Sathya Sai Baba, Elsie and Walter Cowan, and John Hislop.
A Discredited 1971 Resurrection Claim

Brian Steel    February 2009

Copyright ©   Brian Steel 2009

(Note: References are listed at the end of this article.)

Apart from his charisma, his moral teachings and the charitable works carried out in his name, which unique characteristic most accurately defines and explains the success of Sathya Sai Baba over his six decade Mission as a guru? The answer is as simple as it is obvious: his ability to attract attention and to inspire others to believe him so unquestioningly that they are eager to spread his message to India and around the world, by word of mouth, audiocassettes, videocasssettes and in print – and more recently also by Internet, radio, video clips and films. The primary evidence is available in the hundreds and hundreds of hagiographical publications which have been written about him, a total far exceeding the literature for any other contemporary guru.

These modes of transmission of Sathya Sai Baba’s Telugu message reveal a large number of sensational stories, anecdotes and claims, made both by him and many of his devotees. When closely examined, however, many of the striking stories and unique claims made and repeated by spokespersons, associates and devotees are found to be implausible, misleading or, in some cases, erroneous.

Dr John S. Hislop’s 27 years of unquestioning dedication to spreading the Sathya Sai Baba story offer particularly important examples of this energetic promotion of the charismatic guru with the striking ‘Afro’ hairstyle. In a recent article, I drew attention to the important role and impact of Hislop as Chairman of the American SSO and indefatigable and peripatetic spokesperson for Sathya Sai Baba, with particular reference to the controversial materialisation of a Crucifix made from allegedly reconstituted fragments of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Another of SSB’s spectacular alleged miracles and Hislop’s role in reporting it to the world is the subject of the following report. This was the first of many extraordinary events with which this prominent foreign devotee would be associated during his many years of faithful and humble service to Sathya Sai Baba.

Historical background

Beginning with hippie visitors in the early1960s, American (and other foreign) interest in Sathya Sai Baba grew rapidly during the period 1965-1975. By 1971, the following Americans had already been attracted to Sathya Sai Baba and were already publicising his name back in USA: Indra Devi and Hilda Charlton (major independent early proselytisers, 1965- ), Arnold Schulman, Charles Penn, Hilda Charlton, Bob Rayman (or Reiman), Elsie and Walter Cowan, Dr John Hislop, Tal Brooke and Howard Levin. (All, except Schulman, became devotees and proselytisers, and Tal Brooke had already become the first ‘defector’ and critic.) 1971 saw the publication of the first books about SSB by foreigners Schulman and (Australian) Howard Murphet. Phyllis Krystal and Dr Samuel Sandweiss would be drawn to meet SSB in 1972, the businessman Isaac Tigrett in 1973 and Robert A. Bozzani in 1974. The 1970s would see a strong general growth in foreign devotee numbers and Sathya Sai Organisation Centres but it was the Americans who were the original driving force behind international recognition and worship of Sathya Sai Baba.

By 1965, with the formation of the first Sathya Sai Samithis (Centres), and later the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation under the capable leadership of Indulal Shah, an effective corporate structure had begun to take shape, to be followed by a rapid expansion in India of SSO Centres and in quick succession, All-India Conferences of members and (a few years later) International Conferences. By 1974, with the inauguration of the Sathya Sai Baba Association of the Americas and Canada, the Sathya Sai Organisation would be launched on a significantly wider international expansion of its activities.

In May 1968, Sathya Sai Baba (who had long before clearly enunciated his unique divine claims to his Indian devotees) made this reassuring ecumenical statement to non-Hindus at the 1 st World Conference of Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, in Bombay.

“I have not come to set afoot a new cult, I do not want people to be misled on this point. I affirm that the Sai form is the form of all the various names that man uses for the adoration of the Divine. So, I am teaching that no distinction should be made between the names Rama, Krishna, Ishwara, Sai – for they are all My names.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, VIII, 19:95-96) Over the years, he has repeated this disarming statement in different forms and it is frequently quoted by devotees and writers as one of his basic and very specially attractive and commendable teachings.

