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May 08, 2011

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Home > 2011 Issues > May 08, 2011

Sathya Sai Baba
A spiritual Guru, social emancipator

By N Nagaraja Rao

"If there is righteousness in the heart,
There will be beauty in character.
If there is beauty in character,
There will be harmony in the home.
When there is harmony in the home,
There will be order in the nation.
When there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world."....
The formula given by Bhagawan Baba for attaining world peace is.

Sathya Sai Baba, revered by millions across the globe as an incarnation of God breathed his last on Sunday the April 24, 2011, after battling for life for 28 days at the Super Speciality Hospital at Puttaparthi. He was 84.

Bhagwan Sathya Sai era that started from November 23, 1926, thus saw the 140-year-old village called Puttaparthi emerge into a global village and a spiritual destination for many foreign tourists. The abode of Sathya Sai also called Prashanti Nilayam resembles an international township with about a hundred tall buildings with street signs seen not only in English, but in French, German and Spanish. For over five decades, thousands of devotees made Puttaparthi their spiritual abode to spend the evening of their lives, even as Sai Baba's popularity transcended national boundaries. Hundreds of overseas devotees of the Sai Baba began purchasing flats and independent villas in several townships across Puttaparthi with multinational construction giants chipping in for construction of new townships. Puttaparthi has a world class planetarium and a stadium too that can accommodate about a lakh of people apart from world classs auditoriums, and an airport with a state of art runway that can accommodate Boeing 747s. Bhagwan Sathya Sai leaves behind a sea of mourning devotees, a Rs 40,000 crore spiritual empire.

Who is Sri Sathya Sai Baba?

Sri Sathya Sai Baba was born as Sathyanarayana Raju on November 23, 1926 in the village of Puttaparthi, in the state of Andhra Pradesh in South India. Even as a child, His spiritual inclination and contemplative nature set Him apart from other children of His age, and He was known as ‘Guru’ and “Brahmajnani’ (knower of Brahman or Godhead) among His peers and others in the village. However, it was not until October 20, 1940, the day He made the historic declaration of His Avatarhood, (Avatar—Divinity Incarnate) that the world at large learnt of this divine phenomenon. Today, millions of devotees from all over the world, professing various faiths, and hailing from various walks of life worship Him as an ‘Avatar’, and an incarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Thousands gather every day at Prasanthi Nilayam, His ashram established beside the village of Puttaparthi, for His Darshan, when He moves among devotees blessing them and providing spiritual succour and solace. Among his devotees are heads of state, judges, chief ministers — including one who is an avowed atheist — vice-chancellors of universities, cricketers and other celebrities.

Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is an integral manifestation who combines two very significant roles. Firstly, He is a great spiritual Master, famed for His simple and sweet exposition of the greatest and most intricate of spiritual truths which form the fundamental teachings of all the religions of the world.

Secondly, He is an inexhaustible reservoir of pure love. His numerous service projects, be it free hospitals, free schools and colleges, free drinking water supply or free housing projects, all stand testimony to His selfless love and compassion for the needy and less privileged. True to His declaration - “My Life is My Message”, He has inspired and continues to inspire millions of His devotees worldwide by His personal example to live the ideal that service to man is service to God. The Sri Sathya Sai Organisation today has a presence in over 167 countries in the world and members undertake group service activities that benefit their immediate community. Baba's social work from a remote place in AP is unmatched by any other institutions in the world. Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSSIHMS) hospital performs around 250 to 300 open heart surgeries a year free of Cost.

“I am God. And you too are God. The only difference between you and Me is that while I am aware of it, you are completely unaware.” This is the answer Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba gives to people who query Him about His identity and divinity. This fundamental truth of man’s divine nature is at the heart of His message and mission. Indeed, in His discourses to devotees, He addressed them as “Embodiments of the Divine Atma”. All who experience His pure and selfless love, and benefit from His illuminating counsel, and witness His miraculous nature get a glimpse of the glory and majesty of God, and therefore of what one potentially and inherently is Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Avatar of the Age, has succinctly explained the meaning and the reason for the descent of the Avatar. He says that formless God takes a form and descends upon the earth as an expression of His boundless love and affection towards humanity. The Avatar is an enigmatic, yet delightful blend of individual consciousness and the Divine Consciousness. The Avatar behaves in a human way so that mankind can feel kinship with Him, but rises to His super-human heights so that mankind can aspire to reach those heights. He expounded.

In Bhagavad-Gita, Sri Krishna, the Avatar of the Dwapara, declares thus:

"Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya Glanirbhavathi Bharatha
Abhyukthanam adharmasya Thadathmanam Srujamyaham.”
“Parithranaya Sadhunam Vinashaya cha Dhushkrutham
Dharma samsthapanarthaya Sambhavami Yuge Yuge"

(Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of evil, the Lord incarnates from time to time to uphold Righteousness, to protect the Virtuous and to uproot the evil.)

