Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shirdi  Sai Baba – Myth and Business : newly created god

  Prabhakar K.Nanawaty

 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

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

       ‘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

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 Tought and action web magazine resides in Pune)

                                                                     -- :oOo:--

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