Parallel with this ambitious expansion, in 1969, Sathya Sai Baba’s Discourse references to his Shirdi Sai Baba reincarnational connection suddenly ceased for approximately twenty years (although the ashram presence and worship of Shirdi Sai continued virtually unchanged). In 1970, when SSB’s Mission had already been developing for twenty seven years, he fleetingly introduced the Jesus Christ theme into his Mission (Christmas Day, 1970). Here is half of that short paragraph attributed to SSB by his translators and editors: “This Day marks the beginning of the Christian Era, the year of Christ. Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of those who put their faith in him. He propagated the truth that service is God, that sacrifice is God.” (Sathya Sai Speaks, X, 39:264) (The reader will note, incidentally, that neither the translator/editor nor the printer considered Jesus exalted enough to justify the initial capital letters usually accorded to Divinity: He/ Him/His).

Christmas 1971

For the Fifth All-India Conference of Sathya Sai Samithis (Centres) on 22-23 December, many officials and prominent devotees had gathered in Madras (in the southern state of Tamil Nadu). Sathya Sai Baba was also staying in Madras. Among those present were Mr and Mrs Ratan Lal, Dr E. Fanibunda and new foreign (especially American) devotees like Mr and Mrs Cowan, Mr and Mrs Hislop, Mr and Mrs Murphet, the New Age documentary film maker and devotee Richard Bock and Diana Baskin. Devotees were particularly excited because the Indo-Pakistan war that led to the creation of Bangladesh had ended on 17 December, allegedly according to SSB’s prediction that it would not interfere with the Conference on 22-23 December (Kasturi, IV, 22).

In the Conference Discourse on the second day of the All-India Conference (23 December 1971), a key reference was made to an important new ecumenical development, or new direction, for Sathya Sai Baba and his Organisation. Sathya Sai Baba was explaining in detail the nature and importance of some of the Conference’s administrative and organisational decisions. Towards the end of the Discourse, he mentioned the example of Jesus realising the three stages of his true identity and Mission: as Messenger, then as the Son and finally, ‘I and My Father are One’. (He added that the Qur’an propounds “similar ideas”.) Then came a brief insight into a proposed new ecumenical emphasis for the Sathya Sai Mission: “The Sathya Sai Organisation has to seek out chances of studying and substantiating these basic similarities and promote love and mutual cooperation” (Sathya Sai Speaks, XI, 35:239). Phraseology like that seems to point to a possible bureaucratic input into this new Mission initiative: to give prominence to the common spiritual territory putatively shared by Jesus Christ and Sathya Sai Baba.

Since 1972, Christmas celebrations in Puttaparthi in honour of Jesus Christ and Sathya Sai Baba, complete with carol singing concerts and children’s dramatic re-enactments of the birth and life of Christ have become a major ecumenical feature alongside the otherwise predominantly Hindu festivals. Many thousands of foreign and Indian devotees have made it an annual pilgrimage. Sathya Sai Baba has also traditionally referred to the life and work of Jesus in his 25 December Discourse, offering much “new” information on the subject. As is particularly well known by devotees, it was during the Christmas 1972 Discourse that Sathya Sai Baba claimed not only that Jesus had predicted his Advent but (twice) that he (SSB) was the Father of Jesus:

“The statement of Christ is simple: ‘He who sent me among you will come again!’ and he pointed to a Lamb. The Lamb is merely a symbol, a sign. It stands for the Voice: Ba Ba; the announcement was the Advent of Baba. ‘His Name will be Truth,’ Christ declared. Sathya means Truth. ‘He will wear a robe of red, a blood red robe.’[Here Baba pointed to the robe He was wearing!] ‘He will be short, with a crown [of hair]’” (Kasturi, IV, 346). To make sure the his bold claim was fully understood, SSB immediately repeats the sensational claim, putting different words into Jesus’s mouth: “Christ did not declare that he will come again. He said, ‘He who made me will come again.’That Ba-Ba is this Baba and Sai, the short-curly-hair-crowned red-robed Baba, is come’” (Kasturi, IV, 346).

