Sathya Sai Baba’s Gross Exaggerations of Puttaparthi Crowd Numbers
Posted by Barry Pittard on November 21, 2010
Robert Priddy (he for much longer) and I can fairly claim a friendship with the late V.K. Narasimhan, who had been, before he retired to Puttaparthi, the legendary and courageous editor of a number of India’s top newspapers, such as ‘The Hindu’ and ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘The Deccan Herald’. We would regularly sit together in his humble quarters at Puttaparthi, and he also received me as a guest in the family home in Chennai. Not long before VKN died, he instructed the hospital staff to allow me, even though considerable restrictions had been placed on visitation rights, to visit him at the Sathya Sai Superspeciality Hospital at Puttaparthi. I had been editing his book on the great French Jesuit philosopher and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
I had seen a Priddy note in which he took to task a Sai Baba apologist who typified those many followers who reveal deep and repeated flaws of reasoning that are simply not acceptable in any proper discussion. He wrote to the individual: “I also know that there have never been “millions of foreigners” visiting him, though he has made such claims. The 70th birthday, which I attended, registered less than 40,000 foreign visitors from the entire world”
I have just asked Robert Priddy to send me a note from his writings that precisely record his observations on Sathya Sai Baba proneness to extraordinary exaggeration of crowd numbers. It reads:
“The ex-editor-in-chief of ‘Sanathana Sarathi’, V.K. Narasimhan (VKN), was a truth-seeker both of worldly facts and spiritual insight, with a critical sense and high standards, certainly not given to naive judgements, hasty conclusions, or exaggerated reports. As I got to know him in various situations, I came to regard his perceptions as very largely credible, not least because – despite all the good sense in many of SB’s activities, he always harboured doubts about SB’s more extravagant assertions. Though he seldom mentioned it in public, it was he who pointed out to me that SB repeatedly exaggerates figures wildly.On the 70th birthday SB had predicted that there would be 3 to 4 million visitors, said VKN beforehand. The ashram engineer, Mr. Ashoka, told a Norwegian engineer (whom I knew well and who was planning an ashram water project) that he calculated that, at any one time, the entire accommodation facilities of the ashram and Puttaparthi in (1995) were less than 50,000 persons. About 250,000 maximum can occupy the Hillview Stadium, where the entire crowd was present at the main ceremony. The ashram was as empty. Even when largish areas with tents and outside camps are accounted for, the figure of 500,000 persons is reckoned to be much greater than had been present in the area on the Birthday. An American friend, Robert Bruce, whom I have known for years, was told by SB in a brief interview after the celebrations that there had been 3 million persons present! Others reported similar statements by SB. (Some, unable to make SB’s figures add up, argued that – “since Swami is never wrong” – this perhaps was intended to include disembodied souls visiting God!). To this, VKN replied, “Swami always multiplies these numbers by ten.” He was well placed to know, if anyone was! In the preceding year to the 1995 birthday bonanza, SB had told one interview group that there would be 7,000 Japanese there, but in fact the registered number was 75! A group from New Zealand led by a foremost Sai foundational leader, Mr. Arthur Hillcoat, were informed by SB that he wanted 5,000 service workers from their country present in 1996 at the Birthday. (I then heard Mr. Hillcoat also tell that SB told them that radiation pollution from French nuclear tests would cause great havoc, ecological destruction and deaths in New Zealand. and other places thousands of miles distant. This has evidently not occurred as far can be judged). But at the 70th birthday, the biggest foreign contingent, however, came from the USA – 750 persons in all. The ashram accommodation office, which handles the passports of every foreign visitor, stated after the birthday event that there were at total of 8,000 delegates from 137 countries. This was the total number of foreign visitors registered at the ashram, whether believer or not: all were freely given the status of ‘delegates’, even mere tourists and inquisitive sceptics… my wife and I had to share a room with a couple, one of whom had never even had been to darshan once! This exaggeration is but one instance among many others. The figure of 3 million visitors was frequently repeated, because it came from Sai Baba himself both before and after the event (from reliable friends whom he told this in interviews). Yet estimated on a technical basis by the ashram engineer, Mr. Ashoka, no more than a maximum of 300,000 were present in the area at any one time, a fact also verified by calculating the size of the Hillview Stadium, which was not even entirely full even at the main opening ceremony, as photos show. This was no isolated case of such multiplication by SB, for VKN told me all important birthday attendance figures had been hugely overblown. He reckoned as an absolute maximum 400,000 at the 60th birthday, when millions were also said to have been present, but the engineer’s estimates made even this far too many”.
Some Further Readings
Public Petition For Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization There is a Spanish version available: PETICIÓN PÚBLICA PARA ”INVESTIGACIONES OFICIALES DE SATHYA SAI BABA Y SU ORGANIZACIÓN A NIVEL MUNDIAL