Shirdi Sai Saint’s Fame Spirited By Puttaparthi
Posted by Barry Pittard on June 18, 2008
Below is the image of the famous saint, Shirdi Sai Baba (d. 1918), of the North Indian State of Maharashtra. His repute has endured untainted by the sort of scandals that have for decades beset Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi.
A Saint of Great Renunciation and Humility
Today, the shrine built around the humble musjid (a Muslim place of worship) attracts millions of pilgrims. You can see (as I have done) Hindus, Muslims and those of other faiths honoring his life there. He is hailed for having done much to inspire living in accord irrespective of race, caste or creed.
Apparently, Indian government archives have referred to documents that reveal how a clandestine police watch was set on Sai Baba of Shirdi, who would often be presented with considerable sums of money and valuable artifacts. These were invariably given away to assist the poor and needy, often by the next day or so. The police reports, as did a great many others from a wide variety of witnesses, show that he lived in conditions of the greatest simplicity and renunciation. He begged from five homes of his devotees. (See below for some sources on Shirdi Sai Baba).
Sathya Sai Baba’s Tall Claims
In proclaiming his future role, Sathya Sai Baba claimed (6 July 1963) that a rishi (sage) Bharadwaja had foretold that Lord Siva and his consort Sakti:
“would take human form and be born in the Bharadhwaaja Gothra (lineage) thrice: Shiva alone as Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva and Shakthi together at Puttaparthy as Sathya Sai Baba and Shakthi alone as Prema Sai later.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, III, 15:89)
It was much on the strength of such pronouncements that Sathya Sai Baba’s early fame spread – riding on the back, as it were of the fame of Shirdi Sai Baba. Not least among the very wealthy and powerful.
Was There Ever A Larger (Serious) Claim In History?
Some readers may be interested in unraveling the mass of Sathya Sai Baba’s own confusions and contradictions (e.g., with regard to dates and details of characteristics of himself as compared to Shirdi Sai Baba), concerning his extraordinary pronouncements. These go well beyond his claiming to be the re-embodiment of Shirdi Sai Baba, for he says that he is the fullest expression in human form of all the gods and goddesses. For a detailed article that exposes Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organization’s mix-ups and absurdities – all the more compelling because it relies on publicly obtainable documents emanating from official Puttaparthi Sai Baba sources – see Brian Steel (2002) Sai Baba’s Claim to be the Reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Still more extensively, [Sathya Sai Sai Baba’s] SB’s Claims of Divinity: Avatar and Triple Avatar (Revised Version, 2002)
Writers on Sathya Sai Baba, such as Robert Priddy, Brian Steel and myself, frequently use the form ‘Sathya Sai Baba’ – rather than ‘Sai Baba’, so as to distinguish Sai Baba of Puttaparthi from Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Wikipedia – Shirdi Sai Baba
Marianne Warren, Ph.D. Unravelling The Enigma. Shirdi Sai Baba – In The Light of Sufism. Sterling Paperbacks – New Delhi Revised edition 2004 – ISBN 81-207-2147-0.
The late Marianne Warren, Ph.D (University of Toronto, Canada), was an expert in Hindu studies who did scholarly research on Shirdi Sai Baba. She died in September, 2004. My colleague the late Glen Meloy, who died January 1, 2005, and others who hold documentation that has not been allowed to fall into the hands of proponents of Sathya Sai Baba, apprised Dr Warren of material well beyond the reach of the Internet. She and her husband Michael had for a number of years been involved in various voluntary service activities in the Sathya Sai Organization of Canada, and she was the Centre President, Toronto. They both left it, as did many others around the world, once the credibility of the worldwide accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s serial sexual abuse of young males became established (most notably from CE 2000 onwards – not least among those many families and individuals and those close to them who never, nor probably would ever, share their accounts on the Internet as some have done.
Dr Warren’s major change of mind about Sathya Sai Baba is reflected in the marked difference between the 1999 and 2004 editions of her book (cited above.
In an email to former head of the Sathya Sai Organization, Norway, Dr Warren wrote to Robert Priddy, referring to Sathya Sai Baba’s incredible and confusing claim – the details of which he stands in contradiction over the decades – that there is:
“no mention in the Shirdi Sai literature of an avataric mission. The Maharashtrian saint does not appear to have been aware of a future triple avatar, and in fact he personally never described himself in these terms, although his Hindu devotees occasionally termed him an avatar, but more as a mark of their esteem, than a literal designation”.
Dr Warren had the advantage of the not hitherto available writings of Abdul, whom Shirdi Sai Baba had long trained as a spiritual adept. In her book, she points out that the sayings of Shirdi Sai Baba as recorded by the trusted Abdul reveal that he, Sai Baba of Shirdi, would not reincarnate.
William ‘Bill’ Aitkin, a travel writer whose flawed hagiographical writings have been compellingly exposed by Brian Steel (see link below), has tried to fault Dr Warren by saying:
“This illustrates the limitations of the intellect and how the presumptuousness of scholars blinds them to the obvious fact that the mystery of rebirth is not open to proof one way or the other. As in all religious affairs, these things are personal matters and historicity is not as important to the heart as the feeling of oneness the two Sai masters engender. When truly in love the analytical mind is in abeyance”.
Aitken’s strong tendency to use or not use intellectual apologia according to his own sweet will on behalf of his idol Sathya Sai Baba I leave to Mr Steel’s detailed analysis to dispose of. See Bill Aitken and Sathya Sai Baba. A Writer’s Dilemma, commenting on William Aitken’s book, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Life (New Delhi, Penguin Books India, 2004. Paperback edition, 2006).
See also the British scholar Kevin Shepherd’s comments on the Shirdi Sai Baba issue, and more fully in his book Investigating the Sai Baba Movement: A Clarification of Misrepresented Saints and Opportunism. (Oct 2005). ISBN-10: 0952508931. ISBN-13: 978-0952508939
For a notion of the imperial splendor that Sathya Sai Baba, unlike Shirdi Sai Baba, has built around himself, see:
Still Further Reading
B.D. Steel notes: “By winnowing this enormous mass of varied documentation, researchers should be in a better position to separate fact from fantasy and research from propaganda in order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the complex Sathya Sai Baba story”.
Revealing Video Footage
- Sleight Of Hand. The Sleightness of Sathya Sai Baba (Exposing film clips)
- Right Hand. Sleight Hand. Watch Sai Baba Cheat With Sacred Ash (Film clip)
- Censored Indian National Television Film of Sai Baba Cheating
- BBC Cameras Catch Sai Baba Cheating With Gold Sivalingam. (Film Clip)