Thursday, August 11, 2011

The art of creating new gods for business

Shirdi Sai Baba – Myth and Business


There is a climax shot in popular Hindi film Amar, Akbar, Anthony of erstwhile era. Akbar is
singing at the top if his voice in front of Saibaba’s giant statue. Two bright and colourful rays emerge
out of the eyes of statue and enter in the eyes of Akbar’s blind mother. Mother shouts: “I can see
now! God blessed me!” All the spectators in the cinema hall are excited.

“Saibaba is a GOD’ ‘What a wonderful thing to happen’.... Saibaba of Shiridi has become
a symbol of money-spinners for film industry people. Without his blessing neither film shooting will
start nor a completed film will be released in the cinema halls. While travelling to Shirdi, a place
regularly visited by the film industry people and thousands of devotees from all over India. We will
hear the dialogues like “We are devotees of Baba for last twenty years’. His blessings saved me
many times. “The Great Saibaba!’ There is no point in arguing with devotees since all of them have
immersed in Sai miracle. The impact of this strong belief will not allow one to think nationally or
think at all. While travelling one can observe many people reading loudly ‘Sai Charit”. Late Govind
Raghunath Dabholkar has written this book. This book is mostly about the miracles performed by
Saibaba. The followers vow that they have read the book 20-30 times. The contents have been
impregnated in their brains permanently if you just glance through the pages you will find miracles
like Saibaba taking out his intestine, drying it in the air and again pushing it inside the abdomen.
One will get nausea while reading such miracles. But the book had been reprinted more than 20
times in the last 50 years selling thousands of copies. Saibaba Trust officially publishes this book and
glorifies such nonsense.

Dadasaheb Khaparde’s son had swelling on his skin and was in severe pain. His mother
rushed to Saibaba . Saibaba told “Don’t worry, it will rain”. Saibaba started taking out his clothes
and mother saw the swelling on Saibaba”s body. Saibaba said that he suffers all the pains of his
followers. The author, Govind Dabholkar was a magistrate and he confirmed that all these events
have happened in reality and no one should doubt about them. One co-passenger started babbling:
’my daughter-in-law had some problem while delivering. I took holy ash from the Sai temple and
pasted on her stomach and within five minutes she delivered a healthy baby.”

As soon as we enter Shirdi town, handouts and cards will start passing through the
windows. “Sai Shankar Flower Merchants: All items required for Pooja and Abhishek are available at
reasonable prices”. However there is one more precautionary sentence for the benefit of devotees:
Beware of thieves. One cannot imagine that in miracle of Saibaba. Meantime a few people
practically try to drag you saying

In the year 1838, a Phakeer (Muslim priest) lands here. For want of any other name the
local goldsmith calls him Saibaba. Shirdi was a small village consisting of dilapidated houses.
Villagers had great fun to see such a stranger in their village. Most of them were farmers.
Nowadays the farming has been set aside and every one is engaged in only one industry.... Sai baba

Sai is business for this town

Enter any shop. By paying Rs.25 one will get all the essential items of Abhiskek. Talkative
shop owners murmur ; Saibaba blesses you. ‘How to get Darshan?’. Innocent question but difficult to
answer. Abhishek is performed at 9 ’O’clock in the morning. For this you should stand in queue right
from early morning at 5 ‘O’ clock . Satyanarayana Pooja will be at noon 12 ‘O’ Clock. In the evening
there will be Aarati will be at 10 pm. He listed the timetable. ‘Will it be possible to avoid standing in

‘You need right contacts at highest level. Or you should be political bigwig like MP, MLA,
Minister or Govt. Bureaucrat from secretariat. Permission is granted to enter the main temple to
these influential persons only. But if one is ready to pay huge donation, say Rs.50,000, will open the
gates of main Mandir immediately. Money has more miraculous power than Sai.

A board is displayed in the office of Sai trust about the special category for Darshan. Some
are more equal than others even here too. Whom do you complain? The trust has built a big hall
for devotees anxious for Sai Daeshan. Marble benches have been provided to take rest. Close
circuit TV has been installed to view the Pooja performed in the main temple by other devotees.
Most in the waiting are fully satisfied with this virtual reality. All the walls in the hall have been
painted with the scenes showing Saibaba’s miracles.

