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Sathya Sai Baba

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Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011) was a controversial South Indian guru, religious leader, and orator, often described as a holy man[1] and miracle worker.[2] Sai Baba presents his teachings as uniting different religions, which is often the case in neo-Hindu movements, but they are deeply and authentically Hindu. He differs from most other gurus by his unambiguous and explicit claims of personal divinity: he claims to be a full avatar of the Hindu deities Shiva and Shakti, with the aim of restoring dharma.

In India he is not unique; there are several other holy men who have gained merely local fame. [3] Moreover, his followers in India have tended to be middle- or upper-class and this has contributed to his fame. Like other "godmen", as holy men are sometimes called in India, his appeal comes from his charisma, his claims of miracles and paranormal capabilities, and not so much from his parampara, though he has a lineage of sorts through his claim to be a reincarnation of the fakir Shirdi Sai Baba (1857?-1918), who had both Muslim as well as Hindu traits and whose name he took.[4] [5]

The Sathya Sai Organization (SSO) says it has 1,200 Centers in 114 countries.[6] The number of adherents is estimated sometimes as around 6 million, and followers claim "50 to 100 million".[7]

Kasturi's biography

Virtually all existing accounts of Sathya Sai Baba's life are based on the writings of the late secretary of Sai Baba, professor Narayana Kasturi. [8]Kasturi wrote a biography, which Babb described as "hagiographic", depicting the life of Sai Baba not as a development of the person but as revelations about himself. [9][10]. Details have been removed from the biography and the childhood is modeled after the life of Krishna. [11]

The Hollywood screenwriter, Arnold Schulman, tried to verify some stories from Katuri's writings. He came to the conclusion that "for any episode of Baba's childhood, there are countless contrasting versions and, at this point, the author discovered that it was no longer possible to separate the facts from the legend.”[12]

Life

Sathya Sai Baba was born to a poor farming family in the remote village of Puttaparthi, located in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh. His birth name was Sathyanarayana Raju,[13] with the family name of Ratnakaram and membership in the Raju caste.[14]

Events surrounding birth

Kasturi wrote that "Sai Baba was born 'of immaculate conception' [sic; Kasturi probably meant "parthenogenesis" or "virgin birth"]"[15]

Some of his followers identify Sai Baba as the Lord of Serpents, Sheshiasa.[16] Kasturi wrote in a book about Sai Baba's mother that she found out she was pregnant after dreaming of the Hindu god Sathyanarayana and after a huge sphere of blue light rolled towards her, merged into her and made her faint.[17] He is associated with the cobra, which is a powerful symbol in the culture.

He attended the Higher Elementary School at a nearby village during his 8th year,[18] and was known both for compassion and creativity. After that Sai Baba joined the high school at Uravakonda.

Mysticism and reincarnation

Kasturi further wrote in his biography that on March 8, 1940, around evening, Sai Baba started behaving as if a black scorpion had stung his foot. However, nobody found the scorpion, according to Kasturi. One night, Kasturi continues, after this strange event Sai Baba entered a state similar to coma, which his devotees call the state of "leaving his body". Kasturi further wrote that after he got out of this state he started behaving in a way that worried his parents - he didn't want to eat, he would often keep silent for a long time, recited shlokas. According to Kasturi, on October 20 1940, in his 14th year Sai Baba threw away his books, and announced that he was leaving. His words were "My devotees are calling me. I have my work." He then spent the next three days mostly under a tree in the garden of an excise inspector and many people gathered around him, Kasturi continues. He taught them Hindu devotional songs (bhajans). Sai Baba is listed in the 1942 school record of Bukkapatnam.[19]

Reincarnation

Different accounts present his, and other statements, about his being a reincarnation of an earlier holy man or of a deity, and how he will reincarnate after this life. These accounts involve the mystic and fakir Shirdi Sai Baba (circa 1838-1918), whose name he took; the deities Shiva and Shakti; and a future reincarnation, after his death at the age of 96,[20] to be a young man named Prema Sai Baba.

