The death of Satya Sai Baba, April 24th 2011, has created a big turmoil, not only amongst his followers but also amongst those who had more mundane things to look after, like law and order, visit of VVIP’s to Puthaparthi etc. Bhajans (devotional songs) to mourn his death are being held all over in the country and abroad. A large number of those belonging to the list of ‘Who is who’ of the political, business world, and all those who matter in the country are already there to death of the God. In addition ‘who will inherit his vast empire’, created singlehandedly out of no where, the way he used to ‘create’ Vibhuti, gold chains etc. from the thin air is another issue haunting those concerned.
Undoubtedly Bhagwan (God) Sai must have been the God man with a very large following and probably largest wealth amongst the leading Godmen. The latter can’t be confirmed, as large part of the wealth controlled by those presented as divine beings, is not known for various reasons. Not only that one does not know if anybody can dare to think that Lok Pal type auditing of the wealth of these renunciators of Worldly goods should also be thought of. Such Godmen do demonstrate that you get more when you know how to ‘renounce’ the World, and of course part of the earnings are put as a part of social service, which is made prominently visible part of activities of these men of God.
Bhagwan’s life is mired with multiple controversies and there are many a dilemmas in understanding him. He was expert in the tricks of Vbhutii production from air and also production of gold chains as well. Earlier he was also ‘producing’ HMT watches, but that was stopped soon enough as the watches carry the date of manufacture on them. Many a rationalists confronted him by and replicated his tricks and even took out yatras to demonstrate that there is nothing divine about such tricks. They are but clever maneuvers of hand and even magician of repute P.C. Sarkar also challenged the divine nature of these acts. Interestingly he was challenged to produce things like pumpkin, which he refused to do for obvious reasons.
Notwithstanding that his followers were undeterred and the number of his followers cutting across different spheres of life kept swelling. He had proclaimed that he is reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi. As an aside, the transformation of Shirdi Sai to present level of opulent divinity is a phenomenon in itself as Shirdi Sai had lived a Spartan life under the tree with no material wealth to his credit and currently his idol sits on a Golden throne.
This self proclaimed reincarnation of Shirdi Sai not only must be sitting over one of the wealthiest empires but also went on to proclaim to be a God himself and also prophesied that he will leave this physical body at the age of 96 years. Unfortunately the physical body could not be saved beyond the age of 85 years. Bhagwan who has saved so many lives through divine powers was to be put on ventilators for survival for quite some time and he could not be made to live his prophesy.
The remarkable thing about Bhagwan Sai is that he survived many controversies associated with his life. He was charged with Pedophilia, sexual abuse by various sources but such mundane things could not shake the firm faith of ever expanding tribe of followers at home and abroad. Tom Brooke’s book (Avatar of the Night: Hidden Side of Sai Baba) described his own experience. Similarly sexual abuse of young male devotees on the pretext of yogic technique of ‘Kundalini raising’ also came to light. There was also a case of murder in his living quarters to which Bhagwan himself was a witness, but it was not investigated beyond a point as worldly laws probably don’t reach in the realm of spiritual world. The ties of Bhagwan with the one’s at the topmost echelons every tine ensured that the matters are not pursued, be it the expose’ of his tricks or the cases of murder in his living quarters, all were ignored and soon forgotten from public memory.
To be fair to him, Bhagwan Sai is not the first one to proclaim himself as God. There have been the likes of Rajneesh, who for example began his Godly career from Acharya Rajneesh, promoted to Bhagwan Rajneesh and then attained the status of Osho.
After the death of Bhagwan all those who matter in the echelons of power are making a beeline to visit his mortal remains. One does not know whether these visits by the state functionaries are official or personal, one does not know whether such distinctions are any longer valid in our country, where the Constitution does permit us to practice and preach our faith at personal level but not at political level. State visits to such events in official capacity should be a strict no. Our Constitution does direct us to promote rational thought; but that again remains ignored as all the rationalists like Abraham Kovoor or Premanand were totally by passed by the mainstream power centers and the issues raised by them remained unanswered and unattended to. There are a couple of films questioning Bhagwan’s claims and also accusing him of sexual abuse, ‘Guru Busters’ and ‘Secret Swami’ are couple of such films.
Someone interestingly remarked that there are two types of politicians who visit the Bhagwan. First are those who are corrupt and want to hide their sin, and second are those who are sincere and work with the first lot. That apart, the impact of such Baba’s, has been a major accompaniment of the politics in the name of religion. This is an era, where the waves of faith are trying to drown the boat of reason, with due support from the incompetent boatman, in the form of state power. The tempest of faith is becoming so overwhelmingly powerful that even raising the questions against these God man is becoming difficult, else how does one explain that a person calls himself God, does tricks which magicians can replicate with ease and is able to collect huge wealth, part of which is showcased as the charity work. One also knows that to expose the prevalent blind faith is swimming against the tide.
One also concedes that these are also the times when the existential anxiety of a section of population forces them to resort to some support system. In the decades of 1970s it was LSD, now it is the ever proliferating posse of God men. Sai’s prediction about his future reincarnations will be a matter of great interest and curiosity, how the God will resurface and how his followers will recognize and worship his new reincarnation will unfold over a period of time. Meanwhile one hopes that some semblance of reason is brought forth while dealing with the innumerable Godmen, flourishing all around like mushrooms.
Ram Puniyani was a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai and works keenly on social issues. He is the author of three books including Communal Politics: An illustrated primer.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.