Thursday, May 5, 2011

RIP Sai Baba

Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba, revered by millions worldwide, died Sunday after nearly a month of hospital treatment near his southern Indian ashram. He was 84.

The news brought an outpouring of grief from his followers, including high Indian officials, who remembered him as a pious person who worked selflessly to help others with the billions of dollars donated to his charitable trust...

Sai Baba had a huge following, with missions in more than 130 countries, including Canada. His devotees include high-placed politicians, movie stars, world-class athletes and industrialists.

He was said to perform miracles, conjuring jewellery, Rolex watches and “vibhuti” — a sacred ash that his followers applied to their foreheads — from his halo of wild, frizzy hair.

But rationalist critics led campaigns against him, calling him a charlatan and his miracles fake. Several news reports alleged that he sexually abused devotees — accusations he denied as vilification campaigns...

Born Nov. 23, 1926, as Sathyanarayana Raju, he was said to display a tendency toward spirituality and unusual intelligence, which he expressed through music, dance and writing poetry and plays.

In 1940, at the age of 14, he declared himself an “avatar,” or reincarnation, of another Hindu holy man called the Sai Baba of Shirdi, a town in western Maharashtra state, who died in 1918.

As the young guru attracted followers, his home of Puttaparti grew from a sleepy village into a vibrant town with the sprawling “Prasanthi Nilayam” ashram built in 1950, as well as a large hospital, a university and schools run by his Sathya Sai Central Trust, set up in 1972 with donations from devotees.

The trust — estimated to be worth at least $8.9 billion and possibly much more — also established spiritual centres in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. It built another hospital in Bangalore, where Sai Baba had a summer home, and funded water supply projects in several southern states.

Though no successor has been named to run the trust, “there is or will be no vacuum,” a statement released after the guru was hospitalized said.

Health woes over recent years had forced Sai Baba to cut down on public appearances. He survived a stroke and a series of heart attacks in 1963. In 2005, he began using a wheelchair, and a year later he fractured his hip when a student fell from a stool onto him.

Sai Baba was also mired in controversies, with several news reports about allegations of sexual abuse and fake miracles.

A 2004, a BBC television program called the Secret Swami featured interviews with at least two American male devotees who claimed the guru had fondled their genitals and exposed himself to them while claiming it was part of a healing ritual.

Though he denied the allegations and was never charged with any crime, the reports led some to break with the guru.

His trust also said Sai Baba had survived an attempt against his life, with six devotees including the guru's personal assistant killed in his bedroom in June, 1993, after allegedly trying to attack him. Facts of the case still remain a mystery.

Sai Baba was never married and had no children.

Revered Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba dies
The Associated Press
Sunday, Apr. 24, 2011

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