Introduction to 3 Annotated Bibliographies about Sathya Sai Baba

Brian Steel   December   2007

Copyright © 2007   Brian Steel

Note: This Introduction is taken from Part 1 of the Bibliography for reference by those using Parts 2 and Part 3.

General Introduction to the 3 Bibliographies

1. On the terms “Sai Baba” and “the Sai Baba Movement”

If you Google the name “Sai Baba”, of the 1,240,000 references instantly computed, the vast majority refer to (Sathya) Sai Baba. If, however, you type the URLs ‘ www.saibaba.org’ or ‘ www.saibaba.com’ into your Internet browser, you will be referred to two sites belonging to devotees of Sai Baba of Shirdi (or Shirdi Sai Baba / Shirdi Sai). This original bearer of the name Sai Baba was a Muslim /Hindu holy man who died in 1918 and has a widespread Indian and international (but mainly ethnic Indian) Organisation. In India his followers are most numerous in the northern half, down to the latitude of Mumbai. His dual Muslim-Hindu characteristics are reflected in his name: ‘Sai’, from a Persian word for ‘saint’ and ‘Baba’, a common respectful Indian term for ‘father’.

The first item on the Google search list for Sai Baba is www.sathyasai.org. It is followed by Shirdi Sai Baba’s www.saibaba.org. Not far below comes another major Sathya Sai website, www.srisathyasai.org.in. This ‘Sathya Sai’ is in fact Sathya Sai Baba, said to have been born in 1926 as Sathya Narayana Raju in or near the remote southern Indian village of Puttaparthi in the state of Andhra Pradesh. According to his official biography, in 1940, following a traumatic seizure or illness, Sathya Narayana declared himself to be the reincarnation of [Shirdi] Sai Baba and rapidly became famous locally for his healing, exorcisms, and other miracles. Charismatic Sathya went on to claim full avatarhood and divine powers and, eventually, to become the most famous living Indian guru in the world. In the past quarter of a century the fame of Sathya, vigorously promoted by his transnational charitable Organisation and his millions of devotees, is far better known internationally (though not throughout the whole of India) than the original bearer of the Sai Baba title. This explains why he is identified by most “Westerners” and the Google machines (whose logarithms operate on the basis of quantity of references or links) as “Sai Baba”. His Organisation and devotees also refer to him simply as ‘Sai’ (which he has always told them means ‘Divine Mother’, oblivious to the consequences of his etymological inaccuracy). (Nevertheless, it would be a courtesy to Shirdi Sai Baba devotees to refer, as often as possible, to the ‘junior’ ‘Sai Baba’ as Sathya Sai Baba, or Sathya Sai.

While the theologically dual nature of Shirdi Sai (Baba) as Muslim fakir and Hindu miracle-making saint has attracted both hagiographical and academic interest, the indisputably charismatic Sathya Sai (Baba) has attracted a massive amount of hagiographical writing and some critical attention but, until very recently, scant scholarly interest (a gap partly explained by his strident claims of Divinity and his enigmatic and flamboyant reputation). A further factor in the story of the two Sai Babas is that, after sixty years of self-promotion and unparalleled adoration and worship as God on Earth by millions of followers, the relatively faint background murmurs of doubt and denial of Sathya’s Divine claims have been growing in volume and substance, particularly since major new Internet postings in 2000. With the current series of media and Internet allegations, revelations and often emotional controversy, the time is surely ripe for a more independent analysis and description of Sathya Sai Baba’s extraordinary Mission. As for the term ‘Sai Baba Movement’, it is ambiguous, or misleading, depending on the context in which it is used since the two Sai Baba Organisations, regardless of the innuendo of the Sathya Sai Organisation (and the trusting belief of SSB devotees), have always been completely separate, one based in the state of Marathi-speaking Maharashtra, the other further south in the Telugu homeland of Andhra Pradesh.

2. The Bibliography

This 3-part annotated Bibliography on Sathya Sai Baba (SSB in some subsequent acronymic references) covers different viewpoints, genres and fields. It is offered principally as a general research tool on SSB and the Sathya Sai Organisation (or SSO), in particular for the rapidly increasing numbers of students and academics who are making New Religious Movements (NRMs) their field of study (in departments as diverse as those of philosophy, comparative religion and theology, parapsychology, anthropology, ethnography, sociology, politics and, most recently, terrorism). It is also offered for those who may find Part 2 and Part 3 interesting or useful for their critical or apologetic insights.

The 140-page Bibliography, divided into three complementary parts, attempts to identify most of the huge amount of material currently available for research on Sathya Sai Baba. The three Parts, when considered in their totality, not only show how SSB has been diversely characterised in acres of print but also indicate how much work is still to be done to discover the full story about Sathya Sai Baba, his associates, his devotees and his critics.

Part 1 offers major sources of public information, including items of a scholarly or academic nature or provenance, with an Appendix on entries in works of reference, surveys and textbooks and an Index of authors’ names. (The current document)

The main aspects studied by academic writers over the past 35 years or more have been: belief in Sathya Sai Baba and forms of worship; Sathya Sai Baba’s charismatic effect on devotees (devotees’ beliefs and attitudes to SSB); the relationship of SSB and the Sathya Sai Baba Movement to traditional Hinduism; the functioning of the Sathya Sai Organisation, its dynamic international growth and transnational characteristics; the functioning and growth of the SSO in specific countries outside India, especially in relation to both globalisation and specific local circumstances.

Note: The work of academics and scholars whose main or total contribution to information on Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation is of a proselytising or hagiographical nature (e.g. N. Kasturi, V.Gokak, A. Kumar and S. Sandweiss), is listed in Part 3, rather than in Part 1).