The Walter Cowan Resurrection Story

A very basic synopsis of the Walter Cowan Resurrection story as frequently recounted since early 1972 in devotee literature and talks (and later in some reference works) is as follows.

Just over 24 hours after Sathya Sai Baba’s final Conference Discourse, in the early morning of 25 December, 1971, in the Connemara Hotel, Madras, a wealthy elderly American devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, Walter Cowan, became seriously ill and died in the arms of his wife, Elsie, who was understandably too distraught to accompany him to a private hospital (or nursing home) by ambulance. On arrival, he was examined and pronounced dead.

Some hours later, Mrs Elsie Cowan went to see Sathya Sai Baba, who was staying in a devotee’s house. He said he would visit the hospital. When Elsie reached the hospital at 10 a.m. with Mrs Ratan Lal, they were told Sathya Sai Baba had already visited and left. To Mrs Cowan’s amazement and indescribable joy, she found her husband alive (“resurrected”) and being looked after by the private hospital staff. He was subsequently kept under close medical supervision for three weeks.

At an early stage, but after the departure from the hotel of the alleged corpse en route for the Lady Willingdon nursing home, Dr John Hislop was called in to assist Mrs Cowan. Some time later, at Elsie Cowan’s request, Hislop carefully wrote down her full version of the happenings, together with Walter’s subsequent account of an experience which appears to be similar to a Near Death Experience (NDE). This full Hislop-Cowan version was initially published in January 1972 in the devotee magazine, Sanathana Sarathi. The same version was subsequently reprinted, under the name of Elsie Cowan in 1976 by S. P. Ruhela and Duane Robinson (eds), Sai Baba and His Message. A Challenge to Behavioural Science. (See pp. 236-245.) Most devotees will have heard a shorter version of the story in Hislop’s later bestselling book, My Baba and I (pp. 28-31).

Mrs Cowan begins her short page-long introduction to the Hislop statement on her behalf with a eulogy to the “tremendous power of this Great High God, who not only walks the earth, but cares for all the planes from earth into eternity” (Ruhela, p. 236). She then sets the scene for the requested report by asserting, categorically: “This is a story of how our Great Lord Sai Baba resurrected Walter, who died in Madras.”

According to Hislop’s report to Mrs Cowan (expressed in terms reminiscent of those of a close personal advisor), in the early hours of Christmas Day, Mr and Mrs Ratan Lal were in a nearby room and Mrs Ratan Lal assisted Elsie as she tended the dying or dead Walter. An ambulance was called but Elsie was too exhausted to accompany the body. In Hislop’s very carefully chosen words about those moments, as he set down the details of Elsie’s account:

“You confirmed the news, and told us how the attack had felled Walter in the hotel room.”

“ … it was soon evident to you that Walter had indeed passed from the body” and, later, “Someone called an ambulance to take Walter to the hospital, but it was your experience that Walter had died in your arms”(Ruhela, 1976, p. 237). (Mrs Ratan Lal seems to have remained silent on the subject.)

In what appears to be a voluntary gesture to assist Mrs Cowan in establishing the truth via his report, Hislop records that he had asked Judge Damodar Rao [a Sathya Sai Baba devotee] to interview the (unnamed) doctor who had attended Walter on arrival at the hospital. Hislop goes on to report that the (still unnamed) physician “told Judge Rao that Walter was indeed dead when he examined Walter shortly after the ambulance had delivered him to the hospital. The doctor said that there was no sign of life and that Walter’s ears and nose were stuffed with cotton; that Walter was covered with a sheet and moved into an empty room” (Ruhela, p. 238). Referring to the subsequent days in the private hospital, when Walter’s condition deteriorated on more than one occasion, Hislop states that in a conversation with Sathya Sai Baba at distant Prasanthi Nilayam a week later, the latter made this claim: “Mr Cowan died three times. I had to bring him back three times” (Ruhela, 240).

