Devotees called him the ‘godman', skeptics thought he conjured simple magic, but in real life, Satya Sai Baba held sway over millions of people across the globe. He leaves behind a legacy of his own spiritual philosophy, rich Trust with diversified activities.
Born into a middle-class family on November 23, 1926, in the backward Anantapur district of Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh, Ratnakar Satyanarayana Raju rose to transform himself as Sathya Sai Baba and put his native Puttaparthi on the global map with the visit of his VIP devotees, and secular, spiritual milieu he created.
In his passing away today, after battling life for 28 days, with the best of medical treatment at the super- specialty hospital he set up, his large devotees feel orphaned. The Trust, he set up with generous donations from devotees all over the world, is involved in education, health, drinking water and schemes targeted to help the poor.
The Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (a deemed university), the super-specialty hospital (one more in Bangalore's White Fields), the Telugu Ganga canal work (linking water to Chennai), drinking water schemes in Anantapur, Mahboobnagar and Godavari districts, free education to poor children are some of his lasting contributions.
While ordinary people flocked to him seeking solutions to their problems, which the Baba bestowed through ‘miracle cures', of which many stories abound, he also attracted the powerful, popular and the mighty. His devotees are spread in over 150 countries.
From India's cricket icon, Sachin Tendulkar to former PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao, a former Italian Premier to M.S. Rasgotra, a long list repose faith in Baba. His birthday on November 23, saw the who's who descend on Prasanthi Nilayam in the small town of Puttaparthi.
However, in his 86-year life, the Baba attracted controversies too, with his acts of producing vibhuti (sacred ash), watches, rings, necklaces etc. from thin air, as well as giving darshan selectively. His detractors termed these ‘miracles' as magic. Events of a murder in the ashram a few years ago, estimates of huge funds in the trust also raise questions on the activities in Puttaparthi. He had also claimed to be the re-incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.
Though not highly educated, Sai Baba, the fourth child of Eswaramma and Pedda Venkata Raju, rose through his powers, preachings and travelling to build a mass following. Retired bureaucrats, professionals, doctors have settled down in Puttaparthi to serve. He also sang and released several CDs of bhajans and devotional songs.
Interestingly, Anantapur district is also home to the Rural Development Trust, founded by a Spanish priest name Father Ferrer in the late 1960's, the same time Satya Sai Baba was growing in stature. It also works in the areas of healthcare, education and helping the very poor with low profile.
The big challenge for the Sathya Sai Trust is to continue the huge projects and people-aiding activities that the Baba, a bachelor set about in the past three decades and keep alive his philosophy. There are educational institutes run by the Trust in 33 countries as well.