The Avatar appears whenever the world is passing through a spiritual and moral crisis. The Avatar comes in order to uphold Dharma (Righteousness) and raise the universal consciousness.

Why does he incarnate?
One may ask - why should the Lord Himself incarnate? Why should He not set about the task of restoring Dharma through the many minor gods and angels that He has at His command? The Mughal Emperor Akbar once posed the same question before the courtiers, for he scoffed at the Hindu idea of the formless adopting a form and descending into the world as an Avatar to save Dharma. Birbal (the celebrated courtier in Akbar’s court, known for his wit and wisdom) asked for a week's time to answer the question. A few days later, when he was in the pleasure boat of the emperor, sailing across the lake with his family, Birbal threw overboard a doll made to look like the emperor's little son, crying at the same time, "O, the prince has fallen into the water!" Hearing this, immediately the emperor jumped into the lake to rescue his son. Birbal then disclosed that it was only a doll and that the prince was safe. He allayed the anger of Akbar by explaining that he had to perforce enact this drama in order to demonstrate the truth of the Hindu belief that God takes human form to save Dharma without commissioning some other entity to carry out that task. Akbar could have ordered one among the many personnel he had on board to jump in and rescue his son. But his affection was so great and the urgency so acute that the emperor himself plunged into the lake to save his son from drowning. The decline in Dharma is so acute a tragedy and the intensity of affection that the Lord has for good men is so great that He Himself comes to the rescue.

Bhagawan Baba explains Dharma thus:
“Every profession, every stage of life, each gender, each period of life as fixed by age - childhood, boyhood, adolescence, youth, middle age, old age - has duties and obligations, which set the norm and guide the individual to benefit himself and society.”

“Dharma is characterised by holiness, peace, truth, and fortitude. Dharma is yoga (union or merger with God); it is Sathya (truth), its attributes are justice, sense control, love, dignity, goodness, meditation, sympathy and non-violence. It leads one to universal love and unity.” “Practicing what you preach, doing as you say it has to be done, and keeping practice in line with precept. Earn virtuously; yearn piously; live in the reverence of God, live for attaining God; that is Dharma.”

Baba while emphasising on education said thus "If we can light one bright lamp in one house, the entire street will be lighted. In a similar manner, if each student has a bright light in his heart, there will then be no doubt whatsoever that the whole community will be led from darkness to light".

Who will succeed Baba?
Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust was founded by Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, as a public charitable trust in 1972. The Trust is responsible for the running of the ashrams. However, the Trust has been serving society in the fields of health and education since inception. and has taken up numerous projects for supplying safe drinking water to rural areas. One of the unique charitable activities undertaken by the Trust is the provision of drinking water to lakhs of people in the drought-prone rural areas of Anantapur, Medak, and Mahaboobnagar Districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Sri Sathya Sai Water Supply Project for Anantapur district was undertaken during the years 1995-97. The Anantapur district is one of the most chronically drought affected areas in the country, where the available ground water has high fluoride content. It is in fact in the context of such high fluoride content that the project was designed to make use of surface water from the Tungabhadra Canal. This project is unique in many ways. It is the first of its kind in the country in its scope. Secondly, it is the first project totally funded by a Charitable Trust. Thirdly, it was completed in a record time. Among the projects executed by his Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, the drinking water supply projects for Ananthapur district and Chennai city stand out. The latter effort, a Rs 200 crore project to strengthen the Kandaleru-Poondi canal through which waters of the Krishna reached the metropolis, earned the admiration of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, a non-believer who went so far as to describe Sai Baba as “one equivalent to God.”

Even before the demise of Baba, a wrangle had reportedly broken out among the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. how to manage the Rs 40,000 crore spiritual empire. It was then decided that Baba's nephew RJ Ratnakar and spiritual leader's student and caretaker Sathyajit would together manage the ashram and other important affairs. Sathyajit, an MBA who joined the ashram when he was a kid, has been taking care of the godman for over a decade-and-a-half now; Ratnakar is the son of Baba's younger brother Janakiramaiah, a former trustee who expired about six years ago. The biggest worry is the growing fears of the misuse of assets of the trust by the members themselves and the possibility of members of Sai Baba's family. Meanwhile, the local media is full or stories—mostly unsubstantiated—on how valuables including gold and silver, cash and other goods were recently transported from Puttaparthi to Baba's Whitefield ashram in Bangalore. 32 suit cases containing gold biscuits were reportedly detected by police and let off being transported to whitefield in Bangalore by an unnamed trust member. But these speculations were put at rest by State Industries Minister Mrs Geeta Reddy an ardent devotee herself who supervised alll the arrangements and stayed put at Puttaparti close to two weeks. She discounted all the media speculations with the remarks that "Baba has put everything in place and he knew when he will leave the body and any suspicion of any differences in the trust are quite imaginary".