Given the number of prominent Sathya Sai Baba devotees present in Madras in December 1971, the sensational news of the perceived miracle travelled far and fast, arousing huge interest and curiosity. The well known (later) devotee, Bon Giovanni is on record as saying: “After Swami resurrected a California oil man who died in an Indian hospital, I went for my first visit. ...” (– now that SSB’s devotees keep most of their discussions to themselves, this is a Members only site. The quotation was accessed and downloaded long ago when the site was still open to the general public.)

Since that date the Walter Cowan resurrection story has been one of the most repeated of all of SSB’s alleged miracles, one which has had a great impact on readers and which has attained the status of gospel truth, even though the only evidence of death is the impression and recollection of Elsie Cowan, as told to Hislop, and a reassuring but vague investigation by him. What the story lacked from the outset was medical proof of the death. It is further to be noted that all the major versions of the ‘resurrection’ are based (directly or verbatim) on Hislop’s chronicling of Mrs Cowan’s account of the sequence of events. For example:

Dr S. Sandweiss (1975, 101-103), a summary of the Hislop account; Richard Bock, Aura of Divinity (a 1970s devotee documentary in which Dr Hislop tells the story yet again), Howard Murphet (Sai Baba.Avatar, 1977, 170-1); Dr. E. Fanibunda, page 10; M. N. Rao (1985, 232-236 – the account of this prominent ashramite and writer contains some extra details which may reflect discussions in the ashram). (See List of References for bibliographical details.)

On pages 22 and 94 of Volume 4 of Kasturi’s biography of Sathya Sai Baba (American Printing, 1988), he states that the Cowans were present at the December 1971 Conference and that when they returned to USA, Elsie told a Sai group effusively that they were both “brimful of the most astounding news that can happen to anyone. It is so fantastic that many of you may doubt it, because hardly any of us realize the great importance and the tremendous power of this Great High God, who not only walks the earth but cares for all the planes from earth to eternity. Walter died at Madras. Sai Baba resurrected him.” Her husband confirmed this.

Prima facie, it therefore seems most probable that once Elsie Cowan had decided in her mind that the death and ‘resurrection’ had taken place, she remained convinced and eagerly spread her story of this amazing new proof of her guru’s exceptional powers. Such was her status among American devotees that her word was unquestioned.

Sathya Sai Baba himself appears to have said very little in public about the event. A rare and therefore valuable reference is offered at the end of Dr Sandweiss’s summary of the Hislop account where he adds the following statement by SSB which Sandweiss attributes to Hislop:

“After Hislop had heard Walter give this account, he asked Sai Baba [sic] whether Walter’s experience was real or some sort of hallucination or illusion. Baba replied, The experience was a real experience, not an illusion. It was an experience occurring within Mr Cowan’s mind, and I myself was there – directing and clarifying the thoughts” (Sandweiss, 1975, p. 103). Nevertheless, the following comment by Ra. Ganapati indicates (as does M. N. Rao) that SSB may well have made remarks to his close associates on a more private basis (thereby enabling them, as usual, to pass the news on to devotees in their own words):
“He narrated [to those present] how He had saved Cowan from the jaws of death” (Ra. Ganapati, I: 343)

Years later, the extraordinary story was investigated by three non-devotees. In 1987 Professor Erlendur Haraldsson published the results of his 1977 interviews with three local doctors (one at the hotel (Dr O. G. C. Vaz), one at the nursing home (Dr R. B. Krishna Rao, or Rau) and a cardiologist (Dr R. S. Rajagopalan). Haraldsson establishes that Cowan was seriously ill and stayed in the nursing home from 25 December to 15 January 1972 and he reports that all three doctors denied that Walter Cowan had died.

Haraldsson provides more specific evidence about the visit by Sathya Sai Baba:

“Dr Vaz and Dr Krishna Rao both told me that Sai Baba had visited Walter Cowan in the hospital in the late morning following Cowan’s admission. Cowan had been awake according to Dr Vaz, who was in the hospital at the time. Sai Baba had talked to Cowan and had given him vibhuti. ‘This might have boosted his morale, but he would have recovered without Sai Baba’ s coming,’ Dr Vaz told me” (Haraldsson, p. 257).

