Times 2

Sai Baba and his mighty followers

By Sugeeswara Senadhira

India is a fascinating country where so many men and women claim divine status and are accepted as holy people worthy of worship. Their devotees include many Sri Lankans, including politicians, academics and scientists.

During my long years of stay in India I have read with interest about these divine men - from Bhagwan Rajneesh (changed later to Osho), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Hata Yogi and Sai Baba. I have also spoken to some ardent followers of these holy men to understand the reasons behind their unflinching faith. In my opinion, most people in the subcontinent, however successful in life they are, suffer from a sense of insecurity and look for godmen for succour. However, I must admit that I could not win arguments with my friends who are devotees of these holy men. Some of the incidents they narrate about the divine powers of these holy men are so convincing that they cannot be dismissed with counterarguments like 'not-scientific'.

Many of the godmen do not publish their teachings or philosophies. What matters for the devotees are the 'darshan' and the blessings. One Guru who spelt out his vision was Bhagwan Rajnish (Osho). He conveyed his ideas in light, humorous, highly readable prose and had a large following in India and abroad.

A Sai Baba devotee praying for his speedy recovery. Pic courtesy the Hindu

By far, the most successful of the godmen is Shri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, who fell ill earlier this month is said to be critical. Not only his devotees, but also media personnel wait eagerly for the daily health bulletin. Sai Baba did not lose his vast following despite several allegations.

Years ago when I was staying at Asia House in New Delhi, near India Gate, Sai Baba visited Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan which was across the road. However, I did not go there for a 'Darshan' as I subscribed the rationalist thinking of Abraham Kovoor. Few months later I joined the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi and I was surprised to see a photo of Sai Baba on the desk of High Commissioner Bernard Tilakaratna, highly respected diplomat who later became the foreign secretary. Months later, I asked him why Sai Baba's photograph was on his desk.

He said he was a devotee and explained some of the benevolent acts and miracles of Sai Baba. He said that once Sa Baba asked him not to overly worry about his son's future as the son is destined to achieve his set goals in higher education. Mr Tilakaratna was worried at that time as his son preferred the electric guitar to study books. However, the boy passed his examinations with much ease and entered India's best medical college to finally pass out as a doctor.

Years later, I returned to journalism and in September 1992 I interviewed former President J R Jayewardene, who turned 88. After the interview we spent few minutes discussing India, Sri Lanka and political issues of yesteryear over a cup of tea. President Jayewardene was wearing an open necked shirt and I saw a black band with a pendant around his neck. I mustered enough courage to ask what he was wearing. He removed it and showed me a pendant containing a portrait of Sai Baba and said, "Sai Baba gave it to me".

By then I was courageous enough to pursue the issue and asked whether Mr Jayewaerdene, a practising Buddhist who professed his desire to attain Nibbana, believed in Sai Baba. "I don't believe in Sai Baba as a Baghavan or a God, but I wear this out of respect," J R, who was never at a loss for answers, quipped.

Perhaps, noticing the unconvinced look on my face he added, "I believe he has a sixth sense or ESP. I'll tell you something I have personally experienced. When I went to Puttaparthy to meet Sai Baba, Elina (wife) and Harry (brother H W Jayewardene) also were with me. As we bid good bye to Sai Baba, Harry turned and said, 'We will see your Holiness tomorrow morning,' as we planned to come to the Ashram for the morning Dharshan. Sai Baba gave his benign smile and said, "No, you won't". I did not take much notice of what he said at that time. I realized the real meaning of his words only when Harry had a massive heart attack and died that night," JR said and added that since then he had worn the Sai Baba pendant around his neck. (Author's article on this episode appeared in now defunct Weekend Express of 23.11.1997).

Famous Indian writer Kushwant Singh once referred in his column to an American friend who was a disciple of Sai Baba. The American was later disillusioned by what happened in Sai Baba's campus and published his memoirs titled Lord of the Air: Tales of a Modern Antichrist. "He mentioned the prevalence of homosexuality and extreme violence there. I reviewed the book in one of my columns and earned the disapproval of his followers," Singh said. "One of his Sikh disciples, a retired colonel who lived in Puttaparthi for some years, often wrote to persuade me to join him in the worship of my long-dead parents in a jungle in Kerala. Apparently, my parents had pleaded with him to get me to worship Sai Baba. I wondered why my parents did not come to Delhi and talk to me directly."

Some years ago, a sadhu who lived on a tree, not far from Delhi, was in the news. People went to be blessed by him. He would lower his right leg and touch their foreheads with his right toe. Amongst those who sought his blessings were Buta Singh, Balram Jakhar and Rajiv Gandhi. His blessings did not do anything good to any of them, Kushwant Singh said. When I was a junior diplomat, one of the books Bernard Tilakaratna asked me to read was the autobiography of Chester Bowles, the American Ambassador to India in 1950s. Chester Bowles says in his book that he was given a ring when he met Sai Baba at Puttaparthi. But he found that the ring was too big for his finger. Noticing that Sai Baba took the ring back, touched it with his lips and given it back and Bowles, to his astonishment found that the ring was a perfect fit this time.

While talking about Sai Baba's super natural powers, Ambassador Bowles also wondered why Sai Baba could not give him a correct size ring in the first place. So the awe and mystery continues.

As Sai Baba remains critical, succession war hots up

PUTTAPARTHI (Rediff News) - As Puttaparthi continues to be on tensed over the deteriorating health of Sathya Sai Baba, the names of his caregiver, Satya jit and his nephew R J Ratnakar are emerging as possible persons who may have a bigger say in the Satya Sai Baba Central Trust, reports Vicky Nanjappa.

Even as Satya Sai Baba continues to be very critical, the succession war at Puttaparthi to control the Rs 40,000 crore (Rs. 400 billion) Satya Sai Baba Central Trust has already begun. The names doing the rounds to head the trust are that of Sai Baba's personal caregiver 33-year-old Satyajit, who has been serving in the ashram since the age of five, and his nephew Ratnakar.

Although the members of the trust wanted greater control in the affairs of the ashram and the trust, it is unlikely that there may be any opposition to Satyajit. This is largely due to the fact that a year ago Sai Baba had indicated that his caregiver should assume a bigger role.

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