Tips for Research on Sathya Sai Baba. 2. Vishal Mangalwadi

Brian Steel February 2010

Copyright © Brian Steel 2007 & 2010

The following contribution from an Indian academic deserves a wider audience than it appears to have received. It would be stimulating if other Indian academics were to focus their expert attention on the Hindu aspects of the Sathya Sai Baba phenomenon. (More consistent use of "Sathya Sai Baba" for "Sai Baba" would be a courtesy to Shirdi Sai Baba and an embellishment to the author's arguments.)

Mangalwadi, Vishal, The World of Gurus, 2nd ed., New Delhi, Nivedit, 1987. [1977, Vikas] ) [Also listed in Arweck and Clarke, p. 186, Item 1027. Later editions (according to Alexandra Nagel): The World of Gurus. A Critical Look at the Philosophies of India’s Influential Gurus and Mystics, Chicago, 1992 and New Delhi, 1997.]

On pages 175-197 of the 2nd Edition, the author (who is an Indian scholar with a Christian apologetic viewpoint) focusses on the paramount importance of miracles in attracting SSB’s devotees and comes to the conclusion that SSB can be neither the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba nor a Full Avatar (as claimed) because we “merely have his claim and his claim is against the weight of the entire Hindu tradition [where, for example, it is Vishnu who goes through reincarnation, not Shiva] and Christian scriptures.” (p. 191)

Also: “... to believe that Sai Baba is an avatar, greater than Rama and Krishna, one has to go directly against classical Hinduism.” The author also quotes sexual allegations by Tal Brooke (noting that Brooke was not sued for defamation) and he adds a Post Script on the discovery of a fake ‘miracle vibuthi’ child by Professor Narasimhaiah's 1976 Committee which sought unsuccessfully to investigate SSB’s miracles.

Some of the detail of Mangalwadi’s evidence for this interesting but not well known contribution to the Sathya Sai Baba debate is as follows:

“There are many “miracle-doers”in India today, as there have always been. [There] ... are well-known gurus who claim to perform miracles of materialization, healing, etc. ... Then there are any number of magicians in India who can “produce” vibuthi, sweets, rings, statues, watches, etc. from “nowhere”. If miracles prove avatarhood then all these would be avatars. In fact, some of them ... do claim to be God. But Baba says he alone is the avatar in this age.”

“The Avatar is one only, and only this body is taken by the Avatar.” [Footnote 18: Hislop, Conversations, 1976: 9]

“He claims to be the only avatar today and also the only true guru. [Op. cit, 12] If miracles do not prove divinity, as Baba himself acknowledges, then what proofs are there of his avatarhood? None at all! We merely have his claim and his claim is against the weight of the entire Hindu tradition and Christian scriptures.

"Hinduism has traditionally believed (Bhagavata being an exception) that Vishnu (never Shiva) takes ten avatars ......Therefore Sai Baba’s claim to be an incarnation of Shiva- Shakti has no support in Hindu scriptures or traditions. The idea that any god (including Vishnu) will take three consecutive incarnations within a century, or two, has no parallel in Hindu history or mythology. Therefore to believe that Sai Baba is an avatar, greater than Rama and Krishna, one has to go directly against classical Hinduism.”

Mangalwadi continues on pp.192-3 to argue against SSB’s claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba: “If Sathya Sai Baba cannot be an avatar, could he possibly be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi? This too is logically impossible. For liberation according to Sathya Sai Baba means merging of our soul into Brahman, just as a river merges into the ocean. If the Sai Baba of Shirdi had attained liberation, how could he be reincarnated? Can a river come back after merging into the ocean?” [The same might be asked in connection with those disciples of SSB whom he has first accepted as merging with him at their death and later announced that they will return (or have returned) to attend to Prema Sai Baba, his next reincarnation, announced for 2022 or thereabouts.] Mangalwadi concludes: “If Sathya Sai Baba’s claims to be an avatar and a reincarnation of Shirdi Baba cannot be true then they must be false.” (p. 193)

Mindful of the siddhis mentioned by so many people, which he dismisses as insufficient reason for claiming avatarhood, Mangalwadi makes a serious suggestion that perhaps Sathya Narayana’s parents were right in the first place in assuming that the prolonged “scorpion” trauma of the boy’s youth (together with subsequent incidents, like the trances of the early years of his Mission) was a case of possession, which should be taken seriously:

“If he is not an avatar then who is he? Could it be that the initial diagnosis of his parents was right? Could it be that the spirit that had possessed Sai Baba of Shirdi, came into him on March 8, 1940 [1943], and that, as he says, it wasn’t a scorpion that bit him, but that it was an experience of possession by a spirit?”

This has also been suggested by a few other commentators and is at least worthy of study, within Hindu traditions, however implausible it may seem to Western minds. If correct, the hypothesis might provide a partial explanation to the real (and vexed) question of SSB’s vaunted paranormal powers (in those cases where sleight-of-hand is not a plausible explanation).

Further short excerpts from my three Bibliographies which may be of interest to researchers and other observers will follow. (February 2010)

See also:
Annotated Bibliography on SSB. Part 2

Annotated Bibliography on SSB. Part 3