Sathya Sai Central Trust Says “millions and millions” of Devotees Worldwide. But Who Counted?
Posted by Barry Pittard on April 25, 2011
• New-age icon dies of heart and breathing problems
• Reputation marred by sexual abuse allegations
By Jason Burke in Delhi guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 April 2011 19.46 BST
Guardian: Among Sai Baba’s estimated six million followers are hundreds of top Indian politicians, industrialists, tycoons, Bollywood stars and sportsmen such as cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Overseas, they include Goldie Hawn and Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock café. Sarah Ferguson has visited one of his ashrams.
Comment: It is refreshing to see a more conservative head count of Sathya Sai Baba followers than e.g., fifty million. But no bona fide researcher has ever, in my or our several avid researchers’ wide Sai-Baba related research experience, been able to come up with the small matter of what ‘head’ counted all the millions of heads. See: Many Contradictions In Sathya Sai Baba Official Literature and: Sathya Sai Baba’s Gross Exaggerations of Puttaparthi Crowd Numbers.
Is this sort of estimate very much a ‘guesstimate’? A matter of the ‘gut’ feeling of devotees? A gutstimate! If so, whose gut? Even the figure of one hundred million has been mentioned. An example of this occurred in a high-profile talk aimed at thousands of devotees. If some rank-and-file devotee made such a claim, we might think: a simple-minded excess of devotion. But here, making a grossly unsupportable statement was:
Dr. Kanwaljeet S. Anand, of Akansas, USA, MBBS, D.Phil., FAAP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Pharmacology, Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences UAMS College of Medicine; Board of Directors, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Anand, for long well-known in official Sathya Sai Baba affairs in the US, was a medical advisor to George Bush when he was US President. See: Sai Baba Is God Says Top George Bush Doctor. It is the constant, most irresponsible repetition of such figures which leads to the sort of reportage we find in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (UK), which mentions “up to fifty million devotees”.
Guardian: Since Sai Baba founded his first permanent meditation centre more than 60 years ago, a vast construction programme funded by donations has converted the remote village where he was born into a thriving small city with dozens of temples, its own 220-bed specialised hospital offering free treatment, a university and an airport where charter planes bringing devotees from around the world arrive every day.
Comment: The airport detail is very outdated. In the article: Sathya Sai Baba: opulence, show, extravagance and waste, Robert Priddy writes:
The Sathya Sai International Airport, Puttaparthi: Nonetheless, in such a desperately poor State as Andhra Pradesh, it seems very wasteful, as did the airport beside it which stood unused for years and is still used less than ca. 5% of each week. V.K. Narasimhan was present at the interview in 1990 where airport authorities were present. He told how SSB convinced Indian Airport authorities to finance and build the large (allegedly Jumbo jet capacity) airport near Prashanthi Nilayam, telling them that they would earn 10 lakhs of rupees in the first year. No paying passengers even flew in or out during the first year. The frequency of traffic, at best about 2-3 flights of medium jets per week for several years at periods – and when SSB was in residence – ensured that earnings were minimal and well below costs. It was virtually closed often in the 1990s and it hardly justifies its existence at all nowadays. It is truly hard to rationalise such a huge waste of funds in such an impoverished land! The reason can only be Sai Baba’s patently obvious desire for ‘name and fame’. See Sathya Sai Airport “white elephant” for sale!
Guardian: Volunteers working with Sai Baba’s NGOs have effectively delivered disaster relief and undertaken large-scale developmental works that have brought water or sanitation to hundreds of thousands of people.
Comment: None should doubt the devotion of a great many Sathya Sai devotees to service activities. But there is a fallacy – heard repeatedly from many Sai devotees who admit that he routinely had, among what countless communities would regard as terrible, ethical and legal abuses of power, sexual relations with boys and young men. Their position is similar to that of close associate of Sai Baba, one-time billionaire Isaac Tigrett who told the BBC that he did not doubt the truth of the sexual allegations but this did not prevent his devotion and fealty to his guru. Devotees and others, mindless of how serious a crime sexual abuse is, say: But look at all the good works he does!
Guardian: There are thought to be more than 1,200 centres of his Sathya Sai organisation in over a hundred countries around the world.
Comment: How, then, does the international Sathya Sai Organization, manage to fit the “millions and millions” into all the halls, and temples, and houses where Sathya Sai bhajans are typically held? It seems like herds of elephants pressed into a sardine can.
Guardian: Sai Baba did not appoint any successor to run his sprawling spiritual and temporal empire, currently run by a trust, after his death. The local Economic Times newspaper estimated its worth at up to £5bn though admitted no accurate valuation was possible.
Comment: Refreshing to find acknowledgement that “no accurate valuation was possible”.
Guardian: “Some people out of their mean-mindedness are trying to tarnish the image of Sai Baba. I am not after name and fame. So, I do not lose anything by their false allegations. My glory will go on increasing day by day,” the guru told followers in 2000.
