In recent years, in blogs or on websites, prominent commentors such as Robert Priddy, Brian Steel and myself, have noted a dizzily steep decline in non-Indian visitors to Sathya Sai Baba’s Puttaparthi ashram.
Around the world, according to a constant stream of travelers’ reports, a great many people have left the Sai Baba cult, including in India. When journalists, scholars and other investigators enquire about this and other aspects, the international Sathya Sai Organization refuse to answer. Because the organization actively interfaces with mainstream civic, political and religious, the chain-mail cloak of secrecy is, of course, reprehensible.
Below, I have excerpted from an website-and-newsletter active devotee’s report. Hope springs eternal in those like Ted Henry, as both excerpted and longer version make clear. Touchingly, to feed a longing far deeper than nostalgia, there is great reliance on meetings with old devotees. The ostensibly ‘real’ thing of Sathya Sai Baba’s daily appearances at dashan is missing. There is a grasping at lonely shadows, mistaking the slight play of light for the substance, when even the substance was false, and embodied one of history’s greatest deceivers.
In Ted Henry’s account, as in so many contemporary devotee accounts, there is constant iteration of how Sai Baba is present. There is a profound psychological denial of depression. And yet grieving and depression are very natural for human beings who face major loss. There is blindness to large numbers of Sai Baba’s failed promises and prophecies. E.g., –
“You will realize Swami’s glory when I walk across the sky from one end to the other.”(Tapovanam Chapter 11)
“I will have to forego the car and even the aeroplane when I move from place to place, for the crowds pressing around them will be too huge; I will have to move across the sky; yes, that too will happen, believe Me.”(See scan from Sathya Sai Speaks)
Absent is any realistic assessment of the enormous damage to Sai Baba and his cult’s failure to discuss or address the worlwide allegations. Absent, too, is devotee recollection that those who have spoken out were for long highly respected members of the Sathya Sai Organization, including foremost leaders. Yet the same integrity for which they were known while devotees is the same integrity with which they have dealt with investigating the terrible allegations from round the world. This widespread demeaning of former devotees and other critics cannot, even remotely, be called spiritual.
This photo is one of many which belie his own preachments about keeping a smiling countenance – such as when he would say:
“Always put up a smiling face, never a castor-oil face: Happiness is union with God”
At 85th Birthday, Sathya Sai Baba’s Sobbing Fit
Posted by Barry Pittard on March 5, 2011
Can Puttaparthi Survive?
“The problem with Puttaparthi has always been that it functions around Baba. Even when he was alive when he travelled to live in Whitefield in Bangalore or the Kodaikanal ashram, Puttaparthi would become a ghost town. His devotees would follow him. That was our off-season. Now we have a permanent off-season,” says Dhanush, whose family has lived here for over 50 years. A month after Sai Baba’s demise, the flood of visitors has reduced to a mere trickle.
Tourism suffers a jolt after Sai Baba’s demise
July 29, 2011.
A large number of businessmen from Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet and Gujarat had settled in Puttaparthi and were carrying out brisk business for decades.
They are concerned about the rapidly declining number of visiting tourists, and are not in a position to pay their monthly shop rents. Real estate business is also affected as no one dares to purchase lands and plots even at cheaper rates, tho-ugh the price for cent land was once Rs 10 lakh.
~~ SOULJOURNS NEWS ~~
LETTER FROM INDIA – #2
– LETTER #2 (December 1, 2012)
– FROM: SOULJOURNS (Ted Henry)
– SUBJECT: First impressions
….. There is a plus/minus to all of this which I hope to detail later. I should tell you quickly that the welcome mat is out for all Westerners to visit the ashram. One of my first stops was to pay a visit with Mr. Unni, the dear mature soul who has headed up accommodations office here for decades. His office was always a beehive of activity with many travelers trying to curry favor for a good room in a good building with working fans and a functional bathroom, maybe even one with hot water. On this day he sat alone in his office, willing to share time with me, something he could rarely afford to do before. The last time I checked with him (it’s my reporter’s instinct) during January, 2009 there were 85,000 people in the ashram from 125 countries, and today, only 7000. He tells me the attendance from people in India remains high, but for foreigners the turn out remains slight since Baba’s passing a year and a half ago.
“Please encourage all Westerners to come to Baba’s home. He is here”, he said to me a couple of times. I promised I would do so.
Later in the day while walking past the mandir (Sai Baba’s main open air temple that holds 20,000+ people) I felt a discernible let down. Those present for the early chanting were quite few. The mandir is where Baba would give darshan, where he would show his loving presence, twice a day to the multitudes. Since Baba left his body the schedule here has changed and now begins with vedic chants at 4:30, followed by bhajans (devotional singing) at 5:15, followed by darshan at 6 pm. These days during darshan people are permitted to come up to his tomb and pay their respects.
I was walking past the mandir doing some initial chores on move-in day. As I looked to my right into the giant hall, this is what a saw, seven Sevadals (ushers) at the front on the men’s side and behind them I counted five devotees in the first line. There was no second line. Throughout the rest of the hall there were maybe 40 to 60 men scattered here and there with lots of empty space around them. Only a long time visitor would know how unusual, and sad this was.
Later, I ran in to a good friend, Nooshin Mehrabani, a long time devotee from Iran who has lived here full time for a number of years now. She told me not to worry, that the crowds come later these days and that most people show up when the bhajans begin. She also stressed that Prasanthi Nilayam is a different place, with a different purpose. It used to be that you would come to the ashram to be in the living presence of the highest Avatar, a descendant of the Divine, but now it’s purpose is to serve primarily as a pilgrimage destination. Some of you may recall Nooshin’s name since I posted two video interviews with her on Souljourns (youtube.com/souljourns and vimeo.com/souljourns.) She was a long time television journalist in Iran before moving to Canada and the United States. Nooshin had countless interviews with Baba serving as interpreter for visiting Iranian devotees.
More on darshan and the experience of being with Sai Baba in the space many felt most at home with him in the next newsletter when this important subject can be given more time. Being here, inside the mandir at his darshan is THE reason we are here …..
Excerpt From Public Petition (and introduction)