Part 2 presents work critical of the official portrayal of SSB and his Mission by non-devotees (including, in particular, ex-devotees).

These items deal principally with alleged or perceived discrepancies and anomalies in the official Sathya Sai Baba image and Mission as propagated by SSB, his Organisation, spokespersons, writers and devotees.

Part 3 offers a Selected Bibliography of works and information about Sathya Sai Baba by SSB himself, the SSO and his devotees.

This is a selection of the prodigious accumulation of hagiographical and promotional writing on Sathya Sai Baba: The SSB story as projected over the 60 years of his extraordinary Mission by SSB himself, his Organisation, associates, spokespersons (official and unofficial), writers and devotees in several hundred (often self-published) books and booklets. In recent years, this vast literature has been complemented by numerous official and unofficial websites promoting and extolling Sathya Sai Baba. This Part also considers the very special role of spokespersons, and other forms of communication apart from books, in promoting SSB in India and abroad.

This final Part of the bibliography is also the appropriate place for a presentation of recent important developments in the presentation of SSB to the world, a consideration of new sources of information, particularly on the Internet, and a short essay on a limited number of recent public responses by Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Organisation office-holders and devotees to the increasing volume of criticism and allegations against the charismatic guru. Of potential interest is the fact that, to date, the main official attitude to criticism has been one of automatic denial and blanket dismissal (often with gratuitous denigration and innuendo about the unnamed critics).

Notes:

1. For greater clarity in a very mixed bag of offerings on this world-famous guru, items by scholars, academics and ex-academics which may be classed either as essentially hagiographical or as outrightly critical of the official Sathya Sai Baba story are presented in Parts 3 and 2, respectively. This applies particularly to (retired) Indian academics (dutifully fulfilling their Hindu vanaprastha obligations of old age in a very congenial and stimulating ashram) who are, or were, associates of Sathya Sai Baba.
2. For those wishing to cross-check with official Sathya Sai Organisation websites – for example to access any of (the edited translations of) Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourses referred to – before reading Part 3, the following three official sites offer constantly updated official information on SSB, as well as links to an ever-expanding labyrinth of unofficial websites (the contemporary electronic supplement to printed hagiographical books and articles) set up by Sathya Sai Baba devotees and overseas Sathya Sai Organisation Centres:

The International Sathya Sai Organisation: www.sathyasai.org;
The Sathya Sai Baba Charitable Trust: www.srisathyasai.org.in;
The Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust: www.sssbpt.org.
(A reminder: for information on Shirdi Sai Baba’s worldwide Organisation, see: www.saibaba.org)

3. Declaration of personal interest

Readers will already have observed that this bibliography contains a degree of personal agenda. Since 2001 I have made several detailed personal statements on this topic on my Sathya Sai Baba web page (http://bdsteel.tripod.com/More.) A brief résumé is therefore also offered here.
            For many years I not only considered myself a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and an unquestioning believer in his Divinity but, as an eager chronicler and hagiographer, I researched a few hundred books and articles which enthusiastically described his Divinity and Divine powers, his teachings and the development of his Mission. The result was two eulogistic books. These books (written in 1995 and 1998) are listed in Part 3 of this study. The research for both books entailed reading most of the voluminous Sathya Sai Baba literature in English, mainly written by devotees (many self-published) and not available in mainstream bookshops. In late 1998, for a proposed third book on Sathya Sai Baba, I decided to switch my focus away from the massive devotee literature to the 27 volumes of Sathya Sai Baba’s own Discourses (translated, edited and published by his Organisation in many languages and widely read and keenly studied by devotees). There are currently 36 such volumes in a series titled Sathya Sai Speaks.

My original intention was simply to show the development of the 50 year Mission from the Divine guru’s point of view. Unexpectedly, however, an intensive study and annotation of this mass of approximately two million words revealed unexpected anomalies and discrepancies and left so many unanswered questions (to add to other previously shelved queries left over from my other research) that, with the resulting database, it simply became impossible for me to continue with the projected book (on the development of the Mission as seen from Sathya Sai Baba’s own words). I finally abandoned the original book project in 1999 but continued to follow up many leads and to look for necessary answers in a state of growing doubt about the Divine claims by Sathya Sai Baba, his Sathya Sai Organisation and devotee writers (including myself).

The sensational publication of The Findings by David and Faye Bailey (in early 2000) and a critical re-examination of the available material and my own files of discrepancies eventually brought about a reversal of my opinion of Sathya Sai Baba’s claims of Divinity. I not only became an ex-devotee but, as an experienced researcher, I began to delve into my growing folders of unanswered questions and discrepancies as the basis of a critical re-examination of the vast Sathya Sai Baba literature – much of which I had previously accepted without question. Moreover, as a result of the Baileys’ Findings and number of subsequent defections by alarmed devotees, there was a sudden wave of critical attention, revelations and allegations about Sathya Sai Baba. Coincidentally, new information began to appear from devotee sources as well. (See 'The Year 2000: Major New Evidence about Sathya Sai Baba from Four Sources'.) The clues in my files of discrepancies were followed up and, reinforced by other recently available information and cross-checking of some of the devotee books on Sathya Sai Baba, they have grown into a substantial body of evidence which, in my opinion, modifies some facets of the hagiographically crafted image of Sathya Sai Baba inspired by his charismatic self-presentation.
            My first critical writings were launched on the Internet in November 2001 and for four years my many other postings on Sathya Sai Baba continued to probe discrepancies between the observable facts and some of the major claims of Sathya Sai Baba, his Organisation and his unquestioning devotee chroniclers.

In spite of this radically changed personal stance (due to critical analysis of evidence not considered or not available previously), I hope and believe that my judgements and opinions expressed on my web page and in this annotated bibliography are basically fair.


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