Miracle 1. When the villages were infected by cholera, Saibaba put jowar flour around the
village and cured cholera affected people. Miracle 2. Chandbhai who brought Saibaba to Shiridi,
wanted to smoke Chilum (sort of handmade pipe). He couldn’t find fire anywhere nearby. Phakeer
touched the green grass and fire was lit! 3. A river started from the toe of the feet of Saibaba.
4. Thousands of lamps were lit on the water while Saibaba is standing on the shore.

If someone stands in a queue surrounded by such scenes, one will certainly start believing
anything. Mind will be conditioned to accept anything without thinking. The books like Sai Charit
or Sai Leelamrit are continuously glorifying the miraculous power of Saibaba. The glorification
of anything has become a core theme of Indian society. The believer will become helpless and
intellectually week and starts losing confidence in himself and his efforts. Anything good that
is happening in his life will be attributed to God, Guru or somebody except himself . Anything
determined will be result of his fate. No one wanted to go into details of these miracles have
been described never bother to give any references and historical evidences. Perhaps there may
not be any base. Everything is just for these miracles. Everything is just imagination to make
money. Even the photographs displayed are fake or created by Imaging. On enquiry at trust
office, the concerned official said that there no original photographs of Saibaba anywhere. One
starts wondering how the cult is is being built around such imaginary things and the market force to
flood the photographs of Saibaba. In one of the books published in 1914, there is a reference that
district collector Desai has taken a snap shot. But the reference does not have any credibility. Trust
released a photograph in 1922. But the trust also took the miracle route.

The serpentine queue has moving snail’s speed. The devotees were mostly from Gujarat.
Every 10-15 minutes you would hear the shouting in unison: Bolo Sainath Maharaj ki Jai, Jor se bolo
Sai bolo. Every one is holding a plate with flowers and other items of worship. A saffron scarf was
used as headgear. Queue as moving slowly. Even the toilets have been provided for nature call of
devotees. If some miscreant tries to jump queue, people will express their anger by shouting the

slogan with higher pitch. Some one said “Sai will punish the intruder”.

Meanwhile, someone started selling Laddu for Rs. Two. The devotees are expected to put
Laddu at the feet of Sai’s idol at main Mandir and eat as Prasadam, which is blessed by Sai to wash
away the sins committed by devotee knowingly or unknowingly . On an average four thousand
devotees are visiting every day. On Thursdays this figure will rise to sixty thousand. So you can
imagine the turnover in a place like Shiridi, Satyanarain pooja will cost twenty five rupees. The Pooja
itself must be fetching straight away more than 20 lakh per week. At the basement 15-18 huge
sealed steel boxes are kept to receive the donations. No receipts are demanded for the donations
deposited by the devotees. Some times the total collection goes upto Rs. Fifty lakh per week. In
this money collecting game, one day Shiridi Saibaba will surpass Tirupati Balaji.

After going through all the hasseles, battering by the security guards and the anxiety, at last
one enters into the main Mandir where the devotees can physically touch the Sai Idol. Suddenly a
few in the queue roll on the floor and beat their head as through possessed by some invisible thing.
Devotee hands over the plate. The priest touches the plate at the idol’s feet in a flash and hands
over back to the devotee. Devotee is not satisfied. He wants to be kept longer time. Everything
needs to be charged by the Sai power. The priests start protesting. However, some one pacifies
both the parties. Queue has to move. There are 24 priests who work in two shifts. These priests
are middlemen between God Sai and the devotees. The total staff consists of 45 persons who
are attending Sai round the clock. Out of 24 priests, 9 of them are holding diploma certificate
from Tryambakeshwaar School of Veda , which conducts regular courses of 3 years duration on
priesthood. This includes idol worship, offering flowers, Satyanarayan Pooja and various Mantras
to be chanted at various occasions etc. Even the priests have to go through the shifts to earn their
livelihood like any industrial worker though all of them are so near to Saibaba and everyday seeing
him in person. Sai Idol is made of Italian marble. There is a throne embedded with designed
carved in silver and gold plates. The Idol has been dressed with red and saffron coloured garments.
A pearl necklace is around the neck. Like in any other temples, there is no mound of coconuts near
the Idol but heap of dry flowers occupy the major portion of floor space.

