1940-1945: the Need to Revise the Official Sathya Sai Baba Story.
Love is My Form and Other Recent Evidence

Brian Steel March 2004

For an updated and extended version of this research on SSB's biography, please go to Dossier 4

 Copyright © 2004  Brian Steel

(This analysis covers an apparently narrow field and much minute detail, but it deals with a crucial topic. I can only hope that any errors in it will turn out to be of a minor nature.)


In the past four years, a considerable number of critical Internet studies have revealed important discrepancies in the official version of SSB's life and Mission as recorded and propagated by spokespersons and unconditional devotees. There is now sufficient evidence to show that what devotees unquestioningly accept as truth has important mythical components. In view of the 50-year duration of the Mission and the fact that much evidence is only available to those who understand Telugu, it is probable that much more still remains to be excavated by serious researchers.

As a further rough example of the sort of truths that may eventually be uncovered or pieced together by patient spiritual archaeologists, I offer a composite set of preliminary clues pointing to some basic shortcomings or gaps in the official record of the crucial period 1940-1945, when SSB's Mission is said to have begun.

According to the SSO, and all SSB writers, following a traumatic experience in May 1940 (the so-called "scorpion bite" incident), SSB declared himself as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, went back to High School for a few months and then abruptly declared his Mission on 20 October 1940. This is therefore a key date in the official SSB story. However, these basic dates are proved to be incorrect by evidence of some of SSB's idiosyncratic stories, observations in memoirs by two of his oldest devotees, and above all thanks to some of the non-hagiographical evidence of Volume 1 of the ambitious devotee-sponsored Love is My Form. On closer inspection, other details about this five-year period also stand in need of clarification, expansion, or revision - most conspicuously, the myth that Shirdi Sai Baba was not known in the Puttaparthi region in the early 1940s. (See SSB's Claim to be the Reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.)
[Additional References, March 2005:
See also the latest updates to this ongoing investigation:
Dossier 1: Sathya Sai Baba as Storyteller
Dossier 2: Sathya Sai Baba's Claims of Divinity and Divine Powers
Dossier 3: The Packaging of Sathya Sai Baba's Telugu Discourses. A Stronger Case

Brief Notes on a Recent Visit to India
Sathya Sai Baba's Latest Story Discrepancy
Promoting Sathya Sai Baba in Today's Spiritual Marketplace]

Sources of Information about SSB

Eye-witness stories carry no inbuilt guarantee of truth, but they are usually preferable to second-hand or more remote accounts. Nevertheless, the many anecdotes of both types by SSB himself and others about his feats, exploits, and pronouncements before he achieved massive popularity are accepted by devotees as fact, and are now solidly embedded into SSB's biography.

A primary source for much of SSB's official biography from 1926 to 1970 comes from the pen of the late Professor N. Kasturi, SSB's devoted associate, spokesperson, mentor, and interpreter. Kasturi's eulogistic four volumes have become the 'Bible' about SSB which other devotee writers quote extensively, and usually without question. In reference to the now remote childhood and youth of SSB, the closest sources have been for many years: Kasturi's personal observations and research from 1954 on; his well-known officially approved four-volume biography of SSB (published between 1960 and 1980); the (translated and edited) Discourses of SSB himself which began to be recorded on a regular basis in 1957 or 1958 in both Sathya Sai Speaks and the new Sanathana Sarathi magazine; the simple book of reminiscences by Nagamani Purnaiya; and a slim volume in Telugu in 1944 published by one of SSB's teachers (V.C. Kondappa). (This has only just been translated into English and I have not yet seen it.)

1999 saw the rather belated publication of the valuable memoirs (up to 1972) of Srimati Vijayakumari, who first went to the ashram in 1945 (Other than You, Refuge is There None). More important, but also only available to us since late 2000, is the first volume of a planned definitive 6-volume biography of SSB based on the meticulous research of a team of writers employed by the well-known Puttaparthi devotee-run publishing house, Sai Towers: Love is My Form (LIMF). This first volume (which deals with the period 1926-1950) closely follows previous hagiographical writings like those of Kasturi and his many successors but it also contains a large number of valuable photographs, excerpts from a large number of interviews tape-recorded in the 1990s with some of SSB's contemporaries, and offers other independently researched information. This large coffee-table volume is proving invaluable to researchers endeavouring to build a clearer and more reliable picture of SSB's early years as a child and guru. (The fact that the advertised second volume of LIMF (planned to deal with the years 1951-1960) is now eighteen months overdue may indicate that some of this windfall information has proved to be a little too specific in the world of SSB biography, which has been characterised for decades by its vagueness, and by hundreds of devotee writers quoting one another's work unquestioningly.)

In spite of the mass of these and other printed accounts, the current position is that with reference to SSB's childhood, his youth, and the early phase of his Mission, the authenticity of many of the details cannot be taken for granted and cannot easily be proved. Most of the material which we read describing that early period (by Kasturi and all those who followed) has been gathered somehow, directly (perhaps from participants) or from SSB himself (or his Discourses), or indirectly, second-hand, third-hand, and so on. It is also quite possible that some details or whole stories have been embellished as they have passed from book to book.

