Rao's puja room until the worship was completed. He would then take prasadam and leave." - LIMF, P. 71.
Supporting evidence for this is contained in a footnote that informs us that a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba (for woshipping purposes) was gained by Sathyavathamma, Nagalakshmi's sister, who had obtained it from the famous Narasimha Swamiji of Mylapore, Madras, and to whom she had been for training. For those who are unfamiliar with B.V. Narasimha Swamiji, he became a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba (after the Baba had passed away) and who spent the bulk of his life in visiting devotees and collecting stories about Shirdi Baba from his direct disciples in order to publish books on the Baba, which included a four-volume biography and a three-volume compilation of devotees' experiences. He also founded the 'Sai Sudha' magazine and was responsible for opening many Shirdi Sai temples which he collectively maintained under the umbrella organisation, the All-India Sai Samaj, based in Madras. He notably preached powerfully in South India, and is arguably Shirdi Baba's greatest ambassador and is highly revered in Shirdi circles even today.
Taking this into consideration, it can be seen clearly how the posthumous influence of Shirdi Sai Baba could filter into Puttaparthi due to word-of-mouth and indirect affiliations with famous Shirdi figures. This could also explain how the young Raju was able to procure pictures of the deceased saint. The Shirdi influence was so patent that LIMF surprises us with the revelation that two of Raju's own uncles were openly known as Shirdi Sai devotees!
"The practice of Shirdi worship was becoming common in Puttaparthi. Raju's uncles, Venkatarama Raju and Venkatasubba Raju were worshippers of Sai Baba of Shirdi, long before Raju announced himself as being 'that' Sai Baba. Venkatasubba Raju bought a Shirdi Baba portrait and started offering worship before it. During the worship, Raju used to sit behind him and, on many occasions, would fall into a trance. Venkatasubba Raju often read aloud the biography of Sai Baba. Whenever he erred while reading, Raju would point out the mistake and explain where the mistake was, including page number, stanza or line." - LIMF, p. 117.
How could Raju have known of the Sri Sai Satcharita in detail? One rational answer, and also the obvious one, would be that he spent an inordinate amount of time studying it. As a schoolboy, Raju was naturally accustomed to studying and was thus well placed to swot up on the Shirdi milieu, given his tendency to spend long periods of time in solitude worshipping the Baba of Shirdi! Indeed his classmate, T. Kesappa, recalled that during such times Raju never meditated but used to recite the 'Shirdi Sai Dandakam', an ostensible Shirdi liturgy. Another classmate, R. Venkataramudu, has the following to say:
"Even in school days he used to bring flowers and perform worship to Shirdi Sai. He had pasted Shirdi Baba pictures in all his books and also carried one in his pocket. Sometimes he would move his hands in the air as he does now. Sometimes he was seen lost to this material world." - LIMF, p. 78.
This is corroborated by S.C. Obulesu, also a classmate:
"He was like us in many ways but we knew he was also different, since he was often lost to the world, chanting or muttering things holy. He had a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba. He would invoke gods and goddesses and we knew he was pure." - LIMF, p. 79.
It should be noted that the practice of keeping a picture of a deity in one's pocket is extremely prevalent especially in South India, and is often taken as a public exhibition of one's devotion to that particular saint or deity. This means that the young Raju's keeping a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba in his shirt pocket signifies his dedication and public adoration to the saint.
All of these hitherto-unknown anecdotes tell us is that in spite of the revisionist biographers and Sathya Sai Baba's own unfortunate misrepresentations of the situation, there was a strong culture of Shirdi worship in Puttaparthi that, in all likelihood, made a significant contribution to the young Raju's delusions of grandeur. In spite of foggy biographical timelines, Love Is My Form has managed to surprise us all with it's unearthing of newly-discovered facts and figures meant to illuminate a mysterious period in the history of this dubious "avatar".