In 1940 he proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of [[Shirdi Sai Baba].[21] In a subsequent discourse in 1963, he claimed to be a reincarnation of Shiva and Shakti,[22] but clarified that Shirdi Sai Baba was an incarnation of Shiva and that his future reincarnation Prema Sai Baba would be a reincarnation of Shakti and repeated this claim in 1976.[23] In contrast, Kasturi's biography said that Sathya Sai Baba had said Shirdi Sai Baba was Shakti (i.e., rather than Shiva) incarnated and that Prema Sai Baba was to be an incarnation of Shiva.[24] The biography further states that Prema Sai Baba will be born in Mysore state:

He said, "I have been keeping back from you all these years one secret about Me; the time has come when I can reveal it to you. This is a sacred day. I am Siva-Sakthi," He declared, "born in the gothra of Bharadwaja, according to a boon won by that sage from Siva and Sakthi. Sakthi Herself was born in the gothra of that sage as Sai Baba of Shirdi; Siva and Sakthi have incarnated as Myself in his gothra now; Siva alone will incarnate as the third Sai (Prema Sai Baba) in the same gothra in Mysore State."[24]

According to Donald Taylor, in a 1987 article, titled "Charismatic authority in the Sathya Sai Baba movement”, Sai Baba's 1963 declaration that he would be reincarnated as Prema Sai Baba was Sai Baba's strategy to defuse the problem about his succession and thus continue to have all the authority in his hand.[25]

First organzations

In 1944 a mandir for followers of Sai Baba was built near the village which is now called the "old mandir".[26][18] The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, was started in 1948.

In 1958 Sanathana Sarathi, the official magazine for the followers of Sai Baba, was first published. [27]In the late 1960s he attracted Western spiritual seekers and became increasingly popular. As of 2007, he had been outside India only once, for a visit to North East Africa in 1968.[28][29]

Beliefs and practices

Ashrams and mandirs

Puttaparthi, where Sai Baba was born and still lives, remains a small town of 9,000 in Andhra Pradesh, but now has an extensive university complex and SSO tourist attactions. [30] Puttaparthi contains his main ashram, called Prashanthi Nilayam (abode of highest peace) at Puttaparthi. In the summer Baba leaves for his other ashram, Brindavan, in Kadugodi, a town on the outskirts of Bangalore. Occasionally, he visits his Sai Shruti ashram in Kodaikanal.[31]

High ranking Indian politicians, like Indian President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam[32] and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have been official guests at the ashram in Puttaparthi.[33] On Sai Baba's 80th birthday celebrations it was reported that well over a million people attended, as well as 13,000 delegates from India and 180 countries abroad.[34]

Sai Baba established three primary mandirs in India. The first center, established in Mumbai, is referred to as either "Dharmakshetra" or "Sathyam". The second center, established in Hyderabad, is referred to as "Shivam". The third center, established in Chennai, is referred to as "Sundaram".[35]

The daily program at Sai Baba's ashrams usually begins with the chanting of om and a morning prayer. This is followed by Veda Parayan, nagasankirtan and twice daily bhajans and darshan. Particularly significant are the darshans during October (the Dasara holidays and November (the month of Sai Baba's birth).[16]

During darshan Sathya Sai Baba walks among his followers and may interact with people, accept letters, materialize and distribute vibhuti or call groups or individuals for interviews. Interviews are chosen solely by the guru's discretion. Followers consider it a great privilege to get an interview and sometimes a single person, group or family will be invited for a private interview. People who receive such interviews may be startled by the materializations and the disclosures that Sai Baba as a clairvoyant reveals of their own lives.[36]

Reported miracles

Sai Baba's followers report miracles and healings of various kinds that they attribute to him.[37] Sai Baba is said to sometimes take on the illnesses of devotees on himself.[38] "For example, he materializes vibuthi constantly..." that he often passes to a worshiper.[7] The anthropologist Lawrence Babb wrote that this transaction connects Sai Baba to a worshiper and that the worshiper benefits from the perceived virtues of the gift.[39]

