Hyderabad: From ordinary believers to the President of India, his clout spread far and wide but controversy also followed Puttaparthi Satya Sai Baba all along.
India had, and has, several godmen but none could match his name and fame.
In fact, Satya Sai Baba’s influence had no barriers as his millions of followers spanned the globe.
Top-ranking politicians including prime ministers, Union ministers, governors, chief ministers, filmstars, sportspersons, industrialists and virtually the ‘who’s who´ of the country rank among the high-profile devotees of the Baba.
Born into an ordinary family as Satyanarayana Raju in the sleepy Puttaparthi village in the dry Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, on 23 November, 1926, he was to later become Satya Sai Baba, the reincarnation of the saintly Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Now, Puttaparthi - which metamorphosed into a self-contained city - finds itself on the international map, thanks to the large number of the Baba’s foreign devotees who visit Prasanthi Nilayam day in and day out. It boasts of an exclusive airport where chartered flights, carrying Baba’s devotees from different parts of the globe, land.
As a child, Satyanarayana Raju was described as “unusually intelligent” and charitable. His talents were in drama, music, dance and writing, and he was an avid composer of poems and plays. He was also known as a singer, having released several CDs of bhajans.
It was on 20 October, 1940 at the age of 14 that Satyanarayana Raju declared himself as the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Satya Sai Baba invariably referred to Shirdi Sai Baba as “my previous body” whenever he spoke about him.
Satya Sai Baba became famous for his magic tricks by producing objects from thin air. But he was reviled by critics and rationalists who campaigned against him with magic shows.
Frequently, reports alleging scandals in his ashram appeared. Questions were also raised over sexual preferences but they were dismissed by him and his followers as vilification by his detractors or those who had fallen out with him.
On 6 June, 1993, an attempt was allegedly made on his life by his close aides. Six inmates of Prasanthi Nilayam were killed right inside the Baba’s bedroom. All of them were part of the “inner circle” of Baba. His personal assistant Radha Krishna Menon was among those killed in the incident.
Facts of the case still remain a mystery.
In 1944, a small temple was built for Satya Sai Baba’s devotees at Puttaparthi and in 1950 a sprawling ashram popularly called the ‘Prasanthi Nilayam’ was built, making it his permanent abode.
His divine preaching apart, Satya Sai Baba pioneered many social service activities beginning with a tiny general hospital at Puttaparthi which has now transformed into the Satya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, a 220-bedded super-speciality hospital.
Another super-speciality 333-bedded SSIHMS was established at Whitefield on the outskirts of Bangalore, where the Baba’s summer abode Brindavan also stands.
The Satya Sai Central Trust manages all the service activities and also runs the Satya Sai University (formerly Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning) at Puttaparthi. Besides, the trust also runs many schools and dispensaries in different states while it has also completed large water supply projects in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Volunteers from the Satya Sai Seva Organisation are always found in the forefront carrying out relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamities not only in AP but also in other states.
Satya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (spiritual centres) in India - Dharmakshetra in Mumbai, Shivam in Hyderabad and Sundaram in Chennai.
Besides, there are Satya Sai centres located in over 114 countries in the world.
In 1957, Satya Sai Baba went on a temple tour of north India and made his only overseas trip to Uganda in June 1968.
In 1963, Satya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks but survived.
Since 2005, Baba used a wheelchair and his failing health forced him to make fewer public appearances. In 2006 he suffered a fractured hip when a student standing on an iron stool slipped and both the boy and the stool fell on Baba. He gave darshan from a car or his porte chair.