As for the judge mentioned by Hislop as corroborating the story of Cowan’s death, over the telephone to Haraldsson he “denied having made any investigation of this case”, thus contradicting the statement made to Mrs Cowan by Hislop about his own vague investigative efforts. In a 1980 interview with Haraldsson, Elsie Cowan maintained her original story. (Haraldsson also adds, anecdotally, that during a 1975 trip to India with his colleague, Dr Karlis Osis, “Mr Eswar mentioned to Dr Osis that Sai Baba [sic] had told him to play the case down”.)

(See pp. 253-260 in the Haraldsson listing in the References section, or pp. 244-248 in the scanned pages of Haraldsson’s chapter available online. The title ends, provocatively, with a question mark: ‘Raising the Dead?’)

Haraldsson’s account clearly refutes the resurrection claim made by Elsie Cowan and John Hislop but in spite of the many thousands of devotees who have read his book in English and in several translations, neither Hislop, the Sathya Sai Organisation nor spokespersons, writers or devotees have acknowledged the results of the investigation of this academic whose book is widely believed by them to have proved that Sathya Sai Baba’s claimed materialisations are genuine.

In 1988, Basava Premanand, the prominent Indian Rationalist and for three decades indefatigable debunker of Sathya Sai Baba, also undertook an investigation by entering into correspondence with the same doctors. (See Indian Skeptic, 1988 and Beyerstein’s report). All three doctors involved with Walter Cowan again agreed that Cowan was seriously ill but denied that he was pronounced medically dead at any stage of his long stay in the Lady Willingdon nursing home. (The cardiologist tells Premanand that some time after admission, Cowan had a cardiac arrest which was dealt with medically.) Another convincing refutation of the Elsie Cowan-Hislop claim.

Part of Dr B. Krishna Rau’s letter to Premanand (13-7-1988) adds medical detail:

“Mr Walter Cowan was admitted with congestive cardiac failure and in a very bad condition. He had NOT at any time died in the medical terminology. During his stay in the hospital, Sri Satya Sai Baba visited him when he was critically ill.
As for his ears and nose being plugged with cotton [it] is not correct.”
(See Premanand, and Beyerstein, section 22.)

Surprisingly, none of these straightforward denials and refutations from the 1970s and 1980s have been acknowledged by the Sathya Sai Organisation or by John Hislop, who doggedly maintained his original story about the judge’s statement in an explanatory letter to Dr David Lane, written on 17 July 1988 and reproduced in the Indian Skeptic. Here is part of that letter:

“Two points placed into emphasis by Dr. Heraldsson were the denials of the doctor at the hospital in Madras, and the denial of Judge Damadar Rao. Mrs. Cowan told me that the doctor came to her at her hotel and demanded that she provide him with a ticket and with sponsorship to the USA. This she would not do and according to her, the doctor's denials arose thereafter. Judge Damadar Rao is a fine Indian gentleman, respected and admired by everyone who knows him. His son is the Principal of the Sathya Sai Men's College at Whitefield. The Judge and his Wife, long-time devotees of Sathya Sai Baba, are now living their retirement years in Baba’s Ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, at Puttaparthi. I do not see how Judge Damadar's statement and mine can ever be reconciled. When Dr. Heraldsson asked the Judge, some thirteen or fourteen years after the incident, the Judge's memory was as stated in Dr. Haraldsson's book. When I set forth my account, about a month after the event, my memory was that the Judge told me he had independently gone to the hospital the day following Cowan's death and verified the circumstances of his admittance to the hospital. How can I now deny my memory of that time, and how can the Judge deny his present memory? Neither is possible.” (

Hislop’s attention to detail is sloppy. For the record, the investigator’s name is Haraldsson and his interviews were conducted in 1977, six years after the event. (His book was not published until 10 years after the investigation.) Irrespective of the unsupported accusation allegedly made by Elsie Cowan against an unnamed doctor, which does not have any relevance to the behaviour of the other two doctors, Hislop makes no mention here (or elsewhere) of the names of the three doctors who denied that they had certified Walter Cowan as dead to both Haraldsson and eleven years later, Premanand. Neither did the Cowans or Hislop present any signed medical evidence indicating a diagnosis of death.

