Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi was a spiritual leader with a huge following worldwide. He was a self-declared avatar of Shirdi Sai Baba. He is also recognised as a great humanitarian. The projects and organisations that he initiated have benefitted many people.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba was born as Sathya Narayana Raju in the village of Puttaparthi in a Bhatraju family. His parents were Meesaraganda Easwaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram. He was born in a community of religious musicians and balladeers. Puttaparthi was then a part of the Madras Presidency. He had an elder brother, two sisters as well as a younger brother. He was very talented at materialising food and sweets out of thin air. Though he did not show interest in academics he was very intelligent.
Declaration Of Identity
A scorpion stung Sathya when he was 14 years old and living with his elder brother in Uravakonda. He was unconscious for hours. After the incident, he had a great change in his behaviour. Sathya would laugh, weep, speak eloquently and then be silent. He also started singing verses in Sanskrit which was a language that he did not know. When doctors examined him they diagnosed it as a case of hysteria. His parents then took him to many doctors, priests and exorcists. An exorcist even tortured him to cure him but he remained calm. On 23rd May 1940, Sathya materialised sugar candy and flowers for his family members. This infuriated his father who then asked him who he was, Sathya replied that he was Sai Baba. This is the very first instance of his proclaiming his identity.
Temple At Puttaparthi
In 1944 a temple for the devotees of Sai Baba was built in Puttaparthi. This temple is now called the Old Temple. Prasanthi Nilayam’s construction started in 1948 and completed in 1950. His fame grew. On 25 October of 1947, he gave his first public speech at Karur in Tamil Nadu. He gave many speeches as well as discourses throughout the rest of his life.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be an incarnation of the divine by his followers. He declared himself to be an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. His message was rooted in Hinduism but very secular in nature. In 1958 Baba launched the Sanathana Sarathi a monthly magazine. Sri Sathya Sai Baba expressed his messages in written articles called Vahinis. These are written in simple Telugu. In 1983 Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications also started to publish his teachings. In 2001 Radio Sai Global Harmony started broadcasting Baba’s message to the world via internet and satellite radio. Prashanthi Nilayam has hosted many international conferences on unity, peace and love while conveying the message of universal welfare and peace.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s mission was to show mankind the straight path and to remove the suffering of the poor. He believed that service to man is service to God. He said that his life was his message.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba preached a fivefold path: He said that in order to lead a meaningful life one must follow; Sathya (Truth), Dharma (Righteousness), Shanthi (Peace), Prema (Love) as well as Ahimsa (Non-Violence). His greatest message is ‘Love All Serve All – Help Ever Hurt Never’.
Though rooted in Hinduism his message was secular. He said, “I have come not to disturb or destroy any faith, but to confirm each in his own faith so that the Christian becomes a better Christian; the Muslim, a better Muslim; and the Hindu, a better Hindu.” He respected the teaching of all religions and taught that one must respect all of them.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba is known for his charitable works as well as world-class charitable institutions. All Sathya Sai organisations work on the principle of selfless service. Sri Sathya Sai Baba opened a college for women in Anantapur in 1968. Baba built a college for men in 1969. Sri Sathya Sai Baba started the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust in 1972. The main focus of the trust was to help the poor, provide medical relief, education and help the general public. The Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization is now present in countries worldwide. Sri Sathya Sai Baba provided education, medical relief and also humanitarian relief to those affected by natural disasters. Community service and selfless help to the needy are the focus of the activities.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba opened educational institutions. Baba established the first school in 1968. The number of schools in India grew. In the early 1990s, Sathya Sai Schools opened overseas. Teachers are trained at the Institutes of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE). A total of 37 Sathya Sai schools and 31 institutes now exist worldwide.
Sai Baba opened a free general hospital in Puttaparthi in 1954. In 2001 he opened another super speciality hospital to benefit the poor by offering free treatment. Sri Sathya Sai Baba started world-class super speciality hospitals that offer the best treatment to the poor and needy free of cost. The institutions are Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences – Prasanthigram, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences – Whitefield, Sri Sathya Sai Mobile Hospital, Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital – Prasanthi Nilayam and also the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital – Whitefield. The organisation also has mobile hospital facilities and conducts regular medical camps reaching out to the poor and needy.
The Rayalaseema district in Andhra Pradesh is a drought-prone area. Sri Sathya Sai Baba started a project to provide drinking water to the region in 1995. The other water projects are the Medak and Mahabubnagar Project, Chennai Project, East Godavari and West Godavari Projects
Temples And Ashrams
Sai Baba established the Sathyam Mandir or Dharmakshetra (the Sai headquarters) in Mumbai in 1968 and the Shivam Mandir and Ashram in Hyderabad in 1973. The Sundaram Mandir in Chennai was inaugurated in 1981 and the Ananda Nilayam Mandir in Madurai was inaugurated in 1999. In 1964 Sri Satya Sai Baba established the Brindavan Ashram in Whitefield, Bangalore. In 1991 an airport Sri Sathya Sai Airport opened at Prashanti Nilayam in 1991. During 1995 Baba opened the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam to give darshan to up to 20,000 devotees at a time.
In 1963 Sri Sathya Sai Baba had a stroke and 4 heart attacks that left him paralysed on one side of his body. Baba then healed himself in front of the huge crowd in front of Prashanthi Nilayam. After his recovery, he declared that he after he died, he would be reborn as Prema Sai Baba in Mandya, Karnataka. He declared that he was Shiva-Shakti and was born in the lineage of Bharadwaja. Baba declared that Sai Baba of Shirdi was Shiva and that Shakti alone would reincarnate as the next incarnation in the same lineage. He stated that he would be reborn 8 years after his death at the age of 96.
In 1993 four armed intruders entered Sathya Sai Baba’s bedroom. There was a scuffle. Two of the intruders and two of Baba’s attendants lost their lives. The motive of the incident was unclear and the entire incident raised many questions.
The life of Sri Sathya Sai Baba is not without controversies. His devotees believed his materialisation of sweets, flowers and sometimes ornaments to be divine powers. His detractors accused him of merely performing tricks of sleight of hand. In 1976 a committee came together in order to scientifically investigate his miracles. This committee then wrote 3 letters inviting Baba to participate in the investigation. Baba ignored the letters. Sathya Sai Baba explained his non-participation by declaring that it was improper to attempt to use science to study spiritual phenomena as science must only be applied to what belongs to the human senses. The committee finally disbanded. But the letters and the entire incident gained much publicity in the media.
A documentary film was released and showed clips that alluded to materialisations being faked. Many sceptics attempted to discredit his miracles and manifestations of objects but his devotees remained steadfast. Another documentary made allegations of abuse against Sathya Sai Baba. But both Sathya Sai Baba and his followers rejected the allegations. Many also declared that the more the number of allegations the more the number of believers who would flock to Baba.
Injury And Mahasamadhi
In 2003 a student standing on a stool fell on him and he fractured his hip. After the injury, he gave Darshan from a car or portable chair. From 2004 he started using a wheelchair and did not appear in public often.
On 28th March 2011 Baba was admitted to the Super Speciality Hospital at Puttaparthi. After nearly a month Sri Sathya Sai Baba passed away on 24th April 2011 aged 84. He was buried with full state honours after 2 days. Many political leaders, as well as prominent figures, attended the funeral.