An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba
in Three Parts
Brian Steel December 2007
Copyright © 2007 Brian Steel
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).
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.
Sathya Sai Baba Bibliography. Part 1
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
The bulk of academic work on Sathya Sai Baba over the past 25 years has been characterised by uncritical acceptance of the fervently devotee-promoted legend surrounding the guru’s charisma, alleged miracles and sensational reputation. The work of a few pioneering exceptions and recent contributions to the Internet have been largely ignored.
Like devotees, most academics have revealed a critical blind spot for 50 years of Sathya Sai Baba’s own recorded statements (translated from Telugu and heavily edited by his associates), his charismatic exploitation of the art of storytelling on several levels and the enigmatic power of his public and personal statements in his trademark basic English. For example, before accepting with such alacrity and intellectual excitement the hagiographical assertion of the validity of the sensational 1963 “Shiva-Shakti” claims about a promised triple incarnation of Shiva and his Consort to Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged ancestor Bharadwaj, or accepting without demur SSB’s 1972 Christmas Discourse statement that Jesus Christ on the Cross predicted SSB’s Advent as Messiah, or the much-publicised SSB assertion that a Crucifix gift for his influential American spokesperson, John Hislop, was reassembled in the latter's presence from fragments of the True Cross, independent investigators would have been (and doubtless will be in the future) wiser to have taken note, from the abundantly available (but largely ignored) Discourse evidence, that Sathya Sai Baba is a spontaneous, compulsive and captivating storyteller. One of his early stories was his capricious definition of the etymology of “Sai” (as in the name of the Muslim/Hindu Sai Baba of Shirdi, whose incarnation he declared himself to be) as meaning “Divine Mother” instead of the linguistically endorsed “saint” (with Muslim and Persian connotations).
There have been three separate waves of (mainly ‘Western’) academic interest in Sathya Sai Baba and his Mission (or Movement), each increasing in size. After Professor White’s 1972 article, there are waves of interest in the 1980s, the 1990s and, increasing exponentially year by year, from 2000 onward.
So far, the lengthy investigations by Babb (1986), Klass (1991), Kent (2004) and Palmer (2005) offer the best academic descriptions of Sathya Sai Baba and his devotees, their beliefs, daily activities and interaction. For a detailed critical (and much under-utilised) analysis of SSB’s alleged paranormal abilities, see Beyerstein (1992 and 1996).
For the past thirty five years most academic research on Sathya Sai Baba has been guided more by caution and deference than open curiosity. Dazzled (or embarrassed) by the bold divine claims and the charisma (reported or witnessed) and puzzled or ill at ease with the alleged miracles and reported parapsychological phenomena, many researchers have based their findings on the reactions, reports and gossip of Sathya Sai Baba’s unquestioning devotees, ever keen to proselytise. (A further weakness in SSB research may stem from the academic system of scholarly apprenticeship. In at least three cases (unnamed here but obvious from the evidence offered in Part 1 of the Bibliography), initial PhD research on a peripheral aspect of Sathya Sai Baba’s career or teachings has offered ostensibly new and intriguing material for consideration. The resulting well-argued thesis or book has been accepted, repeated or followed up by other academics while the ‘apprentices’ themselves have moved on to build their successful careers on other more stimulating and academically fruitful topics.)
It is my opinion that although academic research has produced many useful essays and information about this unique guru-devotee relationship and the equally unique 60-year old Sathya Sai Baba Mission, so far, with few exceptions, the results have tended to be rather one-sided, mainly because of a self-imposed handicap which this complementary series of bibliographies, when used by future researchers, may help to reduce: over-reliance on hagiographical sources from the Organisation, spokespersons and devotees, as well as a relatively superficial attention to the enigmatic persona and charisma of Sathya Sai Baba himself and, crucially, an almost total neglect of his own (translated and edited) Discourses and other reported statements.
The simple, obvious fact is that, since 1955, Sathya Sai Baba has frequently given spontaneous Telugu Discourses, which have been officially printed in translated and edited versions. The volumes of Sathya Sai Speaks now number 36, amount to at least two and a half million words, and are on sale in the ashrams and in Sathya Sai Baba Centres around the world. These volumes of Discourses reveal much more than SSB’s teachings; for example, they reveal (even in their translated edited form) his style and preaching techniques. Among the latter, possibly the most significant is his constant habit of extemporising stories (and variations on them) on many topics, including Puranic stories about Hindu scripture, stories about his own youth, his family, his early years as avatar, Shirdi Sai Baba, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as well a variety of personal claims. Usually, academic references to this huge body of ‘writings’ are restricted to a very small number of sensational quotations relating to his Divinity, commonly propagated by the SSO and in the Sathya Sai Baba literature. Careful analysis of the 50 years of Discourses (as I myself belatedly discovered nine years ago) reveals surprises and multiple discrepancies which demand further investigation.