Dabholkar, Deshpande and Saagasrabuddhe trio initially started the flourishing business of
Saibaba idol worship about hundred years ago. If one critically tries to analyze the stories and myths
propagated, one will start doubting whether such a person was really alive or was it a figment of
imagination of a few gangsters to rob the gullible public. A Phakeer comes to remotest village,
says in a sort of mosque, and taken names of Allah. It means the person was never a hindu. In
fact the person had a very abnormal pattern of behaviour. He was a smoker of chillum (a sort
of pipe). He wandered all around the place on rivar banks and hill tops, always wearing torn
clothes. Most of the time he stared at the sky without blinking the eyes. Villagers called him a mad
phakeer. Beggars stole his food. Bayajabai cooked food for him. But he was never regular for his
meals and got irritated very quickly. Sometimes he used to dance on the streets, Once he out his
hands in the fire. He used obscene language whenever women approached him. No one was
able to make sense of what he was saying in the undertone. All these details are available in the
biographies published by the trust. While going through his biography one gets convinced that there
is a deliberate attempt by Dabholkar, Despande, Dasganoo etc. to project Saibaba as Hindu saint.
Infact Saibaba stayed al l his life in a dilapidated mosque and prayed Allah in Muslim style. But
most of the Hindu Traditionalists imagined him as incarnation of their favourite God or saint. Some

worship him as Swami Ramdas of 16th century era. Some say he is a Avataar of Shankar. Some
vouch that he is incarnation of Dattatreya. Some had gone to the extent that he is an incarnation
of Akkalkot Maharaj of 18th century. There is neither logic nor consistency in these biographies. Sai
baba’s famous slogan is Allah Malik Hai. But in spite of all these supporting evidences that he is
not a Hindu, every devotee assumes that there is an ardent. Hindu but behaved a bit abnormally.
The prestigious gang, who elevated Sai to God’s status to fulfil their vested interests, have given him
a new dimension of Hinduism. Chandorkar went to an extent saying that he had assisted Saibaba
during his bath and confirmed that Sai’s ears were punctured like in Hindu tradition. Thus, an aura of
Hinduism was built around Sai. Infact Saibaba had nothing to do with Ram Navami festival. This was
started by the trio to make money. The tomb built on his death body was also in Hindu tradition.


If one goes through the historical details of Saibaba’s life there was not even a single
Muslim devotee. As per Muslim religion worshipping an idol is banned. As per Muslim religion
worshipping an idol is banned. As such the secularism attached to Saibaba or to his place is an
outright fraud. No Muslim visits this place. No Muslim priest performs prayer. Even then media
advertises this temple as a symbol of secularism. Secularism in the world of faith is a complex
concept. Both Hindus and Muslims have to come to an agreement to evolve a methodology
without hurting the religious feelings. However, vested interests have dominated and Hinduism is

One will realize the extent of exploitation while coming out of the temple and look around it.
Gullible Hindu devotees have contributed whole-heartedly to build mansions and high rise buildings,
now owned by the Trust. The property may be 7-8 crore rupees worth. The building projects are
still continuing and everyone except the devotees is benefited.

A Neem tree with thatched roof is nearby. The legend says that the leaves of this Neem
tree are very sweet. However, you can’t confirm the same since one is not allowed to pluck the
leaves from the tree for eating. However, Hindu religion has a solution for any Catch 22 situation!
You can eat the leaves fallen on the ground. If they are not sweet, it means you are not a pious
person. God is not blessing you. One of the trust official announced that a German scientist was
not able to explore the secret of sweetness. After asking for the report, he expressed his inability to
produce the same. There is a very small lane passing through this place. The lane is crowded with
the beggars. At least 800 beggars might have been there out of which 50-60 are women. If you
just wait for a while, a bread seller will pop up with 4-5 loves of bread and request you to distribute
bread to beggars. Each loaf will cost Rs.20 or more. Like him 5-10 bread sellers are standing among
beggars to give an opportunity to feed the beggars. The beggars are earning at least 400 Rupees
per day; most of them are bank account holders. In this economically liberated era everything
has become ‘instant’ : instant beggars, instant food in the form of bread chunks. Instant sellers.
Everyone wants to make a fast buck.

Across the road there is a place presumed to be where Sai baba distributed the holy ash.
The place is popularly known as Chandorkar Chavadi. Inside, there is nicely carved wooden plank;
above which a notice board is hung indicating Baba’s sleeping place. If you keenly observe, the plank
might have been carved 5-6 years ago. There is also a notice board, which warns that no woman is

allowed inside. In fact as per Saibaba’s biography, Bayajabai took care of him throughout his life.
But no one could explain why such a ban or discrimination towards women in these days. It appears
even in 21st century some one wants to follow the dictates of age old Manusmriti.

