Sathya Sai Baba (born Sathya Narayana Raju; 23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011) was an Indian guru, and philanthropist. He claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Sai Baba’s materialisations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces, and watches, along with reports of miraculous healings, resurrections, clairvoyance, bilocation, and alleged omnipotence and omniscience, were a source of both fame and controversy. His devotees considered them signs of his divinity, while sceptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks. He further faced accusations over the years of sexual abuse and fraud, which he rejected as smear campaigns.
The Sathya Sai Organisation, founded by Sathya Sai Baba “to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement”, has over 1,200 Sathya Sai Centres (branches) in 126 countries.Through this organisation, Sathya Sai Baba established a network of free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, auditoriums, ashrams and schools.
Almost everything known about Sathya Sai Baba’s early life stems from the hagiography that grew around him, narratives that hold special meaning to his devotees and are considered by them to be evidence of his divine nature. According to these sources, Sathya Narayana Raju was born to Meesaraganda Easwaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in the village of Puttaparthi, in what was the Madras Presidency of British India. His birth, which his mother Easwaramma asserted was by miraculous conception, was also said to be heralded by miracles.
Sai Baba’s siblings included elder brother Ratnakaram Sesham Raju (1921–1984), sisters Venkamma (1923–1993) and Parvathamma (1928–1998), and younger brother Janakiramiah (1930–2003).
As a child, he was described as “unusually intelligent” and charitable, though not necessarily academically inclined, as his interests were of a more spiritual nature. He was uncommonly talented in devotional music, dance and drama. From a young age, he was alleged to have been 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 and in the next few days underwent a noticeable change in behaviour. There were “symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence.” It is claimed that then “he began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge.”Doctors concluded his behaviour to be hysteria. Concerned, his parents brought Sathya back home to Puttaparthi and took him to many priests, doctors and exorcists. One of the exorcists at Kadiri, a town near Puttaparthi, went to the extent of torturing him with the aim of curing him; Sathya seemingly kept calm throughout, which further worried his parents.
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. On 20 October 1940, the young Sathya responded calmly and firmly “I am Sai Baba”, a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi.This was the first time he proclaimed himself to be the 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.
In 1944, a mandir 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 1954, Sathya Sai Baba established a small free general hospital in the village of Puttaparthi. He won fame for mystical powers and the ability to heal. In 1957 Sathya Sai Baba went on a North Indian temple tour.
In 1963, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks, which left him paralysed on one side. These events culminated in an event where he apparently healed himself in front of the thousands of people gathered in Prashanthi Nilayam who were then praying for his recovery.
On recovering, Sai Baba announced that he would one day next be reborn as an incarnation named Prema Sai Baba in the neighbouring 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, but died at the age of 84.
On 29 June 1968, Sathya Sai Baba made his only overseas trip, to Kenya and Uganda. In Nairobi, he spoke of his personal mission:
“I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. 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 the Sathyam Mandir in Mumbai. In 1973, he established the 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. Regardless, Sai Baba was unharmed. During the scuffle and the police response, the intruders and two of Sai Baba’s attendants were killed. The official investigation left questions unanswered.
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 April 1999 he inaugurated the Ananda Nilayam Mandir in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
In 2001 he established another free super-speciality hospital in Bangalore to benefit the poor.
In 2003, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a fractured hip when a student standing on an iron stool slipped and the boy and stool both fell on him. After that he gave darshana from a car or his porte chair.
After 2004, Sathya Sai Baba used a wheelchair and began to make fewer public appearances.
On 28 March 2011, 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 Sunday, 24 April at 7:40 IST, aged 84.
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, as counted by Telugu-speaking Hindus, 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.
On 29 March 2011, Sathya Sai Baba was listed on the Watkins 100 Spiritual Power list.
His body lay in state for two days and was buried with full state honours on 27 April 2011. An estimated 500,000 people attended the burial, among them the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi,Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Union Ministers S. M. Krishna and Ambika Soni, as well as other political leaders and prominent figures.
Sathya Sai Baba’s death triggered an outpouring of grief from followers who included Indian politicians, movie stars, athletes and industrialists. Most remembered him as a pious, selfless person who worked to help others with the billions of dollars donated to his charitable trust.
Political leaders who offered their condolences included the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Dalai Lama. Famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, whose birthday was that 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.
On 17 June 2011, officials from the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (founded as a charitable Trust in India, and legally separate from religious activities), opened his private residence in the presence of government, bank and tax department officials, including retired Supreme Court Judge A P Mishra and retired judge of Karnataka High Court Vaidyanatha, an assessor approved by the Income Tax Department, and former Chief Justice of India P N Bhagavati. In the private residence, which had been sealed since his death, they inventoried 98 kg of gold ornaments, approximate value Rs 210 million (US$4.7m), 307 kg of silver ornaments, approximate value Rs 16 million (US$0.36m), and Rs 116 million (US$2.6m) in cash. The cash was deposited into the Sai Trust’s account at the State Bank of India with payment of government taxes (thus transferring them from religious gifts to Trust assets.) The gold and other items were inventoried, assessed, and placed in secure storage. In July, district authorities inventoried an additional Rs 7.7 million (US$0.17m) in valuables in another 4 rooms. The total value of these items is believed to exceed 7.8 million US dollars.
Also inventoried at Yajurmandir were many articles stored and routinely given away as gifts in various ceremonies to devotees and those who performed selfless service, including thousands of pure silk sarees, dhotis, shirts, 500 pairs of shoes, dozens of bottles of perfume and hairspray, watches, a large number of silver and gold “mangala sutrams”, and precious stones such as diamonds. There were also 750 saffron and white robes of the type Sai Baba wore.
In July 2011, a similar opening of his Bangalore-area ashram tallied 6 kg of gold coins and jewellery, 245 kg of silver articles and Rs 8 million in cash.
These items and goods are believed to have been donated over the years by Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees from all over the world as religious gifts.
On 2 September 2012, Satyajit Salian, a close aide of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, released to the media a declaration made by Sai Baba, and registered on 23 March 1967, in Bombay saying his relatives had no authority over the Sathya Sai Trust assets. The exact text of the declaration was:
I, Sri Sathya Sai of Parshanthi Nilayam P.O. Indian Inhabitant hereby declare as follows:-
1) I was born in the village of Puthaparthi District Anantpur and am at present 44 years old. I joined the school and gave up studies and dedicated myself spread Sanatan Dharma. I am unmarried and I left my parents house at the age of Twelve and have taken up religious order with saffron dress and I have no worldly/or family attachments. I declare that when I left parents’ place permanently and adopted Holy order with no intention to revert back. I relinquished all my right title and interest in the family property moveable and/or immovable whatsoever and wherever they may be and that I do not own and possess any personal property, wealth or estate. Whatever is given to me by my devotees is under my management, supervision and control as a Trustee to be used for public charitable purposes. This declaration I am making so that nobody can claim under or through me in the family properties, if any.
Satyajit Sailan also attached the attestation of Indulal Sha, who is the sole surviving witness to the original document. Satyajit Sailan said he has been in possession of the document since 1998, per the directions of Sai Baba. Officials from the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust stated to the media that they would respect this will.