July 14, 2024

Puttaparthi: Though his influence was far-reaching, from ordinary devotees to the President of India, Puttaparthi Sathya Sai Baba was always surrounded by controversy.

There have been and still are several godmen in India but none can match his name and fame.

In fact, Sathya Sai Baba’s influence knows no barriers and he has millions of followers all over the world.

Leading politicians including Prime Ministers, Union Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, film stars, sportsmen, industrialists and other eminent personalities of the country count among Baba’s prominent devotees.

Born Satyanarayana Raju on November 23, 1926 in the sleepy village of Puttaparthi in the arid Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, into an ordinary family, he later became Sathya Sai Baba, a reincarnation of the sage Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Now transformed into an independent city, Puttaparthi has gained international fame thanks to the large number of foreign devotees of Baba who visit Prasanthi Nilayam daily. It boasts of its own airport where charter flights carrying Baba’s devotees from all over the world land.

As a child, Satyanarayana Raju was described as “exceptionally intelligent” and compassionate. He had a talent for drama, music, dance and writing, and was an avid composer of poetry and plays. He was also a noted singer, and has released several CDs of bhajans.

On October 20, 1940, at the age of 14, Satyanarayana Raju declared himself to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Whenever Sathya Sai Baba spoke about Shirdi Sai Baba, He would refer to Him as “my previous life”.

Sathya Sai Baba became famous for his magic tricks of creating objects out of thin air, but he was criticized by critics and rationalists who campaigned against him in his magic shows.

There were frequent reports of scandals in his monastery, including questions about his sexual orientation, but he and his followers dismissed them as slander perpetrated by his detractors and those at odds with him.

On 6 June 1993, there was an alleged attempt on his life by his close associates. Six inmates of Prasanthi Nilayam were murdered in Baba’s bedroom. They were all “close associates” of Baba. His personal secretary Radha Krishna Menon was also among those killed in the incident.

The truth of the incident remains a mystery.

In 1944 a small temple for Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees was built at Puttaparthi and in 1950 a vast monastery popularly known as ‘Prashanthi Nilayam’ was built which became his permanent residence.

Apart from his divine preaching, Sathya Sai Baba has pioneered many social service initiatives, beginning with a small general hospital in Puttaparthi which has now been transformed into the Sathya Sai Institute of Advanced Medical Sciences, a 220-bed super-speciality hospital.

Another super speciality facility, the 333-bed SSIHMS, was set up in Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore at Baba’s summer residence, Brindavan.

The Sathya Sai Central Trust manages all service activities and also runs the Sathya Sai University (formerly the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning), Puttaparthi.

Additionally, the Trust runs a number of schools and clinics in various states and has also completed large scale water supply projects in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Volunteers from Sathya Sai Seva Organisations are always at the forefront in providing relief and rehabilitation work whenever natural disasters strike, not only in AP but also in other states.

Sathya Sai Baba established three major mandirs (spiritual centres) in India: Dharmakshetra in Mumbai, Shivam in Hyderabad and Sundaram in Chennai.

In addition, there are Sathya Sai Centres in over 114 countries around the world.

In 1957 Sathya Sai Baba undertook a tour of the temples of North India and in June 1968 made his only overseas trip to Uganda.

In 1963, Sathya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks, but survived.

Since 2005, Baba has used a wheelchair and made fewer public appearances due to his deteriorating health. In 2006, a student standing on an iron chair slipped and the boy and chair fell on Baba, causing a fractured hip. Baba gives darshan from a car or a porte-cochle.

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