The retired Icelandic psychology professor Erlendur Haraldsson wrote that, although he did not get Sai Baba's permission to study him under controlled circumstances, he investigated and documented the guru's alleged miracles and manifestations through first-hand interviews with devotees and ex-devotees. Some of the reported miracles attributed to Sai Baba included levitation (both indoors and outdoors), bilocation, physical disappearances, changing granite into sugar candy, changing water into another drink, changing water into gasoline, producing objects on demand, changing the color of his gown into a different color while wearing it, multiplying food, healings, visions, dreams, making different fruits appear on any tree hanging from actual stems, controlling the weather, physically transforming into various deities and physically emitting brilliant light. Haraldsson wrote that the largest allegedly materialized object that he saw was a mangalsutra necklace, 32 inches long, 16 inches long on each side.[40]

Sai Baba has explained the phenomenon of manifestation as being an act of divine creation, but refused to have his materializations investigated under experimental conditions. In April 1976, Dr. H. Narasimhaiah, a physicist, rationalist and then vice chancellor of Bangalore University, founded and chaired a committee "to rationally and scientifically investigate miracles and other verifiable superstitions". Haraldsson stated that Narasimhaiah wrote Sai Baba a polite letter and two subsequent letters that were widely publicized in which he publicly challenged Baba to perform his miracles under controlled conditions. Sai Baba ignored the challenge as he felt the approach was improper and said about the Narasimhaiah committee that:

Science must confine its inquiry only to things belonging to the human senses, while spiritualism transcends the senses. If you want to understand the nature of spiritual power you can do so only through the path of spirituality and not science. What science has been able to unravel is merely a fraction of the cosmic phenomena [...][41]

According to Erlendur Haraldsson, the formal challenge from the committee came to a dead end because the negative attitude of the committee was obvious. Narasimhaiah stated that he considered the fact that Sai Baba ignored his letters as an indication that his miracles are fraudulent. As a result of this episode, a public debate raged for several months in Indian newspapers.[42] Narasimhaiah's committee was dissolved in August of 1977.

According to a 1994 article written by Alexandra Nagel, Dale Beyerstein negated supernatural stories about Sathya Sai Baba.[7] In the 1995 TV documentary "Guru Busters", by Channel 4 (U.K.), Sai Baba was accused of faking his materializations and a videotape was supplied alleging fraud. The same videotape was mentioned in the Deccan Chronicle, on November 23, 1992, on a front page headline "DD Tape Unveils Baba Magic". Erlendur Haraldsson stated that he and his associates analyzed the videotape shown in the "Guru Busters" documentary and mentioned by the Deccan Chronicle. Haraldsson stated that the videotape's quality and resolution left much to be desired and limited the inferences that could be drawn from it.

Haraldsson claimed that Dr. Wiseman took the video to a company that specialized in corporate fraud, and which possessed some of the world's best equipment designed to enhance poor quality videotapes. After the videotape was enhanced using a threefold process, the resulting tape contained no firm evidence of fraud. [43] The "Guru Busters" documentary also reported that Sai Baba's followers include some of India's intellectual elite, including T.N. Seshan and that experts in engineering, aeronautics and geology gather to worship a man they believe has supernatural powers.

The magazine India Today published, in December 2000, a cover story about the Baba and the allegations of fake miracles quoting the magician P. C. Sorcar, Jr. who considered the Baba a fraud.[44]

Basava Premanand, a skeptic and amateur magician, asserted that he has been investigating Sai Baba since 1968 and believes the guru to be a cheater and charlatan. In 1986, Premanand was arrested by the police for marching to Puttaparthi with 500 volunteers for a well-publicised confrontation with Sai Baba. Later that year, he took Sai Baba to court for violating the Gold Control Act by producing gold necklaces out of thin air without the permission of a Gold Control Administrator. When his case was dismissed, Mr Premanand appealed on the grounds that spiritual power is not a defence recognised in law.[45]

Premanand also displayed, in the 2004 BBC documentary Secret Swami, that he could duplicate some of the same acts that Sai Baba presents as miracles; such as materializations by sleight of hand and the production of a lingam from his mouth. The BBC documentary reported that even some of Sai Baba's critics believe that he has genuine paranormal powers.[46]