Saibaba’s contemporary, Abdul Baba’s house is very near to this place. An old man, poses
of photographs that look exactly like the portraits of Saibaba. He pointed to holy book and other
items and told that all these belong to Abdul baba. Devotees are coming inside and Rahimbaba
blesses them. They put a few coins in return.

“Have you seen Saibaba?”

‘I don’t lie and I don’t want to talk on this issue. Everything is commercialized nowadays. Who is
bothered about Saibaba and his whereabouts?‘ He vented his sorrow. ‘Is there any original snapshot
of Saibaba?’

‘You see, Abdulbaba was his contemporary and we have his genuine photographs. I don’t know
about anything else. No place for the truth, Sir”.

There is one more place known as Dwarakamai’s Mosque. The items, like wheat bag, bath
stone, Chulha etc. have been displayed in this place like in historical museum and people come to
this place with all the reverence, The wheat bag has fresh look as though purchased very recently
and certainly not 100 years old. The Chulla is painted in various colours. The fireplace is still burning.
All devotees bow in front of each item very piously expecting blessings from Saibaba. No one
seems to have any doubts in their minds about whether these artifacts are genuine or fake. No
one displays inquisitiveness while looking at these almost fake items. Thinking power, rationality,
spirit of enquiry are totally absent. The manipulators of religious values have made everyone slave.
Baba has all the remedies for any problems. He can cure all the diseases. Ashes given by him (or
his cronies) is an ultimate medicine for diseases ranging form common cold to severe type of
cancer. Tatyasheb Noolkar recovered from blindness. Padmanabh Swamy was able to hear
clearly through he was deaf right from the birth since he had received blessings of Baba. Balasaheb
Shimpi recovered from Malaria fully just feeding the food to dog by Baba. Shrimant recovered from

Like these, there may be thousands of myths percolating every generation and at every
place. No one dares to doubt Baba’s glory, his super power and his compassion. Mahadevrao
Deshpande was cured of his piles by eating peanuts given by Saibaba. Just by exhauling, Baba cured
the snake and scorpion bites. Swallowing the holy ash cured Dattopant’s stomachache. Though the
whole village was suffering from plague. Chandorkar’s friend was saved because she had put holy
ash on her face. TB patient of Malegaon could recover by just applying the holy ash all over the

All these miracles printed in Sai Leelamrit, are told, retold, modified, glorified and improved
so that no one will have an iota of doubt about its truthfulness. Everything is described as though
narrator was invisibly present all the while and at all the place till the end. Mind is conditioned
and devotees are addicted to listen to such trash. If the diseases can be cured by Darshan or
by applying the holy ash, why has trust built an ultra modern hospital? The hospital incurs Rs.25
lakh loss every year since it subsidizes the medical bills of ‘poor’ devotees. Why is Saibaba not

able to prevent any diseases? Why is he not able to cure poor without any medical assistance? If
the place and person are so powerful. Why do you need diagnostic centres, operation theatres,
surgical facilities, ICUs, trained medical staff, experienced surgeons? Shamdas Foundation owned
by a devotee of Saibaba had built an ultra modern hospital at Hong Kong. Hundreds of medical
experts from all over the world are attending this Hospital one or other capacity. In spite of all these
modern facilities and blessings received from Saibaba, the recovery rates are at par with any other
hospitals of the same caliber. Saibaba did not make any difference, inspite of all these statistical
probabilities, realities and apparent evidences, the Trust still publishes various types of miracles in
its monthly bulletin Sai Leela. One can understand the illiterate devotees may not be aware of the
process of spread/origin of diseases or may not know the nuances of diagnostics, immunization,
recovery process, or healing methods. However one thing is clear that anything good that is
happening in the life is attributed to Saibaba. This mindset is playing a major role in the spread of
curing power of Saibaba. Nowadays the patients suffering from polio, cancer, and heart ailments
are visiting in large numbers. Couples come here very often to be blessed with a child. Offerings
are made at the spur of the moment. Enourmous amount is promised if the wish is granted without
taking into consideration the financial conditions. To fulfil the vow one has to be in the clutches of
pawnbrokers. However, main beneficiary is the Trust which is hoarding a large sum donated by the
gullible devotees. The stories of miraculous curing power of Saibaba plays greater role in amassing
wealth. Trust goes on printing and reprinting the books, magazines and other materials depicting
the miraculous power of Saibaba, just changing names here and there. All stories read alike.