As an example of the extent of Kasturi's own unquestioning acceptance of all that he was told, by SSB and others, consider his description of the birth (or 'Advent') of SSB in 1926. (More on the date of birth later.) In volume 1 of Sathya Sai Baba (1960), Kasturi (who only entered the service of SSB in the early 1950s) repeats the well-told legend of supernatural signs and portents before the birth, and the reported sight of the newborn baby's bed being rocked by an auspicious cobra. (In a much later volume - 1984 - about SSB's mother, whose name was Easwaramma (Mother of God), Kasturi added a report of a private mention by SSB of his Immaculate Conception during which he encouraged his mother to add the rather Christian-sounding detail that, before the pregnancy, she was penetrated by a "big ball of blue light" and fainted - p. 20).

Other early SSB writers routinely repeat such hearsay details as dogma. Devotees have believed it and propagated the story. But one early 'Western' commentator offers crucial additional observations to this legend: Arnold Schulman. Schulman, an American scriptwriter irresistibly attracted by SSB's reputation in 1969, chose to spend six weeks in the ashram instead of earning a further small fortune writing another filmscript. The resulting book, Baba, was published in the same year as Howard Murphet's spectacular bestseller (over the years) Man of Miracles (1971). Schulman never became a devotee and his detailed report on his dealings with SSB (mainly through interpreter Gokak) show that the guru himself was far from convinced that Arnold's spiritual sensitivities were conducive to a "rave review" of his importance. Nevertheless, the scriptwriter's book was a basically favorable portrait of SSB (with accounts of the many miracles he had been told about) and was published by one of the principal publishers in New York; but its success was short-lived.

In the monotonously eulogistic SSB literature, what is refreshingly different about Schulman's approach is that he expresses a few independent and less politically correct impressions than most SSB writers. Although trusting the word of Kasturi and Dr Gokak, to whom he had daily access, Schulman was suspicious of some others in the ashram: "many seemed to be repeating monologues they had perfected years ago. Others gave the impression they were improvising the stories as they went along." (p. 21) Unlike virtually all other SSB devotee writers, Schulman observed that: "In trying to discover what Sathya's childhood was like, the writer ran across every possible variation from "he was an ordinary child, like the rest of us" to stories of precocious saintliness which told of how, when he was only five years old, he frequently went without food so that he could sneak it out of the house and give it to the beggars and blind men of the village." (p. 125)

Instead of swallowing and regurgitating Kasturi's cobra incident, Schulman reports that one of SSB's sisters had told him (presumably through an interpreter) that there was no cobra under the blanket but that some hours later a cobra was seen outside the house - a sight not uncommon in the remote village. (There seems to be absolutely no reason for Schulman to invent this, nor for the translation to be wrong.) The difference between the Kasturi and Schulman versions of the event encapsulates the enormous problems associated with the standard biography of SSB. Other writers (including the nonagenarian doyen chronicler of SSB), Howard Murphet, merely repeat Kasturi's version of SSB's life story. However, many such differences and discrepancies are now emerging; they will pave the way to the full story of SSB.

Other frank observations by Schulman underline why his (plausible) version never became the accepted truth about baby Sathya Narayana. For example, "It was not possible to document with certifiable evidence much of Baba's biography." (p. 123) And: "For every story about Baba's childhood there are any number of conflicting stories and, at this point, the writer discovered, it is no longer possible to sift out the facts from the legend. For one thing Baba has forbidden his family and devotees to talk about his childhood ..." (p. 122) Elsewhere, Schulman repeats this impression that locals are afraid to talk about SSB's life story (pp. 139 and 140). And yet devotees (and many others) have filled books with their favorable accounts of SSB's alleged Divine behaviour and words.

Independent observations like those of Arnold Schulman are what one deserves to be offered by a writer - but in the vast pro-SSB literature, this New Yorker is an almost unique example. Hence the urgent need for further independent study of the SSB phenomenon, which the following study of the crucial period 1940-1945 may further underline.

1940-1945 and the Declaration of SSB's Mission.

The beginning of SSB's Mission has always been dated in the vast SSB literature and in SSO celebrations and references as 20 October 1940 (when SSB was allegedly one month from his 14th birthday). The Golden Jubilee was officially celebrated by the SSO in 1990. (Because of the new documentary evidence now available and repeated in the following paragraphs, this serious official error by the SSO should be corrected.)

However, the publication in October 2000 of the meticulously researched first volume of LIMF, gives several indications which prove that the officially quoted 1940 is (for reasons unknown) three years premature. In fact, we learn from LIMF that SSB spent the school years 1936-1940 in the Elementary School in Puttaparthi, and the school year 1940-1941, not engaged on his Mission, as everyone has been led to believe, but in Form One of the Middle School at Kamalapuram, some 200 kilometres north-east of Puttaparthi, where his elder brother, Seshama, had begun his teaching career. He was to continue his education for a further two years, until October 1943.