It is at this point that we come to the incident of 8th March, 1940, where the young Raju was believed to have suffered a near-fatal scorpion bite. He was living at Uravakonda, a town approximately 139km from Puttaparthi, with his elder brother (Seshama Raju) and his family to continue his schooling. Uravakonda was notable for it's proliferation of venomous snakes and scorpions and a strong superstition abounded that stings effected in the area would cause certain death.
Raju was different. He leapt in the air with a piercing shriek while holding his right toe. Although no scorpion was found, he fell into a deep sleep for the whole of the next day and woke briefly only to fall into an unconscious state exactly 24 hours after the previous day's bite. His limbs became stiff, he didn't speak and his breathing was very faint. Several doctors were brought to try and effect a recovery and numerous acts of worship were performed at local village temples to propitiate the deities, but to no avail. After a coconut was broken at the local Muthyalamma temple, Sathya woke briefly to declare that the coconut had broken into five pieces before again falling into his near-comatose condition.
As described in the official biographies, this incident is widely accepted as a turning-point whereupon further trials and tribulations were undergone before the young Sathyanarayana Raju transformed into the Sathya Sai Baba that we know today. While some have questioned whether this process was due to the effect of the scorpion bite, Sathya Sai Baba has registered his rebuttal:
"You might have heard some people say that I became Sai Baba when a scorpion stung me! Well, I challenge any one of you to get stung by scorpions and transform yourself into Sai Baba. No, the scorpion had nothing to do with it! In fact, there was no scorpion at all!" - 23 February 1958
The real truth is very different. Raju's elder sister, Venkamma, left behind her unpublished diaries where she had described all of these incidents and which were consulted during the research phase for LIMF. It is surprising to find significant diverging between the official hagiographic accounts and a 'live' contemporaneous narrative. Sticking to the essential points, Venkamma's report furnishes us with the fact that Raju himself claimed to have been bitten by a scorpion while he was in the bathroom and that this happened on the night of 4th March 1943, which was incidentally the occasion of the Shivaratri festival. Rather than sleeping the whole day, Raju was sent out to the local market by his elder brother to procure the vegetables for the evening meal. Shortly before dinner he told Venkamma that he would visit the nearby Sunkulamma temple, and was served his dinner upon his return from there. Instead of eating his food, he became physically immobile and fell to the ground when touched concernedly by Venkamma. Only then did the hysteria around Raju's coma start.
Even then this was not all; Raju oscillated between consciousness and unconsciousness, and approximately twelve hours after the second fall he broke into high literary expositions of classical literature that were unknown to him as a mere schoolboy. His behaviour had also undergone a severe change. He was no longer the fun-loving and cheerful prankster, but became decidedly 'other-worldly', muttering sacred incantations and random incohererencies that made no sense to his close observers. His periodic but extremely violent spileptic seizures caused Raju's family to believe that he was possessed by an 'evil spirit' and so he was taken to various witch-doctors and exorcists in the hope of removing the 'demon', one of which put him through horrendous torture. Throughout the process of having his head shaven, four 'X' marks drilled across his scalp, a highly acidic paste (consisting of turmeric, chillies, pepper powder, lemon juice and garlic) being vigorously rubbed into the open wounds, having 101 pots of freezing cold water being poured on his head from a certain height and having his head and eyes swell beyond recognition, he was allegedly calm and unruffled through it all.
After these exorcisms proved largely unsuccessful, Raju was taken home by his family and, after continuing with his alternated bouts of other-worldliness and disturbing behaviour, the day commonly referred to in the official biographies as 'Annunciation Day' dawned, 23 May 1940. It was on this day that Sathyanarayana Raju formally and publicly debuted as 'Sai Baba'.
Except that it was really 1943. And during one of the conscious periods which he underwent after the scorpion bite, Raju had made possibly the most intriguing and cryptic statement to Kasibatla Sriram Murthy, a neighbour:
"Don't worry. Sai Baba will take care." - LIMF, p. 100.
As a reminder, the reason for spending enough time in discussing Raju's 'scorpion trauma' is because it is widely believed to be the turning point in his life. Bearing in mind the new facts about the Shirdi culture present in Puttaparthi way before Raju debuted on the guru scene, we have to re-evaluate all of the pre-Annunciation reports and insinuations of Shirdi connections in that light.