Comment: Sai Baba was anything but calm and happy about the upsurge of revelation alleging his abuses. An historic watershed allowed word to get out as never hitherto. Sai Baba’s and his cult’s increasingly top-down, authoritarian style of operation, and the scandals that the top leadership were previously able to suppress, faced a great dilemma. This owed prfoundly to the exponential uprise of the internet around this time. In a Christmas 2000 discourse, in which peace and goodwill to all men were palpable for their absence, Sai Baba repeatedly pounded his lectern, denouncing his accuses as demons and Judas’s, saying that there could be no salvation for people who speak against him, and vaunting his accomplishments (even though, contrary to his assertions, far from unique when one thinks of the countless great charitable organizations in the world), prompting The Times of India, December 26, 2000, to headline: Sai Baba Lashes Out At His Detractors.
Guardian: In 1993, six people died violently in the spiritual leader’s private rooms. The incident has never been fully explained. One possibility is a dispute between followers over money.
Comment: A source of mine, a friend of the boys whom the Puttaparthi police shot down in Sai Baba’s bedroom told me (and, via a particularly eminent elder of his, to the BBC) that the actual wish of the boys, in their confused state, was to plead with Sai Baba to stop using boys for his sexual pleasure. The police action was, said V.P.B. Nair, a former Home Secretary of the state of Andhra Pradesh, a case of “cold-blood murder”, and a profound cover by local, state and central government up of police (CBI) and other evidence. See: Will V.P.B. Nair Keep His Word To BBC On Sathya Sai Baba? and: V.P.B. Nair Told BBC Sai Baba Bedroom Killings Were “Coldblooded Murder” and: V.P.B. Nair. B.Premanand. R.Priddy: Sai Baba Bedroom Killings and: Indian Ex Top Official Dogs Sai Baba On BBC. ‘Cold-blooded Murder’
Guardian: His followers claim that, as he has died earlier than foreseen, he could return as early as next year.
Comment: Heaven knows! Not nearly so long, according to some reports. Like this one, as reported yesterday in the Times of India:
Baba had said he would come back stronger, claims book
TNN | Apr 24, 2011, 03.38am IST
PUTTAPARTHI: Did Sathya Sai Baba have premonition 10 years ago that he would fall seriously ill? Yes, claim his followers. According to them, Sai Baba had predicted in 2000 that he would be indisposed for 40 days but would come back strong to give darshan to his devotees. This was revealed in a book ‘Tapovanam — Bhagawan Sri Sathya Saibaba Satcharitra Nityaparaya-nam’ in which the author Jandhyala Venkateswara Sastry has written an essay on Baba’s ill-health. Sai Baba had told his students at his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikanal in 2000: ”Though most of my disciples fall at my feet, they don’t know my real value. A time would come when I would vanish and take a walk across the skies. During that phase, my body would face serious health problems and devotees would be desperately praying for my recovery. The Baba also goes on to say, according to the writer, that several gun-toting cops would be guarding the premises where he would be hospitalised. As Saturday marked the 27th day of his stay in the SSSIHMS, many devotees said Baba would soon give darshan. “Time and place cannot hold me captive. I decide when to come back. If I want I can go anywhere and come back any time,” he is said to have told students during the discourse. He had said that he would live for 96 years in his present avatar. After 40 days, he would come back. Just watch out,” a devotee said even as he prayed for the Baba.
Comment: Since when were gun-toting cops NOT around Sai Baba?! See:
Sathya Sai Baba’s Amazing Predictions. “I intend to undertake a world tour, shortly.” See, too: Wealthy Americans Prepare Mansions For “God’s” Visit. Or sample the account of one of India’s most powerful Hindu nationalist leaders, Ashok Singhal, who has an international profile in the Hindu world, told an assembly of political and religious luminaries in Delhi of a prophecy he says Sathya Sai Baba shared with him: ‘World Hindu’ by 2030. VHP’s Singhal Reports Sathya Sai Baba Told Him
Below is Tanya Datta’s obituary. She was part of the BBC team which made ‘The Secret Swami’. See my view as having been closely involved with documentation and international coordination of primary and other witnesses in the making of this 2004, hour-long documentary: The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ – A Revision . See too Robert Priddy’s Indisputable facts about Sathya Sai Baba by BBC. And for a man upon whom many duties will now focus, see: Sathya Sai Baba’s Chief Broadcaster Dr G. Venkataraman: Select Critical Articles by Barry Pittard.
NOTE: Responsible, non-sensationalist media and other serious investigators can contact me at: email@example.com. Or email me at this blogsite from the Comments section below, with a guarantee of privacy. Latest major media story to which my trusted colleague Robert Priddy and I have contributed is: Marie Claire Australia. The article ‘Holy Man Or Hoax? by the prominent British journalist Gethin Chamberlain is referred to here:
Posted by Barry Pittard on March 14, 2011
Excerpt From Public Petition (and introduction)