The compilers of LIMF offer clear photostats from School registers in Bukkapatnam and Uravakonda (pp. 68-69 and p. 132 and a table on pp. 128-129) to show clearly that Sathya Narayana Raju (whose date of birth is given as 4-10-1929 - which may only be an error) entered the Bukkapatnam school (17 kilometres from Puttaparthi) on 5 July 1941 and left on 6 April 1942 - apparently without taking the Elementary School Leaving Examination (E.S.L.C.), contrary to SSB's subsequent boastful claims). The other Register photostat records Sathya joining the Uravakonda High School (140 kilometres north-west of Puttaparthi) over a year later (on 1 July 1943), where his brother Seshama was then teaching. LIMF also establishes that during this apparently school-free year, SSB went to stay at Seshama's house in Uravakonda in early 1943, and it was there he suffered the long traumatic physical and mental episode known as the "scorpion bite incident" (see below) and where, following this mysterious episode, he allegedly issued the first dramatic Declaration (on 23 May 1943) that he was none other than the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba: "I am Sai Baba." "I am of the Bharadwaja Gothra". (This was five months before the other more dramatic Declaration in October 1943.)

Finally, aged almost 16 (assuming the birthday was in 1926), Sathya was able to recommence his schooling at the Uravakonda High School on 1 July 1943. The Register shows no leaving date, although we can assume that it was on the 20th of October, when SSB allegedly made his second Declaration, of the beginning of his Mission (three years after the officially recognised date). The Mission began, then on 20 October 1943. Is there any problem in this being officially recognised? (LIMF also discreetly offers some other chronological evidence from interviews with SSB's contemporaries and even from the Kasturi biography to back up the 20 October 1943 dating for SSB's sudden gesture of throwing down his school books which was followed by the famous declaration: "Maya has left; I am going; my work is waiting." LIMF,147; Kasturi, Vol 2, pp. 42-43)

For ease of comparison of the discrepancies in the official record, here are the salient dates highlighted in LIMF. (See also the written summary on pages 128-129.)

pp. 40-41: Register pages (in Telugu) of the Puttaparthi Elementary School for 1936. Sathya Narayana is registered as being in, or entering, Class 2 of the village school. (LIMF states (plausibly, in view of the following paragraph) that he attended the village school from 1935 to the beginning of 1940.)

pp. 68-69:
1. Transfer Certificate from Kamalapuram School to Bukkapatnam. First Form in Kamalapuram, from 11 June 1940 to 22 April 1941. (Note that no Register pages are offered from the Kamalapuram school, possibly because the researchers did not go to the 200- kilometre distant school, which I believe is now in the State of Tamil Nadu. The possible oversight could easily be rectified by a local researcher.)

2. The Register pages from the Samithi Elementary School, Bukkapatnam, showing Sathya's admission on 5 July 1941 and his departure on 6 April 1942 - with the remark "Exemption not gran[ted] for VIII Std Public Exam. Removed." LIMF adds the explanation that the reason was lack of attendance. This refers to the ESLC examination which SSB has boasted in his Discourses not only of passing with top marks but also of illegally (but miraculously) helping two schoolmates to cheat their way to passes. Clearly further research is indicated here also, especially as some SSB writers (and SSB himself) mention a trip to Penukonda to take this examination.]

(On the subject of SSB's allegedly brilliant school record, more local research, please! In LIMF there are a few less than flattering references or innuendos in accounts by SSB's school companions. (See especially page 78.)

pp. 132-133: The Register pages from Uravakonda High School, showing Sathya's admission on 1 July 1943.
(Researchers will note that, on this third Register photostat, Sathya's date of birth is given as 4-10-39 - an obvious mistake, corrected to 4-10-29 (as on the Bukkapatnam Register), but with a signed clarification, "fourth October Nineteen Twentynine" dated, as far as the writing is legible, 11-8-76. However, before too much is made of the 1929 date 'discrepancy', we have been informed, in LIMF, and by other experts on India that such errors were quite common in rural India in those days. Nevertheless, further independent checking would be welcome here, as elsewhere.)

The 'Scorpion' Episode

Also in need of further investigation, although dealt with in some detail by LIMF, is the famous, and significant, incident in early 1943 of SSB's long and traumatic physical and emotional/mental affliction. LIMF is not able to clarify for us the whole of the 14-month gap between schools but it suggests that maybe Sathya was given special coaching by his elder brother, the teacher, Seshama. The compilers also speculate that young Sathya was a bit of an embarrassment to the elders of Bukkapatnam because of his boisterous nature and his idiosyncratic activities. (See LIMF, pp. 95-121)

What emerges more clearly is that Sathya was in Uravakonda in early 1943 (if not before) and that in March 1943 he was suddenly incapacitated by a very strange illness. (Initially, it was thought to be the result of a scorpion bite, although no scorpion was found.) Symptoms included temporary unconsciousness, a high fever, delirium, hallucinations and the reciting of Telugu poetry which Sathya is alleged never to have read. After medical examinations produced a general diagnosis that this was a 'mental' problem, Sathya was given medication. More delirium and strange behaviour followed and finally, when the family was convinced that the boy was possessed by a spirit, there was a violent two-day period of exorcism, which involved four knife marks (scorings) on the boy's skull and the application of a herbal treatment. The idea that such traumatic experiences could have contained a strong mystical element which affected his subsequent actions surely cannot be dismissed out of hand. (See Anthony Storr, Feet of Clay. A Study of Gurus, 1997, for examples and discussion of similar incidents in the lives of some other gurus.)