There are reports of his altruism even as a toddler of three years of age, by way of providing the local beggars with food and clothes. Upon Raju's indiscriminate giving of food and being threatened with starvation himself, he patently refused to eat in spite of the apologetic coaxing he received. Despite going without food for several days in this way, Raju appeared to show no signs of starvation and claimed that he had been fed sumptuously by an 'old man' whose identity was never discovered.
Sai devotees generally flirt with one of two explanations for this:
- Raju simply 'fed himself' on account of his own inherent and avataric miraculous power, talking of an 'old man' in order to put his relatives off the scent, or
- An 'old man' (none other than Shirdi Sai Baba) really did feed Raju, coming to him in an extra-corporeal form invisible to human eyes.
The first would make sense only in the belief of Raju's divinity; as an 'avatar' he could naturally look after himself and need not have gone hungry. The second option operates on the understanding that the young Raju was the recipient of some miraculous good fortune wherein the discarnate spirit of Shirdi Sai Baba was looking for a fortunate soul in whom to invest his powers and instate as his de-facto successor.
Unsurprisingly, the idea of Shirdi Baba's taking possession of Raju was mused upon by none other than Seshama Raju, and was seriously considered in a greater depth within the hagiographical work of Ra. Ganapati. Raju's aside to Kasibatla Sriram Murthy clearly indicates that something was happening beyond his control, and that he was confident of his protection by the Baba of Shirdi. Ironically, many of Raju's critics complaine that he is the one who has taken 'possession' of Shirdi Baba's name and fame, and in the midst of refuting these accusations, Ganapati first discusses the putative explanation and provides his refutative reasonings:
"Then there is the question of how the boy came to know and misuse the name of the Super-saint [Shirdi Sai Baba], a stranger in those parts then. The reply given by his critics runs like this: Whether by the [merit] of former births or due to the inexplicable compassion of Shirdi Sai, Satya [Raju] had been the recipient of that divine saint's grace right from childhood. Perhaps Sai had bestowed a little of his supernatural powers on the boy. Giving Satya milk and rice, curing him of his fever and swollen eyes (announcing his presence, as it were, with the distinctly heard steps of the sandals) - these were instances of Grace of the old Saint. Does it not follow that the two were different then, and the Saint had blessed Satya? The supernatural powers that the boy demonstrated should have been his gift. Satya the donee, had now twisted the truth and proclaimed himself the donor, Sai Baba.
"Let us ponder over this. Would Shirdi Baba have gifted such powers indisciminately onto undeserving hands? ... We came across Kusa Bau earlier. A close devotee of Shirdi Sai, he obtained certain powers like materialising sweets. But Baba stopped this and said, 'In future when you invoke me, only vibhuti will appear in your hands, nothing else.' Thereafter, Kusa Bau lost his powers of materialising sweets. Does not the Kusa Bau episode have it's application here? ... The Shirdi devotees who ought to have the conviction that their Baba's power have not terminated with his Mahasamadhi [exit from the body], will do well to ponder over this point.
"A doubt remains. Was not Shirdi Baba apparently independent of Satyawhen he came to feed the latter with milk-rice and cure the boy's eye-trouble? Then, how could Satya claim oneness with him?Is there an explanation for this? Yes, certainly. Jesus normally called himself the son of God. But at the end of his preachings, he said, 'I and my Father are one.' Samarth Ramdas is the avatar of Hanuman, but he received initiation at the hands of Hanuman himself! Why? This is true of Shirdi Baba too! He described himself differently as the disciple of Kabir, and also as the avatar of Kabir! ... Likewise, Shirdi Sai had given of his grace as a grandfather to the Satya form though it was his own rebirth. Ultimately, he consummated the role of the grandson." - Baba Satya Sai (Part 1), p. 157-159.
