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Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba was one of the most famous indian saints of the 20th century with a a big international following. His ahsram in Puttaparthi was one of the major attractions for spiritual seekers in India; however after his death in 2011 his fame started decreasing rapidly. Sathya Sai Baba claimed to be a reincarnation of another famous saint Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died just a few years before his birth. He was famous for performing different miracles, that became the main reason of his popularity.
Sathya Sai Baba was born in a poor family in south indian village of Puttaparthi. Much of his biography was narrated by his followers and is full of exaggerations and flattering typical for portraying the lives of indian saints. He was not fond of studies, and was rather inclined to devotional music and dance. Since his childhood he was allegedly capable of materialising objects like food and sweets. At the age of 14 he had a spiritual experience – he was apparently stung by a scorpion and lost his consciousness, and after this incident his behaviour changed dramatically. His family thought he was bewitched and took him to doctors, priests and exorcists, but it didn’t help. Finally, he proclaimed that he is a reincarnation of Sai Baba. In a few years his followers created a first temple for him, and by 1950 they biult an ashram. He started getting fame for mystical powers and ability to heal, and in 1957 he went on a temple tour in north India. In 1963 Sathya Sai Baba reportedly suffered a stroke and a few heart attacks, which left him paralysed on one side. He later healed himself in front of a big crowd of his devotees. A few years later he made his only trip overseas to Kenia and Uganda. He established a few of his temples in major indian cities. In the 60-s he founded Sathya Sai Organisation, which aimed to spread his teachings and manage his extensive charitable work. Through this organisation Sathya Sai Baba founded big a number of schools, colleges, hospitals and other charitable institutions in India and abroad, the total cost of which estimates from 9 to 30 billion USD. As a part of his charitable work he founded a few drinking water supply projects, which supplied water to a few million people. Among his followers there were many indian celebrities, politicians and sportstars, and he was known for receiving big donations. A few years before his death he suffered a fractured hip and since then could only move in a wheelchair. Though Sai Baba predicted he will live till 96, he died at the age of 84. Soon after his death came a scandal when his private residence was opened. The officials found about 100 kg of gold, 300 kg of silver and 2,5 million USD cash, the total value of the items was more than 7,8 million USD.
The most interesting thing about the movement of Sathya Sai Baba is that his teachings are not so important. The whole movement is centered around the miracles, that are attributed to him. These miracles include bilocation, levitation, healing, controlling the weather and producing objects on demand. He was especially known for materialising objects for his followers during the daily meetings in his ashram. Sai Baba said that he performs all these miracles to attract people and then transform them spiritually. What he actually taught was a simple set of traditional hindu values – love, selfless service, devotion to god and meditation. But that was secondary. The real thing for a Sai Baba follower was to come to Puttaparthi, see Sai Baba live and, if he is fortunate, to receive a ring or a necklace from him. According to Sai Baba these objects were to protect the devotees and remind them of “the mighty power of Sai”. His followers considered him a perfect incarnation of god and even a creator of the universe, that makes everything happen according to his will. The whole movement is about “Sai Baba sees all, Sai Baba knows all, Sai Baba is capable of everything”. That’s why after his death the movement decreased drastically – the godman is not there anymore, no more miracles and superpowers. The only form of regular spiritual practice for Sai Baba devotees was daily bhajan (devotional songs). Sai Baba predicted that he will be reborn again 8 years after his death, and now more and more followers shift to another village close to Puttaparthi, which has a small candidate for the role of a new Sai. He was not born 8 years after his death, but it is fine – people need to worship somebody.
During his lifetime Sathya Sai Baba already faced a lot of controversy and criticism. The most valid were numerous complaints of sexual harassement of his young male followers. A few boys stated they were sexually exploited for years, and were afraid of speaking against the rich and powerful guru. The total number of known victims exceeds one hundred, and that is only westerners, so what to say about indians, who are less likely to speak up. No formal investigation was ever executed, since Sai Baba had too much power and connections, and the stories were carefully put down by the Sai Baba organisation. However, the complaints are simply too many to disregard. No need to say, that Sai Baba was preaching purity, strict morality and (!) celibacy after 50. His miracles were often doubted and considered a sleight of hand. But it seems his mystical powers were strong enough to reach into boys pants.

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