The 'Sai Baba' Declaration followed soon after Sathya had convalesced from this extraordinary experience, and after a few months of schooling came the October Declaration of Mission. Although the editors of LIMF are at pains (on p.149) to deny that the three year discrepancy in the new date for the Declaration is of any importance, their argument is unconvincing: "Indian spirituality tends to discourage numerous debates on scholarly details relating to time and space. Sri Sathya Sai Baba also disapproves of such debates. ..." Why?

So it would seem that the compilers of LIMF are trying to rewrite history more correctly, but still leaning over backwards so as not to criticise SSB or the Sai Baba Organisation for misleading devotees for so many years. The Golden Jubilee of the SSB Mission was officially commemorated on 20 October 1990 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 29:246-256 - 'The Day that wrought the great change'). Interestingly, in that printed account, the year is in parentheses, suggesting that Baba did not state it in his speech, but that an editor added it! "It was the 20th of October (1940) - a Monday. This is what I declared on that day:

"Know I am verily Sai.
Give up your attachments and attempts;
The old relationships are at an end...
No one, however eminent, can alter my resolve."

Other Evidence

Interestingly, a recent contribution from SSB himself also confirms the evidence in Love is My Form (Vol. 1) that the year of the alleged Declarations and of his leaving the High School in Uravakonda cannot have been 1940. In his Discourse on 16 May 2002, SSB offered his audience some more flattering reminiscences of his youth and told his audience that during the Second World War (1939-1945), as a schoolboy, he was asked by the communist leaders to compose a song in honour of Stalin. The song he claims to have written includes references to Hitler invading Russia and the Soviet heroic defence and a prediction of Stalin's eventual victory. He adds: "Many of them [the villagers] wondered how this tiny tot Sathyanarayana Raju had come to know of Hitler and Stalin. These names were unknown to most of the people in that region. Know that there is nothing that Sai does not know."

On page 79 of LIMF there is a long quotation from an undated Discourse where SSB is boasting about his satirical poems in Bukkapatnam (that is, probably in 1941-1942, according to the school register photostats produced in LIMF) including one about Hitler and the British. (According to Note 20 on page 43, this unpublished - but videotaped - Discourse may have been that of 3 June 1991. This remains to be checked.) ****

So, since Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, and SSB was, as he says in this Discourse, still at the Bukkapatnam school, the so-called "tiny tot" must have been between 14 and 16 (according to the 1926 birthdate) or between 11 and 13 (according to the other possible 1929 date), pursuing his education rather than getting on with his Mission, as the official 1940 Declaration date has always indicated.

Eye-witness stories carry no inbuilt guarantee of truth, but they are usually preferable to second-hand or more remote accounts. Nevertheless, the many anecdotes of both types by SSB himself and others about his feats, exploits, and pronouncements before he achieved massive popularity are accepted by devotees as fact, and are now solidly embedded into SSB's biography.

Conflicting versions

The question of authenticity is often further blurred by different versions put forward by different writers, especially the many who simply adapt what they read or hear, or parts of it (often without due references). It can be instructive to compare differing versions of early stories about SSB. In the case of the erroneous 1940 for 1943, a quick scan of the major SSB commentators shows that although they all accept October 1940 as the beginning of SSB's career as a guru, there is a dearth of mentions of the years 1941, 1942, or 1943 (except perhaps the final months) in connection with SSB's early years in his position as independent guru. But no one has noticed anything odd in this apparent three year gap of inactivity right at the outset of SSB's Mission. This large lacuna is understandable: it simply corroborates the LIMF evidence that he was still at school during those years.

In those cases where writers do mention the years 1941-1943 in a guru context, the next step is to check whether the references are plausible, given the new state of the documentary evidence at our disposal. I suggest that when such specific mentions of those three years are found, they will simply not fit in with the new facts that we know today! At some point, therefore, even the official history of SSB's Mission will have to be corrected: 1940 = 1943. So any references in books to SSB's Mission in 1941, 1942, and 1943 must be assumed to refer to the end of 1943, 1944 and 1945, and should likewise be adjusted.

I have found only three such specific references so far. Ra. Ganapati (Vol I, page 184) says: "For four years from 1941, the house of the Karnam was the habitation of our Lord." Subbamma's house had been Sathya Narayana's second home for years, so perhaps Ganapati is referring to the school holidays in 1941 and 1942, and the post-Uravakonda period of November 1943 to the end of 1944, some of which we know SSB spent at Subbamma's during the beginning of his Mission.

Howard Murphet, in his celebrated first book, Man of Miracles, which attracted so many people to SSB, states on page 61, (quoting an alleged Kasturi story which I have not yet traced), "about a year after the announcement, when Satya Sai was 15, he was visited by the Rani of Chincholi." [One of his first aristocratic benefactors.] For Murphet, "a year after the announcement" must mean 1941, but there is evidence both in LIMF and elsewhere that this meeting with the Rani took place in 1944 or even 1945, so Murphet's year reference is simply NOT valid. (But did he get it in conversation with Kasturi, or in an interview with SSB?)