This is a very obtuse, tangled and unsatisfactory explanation for why it is possible for the powerful spirit of Shirdi Sai Baba to take possession of the young Raju and continue his works through him. Not only would this be an unacceptable proposal for Shirdi devotees, but also to most people. Sensible and rational people who are logical and down-to-earth do not believe in things like reincarnation, spirit possession, miraculous materialisations and the like.
For starters, Sathya Sai devotees make a big issue out of a popular story involving Hari Sitaram Dixit, a close devotee of the Shirdi Baba. As evidenced in a compilation printed by Narasimha Swamiji, 'Sri Sai Baba's Charters & Sayings', Shirdi Baba had apparently confided to Dixit that he would come again as a boy of eight years of age. Sathya Sai seizes on this and claims that Dixit had a weak memory and misheard what 'he' said in his 'former incarnation', that he would appear again in eight years rather than as an eight-year-old boy. This makes more sense when you consider that Shirdi Baba passed away in 1918 and Raju was born in 1926, but one cannot help noticing how this explanation is very convenient and self-serving to Raju's cause. Moreover, additional information has come to light that generates considerable suspicion on 1926 as the supposed year of Raju's birth, but that's another story.
Dixit had no problem remembering every other of his notable experiences when narrating them to Narasimha Swami for posterity, so this type of reasoning is a slight on the both of them for suggesting that they have misrecorded the words and intention of Shirdi Baba. Moreover, Shirdi Baba was well known for making very abstrract and cryptic remarks about anything and everything, and the bulk of Shirdi literature testifies to that! So this is another reason why Sathya Sai's "mishearing" explanation can be doubted on perfectly reasonable grounds.
Any amount of self-serving reasoning by Ganapati or other authors favourable to Sathya Sai needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; Ganapati's first mistake was to be influenced by the idea that Shirdi Sai Baba was a "stranger in those parts" as he says, which we have already seen was untrue. How Raju would know about the Shirdi saint is explained by the bhajan sessions he used to attend as well as the possible deep study of the Satcharita, so much so that he was able to correct people's misinterpretations. The rest of it is pure speculation; Ganapati's error was creating a hagiography that was built on an earlier hagiography, as he himself wrote in the introduction to his work that he had extensively consulted with Narayana Kasturi - Sathya Sai's authorised biographer - in order to formulate his work. There is very little evidence that Ganapati performed any independent research except for that which serves the cause of propagating the name of Sathya Sai, because one of the big problems with all of these quaint reasonings is that the people who made them did not know enough about Shirdi Sai Baba in the first place, and why it is virtually impossible to accept Raju as a reincarnation.
We shall attempt to expand on this in the next instalment but, as an aside, it is no wonder that due to their attitude, devotees of Sathya Sai are not perceived respectfully by Shirdi Sai devotees due to their reckless aggrandisement of Shirdi Sai Baba's name and fame. As recently as January 2006, Shirdi devotees launched a punitive legal action against the devotees of Sathya Sai, specifically aimed at halting their claims of reincarnation. The Shirdi Sansthan has also publicly disavowed any claimed reincarnations by reaffirming that the Shirdi Baba had no successor and no reincarnation.
A shocking discovery in my research consisted of information about how Sathya Sai devotees are unashamedly using the name of known Shirdi authorities to acquire a measure of authenticity for their "avatar". More specifically, Venkamma and Seshama Raju (Sathya Sai's elder brother and sister) were jointly interviewed by V. Balu and Shakuntala Balu and were reported to have surrendered the following information about what occurred soon after Raju publicly declared himself as the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba:
"[Raju] stayed in Uravakonda for some time more. People came from far and near to attend his bhajans. His fame spread like wild fire. Many sceptics came and were convinced. Mr. B.V. Narasimhaswamy, who wrote the life of Shirdi Sai Baba in detail and established the Sai Samaj in Madras, went to see Sathyam. He said to Seshama Raju, 'Though we do prachar [preaching] of [Shirdi] Sai Baba, we have not been as effective as this boy in spreading the name of Sai Baba. Whether he is an incarnation or not of Sai Baba, only time will tell.' He also wrote about this in the Sai Sudha magazine." - Divine Glory, p. 146.