(A convincing selection of much of the Premanand and other data concerning the “resurrection” was assembled and is still available online in Dale Beyerstein’s 1994 book, Chapter 2, ‘Did Sai Baba Resurrect Someone from the Dead?’)

The extraordinary and disturbing result of this blatant personal and official denial is that, 20 years later, this iconic ‘miracle’ story is still touted in the Sai literature and folklore as one of the greatest proofs of SSB’s omnipotence. As late as 1994, Peter Phipps selected Hislop’s complete shorter statement as Appendix 2 of his first book about the parallels between Sathya Sai Baba and Jesus Christ (pp. 164-167). So, while devotees can read and be impressed by the Elsie Cowan-John Hislop resurrection story in many devotee books and in ashram gossip, the clear counter evidence and facts elicited by Haraldsson (whose book is very widely read, and recommended, by devotees – and inappropriately cited by them as a proof of SSB’s divine claims) are totally ignored. The careful investigations of Premanand and Beyerstein are equally ignored.

The Sequel

Sathya Sai Centres were formed in USA in the early 1970s, the Cowans set up a Centre in their house and Elsie opened the Sathya Sai Book Center in Tustin, California(Diana Baskin, p. 52; Gokak, 266) . Samuel Sandweiss set up a Centre in San Diego and Hilda Charlton set up a New York Centre. By 1975 the Sathya Sai Organisation of USA had been formed, with Hislop as its Chairman. In September-October of the previous year, Professor V. K. Gokak toured USA Centres as Sathya Sai Baba’s representative (following SSB’s failure to visit USA as he had promised Mrs Cowan and other prominent American devotees). The Gokak trip was funded by Mrs Elsie Cowan. (Gokak, 1975, p. 299)

Eighteen months after his famous medical emergency, Walter Cowan died. “Baba sent a telegram [to Elsie Cowan] from here [ India]: “Rani [Queen]. Walter arrived here in good shape.” (Ra. Ganapati, I: 344). Howard Murphet, who, with his wife, was a good friend of the Cowans, reports that Sathya Sai Baba confided: “I wanted to save Mrs Cowan the pain and bother of taking her husband back home, dead. It was better that he should die later in his own country” (Murphet, 1977, 172).

Elsie Cowan donated money for use in the building of the Boys’ school in Brindavan: “She raised a hostel for the boys of the Sathya Sai College at Whitefield ... at a cost of several lakhs of rupees, as a memorial to her husband ...” (Ra. Ganapati, I: 344)

By then aged 80, Elsie Cowan funded Dr Gokak’s tour of U.S. Sai Centres in 1974. As the owner of the Sathya Sai Book and Publication Centre of America, she “invested a good part of her fortune into this service and turned her spacious house into a temple”; “she has energy, vivacity and zest for work which can put young men to shame”; “Mrs Cowan who had adopted me as her own baby and looked after me with motherly care and tenderness …” (Gokak, 266-267).

Kasturi reports that on 28 April 1977 the Cowan Block of the hostel of the Brindavan (Whitefield) College Campus was opened by the President of India (a devotee from Karnataka). Elsie Cowan was present and expressed “her joy at the name which Baba has given to the hermitage of Saraswati (the goddess of learning), to commemorate her husband, Walter Cowan, whom He Himself had resurrected. ‘We too, who reside in this hostel, are awaiting resurrection,’ said a student with exaltation that day” (Kasturi, IV, 48-49). Such exaltation and hyperbole by devotees has to be taken into account when assessing the words and deeds of Sathya Sai Baba.