The British journalist Mick Brown discussed in his 1998 book that Sai Baba's claim of resurrecting the American Walter Cowan in 1971 was probably untrue.[47] His opinion was based on the letters from attending doctors, provided in the Indian Skeptic magazine.[48] Kasturi said "He brought Walter Cowan back from the region beyond death because, as he said, "he has not completed the work he has to do."[2]

Teachings

Sai Baba is a prolific orator about religious topics in his native language,Telugu, and he is regarded by some as an excellent speaker.[37]

Sathya Sai Baba is, among other things, a teacher. He is a frequent giver of discourses. He usually speaks in Telugu, and before a Hindi-speaking audience an interpreter is required. One of his most characteristic rhetorical devices is the ad hoc etymology, such as saying that Hindu means 'one who is nonviolent' from the combination of "hinsa" (violence) and "dur" (distant).

He claims to be an avatar of God in whom all names and forms ascribed by man to God are manifest,[49] and claims that he is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and able to create matter from mere thought.

The answer to that question has been answered by Sai Baba himself: »I am the omnipresent, almighty, and omniscient."[36]

In an interview with Blitz News Magazine he explains that everybody is God but the difference is that he is aware of this and others have yet to realize it. He also stresses that desires bring mental pain (depression, anger, jealousy) and so everyone should be free from desires.[41]

Sai Baba preaches love and the unity of all world religions and asserts that people who follow him do not need to give up their original religion. His followers view his teachings as syncretic (uniting all religions), but one scholar has said that his message remains fundamentally Hindu. He writes that Sai Baba has come to restore faith in, and encourage the practice of the teachings in the Vedas (Vedasamrakshana). His writings, such as the book Ramakatha Rasavahini teach the literal interpretation of Hindu mythology and advocate the practice of Hindu Dharma (Sthapana).[16]

Apart from teaching the unity and equality of all the religions Sai Baba places particular emphasis on the role of women (especially mothers) in society. He also said that the level of a nation depends on their respect for women.[50]

Across the globe local Sai Baba groups assemble to sing bhajans on which names of the traditional Hindu deities as well as saints and prophets of other religions occasionally replaced by Baba's name, study Sai Baba's teachings, do collective community service, and teach Education in Human Values (Sai Sunday School). Baba's movement is not missionary[51] Baba discouraged publicity for him in a public discourse in 1968.[52]

Based on Sai Baba's teachings, his organization advocates the five basic human values. These values are sathya, dharma, ahimsa, prema [53] and shantih .


Other primary teachings are:[37]

  • Service and charity (seva) to others.
  • Love for all creatures and objects.
  • Putting a ceiling (limit) on one's desires Sadhana (Spiritual discipline).
  • Celibacy after age of fifty.
  • Everything that has been created is maya, only God is real.
  • Every creature and object is God in form, though most do not experience this as their reality.
  • Vegetarianism[53], moderate and sattvik diet.
  • Abstinence from drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and taking recreational drugs.
  • Detachment from the material world.
  • Meditation, preferably at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M.; there are four techniques, repetition of the name of God, visualizing the form of God, sitting in silence and jyoti.
  • Inclusive acceptance of all religions as paths to realizing the One (God).
  • Importance of bhakti (devotion) to God
  • Developing prashanti and eschewing vices of character.
  • Japa and other sadhana to foster devotion.
  • Reverence for parents, teachers and elders.
  • Sense control
  • Highly committed devotees use the phrase sai ram as a salutation.
  • Women should strive to realize stri-dharma, the inherent virtues of womanhood.

Sai Baba's teachings are said to be realized by observing the following four principles:

  • There is only one Caste, the Caste of Humanity;
  • There is only one Religion, the Religion of Love;
  • There is only one Language, the Language of the Heart;
  • There is only One God and He is Omnipresent

Organizations

SSO operates a number of free educational institutions, charitable organizations and service projects that are spread over 10,000 centers in 166 countries around the world.[54]

Education

The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in Prashanti Nilayam received the highest accreditation from the independnet National Assessment and Accreditation Council.[55] There is also an Institute of Music and a woman's college, the Institute of Higher Learning in Anantapur.

