SAI BABA AND OBJECTIVE RESEARCH
By: Robert Priddy
It 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.