After Mr Cowan’s recovery, he described his awareness, during his unconscious state, of being taken by Sathya Sai Baba to a sort of interview board for his case to be reviewed. SSB intervened on his behalf saying that he had work for him to do (Hislop, My Baba and I, 29). These are the same sorts of images used by many people who have been close to death, and who have been inexplicably ‘reprieved’. It is customary to describe such cases as ‘Near Death Experiences’ or NDEs rather than resurrections. Given the large number of other unique claims made by and on behalf of Sathya Sai Baba, the unavoidable conclusion is that this resurrection claim (like another which Haraldsson also conclusively disproved as an exaggeration, that of Radhakrishna in 1953) offers yet another example of over-zealous devotees like Hislop and Cowan propagating unsupported impressions and information with such dynamic enthusiasm that the claim is instantly accepted as unshakeable fact, thus adding to the plethora of divine myths associated with the name of Sathya Sai Baba. (For a convincing refutation of the Radhakrishna resurrection claim, for which Haraldsson’s evidence was also crucial, see Beyerstein’s contrastive evidence in Sections 9-15 of his book.)

For decades, John Hislop and many other major and minor other spokespersons and devotees have boldly promoted and advertised as absolute proof of the Divine Powers of Sathya Sai Baba the implausible stories of the Hislop Crucifix, the picture of the predicted Prema Sai Baba on Hislop’s ring and the completely unsupported claim of the “resurrection” of Hislop’s friend, Walter Cowan. The authority and influence of such Sai celebrities has played a major role in the success of the international SSB Mission. The numbers of foreigners attracted to the Sathya Sai Baba fold since 1971 by this persuasive promotion is incalculable.

Nevertheless, the progressive internationalisation of the SSO on the Internet, as well as the controversies surrounding Sathya Sai Baba’s name, have made it much more difficult for such untenable claims – and the greater one of SSB being God on Earth and Avatar of the Age – to be made as publicly and boldly as before. Indeed, the Sathya Sai Organisation has waged an expensive and somewhat clumsy campaign in recent years to offer a mixed international message to different audiences: of a Divine Avatar or a beneficent ecumenical spiritual leader.

It would therefore seem more expedient if the Organisation were to exercise executive control – outside India, at the very least – over the increasing hype and hysteria which have characterised the Movement over recent decades and to redefine more realistically the core values, message and qualifications of its ageing charismatic guru as part of a more realistic forward-looking promotion of the charitable and teaching projects carried out in Sathya Sai Baba’s name.

List of References, with additional comments

Sathya Sai Baba, Discourses. See

Elisabeth Arweck and Peter B. Clarke, New Religious Movements in Western Europe.An Annotated Bibliography, Westport, Greenwood, 1999, p. 103, Item 568:
“...Although Sai Baba did not agree to take part in controlled experiments, a number of reported miracles have been debunked, such as the famous “resurrection of Walter Cowan”. ...”

Dale Beyerstein:
1989-1993: Sai Baba’s Miracles. An Overview , Indian Skeptic , January 1989-July 1993. [in 9 instalments]
1994: Sai Baba’s Miracles. An Overview, Podanur, India, 1994.
Published on the Internet in the late 1990s by ‘Ted’, of the British Columbia Skeptics ( Canada). Currently available, anonymously, at>
See especially Sections 16-26 of Chapter 2: ‘Did Sai Baba Resurrect Someone from the Dead?
See also for letters from Beyerstein to Haraldsson and Hislop.
1996: ‘Sai Baba’, in Gordon Stein (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, New York, Prometheus, Books, pp. 653-656.

Richard Bock, Aura of Divinity (1970s documentary available on videocassette).
Released in California in 1974. (See Gokak, 1975, pp. 266, 280 and 284.)
It was Bock who recorded the Walter Cowan statement in 1971 “very soon after the incident” (Haraldsson, p. 256)

Robert A. Bozzani, ‘ The Expansion of Love … in the United States and in our unique personalities’,

Elsie Cowan [See also Hislop], ‘Sai Baba and the Resurrection of Walter Cowan’, in Ruhela, Sathya Pal and Duane Robinson (eds.), Sai Baba and His Message. A Challenge to Behavioural Science, 7th ed., New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1985, pp. 336-345. [1st Ed. Vikas, 1976] [This account, most of which was written at Mrs Cowan’s request by John Hislop, was not included in the 1995 revised edition by S. P. Ruhela.]