His education program, called "Educare," seeks to found schools in all countries with the explicit goal to educate children in the five human values and spirituality. All the local Sai Samithis (Sathya Sai Baba groups) are part of the SSO. The chairman of the organization is Michael Goldstein of the U.S. The logo of the Sathya Sai organization is a stylized lotus flower with the text of the five human values, highly influenced by not only Hinduism but also Jainism and Buddhism, in its petals. This text version has replaced the old logo with the symbols of the 5 or 6 world religions in the petals. It claims schools have been founded in 33 countries world-wide.[56] The Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust is the official publisher of the Sathya Sai Organization. On November 23 2001, the digital radio network "Radio Sai Global Harmony" was launched through the World Space Organization, USA. [57]

Health care

The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs several general hospitals, two super-specialty hospitals, dispensaries, eye hospitals and mobile dispensaries and conducts medical camps in rural and slum areas in India.[54]It was in the year 2000-2001 the largest recipient of foreign donations. The Andhra Pradesh-based Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust is the largest recipient of foreign contributions."[58]

The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi is a 220 bed facility providing advanced surgical and medical care free of cost to the public. It is situated 6 kilometers from the guru's ashram and was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao on November 22 1991 and was designed by the Prince of Wales's architectural adviser, Keith Critchlow[59]

The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Bangalore is a 333 bed facility meant to benefit the poor.[60] The hospital was inaugurated on January 19 2001 by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.[61] The hospital has served 250,000 patients, free of cost, from January 2001 to April 2004.[62]

The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital was opened in Whitefield, Bangalore, in 1977 by Sai Baba to provide free care to poor local villagers. Since that time, the general hospital has grown to a 35,000 sq ft building that provides complex surgeries, food and medicines free of cost. The hospital has, since its inception, treated over 2 million cases.[63]

Water supply

The Trust has also funded several major drinking water projects.

  • 1.2 million people in 730-800 villages in the drought-prone Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh.[64]
  • Water to Chennai[65] The Chennai water drinking project was praised by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi. Karunanidhi said that although he is an atheist, he differentiated between good spiritual leaders like Sathya Sai Baba and fake "godmen".[66]
  • third drinking water project, expected to be completed in April 2006, channeling the Godavari River to half a million people living in five hundred villages in East and West Godavari Districts.[67]
  • 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.[64]
  • In January 2007, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust revealed that it would undertake another drinking water project in Latur, Maharashtra.[64]

In January 2007 the Baba was recognized in Chennai Nehru stadium in an event organised by the Chennai Citizens Conclave to thank him for the water project which brought water from the River Krishna in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai city. Four chief ministers attended the function. At this event, Sai Baba shared a dais with Karunanidhi (Chief Minister of Chennai) who is a very well known atheist. [68]

Criticism and replies

The debates about Sai Baba were fueled by a document published in 2000 called "The Findings", written by David and Faye Bailey, former followers who together wrote three books on Sai Baba.[69] In 'The Findings' they described their disillusionment with the guru; allegations of fakery, claims that Sai Baba does not heal sick people and allegations of financial irregularities with charity projects, such as the Super Specialty Hospital and water project.[15] According to an article in Salon.com, a great part of 'The Findings' contains testimonies of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.[70]

Intruder incident

On June 6, 1993, four intruders armed with knives entered Sai Baba's bedroom and killed two of his aides, before themselves being killed. The incident was widely reported in the Indian press. Sai Baba claimed in his 1993 Guru Poornima discourse on July 3 that jealousy among his followers was behind the incident, without giving a detailed explanation of the events.[71] The former Secretary of the Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh, V.P.B. Nair who came from of a police background expressed in the BBC documentary his opinion that the four assailants in 1993 had unnecessarily and illegally been shot by the police. There are other opinions from eye witnesses present in the Mandir premises that night that the police did the right thing to protect the life of several others, since the four people were armed and had already stabbed two people to death.

