Sri Sathya Sai Baba (born as Sathyanarayana Raju (23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011) was an Indian guru, spiritual figure, mystic, philanthropist and educator. He claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi who was considered a spiritual saint and a miracle worker, whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs, and who died in 1918.
The materializations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches by Sathya Sai Baba were a surce of both fame and controversy; devotees considered them signs of divinity, while skeptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks.
Photos of Sathya Sai Baba are displayed in millions of homes and on the Dashboards of cars, and lockets bearing his photo are worn by many as a symbol of good fortune.
Early life and proclamation
Almost everything known about Sathya Sai Baba's early life stems from the hagiography that grew around him, the presentation of narratives that hold special meaning to his devotees and are considered by them evidence of his divine nature. According to his followers, then, Sathyanarayana Raju was born to Easwaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in the village of Puttaparthi, in what was the Madras Presidency of British India. His birth, which his mother Eswaramma asserted was by miraculous conception, was also said to be heralded by miracles. His siblings included elder brother Ratnam Sesham Raju (1921–1984), sister Venkamma (1923–1993), a second sister Parvathamma (1928–1998), and younger brother Janakiramiah (1930–2003). As a child, he was described as "unusually intelligent" and charitable, though not an exceptional student, as his interests were more of a spiritual nature. He was uncommonly talented in devotional music, dance and drama. He was said to be capable of materialising objects such as food and sweets out of thin air.
On 8 March 1940, while living with his elder brother Sesham Raju in Uravakonda, a small town near Puttaparthi, Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion. He lost consciousness for several hours. Within the next few days there was a noticeable change in Sathya's behavior. There were "symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence." "He began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge." Doctors believed his behavior to be hysteria. His parents brought Sathya back home to Puttaparthi.Concerned, they took him to many priests, "doctors" and exorcists.
On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and reportedly materialised prasad and flowers for his family members. His father became furious at seeing this, thinking his son was bewitched. He took a stick and threatened to beat him if Sathya did not reveal who he really was. To this Sathya announced calmly and firmly "I am Sai Baba", a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi. He proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi - a saint who became famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Maharashtra and had died
eight years before Sathya was born.
Later activities and establishments
In 1944, a mandir (temple) for Sathya Sai Baba's devotees was built near the village of Puttaparthi. It is now referred to as the "old mandir." The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, began in 1948 and was completed in 1950. In 1957 Sathya Sai Baba went on a North Indian temple tour. In 1954, Sathya Sai Baba established a small free General Hospital in the village of Puttaparthi.
In 1963, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks. It is believed that he healed himself of these in front of the thousands of people gathered in Prasanthi Nilayam praying for his recovery. On recovering, Sai Baba gave a discourse announcing that he would be reborn as Prema Sai Baba in the neighboring state of Karnataka. He stated, "I am Siva-Sakthi, born in the gotra (lineage) of Bharadwaja, according to a boon won by that sage from Siva and Sakthi. Siva was born in the gotra of that sage as Sai Baba of Shirdi;
Siva and Sakthi have incarnated as Myself in his gotra now; Sakthi alone will incarnate as the third Sai (Prema Sai Baba) in the same gotra in Mandya district of Karnataka State." He stated he would be born again eight years after his death at the age of 96.
On 29 June 1968, Sathya Sai Baba made his first and only trip overseas, to Kenya and Uganda. During a discourse in Nairobi, Sathya Sai Baba stated, "I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added luster. I have not come on behalf of any exclusive religion. I have not come on a mission of publicity for a sect or creed or cause, nor have I come to collect followers for a doctrine. I have no plan to attract disciples or devotees into my fold or any fold. I have come to tell you of this unitary faith, this spiritual principle, this path of Love, this virtue of Love, this duty of Love, this obligation of Love." In 1968, he established Dharmakshetra or Sathyam Mandir in Mumbai.
In 1973, he established Shivam Mandir in Hyderabad. On 19 January 1981, in Chennai he inaugurated the Sundaram Mandir.
In a 1993 incident, four intruders armed with knives entered his bedroom, either as an assassination attempt or as part of a power struggle between his followers. Sai Baba escaped unharmed. During the scuffle and the police response, the four intruders and two of Sai Baba's attendants were killed. The official investigation left unanswered questions.