Eruch B. Fanibunda, Vision of the Divine, Bombay, Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications, 1976, p. 10.

Ra. Ganapati, Baba: Satya Sai, Part I, 2nd ed., Madras, Sai Raj, 1985, 341-344.

V. K. Gokak, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The Man and the Avatar. An Interpretation, New Delhi, Abhinav Publications, 1975. [2nd ed., 1983]
See pp. 255-299 for his 1974 U.S. Tour.

Erlendur Haraldsson,
1987: ‘Miracles Are My Visiting Cards’. An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba, London, Century Paperbacks. [Also marketed for sale in India only by Prasanthi Publications of New Delhi]

My references are to a later Indian edition of the 1987 version (ISBN 0712615148, 320 pages). Although this is not stated, it is a mid-1990s revised version containing the 1993 investigation by Haraldsson and his colleague Richard Wiseman into the 1992 Doordarshan controversy about possible manipulation of the materialisation of a gold chain. This was later published as a professional paper in1995. No clear irregularities were detected by the two paranormal experts but this analysis has since been disputed, for example by Gogineni.

Scans of Haraldsson’s pages on Hislop and Walter and Elsie Cowan:

Hislop, John S.:
(?1985): Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, enlarged Indian edition, Prasanthi Nilayam, Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust.
Original version: Conversations with Sathya Sai Baba, San Diego, Birth Day. [n.d.]
?1979: ‘Things are not as They Seem to Be’, Golden Age, pp. 32-40.
1986: My Baba and I, Prasanthi Nilayam, Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust. (See especially pages 28-31.)
1997: Seeking Divinity [Talks by Dr John S. Hislop], Tustin, Sathya Sai Society of America. [Published posthumously]

The Indian Skeptic, See and the more recent

N[arayan] Kasturi:
1961-1980: Sathyam Sivam Sundaram. The Life of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 4 vols., Prasanthi Nilayam, Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications. [Also American edition c1988]
1973: ‘Turn Him Over to Me’ Sanathana Sarathi, Vol.16, No.4, June, pp. 120-125. (Reference from B. Premanand. See below.)

Howard Murphet:
1971: Sai Baba: Man of Miracles, London.
[Reprinted by Samuel Weiser, York Beach, 1973 and subsequently]
1977: Sai Baba Avatar. A New Journey into Power and Glory, San Diego, Birth Day,
1982: Sai Baba. Invitation to Glory, Delhi, MacMillan.
[Republished in USA in 1993 as Walking the Path with Sai Baba, York Beach, Samuel Weiser.]
1993a: Walking the Path with Sai Baba, York Beach, Samuel Weiser.
(On Christmas Eve 1971, Murphet asked for permission for his group to sing Chrismas carols. (1977, p. 80)

Basava Premanand,
Letters to J. Hislop and E. Haraldsson, published in 1988.
See (Many of these early articles are downloadable.)

Peter Phipps, Sathya Sai Baba and Jesus Christ. A Gospel for the Golden Age, Sathya Sai Publications of New Zealand, Auckland, 1994.

M. N. Rao, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Story of God as Man, Prasanthi Nilayam, 1985, pp. 232-236.
Dr M. N. Rao, a prolific Sathya Sai Baba hagiographer and ashram resident for many retirement years, offers his summary (including details of Walter Cowan’s relapses while under close medical supervision), assuring his many readers with characteristic hyperbole and insouciance that the Cowan claim has been “documented excellently, checked and rechecked, to vouch for its veracity” (p. 233).

S. P. Ruhela, Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Press (1972-1996), New Delhi, UMANG Paperbacks, 1997, 7-18.

S. P. Ruhela and Duane Robinson (eds), Sai Baba and His Message. A Challenge to Behavioural Science, 7th ed., New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1985. (See pp. 236-245.)

Samuel H. Sandweiss:
1975: SAI BABA. The Holy Man ... and the Psychiatrist, San Diego, Birth Day.
1985: Spirit and the Mind, San Diego, Birth Day.


Annotated Bibliography on SSB. Part 2

Sathya Sai Baba's Credibility Gap