Also demanding academic attention is an increasing amount of other important information about Sathya Sai Baba ripe for harvesting from two or three dozen of the major hagiographies and from other non-hagiographical books, articles and, more recently, a multiplicity of Internet postings. (All these provide the subject matter for Parts 2 and 3 of this Bibliography.) Depending on the research topic chosen, parts of this information, or reports on it, need to be considered, sifted and / or cited to balance and improve research on Sathya Sai Baba. For example, in connection with Sathya Sai Baba’s sketchy biography for the years 1926-1950, there is much detailed new evidence (including vital photographic records) to supplement the much-quoted contents of (ex-academic) Kasturi’s first simplistic volume of hagiography (1961). These new leads are to be found in the 600-page Love is My Form, Volume 1, published by a research team of devotees in 2000. (Unfortunately, but significantly, very advanced plans and research for five or six further volumes were abandoned following the publication (in Puttaparthi) of this first volume.) To my knowledge, this new material has not yet attracted the interest of academic writers, even though it has been discussed on the Internet.
Time after time, academic writers have failed to notice or mention the obvious fact that from the beginning of his Mission, Sathya Sai Baba created an atmosphere of great expectancy by flamboyantly accompanying his alleged healings and miracles with crystal-clear, charismatic and unique claims to be:
– the reincarnation of the revered Maharashtran saint Shirdi Sai Baba;
– (a few years later) not simply an Avatar (as many Indian gurus do) but the Avatar of the Age (God Incarnate) and (in 1968) the Christian God the Father, with full powers of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, on a world mission which cannot fail – with a third incarnation in reserve to assure world peace and happiness: Prema Sai Baba (promised as an Incarnation after Sathya Sai Baba’s predicted passing around the year 2022. (According to some devotee commentators, Sathya Sai Baba is also the predicted eschatological Hindu Kalki Avatar.)
Therefore, to state or imply, as Sathya Sai Organisation spokespersons and many academics do, that “his devotees believe him to be an Avatar” (or God) is a disingenuous or misleading half-truth. The suppressed half of that truth is that this widespread belief was inspired and fostered by the combination of Sathya Sai Baba’s charismatic effect on people, his undefined psychic powers, plus the strong repeated claims of divinity and the magnifying hype of endless unquestioning devotee hagiography (published in hundreds of volumes).
The need for more independent background study of the national and transnational Sathya Sai Baba phenomenon is nowhere more evident than in the confusing ambivalence of the official Sathya Sai Organisation in its public claims about the guru. On the one hand, Sathya Sai Baba is proclaimed as the Avatar of the Age (i.e. God Incarnate) – see the official websites and public lectures to devotees by spokespersons. However, for the purposes of introductory leaflets for the general overseas public and notably in recent international publicity campaigns, Sathya Sai Baba is portrayed as a world spiritual leader with an inclusivist ecumenical message who generously fosters very deserving charitable causes.
In spite of the acres of pages of existing information on SSB, there is a very real need for researchers who can sift through all the evidence, including the crucial and hitherto untapped Telugu sources of information, for example, official village documents and fresh interviews with people who have known or worked with SSB or his associates. New literal translations of the original audio and video recordings of the Telugu Discourses could also illuminate opaque facets of this long, involved but still far from complete story. The scope for studies by Indian academics is wide.
In the following annotations, I have taken the liberty of pointing out those cases where my own research indicates that a consideration of some of this neglected information might have made a significant difference to an article or book. I base these didactic remarks on a body of research available on the website where this revised Bibliography will appear (www.bdsteel.tripod.com/More). The materials discussed and referred to there are available for checking and criticism by researchers and others. Other equally important references relevant to an eventual “full disclosure” of the Sathya Sai Baba story are offered throughout Part 2 of this Bibliography. The inclusion of my own research agenda in this Bibliography does not invalidate it. Apart from my subjective assessments of the works examined, what has been assembled here (inall three complementary parts of the Bibliography) is the fullest set of references to Sathya Sai Baba available to date. As stated earlier, it is my sincere hope that others will use the references for their own independent research so that the full Sathya Sai Baba story can be revealed. The results cannot deny Sathya Sai Baba’s special contribution to the spiritual and personal benefit of many of his devotees but they may reduce it to a more realistic and earthy level once the divine hype is dealt with.
Whether the history of research on Sathya Sai Baba has wider implications for academic research and publications on NRMs, for example a closer examination of the possibility of conscious or unconscious bias and excessive deference towards institutional and devotee evidence and a less welcoming attitude to that provided in other material, including the testimony of ex-devotees and the studies of independent researchers, is an open question which I delegate to the interested reader.
Note to researchers and other readers who only have a peripheral interest in Sathya Sai Baba: The following entries may be of particular interest:
Babb; Beyerstein; Haraldsson, Kent, Klass, Lane, Lee, Mangalwadi, Nagel, Palmer, Shepherd, Srinivas (Smriti)[see also here], Swallow, Taylor, Talbot, and White (and a perusal of the substantial Appendix to Part 1).
The full 60-page version of Part 1 of this Bibliography on Sathya Sai Baba is available as a .pdf document. Please be very patient while it slowly (but surely) downloads. Thank you.
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To Part 3
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