“The trust is directly under the Union Home Ministry. A special law was passed in 1980s for the trust. Through this, the trust has been exempted from income tax. The accounts do not go for audit. Only foreign contributions are submitted to the ministry. According to the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, a trust has to submit its accounts and reports to the State Government once every three years. The Sathya Sai Trust was registered in Andhra Pradesh in 1972. However, Baba, the trust’s chairman, sought exemption from filing the accounts. Following this, the trust was moved into the jurisdiction of the Union Home Ministry and a special law was made to insulate it from all statutory requirements. With a veil on the accounts, the accounts were completely left to the Trust members.“No one ever suspected the activities nor had any doubts over the deployment of the funds since Baba was heading the Trust. Now, there is a need to make the affairs more transparent”, a source said.

The central trust has Justice PN Bhagwati, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme court, SV Giri a former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Indulal Shah, V Srinivasan and Ratnakar. There are three people in the row: the powerful Trust secretary Chakravarthy, Sathyajit and Ratnakar. Ratnakar reportedly wanted cheque power which is presently with trust member secretary A Chakravarthi, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who quit his job on Baba's advise to join his network.

Since all the contributions to the trust come in the form of cheques and it does not accept cash, there is no scope for misappropriation of even a single rupee," said former judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court J Eswara Prasad. According to Prasad, Bhagvati recently met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to brief him about the activities of the trust and to clear the air in view of the "rumours". Meanwhile the opposition Telugu Desam has demanded the government ensure protection of the assests and safety of funds collected from possible manipulation from a section of trust members and few powerful politicians from New Delhi.

VIP's flock to pay last respects
The entire town of Puttaparti turned up to bid farewell to their beloved son and the queue stretched to couple of miles. At the Sai Kulwant Hall, the mortal remains of the Sai Baba were wrapped in a saffron cloth and kept in a Glass casket. Saveral dignitaries including the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Chief Ministers of Andhra pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and BJP national president Mr Nitin Gadkari visited Puttaparthi and paid their last respects to Sathya Sai Baba. Eminent persons of different walks of life from politics, business, films and sports arrived at Puttaparthi to have a last darshan of the Baba. Among those who paid homage include Baba Ramdev, VHP Internatianal General Secretary Shri Ashok Singhal, Swami Niyananda from sports included Cricketers Sachin Tendulkar,Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Lakshman and many foreign dignitaries from Sri Lanka too joined to pay floral tributes to the spiritual leader. Indian Railways ran special trains from Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Vishakapatnam to Puttaparthi to enable devotees to have the last glimpse and state road trasport too ran special buses to Puttaparthi.

Baba laid to rest
The mortal remains of the 85-year-old spiritual guru, Sri Sai Baba were interred in the Sai Kulwanth hall on Wednesday April 27, at the same spot from where he used to deliver his message to his devotees for decades.The last rites were performed by his nephew RJ Ratnakar amidst Vedic chants by a group of leaders led by Kandakuri Kondavadhani from East Godavari district. A guard of honour was given by policemen who came in slow march, draped the national tri-colour on the transparent casket and removed it after a while as the buglers sounded the Last Post and half a platoon of policemen fired three shots in the air. A general salute was also offered by the men in uniform. Among the VIPs present for the ceremony were Governors ESL Narasimhan (Andhra Pradesh) and Shivraj Patil (Rajasthan), Chief Ministers N Kiran Kumar Reddy (AP) and BS Yeddyurappa (Karnataka), former Chief Ministers N. Chandrababu Naidu (AP) and Ashok Chavan (Maharashtra) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Shri LK Advani.

Mahasamadhi of Sathya Sai Baba
Once the religious rites were completed, the actual process of laying the mortal remains to rest in a 3 feet by 6 feet and 4 and a half feet deep pit began.The pit had a foundation and a layer of the finest marble. Water from sacred rivers and soil from every State in the country were sprinkled on the memorial.After the coffin was lowered and the ‘samadhi’ made ready, the VIPs walked upto it and sprinkling sacred ash, prayed and paid their respects. The ceremony that started at 8.45 a.m. came to a close with the ‘arathi’ after which the entry into the Sai Kulwanth Hall was barred for a while. Devotees were allowed to have darshan and pay their respects only after noon. Hundreds of thousands bid a tearful farewell to Sathya Sai Baba. The construction of a memorial and fixing of a golden statue of Baba would be planned in a few days time. Sai Baba's high profile devotees brought water from all rivers in India so that ‘samprokshana’ of his body would be conducted before the burial. Since Baba attached great importance to Chitravati and Saraswati rivers, water and soil from both the rivers was brought as desired.

The burial was in keeping with the practice for Hindu spiritual gurus.While nearly half the ceremony was open to those present in the hall, including a litany of politicians and bureaucrats, the burial was performed by only a handful of close relatives and disciples in the presence of priests who rendered Vedic hymns. Outside, despite the searing weather, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children watched the last rites on giant screens. Many broke down, knowing they would never again see in flesh and blood a man they viewed as god. Disciples of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also attended the last rites.

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