Sometime back KS Pathak, an IAS officer was nominated as receiving officer of the Trust.
He found that misappropriation of large fund by the local trustees. They were looting the
public. The golden and silver ornaments, belonging to the Trust, were found in the houses of
the trustees. When police raided their houses, they threw the ornaments in the nearby fields.
Charity commissioner imposed inquiries. CID officials investigated the frauds. Trustees tried their
best to put political pressure on the receiving officer and charity commissioner to stall further
investigations. A few of the trustees were punished and put into jail.

In spite of these headlines in the media, the devotees are deterred to visit. ‘Saibaba is
great! He will take care of our sins’. That is the attitude of the devotees. Political leaders come
here to enhance their ‘power’. But sometimes they to suffer badly. Ex-President Shankar Dayal
Sharma paid a visit with all its pomposity: within a few days after the visit he was suffering with
severe ailments. Sharad Pawar visited the temple while he was experimenting with like-minded
parties. Three months after the visit his experiment utterly failed. Shankarrao Chavan, Vasantdada
Patil also suffered very badly. P.V. Narasimha Rao came to this place as a Prime Minister, but by
the time he returned Delhi he was no more a minister! This may also be a miracle of Saibaba!

Even if we keep aside the devotees and their problems, the trustees and local population are
at daggers head. Each party wants its share of flesh in this money game. One of the trustees was
arguing that villagers don’t know what they are missing since too much familiarity breeds contempt.
Villagers argue that Trust has turned whole villages into five star hotel with money flowing like
water. Highrice buildings, asphalt roads, even airport but local population is still deprived to basic
necessities... Trustees want that local people should cooperate (in looting) with trust so that they
too can get benefited. Villagers erected shanty shops all around the temple and started earning
their livelihood by selling the goods required by the devotees. This irritated the trustees. They

wanted these ugly structures should be removed immediately. For years together this confrontation
is continuing and sometimes the situation is turning violent. If Saibaba cannot solve these problems
amicably how can one expect him to take up problems of some individuals? Nowadays devotees
have to take care of their belongings, cash etc. Since Saibaba is favouring pick pocketers, thieves
too. Even while one is inside the main temple bags, purses etc. are stolen. While devotees
are gathering on auspious days like Ram Navami, Guru Purnima, Dasera it becomes very easy for
thieves to do their own business! But ardent belief in Saibaba gives the devotees to absolve these

To overcome the minor problems trust has started ‘Sai Darshan’ on internet. The
prominent message on the internet is “If you look at me, I will look at you”. Devotees from
distant places can have instant Darshan and get blessed by Saibaba. A few foreigners’ e-mails
pasted on the website make very interesting readings . Varah Appikatla is an NRI staying in US.
He took ‘Darshanam’ of Saibaba and managed to secure top position in IBM. Now he is ready to
send huge donation to the trust. The assistance of advanced science and technology is sought to
strengthen their superstitions. Saibaba cult is a sort of contagious disease and is not restricted to
only Maharashtra region. In the south Puttaparthy Saibaba has surpassed the original Saibaba in all
respects. Dharma Sai Seva Trust has already spread its tentacles asking for huge donations to feed
the children of downtrodden and marginalized poor people and to construct Hindu nationality and
Veda teaching school.

People from all over India come to Shiridi. All of them are emotionally choking while they
visit this place. Each one’s story is quite unique. But if one probes deeper, the devotees have lost
their self-confidence and are afraid of everything – the wealth, luxuries, people around them, the
place where they stay, family members etc. They are not in a position to trust anybody. A sort of
mental disease has taken over these devotees. From outside they all look normal human beings
can believe all these legends, miracles and power of blessings and artefacts like amulets and charms.
While returning from a place like this, even a rational human being will start doubting whether this
society is normal enough to realize in what trap it is bound.

Once again you are amidst

“Saibaba Bolo ... Saibaba Bolo...”

(Author is an active Rationalist and Humanist, Editor of Thought & Action-Internet monthely, Pune, Maharastra, India)

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