No matter how you look at this, this story certainly serves as an example of almost shameless publicity-seeking. We have previously noted the status of Narasimha Swamiji in the firmament of the Shirdi sky, providing a brief description of his life achievements while we were at it, and suffice to say that it is largely down to his efforts that the name of Shirdi Sai Baba spread throughout India on account of his enthusiastic preaching and construction of temples in the Baba's honour, also founding and editing the 'Sai Sudha' magazine.
A prominent feature of the Swamiji's activities entailed travelling far and wide to meet with those who had directly met with Shirdi Sai Baba and experienced his miracles and presence first-hand. Part and parcel of this was to meet with several "reincarnations" who, by the early 1920s (Shirdi Sai Baba died in 1918), were already sprouting up here and there. In his famous four-volume biography of Shirdi Sai, Narasimha Swami relates how he personally met several such reincarnations and exposed them as frauds without mentioning if one of them was Raju. Further research is necessary to clarify the issue of the alleged article in Sai Sudha, but for now we may note that the general policy among the Shirdi milieu is that the Baba has not been reincarnated as we have observed on several occasions. As recently as 1982, a certain Narayana Baba of Hyderabad claimed that Shirdi Sai Baba had not reincarnated:
"He says the disembodied soul of his guru (that is, Sai Baba) talks to him. He sits before a framed photograph of the Sai Baba of Shirdi and looks at it for enlightenment... With the help of his guru's spirit, he is even able to materialise rings, lockets, and vibhuti [ash] from thin air. When asked how he produces these things he declares that the spirit of his departed guru gives them in his hands, so that when he opens his fists the object is there." - Ruhela, 'Sai Baba And His Message', p. 133-34.
The object of this series of articles was to engender a deep and penetrating analysis of [Sathya] Sai Baba's Shirdi Lies in the light of new discoveries. While we await the results of continuing research on these and other lines of enquiry, we hope that we have been largely successful in bringing this information to the public and helping them to re-evaluate their understandings of the Sai Baba phenomenon. By way of a short recap, we have shown how Sathya Sai and his official biographies initiated false impressions about his 'self-knowledge' while not disclosing the culture of Shirdi devotion that was prevalent in Puttaparthi; the testimonies of several old devotees who witnessed Raju engaging in Shirdi worship on a substantial scale; a brief recapitulation of the scorpion incident which is inconsistent in places and revealed evidence of Shirdi Sai Baba as being a separate figure; a short review of the tangled explanations offered to explain the transformation of Raju into 'Sai Baba'; and a short discussion about the possibility of a reincarnation. Considering that Sathya Sai's empire is based on the foundations of his declaration of his identity with Shirdi Sai, it's no mean feat to declare that - with the uncovering of these devastating facts - those foundations will now crumble.
To round off these essays we will conclude with the wise and considered words of that doyen of Shirdi, His Holiness B.V. Narasimha Swamiji, by whose efforts the name of Shirdi Sai Baba has largely spread to every corner of India:
"The question has several times been raised whether Sri Sai Baba arranged for and left a successor to his position. He was Guru on certain lines to vast numbers of people who looked to him at Shirdi for governing their entire lives. Naturally one would expect that such a person with such vast and mighty powers would provide his devotees with some means for their future guidance. Usually a Guru forms a Math or an Ashram and trains up, some time before he passes away, a pupil and even introduces him to those dependent on that Math or Ashram ... Every experience of every devotee that comes to him now makes him feel that he is dealing with Divinity, a good Guardian Angel, or Ishta Devata [chosen deity], if he likes to term him so. So Baba's assurance of the continuance of his protecting personality after Mahasamadhi is a sufficient reason why Baba did not mind the absence of any person to get into his Gadi [seat] at Shirdi and continue his Guruparampara [lineage of gurus] there. It is not necessary to discuss the claims of X, Y or Z, who occasionally put forward the chaim that he is the successor of Sai Baba. A few of such claims seem to have been put forward. But they were all pooh-poohed and there is no set of Sai Bhaktas that we are aware of who are deliberately saying and holding to the position that X, Y or Z was the successor to Baba's Gadi.