I can find no references to 1941, 1942, or 1943 in the first volume of Prof. Kasturi's 4-volume hagiography. Kasturi mentions the Declaration date of 1940 on page 46. The next date given by Kasturi is 1945 (on page 68) for the planning of the FIRST mandir, which fits in with the LIMF chronology. Then he mentions 1950 (the second mandir) on page 90. But, in spite of Kasturi's accounts of lots of happenings on those intervening 44 pages, there is no specific mention of those three missing years (1941-1943).

Since any evidence that contradicts the official story, or even SSB's (edited) words, is often subject to olympian but shortsighted rejection by spokespersons and devotees, I would suggest that in connection with the period 1940-1945 in SSB's life, LIMF should be carefully read before any of the usual suspects make dismissive comments. I further suggest to such people - and to devotees in general - that they search in the major biographies of SSB for specific mentions of the years 1941, 1942 and 1943, which, according to the official version of SSB's life story (inevitably followed by all writers until now for want of other evidence), are the first years of his functioning as a fledgling guru.

Finally, there are no photographs of SSB before the end of 1943. They and the many others that followed in 1944, show an attractive, smiling, chubby-faced teenage boy with a garland around his neck. (In view of the small question mark hanging over his date of birth, one is left wondering if this is the face of a 17 year old or a 14 year old.). With local exceptions like the devoted Subbamma, SSB's first devotees and major benefactors, who took the photographs, are also associated with the years from 1943 on.

On the basis of the above, we can postulate the following replacement chronology for those early years of the SSB Mission.

1940-1942: at school for half the time - but with almost a year when he was apparently not at school, perhaps because of private tuition from his elder brother Seshama (the teacher), to 'catch up' with his studies (after not being admitted to the ESLC Examination) prior to being admitted to the High School at Uravakonda, or perhaps for other as yet unknown reasons.

1943: Transfer to brother's house in Uravakonda, the 'scorpion' incident and the weeks of trauma, the first Shirdi Declaration, 3 months of High School at Uravakonda, then the 20 October Declaration.

1943 (late October): Back to Puttaparthi to begin his mission, at the house of his Brahmin surrogate mother figure, Subbamma (the widow - or more accurately, co-widow - of the influential Karnam of the village).

Further discrepancies and wider gaps in the story: 1944-1945

There are a few pieces of evidence in the SSB literature (and in LIMF) which indicate that, in spite of the rose-coloured legend of SSB's instant and unstoppable success, this initial period as a guru was quite hard for SSB, that he was unpopular in the village, that he may have had serious doubts about his calling, and even that he may have done private sadhana in a local cave. The events of the years 1944 and 1945 seem to be blurred.

1943 (20 October onward) and 1944: LIMF offers many photographs of SSB and his first devotees and benefactors (many attracted by the news of his miracles and Shirdi Sai claims) from Bangalore and further afield, including perhaps Madras.

The details of this period are slightly hazy and incomplete. There is evidence of great activity and enthusiasm from devotees but also references to strong local hostility to SSB after his return from Uravakonda, especially over his (non-Brahmin) residence in and use of (Brahmin) Subbamma's house for meetings. He was obliged to move out and go and live in a hut on Subbamma's land. Perhaps SSB became quite tired with all the activity and responsibility. According to Kasturi, after the extensive travels and activities in the years following his 'Declaration', SSB became exhausted and lost his appetite. Kasturi suggests, plausibly, that his body was exhausted by the spiritual powers which were growing within him. But in LIMF it is clearly stated that he expressed the desire to attain Samadhi (self-absorption with Brahman) but was dissuaded from this by Sakamma and others.

"Around this time, Baba wanted to attain Samadhi. Sakamma and Savrithramma held His feet and said "You should not leave; You should live with us, Swami, for many years." Finally, Baba changed His mind." (LIMF, p. 447, quoting a personal interview with Shantha Krishnamurthy, on 24 April, 1998.)

An interview with another contemporary corroborates that in 1944, SSB "was telling us that He would attain Samadhi in three years and take birth again in Mandya near Mysore. We told Him we would not be able to live without Him." (LIMF, 197, citing an interview with D.M. Narayanappa on 27 February 2000.) (Mandya, incidentally, is the district allegedly named much later by SSB as the future birthplace of Prema Sai.)

LIMF also suggests that SSB's own father was still not convinced of his Divinity in 1944. (p. 170: "Lock this crazy fellow inside the house.") According to a footnote on page 178(Note 1, from an interview with Meesaraganda Ganapathi Raju), his maternal uncle Chandramouli cared for him "never thought of Baba as special or divine ..." SSB's brother, Seshama, whose faith in the claims of Divinity seems unclear, was so concerned at SSB's lack of acceptance locally and that his main devotees were from distant towns and villages that he wrote a warning letter to his brother telling him to give up his activities - for fear of SSB's failure (LIMF, p.349). SSB's energetic and lengthy response in May 1947 has been given great prominence in the SSB literature - see pp. 350-351.

1945: [The first six months of this year merit an especially careful re-investigation.]

