Sathya Sai Baba Birthday. Brian Steel Examines Birthdate Issue
Posted by Barry Pittard on November 22, 2009
As part of his extensive and challenging opus on Sathya Sai Babaa, the Australian academic Brian Steel has written about questions surrounding Sathya Sai Baba’s birthdate. This is contained in Chapter 5 of his ‘Omniscience and Truth’ (Revised and Enlarged Version). As this Chapter is long, detailed and deals with a variety of topics, I have extracted, to coincide with Sathya Sai Baba’s November 23, 2009 birthday celebrations at Puttaparthi, the relevant section.
The reader in quest of proper detail and context will, it is hoped, be able to read Chapter 5 as a whole. Steel claims no last word on this dating issue. He has serious doubts about the birth date provided by Sathya Sai Baba or his officials but, as he says, this “evidence is far from conclusive”. He has provided certain circumstantial evidence which is his discovery, and offered it in the case that it may fit with other facts that may become known. Not all other commentators have been so careful
If Sathya Sai Baba has got his own birthdate wrong – and he has shown confusion about quite a number of other details (which devotees commonly pass off as his test of their faith) – then we have yet another example of anything but that omniscience with which he credits himself.
1) The doubt arises because of the School Register photostats published in Love is My Form, Vol. 1, in October 2000. There the date is given on two certificates as 4-10-1929. However, as suggested above (Ed., by “above” Steel, of course, refers to forgoing data in this chapter 5), this evidence is far from conclusive, as Indian experts have informed us.
2) However, the following circumstantial evidence has also emerged in a 1999 publication.
In 1993, an elderly lady (Smt. Vijayakumari) completed a book manuscript from notes she claims to have taken since 1945 about her own and her family’s close experiences of SB between that date (when she was a young girl), and 1972. Her two teenage brothers, Krishna Kumar and Amarendra Kumar, were close friends of SB’s for a few years (and are mentioned in books by other devotees).
(Smt. Vijayakumari does not explain why she waited so long before publishing these reminiscences nor does she comment on why the notes end in 1972. She merely states, on p. 6, that SB named the original book, Anyadha Saranam Nasti on 16 November1996 and gave the order (permission?) for its publication, presumably in Telugu, a year later, on 22-10-97. The English translation, Other Than You Refuge is There None, was finally published – apparently privately – in Chennai in 1999.)
Vijayakumari’s book is another example of a close devotee’s detailed account of many happy events and conversations but it also contains some interesting snippets of biographical information for the patient researcher (including first hand evidence about one of SB’s alleged ‘resurrections’ – of the girl’s father, Radha Krishna – and different versions of some of SB’s schoolboy stories). (Incidentally, Professor E. Haraldsson refers to the girl’s diary in his investigation of the Radha Krishna incident.)
Among these snippets are a couple which have a direct bearing on the controversial subject of SB’s date of birth, brought back into the limelight by new documentary evidence offered (and plausibly rejected) by LIMF in October 2000, and flatly rejected recently on one of the Bull. Boards by an anonymous Telugu expert.
Two innocent quotations offered by Vijayakumari seem to provide a degree of independent support for the possibility (broached by the LIMF evidence) that SB’s date of birth was NOT in 1926 but in 1929.
In 1945 the little girl’s cousins were strolling in the affluent Bangalore suburb of Malleswaram when they heard bhajans being sung and entered the house to listen. Sai Baba, who was present there, invited them to go to Puttaparthi (whose name they had never heard).
When they returned to their town of Kuppam (south-east of Bangalore, but in today’s Andhra Pradesh), the cousins told the girl’s mother about their meeting. The latter was keen for them all to go, but the idea was vetoed by the father, who said: “You tell me He is sixteen years old and claims to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. This is all humbug.” (p. 12)
That night the mother had a dream of SB and they were then given permission by the father to visit the ashram for three days. This first visit allegedly took place during Dasara, in October 1945. (p.13) The family soon became very close to SB and visited for long periods.
The father’s words quoted above indicate that in 1945, SB was 16, which would make his year of birth 1929 (as indicated by the register entries in LIMF). What is also interesting about this possibility is that at the time of the Mission Declarations of 1943 (another biographical adjustment of three years recently proved beyond any doubt by the documentary and other evidence in LIMF), he would have been almost 14 years old – as he and his biographers have always claimed!
And there is yet another possible sliver of corroboration. Vijayakumari later quotes from a story session by SB to devotees assembled on the Chitravati sand dunes in 1949 (pp. 216-218):
“Later, for High School studies, I had to go to Uravakonda. … …” (p. 217) “In my thirteenth year, coming to know that I had become a ‘Baba’ and had left home, one of my friends went mad … Another friend jumped into a well and died.” (p. 218)
We now know, from LIMF, that SB went to Uravakonda in early 1943, and left in October 1943 (when he was still a month away from his 14th birthday) to begin his Mission after the second of his Declarations. So, according to the above quoted statement, once more a 1929 date of birth seems indicated.
As for the possible day of birth, in the school Register photostats in LIMF it is given as 4 October (1929). But maybe it WAS 23 November after all, as has been celebrated, at least since 1946 when we find the first reference in LIMF to an official birthday. It was also celebrated on 23 November in 1950, as Vijayakumari notes, with the Inauguration of Prasanthi Nilayam:
“Till that day, prominence had not been given to Swami’s Birthday. But that day we prayed to Swami to permit us to celebrate it.” (Vijayakumari, p. 161) (In the Discourses recorded in Sathya Sai Speaks, the first to be labelled as a Birthday Discourse is the one for 1960.)
Select writings from Brian Steel’s Extensive Opus
Sathya Sai Baba can be documented by any conscientious reader as having made contradictory statements and egregious historical and scientific blunders. These include his remarks on Jesus Christ and Martin Luther . For Steel’s detailed and sharply contextualized discussion, see: Sai Baba and Christianity. Some Observations (2002). Steel remarks here the alarming “extent of Sai Baba’s inventiveness”. This can be instructively read in concert with his Basic Notes On Sai Baba’s Credibility Problem (2004)
Brian Steel Indexes
Barry Pittard On Brian Steel
Barry Pittard’s comments in regard to the Public Petition) -:
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