In March 1995 Sathya Sai Baba started a project to provide drinking water to 1.2 million people in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.
In 2001 he established another free Super Speciality hospital in Bangalore to benefit the poor. In April 1999 he inaugurated the Ananda Nilayam Mandir in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Old age, illness, and death
After 2004, Sai Baba used a wheelchair and his failing health forced him to make fewer public appearances. In 2003, he suffered a fractured hip when a student standing on an iron stool slipped, and both the boy and stool fell on him. After that, he gave darshan from a car or his porte chair.
On 28 March 2011, Sathya Sai Baba was admitted to the Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital at Prashantigram at Puttaparthi, following respiration-related problems. After nearly a month of hospitalisation, during which his condition progressively deteriorated, Sai Baba died on Easter Sunday, 24 April at 7:40 IST, aged 85.
Sathya Sai Baba had predicted that he would die at age 96 and would remain healthy until then. After he died, some devotees suggested that he might have been referring to that many lunar years, rather than solar years, and using the Indian way of accounting for age, which counts the year to come as part of the person's life. Other devotees have spoken of his anticipated resurrection, reincarnation or awakening.
His body lay in state for two days, and was buried on 27 April 2011. An estimated 500,000 people attended the burial, among them the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Union Ministers S. M. Krishna and Ambika Soni, as well as other political leaders and prominent figures.
Political leaders who offered their condolences included the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and The Dalai Lama also offered condolences. Famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, whose birthday was on that very day, cancelled his birthday celebrations. The Hindu newspaper reported that "Sri Sathya Sai Baba's propagation of spiritualism and preaching of Hindu philosophy never came in the way of his commitment to secular beliefs." The Government of Karnataka declared 25 and 26 April as days of mourning, and Andhra Pradesh declared 25, 26 and 27 April as days of mourning.
Beliefs and practices of devotees
Sathya Sai Baba said that his followers do not need to give up their original religion, saying
"My objective is the establishment of sanatana dharma, which believes in one God as propitiated by the founders of all religions. So none has to give up his religion or deity."
Internationally, Sathya Sai Baba devotees gather daily, or weekly on Sundays or Thursdays or both, to sing group devotional songs, prayer, spiritual meditation, service to the community (Seva), and to participate in "Education in Human Values" (SSEHV) known as "Bal Vikas" (Blossoming of the Child), that can also be described as Sai Sunday School.
A primary aspect of Baba's teachings is the spiritual benefit of darshan for his students. At that time, Sai Baba might interact with people, accept letters, materialize and distribute vibhuti (sacred ash) or call groups or individuals for interviews. Devotees considered it a great privilege to have an interview and sometimes a single person, group or family was invited for a private interview.
Ashrams and mandirs
Puttaparthi, where Sathya Sai Baba was born and lived, was originally a small, remote South Indian village in Andhra Pradesh. Now there is an extensive university complex, a speciality hospital, and two museums: the Sanathana Samskruti or Eternal Heritage Museum, sometimes called the Museum of All Religions, and the Chaitanya Jyoti, devoted exclusively to the life and teachings of Sathya Sai Baba; the latter has won several international awards for its architectural design. There is also a planetarium, a railway station, a hill-view stadium, an administrative building, an airport, an indoor sports stadium and more. High-ranking Indian politicians such as the former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam,
former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Andhra Pradesh former Chief Minister Konijeti Rosaiah and Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa have been official guests at the ashram in Puttaparthi. On Sathya Sai Baba's 80th birthday celebration, it was reported that well over a million people attended, including 13,000 delegates from India and 180 other countries.
Sathya Sai Baba resided much of the time in his main ashram called Prashanthi Nilayam (Abode of Highest Peace) at Puttaparthi. In the hot summer he used to leave for his other ashram, called Brindavan, in Kadugodi, Whitefield, a town on the outskirts of Bangalore. Occasionally he visited his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikana.
Sathya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (spiritual centres) in India. The first mandir, founded in Mumbai in 1968, is referred to as either "Dharmakshetra" or "Sathyam". The second centre, established in Hyderabad in 1973, is referred to as "Shivam". The third centre, inaugurated on 19 January 1981 in Chennai, is referred to as "Sundaram".