In one of the interviews in LIMF (page 237), there is a reference to an episode in a cave in the "hills". But in this meticulously produced 700-page book covering only the years 1926-1950, which gives minute details on many things, it is significant to note that on this particularly revealing and important page, there is NOTHING specific about what SSB was DOING in the cave (just a vague rumour, in fact). In a very well-documented piece of independent research, Sanjay Dadlani has traced incomplete and conflicting reports in books by Schulman, and early devotees Purnaiya and Vijayakumari (1999). (See www.exbaba.com for 5 July 2002: 'Sai Baba: Shiva or Sadhaka?') Dadlani's interesting analysis leads him to suggest, very plausibly, that SSB spent six months engaged in the concentrated activity of a solitary sadhaka, honing his skills. This would flatly contradict SSB's claim to be a ready-made fully-fledged Avatar who had no need to undertake any special training or austerities as a sadhaka, or to study the Hindu scriptures. It would also explain why LIMF is so vague about these lost months: despite all its invaluable contributions of priceless new facts, LIMF is, after all, written by devotees anxious not to displease SSB. Therefore, the writer of a full history of SSB has to rely on perceptive investigations like Dadlani's to fill in these apparently deliberate gaps in the official literature.

Related Details:

The LIMF account (p. 237) suggests that, following his Declaration and return from Uravakonda, SSB had been living in the house of his wealthy Brahmin sponsor, Karnam Subbamma (one of two wives of the deceased Karnam). However, there was village opposition to his activities and especially to his non-Brahmin caste status, and to the number of people visiting SSB at that house. Subbamma was therefore being subjected to strong criticism by villagers. To the extent that SSB had to adhere to strict caste rules and stop entering her kitchen and to speak to Subbamma only outside the house. The resentment against SSB's presence in Subbamma's house grew and there was an attempt to 'exile' him to Bukkapatnam but the villagers there were also opposed to his presence and activities.

LIMF continues: "Turned out by the rustic people, Baba moved away to some caves in a hill, located on the other side of the Chitravathi river, near Janakampalli." [interview] "He stayed there for some time - probably six months with short breaks for outstation visits in between. Years later, Baba would confide that Subbamma's relatives made His stay at the Karnam house intolerable ... He even wrote to his Bangalore devotees, Madhava Rao and Sankaramma, "I am staying on the hill. Not yet gone to the village." [private archival letter]

"When the villagers found out where SSB was, they thought that he was performing some austerities to obtain powers [Note this shortest possible reference to this almost taboo subject!].Whenever they approached these caves Baba appeared as snakes to drive them away." [interview]

In this tense situation, a local (Kothacheruvu) Swami asked SSB's family if he could take the lad as a ward and future successor, but Easwaramma refused permission. This was when Subbamma intervened once more to allow SSB to reside in a hut on an isolated piece of land of hers. This, incidentally, must be the hut about which SSB himself has told the story of almost being burnt alive by a cowardly arson attack by villagers. (From recollection, I think SSB more or less plays down this very serious incident as a prank by naughty local boys!)

All these negative details indicate rather clearly that the beginning of SSB's Mission was NOT an effortless success, but had its moments of doubt and despair, and underlines the fact that in Puttaparthi resentment against SSB was strong. (LIMF , p. 241) [interview with Karnam Kamalamma, 21 April 1998. Kamalamma was the other widow of the late Karnam.]

In that same interview, we are told that in another incident "Baba was bound to a boulder and thrown down a hill." Also, Kamalamma reveals all these years later, that it was she who then persuaded the ailing Subbamma - the other widow of the Karnam, who doted on SSB - to donate a piece of land for SSB's use. This land was immediately registered in SSB's name on 21 July 1945 - this gives us a valuable date to work with - and with enthusiastic work by SSB's devotees, including some from Bangalore, and the generosity of a Bangalore builder benefactor, the first mandir was built and inaugurated only 5 months later (15 December 1945), but by then Subbamma had died (25 November 1945).

1945, end of July to 15 December: the building of the first mandir on the small plot of land donated by Subbamma. Bangalore builder Thirumal Rao was the principal other benefactor and devotees, particularly from Bangalore, worked on the project. The mandir was inaugurated on 15 December 1945.

And from this point on, the official chronology (as well as that of Kasturi and those few SSB writers who bother to mention dates) at last begins to coincide with the dates mentioned in LIMF.

More on SSB's Date of Birth

Two more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are provided by two of SSB's oldest devotees who have published their reminiscences.

Smt. Vijayakumari

In 1993, the elderly devotee already referred to (Smt. Vijayakumari) completed a manuscript from notes she claims to have taken since 1945 about her own and her family's close experiences of SB between that date (when she was a young girl), and 1972. Her two teenage brothers, Krishna Kumar and Amarendra Kumar, were close friends of SSB's for a few years (and are mentioned in books by other devotees).

Smt. Vijayakumari does not explain why she waited so long before publishing these reminiscences nor does she comment on why the notes end in 1972. She merely states, on p. 6, that SSB named the original book, Anyadha Saranam Nasti on 16 November1996 and gave the order (permission?) for its publication, presumably in Telugu, a year later, on 22-10-97. The English translation, Other Than You Refuge is There None, was finally published - apparently privately - in Chennai in 1999.)

