The Telugu World Column No: 38
Telugu Satya sai Leads in Spiritual World
Most of those in search of spiritual solace and enlightenment always looked towards India. Five or six decades ago there was a group called hippies, who opposed the restrictive social norms of that era, who made Goa their destination and many beaches there had the problem of naked or shabbily dressed foreigners, mostly in Indian gear, crowding them. That wave has gone. Earlier Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry, then a French colony in India, attracted many foreigners. A decade ago in a similar wave thousands from other countries and from all over India flocked to Puttaparthi in Anantapur district of AP, the abode of Satya Saibaba, Once a non-descript village, it has become an international centre.
On my many visits to Puttaparthi I saw more foreigners from all over the world than even in Delhi. Elsewhere in India most White people one sees may be Americans or the British and a sprinkling of Russians in places like Bhila or Germans in Durgapur because the steel plants there had collaboration with those countries. In Puttaparthi Prashanti Nilayam Ashram of Satya Sai, which now has an airstrip and a railway junction where most trains stop, you can meet people from less known countries like Uruguay
or Chile, most men in while pyjama-kurta and women in sarees. And they all bowed to a Guru who spoke only in Telugu and was interpreted by eminent persons like top scientist Suri Bhagawantamor great journalist V. K. Narasimhan.
Sathya Sai Baba was born on 23 November 1926 as Sathyanarayana Raju and was referred to as Bhagwan (God) He expired on 24 April 2011. A guru and philanthropist, he was followed by great intellectuals and even heads of state, At the age of 14 he claimed that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba and left his home to serve the society. He materialized vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces, and watches to the amazement of the devotees. This was criticized by agnostics and rationalists saying it was a mere sleight of hand. His followers reported faith healings and many flocked to Puttaparthi and sought Baba’s blessings due to unsurmountable problems or incurable diseases. Sathya Sai Baba founded the Sathya Sai Organization to enable its members to undertake service activities for spiritual advancement. It has over 1,200 Sathya Sai Seva Samiti centers in 126 countries. Through this, Sathya Sai Baba established a network of free super specialty and general hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, a university, auditoria, ashrams and schools. And all that his adversaries did was to criticize him.
At one of his birthday celebrations I saw a diamond studded gold crown gifted to him by an Indian devotee from abroad. He did not want to wear it saying it was too heavy and wanted it auctioned to pay for his charities. A devotee from Singapore wanted it assessed and offered to pay double the estimated value. As this was being done, a Japanese delegate sitting near me said in his broken English, “If it was auctioned, we would have paid more. But an auction may have diverted attention from the main function. This is good.”
Madras city was facing acute water problem thwarting its development. He financed the ‘Telugu Ganga’ project to take Godavari waters there and saved it. Most Indian projects get delayed, resulting in cost escalation and almost all cost several times more than original estimates. In Puttaparthi on its completion before the projected deadline, as it waited for inauguration by the President, I heard engineers say, “Let the inauguration take place next month. We will release the water now as Madras (Chennai now) is parched.” That is the difference between committed work devoted people do and what is done because it is “just a job.”
Prashanti Nilayam, as the Ashram is called, celebrates the festivals of all religions and national days of all countries. There is an annual schedule and each ‘Seva Samiti’ is given dates from which it’s month-long ‘seva’ duty starts. These include groups from other countries. During seva, volunteers from that samiti do all work at the Ashram. When asked to come out for a cup of tea, a volunteer said he could not, as he was on duty as a gatekeeper. He was a retired Director General!
It is said when APJ Abdul Kalam visited him, the Baba offered him a chair. Dr. Kalam refused and sat on the ground at Baba’s feet to talk, saying “I am only President of India. You head the whole world.” (I am Rashtrapati, but you are Vishwapati). Though Baba is not there anymore, all activities at Prashanti Nilayam go on as before, only difference being that instead of him it is his portrait on the chair he used to sit on. The ashram is managed by a Trust of eminent people who have no interest in its wealth and no one can allege any misappropriation.
Many god-men, Mathas, Ashrams and cults have sprung up all over the country, amassing wealth but none of them has as many philanthropic projects as are undertaken by Prashanti Nilayam. Thanks to Satya Sai, millions have heard his speeches in Telugu, translated into English.