Sexual allegations

The Daily Telegraph stated that Sai Baba rubbed oil on the genitals of a young male devotee.[15] The testimonies of sexual abuse of young men were shown in TV documentaries, including "Seduced by Sai Baba" by Denmark's national television, and documentary film "Secret Swami" by BBC. The TV documentary "Seduced By Sai Baba", produced by Denmark's national television and radio broadcaster Danish radio aired in Denmark, Australia and Norway.

Al Rahm, a father of one of the young men who claimed to have been sexually abused by Sai Baba, said in 2004 that he had spoken with the Dr. Michael Goldstein, the highest leader in the USA about the alleged sexual abuse.[46] According to Rahm, Dr. Goldstein responded by saying that he hated the idea of having wasted 25 years of his life and that he accepted Sri Sai Baba's statement "Swami is pure" as the truth. Dr. Goldstein further stated that he did not support an investigation of the sexual abuse allegations, although he felt that Sai Baba was not above the law. He said that it was against his "heart and conscience" to believe the allegations because he had personally observed Baba interact with students very frequently, in very informal circumstances, and he had never seen anything inappropriate, ominous or anything indicative of fear or apprehension. Isaac Tigrett, a prominent follower and co-founder of the Hard Rock Café, stated in the BBC documentary that his admiration for the Baba will not change even if the charges of pedophilia and murder were proved beyond all doubt. In this same documentary, Khushwant Singh stated that Sai Baba's popularity could not be ascribed to any type of publicity campaign. Singh compared Sai Baba to Mahatma Gandhi, in that Gandhi never had any publicity but became nationally known through word of mouth. According to the BBC reporter Tanya Datta, many sexual abuse victims have undergone a genital oiling by Sai Baba that they believe to be part of Hinduism. Singh reacted to this by saying that this genital oiling is not part of Indian tradition.

According to Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com the fact that the Baba has high ranking Indian politicians as his supporters and the charity works done by the various organizations associated with the Baba help to explain why he has not been brought into a court of law in India. The Indian consulate website states that crime victims must file charges with the police. In an article that was published in the India Today magazine in December 2000, it was stated that no complaints had been filed against Sai Baba by any alleged victim, in India. The magazine stated they are in possession of an affidavit signed by Jens Sethi (an ex-devotee) and reported that he filed a complaint with the police in Munich.[44][70]

Sai Baba did not give a detailed public rebuttal to the accusations of sexual abuse. In his Christmas 2000 discourse Sai Baba said that people disseminate false negative stories about him because they have been bribed.[72]

"Sri Sathya Sai Baba on Monday lashed out at his detractors in a rare display of anger while delivering a discourse on the occasion of Christmas at Brindavana, Whitefield ashram here. [...] In an reference to some of what has been written against him in the recent days, Baba said that many have been bought and they speak against him for the money they have received to do so.[73]

Koert van der Velde, a reporter for Dutch newspaper Trouw, claimed in a critical article that Sai Baba forbade people to look at the internet.[74] In the years 1999[75] and 2000 Sri Sathya Sai Baba has repeatedly belittled the Internet and discouraged its use.[76]

The Guardian and DNA stated that, although Sai Baba has not been charged over old allegations of sexual abuse, a travel warning was issued by the US State Department about reports of "unconfirmed inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader", which officials later confirmed was a reference to Sai Baba.[77][78] The Guardian further expressed concerns over a contingent of 200 youths travelling to the Baba's ashram in order to gain their Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

According to The Telegraph, Glen Meloy (an ex-devotee) organized a campaign that concentrated on "e-bombing" allegations against Sai Baba to various agencies and officials. The Telegraph stated that the most conspicuous success of Meloy's campaign came when, in September 2000, UNESCO withdrew its participation in an educational conference at Puttaparthi, expressing "deep concern" about the allegations of sexual abuse. The Telegraph also stated that he has never been charged with any crime, sexual or otherwise.[15]

Suicide

The Times further reported in August 2001 that three men had died after placing hope in Sai Baba.[79] According to the Times articles, Michael Pender, an HIV infected man who overdosed on drugs more than once, complained to a friend that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by the guru. Pender apparently committed suicide in a hostel for the homeless in North London.