Vijayakumari's book is another example of a close devotee's detailed account of many happy events and conversations but it also contains some interesting snippets of biographical information for the patient researcher (including first hand evidence about one of SSB's alleged 'resurrections' - of the girl's father, Radha Krishna - and different versions of some of SSB's schoolboy stories). (Incidentally, Professor E. Haraldsson refers to this girl's diary in his rigorous investigation of the Radha Krishna incident. That contemporary written evidence indicates that the word 'resurrection' is not an appropriate description of what occurred.)

Among Vijayakumari's memories are a couple which have a direct bearing on the controversial subject of SSB's date of birth, brought back into the limelight by new documentary evidence offered (and plausibly rejected) by LIMF in October 2000, and flatly rejected on an Internet Chat Group by an anonymous Telugu expert. I offer the following for what it is worth.

Two innocent quotations offered by Vijayakumari seem to provide a degree of independent support for the possibility (broached by the LIMF evidence) that SSB's date of birth was NOT in 1926 but in 1929.

In 1945 the little girl's cousins were strolling in the affluent Bangalore suburb of Malleswaram when they heard bhajans being sung and entered the house to listen. Sai Baba, who was present there, invited them to go to Puttaparthi (whose name they had never heard).

When they returned to their town of Kuppam (south-east of Bangalore, but in today's Andhra Pradesh), the cousins told the girl's mother about their meeting. The latter was keen for them all to go, but the idea was vetoed by the father, who said: "You tell me He is sixteen years old and claims to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. This is all humbug." (p. 12)

That night the mother had a dream of SSB and they were immediately given permission by the father to visit the ashram for three days. This first visit allegedly took place during Dasara, in October 1945. (p.13) The family soon became very close to SSB and visited for long periods.

The father's words quoted above indicate that in 1945, SSB was 16, which would make his year of birth 1929 (as indicated by the register entries in LIMF). What is also interesting about this possibility is that at the time of the Mission Declarations of 1943, he would have been almost 14 years old - as he and his biographers have always claimed!

And there is yet another possible sliver of corroboration. Vijayakumari later quotes from a story session by SSB to devotees assembled on the Chitravati sand dunes in 1949 (pp. 216-218):

"Later, for High School studies, I had to go to Uravakonda. ... ..." (p. 217) "In my thirteenth year, coming to know that I had become a 'Baba' and had left home, one of my friends went mad ... Another friend jumped into a well and died." (p. 218)

We now know, from LIMF, that SSB went to Uravakonda in early 1943, and left in October 1943 (when he was still a month away from his 17th birthday) to begin his Mission after the second of his Declarations. So, according to the above quoted statement, once more a 1929 date of birth seems at least possible, although SSB's memory has proved not to be at all reliable for dates.

As for an alternative date of birth, in the school Register photostats in LIMF, it is given as 4 October (1929). But maybe it WAS 23 November after all, the day traditionally celebrated, at least since 1946 when we find the first reference in LIMF to an official birthday. It was also celebrated on 23 November in 1950, as Vijayakumari notes, with the Inauguration of Prasanthi Nilayam:

"Till that day, prominence had not been given to Swami's Birthday. But that day we prayed to Swami to permit us to celebrate it." (Vijayakumari, p. 161) (In the Discourses recorded in Sathya Sai Speaks, the first to be labelled as a Birthday Discourse, SSB's 45th, is the one for 1960.)

N. Lakshmi Devamma

In Bhaktodharaka Sri Sathya Sai (published by the SSB Books and Publications Trust, undated, like most of the official SSB books), a short volume about SSB's Mission, N. Lakshmi Devamma (another early close devotee and schoolteacher) cites other people's experiences and her own. She says that her own experiences date from a darshan when SSB was 15, but she gives no date. (Her introduction to SSB was through her worship of Shirdi Sai in Penukonda, possibly at the house of SSB's sister, Parvathamma.)

"Swami was then 15 years old. He was wearing a white dhoti and a white shirt. Bala Baba had a thick, black, beautiful crop, a golden complexion, luminous eyes that were large and full of compassion, and red smiling lips." (p. 36)

One of a series of end photos of SSB in sepia colour in Devamma's book is captioned: "When I first saw Swami - 1941". (We do not know whether the caption was supplied by the author, an editor, or the publisher.) However, the same photo (in a far superior reproduction) is included in Love is My Form, Vol. 1, on page 232, and it is clearly labelled, "Baba at Bangalore, 1945". With the evidence we now have, this later date seems correct, and Devamma's description of SSB's face also corresponds to photographs in LIMF from 1943 on (which were the first photos taken of him). Another photo reproduced in Devamma's book has the caption "Swami declared his avatar at Uravakonda on 20-10-1940" (either written by the author, an editor, or by the publisher). The same photo is in LIMF (p. 150), where it is claimed to be the first photo taken after his Declaration at Uravakonda (which LIMF's clear chronological account has shown to have taken place in October 1943). The caption to this photo adds more identifying detail: "Young Sai Baba seated on Sai Baba Gundu in Anjaneyulu's house (photographer V.V. Ramulu)".