"That however, is a different matter from the question whether there is now any living person who has to be identified with Sai Baba. Just as the Avatars left Nava Naths as their representatives on earth, sometimes people come forward and say 'I am an Avatar of Sai Baba'. This sort of claim has been put forward in various places at various times. It is not necessary to narrate all of them even if that were possible ... But these have occasionally been mentioned in the columns of the 'Sai Sudha' or other papers and invariably on investigation, it has been noted that any person, claiming to be Sai Baba, does not show even a very small fraction of Baba's nature. Mere power to read thought, mere clairvoyance, mere production of articles from empty box and hands and mere devotion to Sai or God, will not constitute one into an Avatar of Sai. So, we might conclude this chapter by saying that Sai left no successor to his seat, that there was no seat to succeed to, (as God's seat can never be vacant) and that there is no person living who can be recognised by all as having the entire Sai spirit or Soul in his body, that is, who can be regarded as the Avatar of Sai.
"That question arises because of the statements of Sai Baba to several of his devotees ... Kaka Dixit (H.S. Dixit) seems to have said, 'Baba said that he would suddenly appear as a boy of eight and show himself, that is, his power and nature'. We have not till now discovered any boy of eight, who had Baba's wonderful nature and powers. Even if he should take birth somewhere, his Apantaratma Rupa is still there and still helping. Therefore the question of our finding any person now who is the Avatar of Baba need not be further discussed. It is sufficient to say that those who are anxious to benefit by Sai Baba will be very wise if they confine themselves to the well known history of Sai Baba; and if they adopt the usual and well known methods for contacting Sai Baba of Shirdi, who is now no other than God himself, they would succeed, and they need not be panting to discover if there is any Avatar of Sai Baba or anyone who is entitled to call himself the successor of Sai Baba for the Shirdi Gadi. God's seat we repeat is never vacant. Sai Baba was and is God always immersed in the God idea, and carrying out God's lilas when he was in the flesh. His Ritambhara Prajna or Antarjnana, as it was called, his control over men's minds and material objects at any distance, his power to appear and do anything anywhere, can only be called divine. These powers we read of in his lilas before 1918, and we read of the same also after 1918.
"Sri Sai Baba's kindness in stirring up people's minds to contact him now seems to extend itself in various places in remarkable forms and ways which are not always understood by us, but which are to spread faith in Baba. What Sai Baba did at Coimbatore in 1943, at Ramachandrapuram in 1950-54, at Ahmedabad in 1953, and at Thotapalli Hills in 1954 and in so many other places, have been brought to public notice and have greatly increased the number of Sai bhaktas. These recent lilas ... have strengthened people's fath in Baba and are bound soon to make Sai faith reach all the distant corners of this country, a faith that deals with Sai Baba as God and not as a human being holding a position that has to be filled up by a successor." - Life of Sai Baba Vol. II, p. 336-49
We couldn't have put it better.
I wrote this a couple of months ago on a forum, but it seems especially relevant to post (with some slight edits) in light of the very recent devastating expose of Sai Baba’s Shirdi Lies.
From a recent article sent to me by email:
"[Narasimha] Swamiji's picture was unveiled on 26th January, 1966 by Justice M. B. Rege in the Samadhi Mandir at Shirdi and was presented to Shirdi Sansthan and this portrait is kept along with those of other devotees."
For those who do not understand, B.V. Narasimha Swamiji became a fervent devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba (after the Baba had passed away) and who spent the bulk of his life's work in collecting stories about Shirdi Baba from his direct disciples in order to publish books on the Baba, which included a four-part biography and a three-part compilation of devotees' experiences. He also founded the 'Sai Sudha' magazine and was responsible for the founding of the All India Sai Samaj, based in Madras. By any reckoning he was a very highly-placed and very important devotee.