Responses to criticism

In an official letter released to the general public, in December 2001, A.B. Vajpayee (then Prime Minister of India), P.N. Bhagawati (Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India), Ranganath Mishra (Chair Person, National Human Rights Commissioner of India and Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India), Najma Heptulla (President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; UNDP Distinguished Human Development Ambassador) and Shivraj V. Patil (Member of Parliament, India; Formerly of the Lok Sabha & Union Minister) all signed a letter that called the allegations against Sai Baba "wild, reckless and concocted allegations made by certain vested interests" and that they "unequivocally condemned" the allegations as "baseless and malicious".[80]

Bill Aitken (a Sai Devotee, who describes himself in The Week as an expert in comparative religion and author of the book "Sri Sathya Sai Baba: A life") stated that Sathya Sai Baba's reputation has only increased despite negative stories being published against the guru, by rationalists, critics and skeptics, for at least a generation. Aitken contended that critics are so distemperate in their dislike that their vituperation comes across as near comical.Aitken felt that the Church of England can have no objection to programs that weaken perceived threats, such as the Sai Movement. He suggested that the more detractors rail against Sai Baba, the more flock to see him.[81]

In an interview with an Asian Voice correspondent, Ashok Bhagani, a trustee of the Sai Organization in the UK, said that he believed the allegations in the Secret Swami BBC documentary were completely baseless and have never been proved. Mr Bhagani also stated that when devotees are selected by Baba for a private interview, there is always someone else present in the room, and this is especially the case when women and children meet him.[82] Navin Patel, a biochemistry student at the Sathya Sai Arts College in Bangalore during the 1970s, told Asian Voice that he visited Baba's ashram many times and studied at Baba's college long enough to know the allegations are untrue. Patel claimed the Secret Swami BBC documentary was very misleading and was based on only two Westerners who had their own monetary agendas, and that Western journalists were bashing Baba collectively.[82]

The secretary of the Puttaparthi ashram, K. Chakravarthi, refused to comment on the accusations. Anil Kumar, Sai Baba's principal translator, believes that the controversy is part of Baba's divine plan and said that every great religious teacher has had to face criticism in his/her lifetime. Kumar said that allegations have been leveled at Sai Baba since childhood, but with every criticism he becomes more and more triumphant.[15]

Thorbjørn Meyer, in a letter to the DR, called the allegations undocumented and untrue. In the Seduced documentary, Peter Pruzan stated that he believed Sai Baba is not a pedophile nor does he perform conjuring tricks. Pruzan claimed that he personally experienced Sai Baba's "wholly extraordinary powers" both in Baba's presence as well as in Denmark.[83]

Political row

In January 2007, the Baba found himself embroiled in a political row after his remarks opposing the proposed partition of Andhra Pradesh as a "great sin", claiming that there was no demand from the people to bifurcate the state into Telangana and Andhra states.[84] The comments caused an outcry among pro-Telangana activists who angrily voiced their protests in street marches and attacks on the Sivam building, the Baba's temple in Hyderabad, which was staffed by only a few followers. Shouting anti-Sai Baba slogans, the protestors pulled down a large picture of the holy man and trampled on it before taking it outside and setting it on fire. An effigy of the Baba was also reported to have been burnt, and twenty protestors were arrested following several police complaints.

A number of political figures criticised the Baba including K. Chandrasekhar Rao, leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and former Union Minister, who suggested that the Baba should restrict himself to religious functions and not involve himself in politics. His organization responded by calling a 'bandh' in which shops and business establishments were shut down to protest against the remarks of the Telangana leaders, and effigies of the critics were set alight.[85] K. Kesava Rao, President of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, maintained that the Baba's comments had been "misinterpreted" and that the remark was not political. Digvijay Singh, Congress secretary-general, disagreed with suggestions that Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy could have instigated the Baba to make his statement, and confirmed that his party approved plans for the creation of a separate Telangana state. "With due respect to Sai Baba we can say that the work for setting up the second state reorganisation commission will go on," he said.[86]

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