On p. 46, LIMF offers a photo of SSB, allegedly the first ever taken of him, in 1940, at the Pushpagiri Festival. It is a head shot, showing a strong and handsome face and short straight hair. Apart from looking far more grown up than the stylised skinny and 'cute' child-like Sathya Narayana portrayed in the many specially commissioned drawings which accompany these photo-less chapters of LIMF, the photo bears some similarity to other early ones from 1943: in Uravakonda (pages 124 and 154) and Hospet (p. 142). Whether the 1940 photograph is correctly captioned or not, according to LIMF, as we have seen, there are no other photographs of SSB before the end of 1943 (just after his Declaration) and, subsequently, an avalanche of photos taken by his new benefactors and devotees in 1944 and 1945, his first two years of Mission in and around newly explored Bangalore. This sudden appearance of photographic evidence in the years 1943-1945 must surely be taken as further proof (if it is needed) that SSB's Mission began in 1943, not in 1940.

So, once again, from devotee evidence, the current official history of SSB's life and Mission is challenged or shown to be incomplete. In the light of the above evidence, is it not reasonable to assume that Devamma really met SSB in 1944 and that he was fifteen when they met? If so, once again the researcher is faced with uncertainty about SSB's real date of birth.

The importance of these two sets of photographs does not quite end with their chronological significance. In the first of the two photographs mentioned, as reproduced in Devamma's book (and in Kasturi's first volume), SSB is wearing a small picture of Shirdi Sai Baba's face on his white gown, over his heart. This picture is NOT visible on the much larger and clearer LIMF version of the photograph. The obvious question here for devotees, ex-devotees, researchers, and observers is: Why has the picture been removed? Is it not likely that the disappearance of the picture is a deliberate attempt to downplay Sathya Narayana's enthusiastic and intense youthful worship of and fascination for Shirdi Sai Baba (mentioned in LIMF) and the latter's popularity in the rural region, which, to their discredit, both SSB and Indulal Shah are on record as denying?

As for the second of the sets of photographs mentioned in this Note, they show SSB seated cross-legged behind a small statuette of Shirdi Sai Baba. In both Devamma (p. 9) and LIMF, (p. 134) we are told that, in Uravakonda (during part of 1943 - possibly following SSB's post-trauma Declaration in May that he was "Sai Baba"), SSB used to celebrate bhajans on Thursdays in the garden of the Anjaneyulu family, and perform puja to Shirdi Sai in front of that statuette.

More intriguing details for the debates about SSB's (and others') familiarity with Shirdi Sai Baba's fame in the Puttaparthi region in the early 1940s and about SSB's early fascinated worship of the saint from Shirdi.

Hypothetical explanation for vagueness, discrepancies, and error by SSB's biographers and chroniclers

Vagueness, discrepancies, and error (such as those examined in this article) characterise devotees' published descriptions of these early years (even in books written by those with direct access to SSB). The same applies to some statements by spokespersons and the SSO itself, for example, about SSB's schooling, the date of the Declarations, and his worship of Shirdi Sai Baba before his Declarations. The available evidence seems to point to a single underlying cause (beyond unquestioning acceptance on the part of writers) which cannot be admitted because of its potential impact on SSB's image and on his major claims. That cause appears to be closely connected with SSB's frequent inconsistencies and improvisations in his controversial or muddled versions of stories and anecdotes, whether he is speaking about his schooldays, the Declarations, Jesus Christ, Shirdi Sai's early years, distinguished visitors to the ashram, and other topics. Since his youth, SSB has relied heavily on his words, claims, and alleged miracles being widely reported (especially, after 1960, in English) by other people. Perhaps many of these have simply reported what they heard him say on different occasions.

For example, N. Kasturi (K1A, p. 16) maintains: "When he was eight, Sathya was declared ready to proceed to the Higher Elementary School at Bukkapatnam, 2 and a half miles from Puttaparthi." [SSB was 8 in either 1934 or 1937.]

Ra. Ganapati (I:71) repeats part of this: "Satya entered the Higher Elementary School [at Bukkapatnam] at the age of 8." Then, on p. 92, he informs us: "In His twelfth year, Satyanarayana Raju had to join the High School [in Uravakonda]." As if SB stayed at Bukkapatnam school for FOUR years.

Nagamani Purnaiya puts it a little differently: "Sathya's schooling at Bukkapatnam lasted till he was 10 years old and passed the Vth Standard." Then she tells us that his elder brother took him to Uravakonda. (p. 6) [SSB was 10 in either 1936 or 1939.]

Until the year 2000, with the publication of the first volume of LIMF, we (and even SSB writers) had no choice but to accept or puzzle over such facts and figures and to wonder why few of these writers mention the 1940-1941 school year spent in distant Kamalapuram (where SSB alleges he met Wolf Messing, the Polish psychic). Now we (and perhaps they) are left wondering if the many discrepancies over basic facts about SSB's life and Mission are simply due to inconsistencies in his own self-promotion and to devotees' unconditional and over-simplistic acceptance of his utterances as either Divinely omniscient or Divine leelas.

If this is a fair conclusion, and if we add this to all the other reported discrepancies and errors by and about SSB, then a strongly entrenched doubt becomes transformed into the vital question: How does one know which of SSB's statements are true?

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