Sat(h)ya Sai Baba

(b. 1926)

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(b. 1926)

An immensely popular miracle-working guru; estimates of his worldwide following (for which there are no reliable figures) vary from six million to fifty million. Born Sathyanarayana Raju at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh, at the age of 13 he briefly entered something similar to a coma. On his recovery, he claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, and the avatāra of the current age. From that point he began to gather a large following of devotees, who have consistently championed his ability to perform a variety of miracles, both locally and remotely (he claims to be God—omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent), including healing the incurably sick. A characteristic activity has been the ‘mental’ production of sacred, miracle-working ash (vibhūti), either from his person during the daily darśanas he gives to his followers, or from his pictures. Other objects, such as gold watches and necklaces have also been regularly materialized. In his teaching, Sai Baba advocates the unity of religions, but from a decidely Vedāntic perspective. He encourages guru- bhakti (through the singing of bhajans), a pure life, and the practice of community service and charity (seva). He has not, however, escaped allegations of sexual misconduct, as well as scepticism about his miracles, and materializations, which to some observers seem merely part of the Indian magician's standard repertoire. An extensive organization has grown up around Sai Baba, focused on the Prasthanthi Nilayam āśram, and its surrounding complex at Puttaparthi, where he is for the most part resident. Educational institutions, charitable trusts, and social projects (according to some figures, as many as 10 000) have been set up around the world in his name, and his influence shows no signs of diminishing. He has predicted that he will live to the age of 95 and be reincarnated as Prema Sai Baba (ambiguously described as an incarnation of either Śiva or Śakti).

Subjects: Hinduism.

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