The passage above explains that how, after Narasimha Swamiji's passing away, Justice M. B. Rege unveiled the Swami's portrait in the Samadhi Mandir at Shirdi so that Narasimha Swamiji is recognised forever as one of Shirdi Baba's dedicated disciples, even if he never met Shirdi Baba personally. The Swami himself passed away in 1956.
The important part is that this unveiling was done in 1966 which means that Rege was obviously alive at the time. Rege was a direct disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba and who associated with him many times. Rege's experiences are listed in the Sai Satcharita and other Shirdi literature. Ditto for Das Ganu and other direct disciples of Shirdi Baba.
Sathya Sai Baba declared himself the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba in 1940, when we now know that this happened in 1943. His temple, Prashanti Nilayam, was constructed in 1950. In 1961 he went on a massive pilgrimage to Badrinath, not forgetting his regular and constant visits to his devotees all over the country, including royal families, judges and other rich people that have been going since 1948 at the least. In short, he was actively promoting himself as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. According to Sathya Sai's biographers, we are expected to believe that his fame grew far and wide.
Suffice to say, Narasimha Swamiji, Rege and Das Ganu among other direct disciples must have heard of Sathya's reincarnation claims, yet none of them believed it or declared that he was Shirdi's reincarnation.
Food for thought, don't you think?
I recently spotted this passage from the hagiography of RA. Ganapati, where he attempts to explain his reasonings for why Sathya is definitely a reincarnation of Shirdi Baba. See for yourself:
"If even some of the stalwarts of the Shirdi devotees like Rege and Narasimha Svami do not accept Parti Baba, this is to be taken as an inexplicable leela of his!" - Baba Satya Sai (Part 1), p. 154.
This type of reasoning is almost asinine and at the very least, betrays a complete ignorance of the Shirdi milieu. Justice M.B. Rege was a beloved devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba who embraced him on their first meeting, and the Baba lovingly considered Rege to be his 'Ankita' (child). Furthermore, Rege specifically extracted a promise from Shirdi Baba that the Baba would lovingly protect him and be with him in any future birth which he had to take, to which the Baba graciously promised that he would do.
Several Sathya Sai devotees, who are still alive today, are supposedly the living reincarnations of their Shirdi prototypes just like Sathya Sai is supposedly the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. Indeed, Sathya Sai has revealed to a "chosen few" that they were with him in his "previous birth". When this mythology is being actively propagated and when Rege himself was still alive as late as 1966, at a time when Sathya Sai was actively promoting himself as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai and as an avatar, one wonders why Rege was not 'called' to be his devotee?
Rege, of all people who had actively associated with the Baba of Shirdi and was his dedicated devotee, would have had the authority to confirm the authenticity of Sathya Sai one way or another. This is especially ironic in the light of Shirdi Sai Baba's personal promise to him. To wit, if Sathya Sai was really Shirdi Sai, he would have called Rege to him invariably as Shirdi Sai Baba used to famously declare that he drew his men to him just as a hunter catches pigeons with a wire-rope around their feet. Narasimha Swamiji is believed to have met the young Sathya Sai circa 1943 and observed his exhibition of miracle-mongering, but still penned his findings in his 'Life of Sai Baba' that no alleged reincarnation exhibited even a pinch of Shirdi Sai Baba's power, not least the fact that there is no need for any reincarnation as such since Shirdi Baba is still "active from his tomb".
Ganapati is unfortunately ignorant about these things due to his evident bias in favour of Sathya Sai, and to rationalise it away as a "leela" (play) of Sathya Sai's is decidedly unconvincing. I have spotted several phrases in Narasimha Swamiji's books that Ganapati has unashamedly lifted and spun in the same favour for Sathya Sai. This bespeaks of a disturbing trend of intellectual dishonesty that started with Kasturi and continues even today. Perhaps now that the truth is out, people with a critical and rational mind may be able to make use of this information and look at Sathya Sai Baba in an entirely new light. A sinister light.