Institutions, organisations and projects
Sathya Sai Baba supported a variety of free educational institutions, hospitals, and other charitable works in over 166 countries. The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (now changed to Sri Sathya Sai University) in Prashanthi Nilayam is the only college in India to have received an "A++" rating by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (an autonomous body established by the University Grants Commission). Sri Sathya Sai University of which Baba was the Chancellor, has three campuses, one at Puttaparthi for men, one at Whitefield, Bangalore for men and one at Anantapur for women. His charity supports an institute for Indian classical music called the Sri Sathya Sai Mirpuri College of Music. Baba's educational institutions aim to impart character education along with excellence in academics with emphasis on human values and ethics.
Sathya Sai Baba chaired the Muddenahalli-Sathya Sai Loka Seva School and Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust Educational Institutions in Muddenahalli-Kanivenarayanapura regions. In addition, a Sathya Sai Baba University and Medical School as well as a world class hospital and research institute are being constructed on over 200 acres (0.81 km2) to serve the destitute population. Baba said that the campus will be modeled after Puttaparthi and will infuse spirituality with academics.
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi is a 220 bed facility that provides free surgical and medical care and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao on 22 November 1991. The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Bangalore is a 333 bed hospital meant to benefit the poor. The hospital was inaugurated on 19 January 2001 by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The hospital has provided free medical care to over 250,000 patients.
The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital was opened in Whitefield, Bangalore, in 1977 and provides complex surgeries, food and medicines free of cost. The hospital has treated over 2 million patients.
The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs several general hospitals, two specialty hospitals, eye hospitals and mobile dispensaries and conducts medical camps in rural and slum areas in India. The Trust has also funded several major drinking water projects. One project completed in 1996 supplies water to 1.2 million people in about 750 villages in the drought-prone Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. The second drinking water project, completed in 2004, supplies water to Chennai through a rebuilt waterway named "Sathya Sai Ganga Canal".
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi praised the Chennai water project and Sai Baba's involvement. Other completed water projects include the Medak District Project benefiting 450,000 people in 179 villages and the Mahbubnagar District Project benefitting 350,000 people in 141 villages. In January 2007, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust said it would start a drinking water project in Latur, Maharashtra. In 2008, 2 million people in the state of Orissa were affected by floods. As a relief measure, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization, has built 699 houses as a part of their first phase in 16 villages by March 2009.
Sathya Sai Baba's Educare program seeks to found schools throughout the world with the goal of educating children in the five human values. According to the Sai Educare site, schools have been founded in 33 countries, including Australia, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Peru. The Times of Zambia states, "The positive influence of Sathya Sai is unprecedented in the annals of education in Zambia. Sai Baba's education ideals as embodied in his human values-based approach in education are an eye opener to educationists in Zambia."
In Canada, the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian research and educational organization, ranked the Sathya Sai School of Canada as one of the top 37 elementary schools in Ontario. The Sathya Sai School scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in the Institute's overall rating for academic performance.
On 23 November 1999, the Department of Posts, Government of India, released a postage stamp and a postal cover in recognition of the service rendered by Sathya Sai Baba in addressing the problem of providing safe drinking water to the rural masses.
On 23 November 2001, the digital radio network Radio Sai Global Harmony was launched through the World Space Organization, United States. Dr Michael Oleinikof Nobel (distant relative to Alfred Nobel and one of the patrons for the radio network) said that the radio network would spread Sathya Sai Baba's message of global harmony and peace.
In January 2007, an event was held in Chennai Nehru stadium organised by the Chennai Citizens Conclave to thank Sathya Sai Baba for the 200 crore water project which brought water from the River Krishna in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai city. Four chief ministers attended the function.
Sathya Sai Organisation
The Sathya Sai Organisation reports that there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 114 countries. However, the number of active Sathya Sai Baba followers is hard to determine. Estimates vary from 6 million up to nearly 100 million. In India itself, Sai Baba drew followers predominantly from the upper-middle-class, the urban sections of society who have the "most wealth, education and exposure to Western ideas." In 2002, he claimed to have followers in 178 countries.