THE CONFLICTING REPORTS AND PROPAGANDA ABOUT SATHYA SAI BABA'S FOLLOWERS AND VISITOR NUMBERS
INDIAN MEDIA REPORTS ON 81'ST BIRTHDAY OF SATHYA
SAI BABA - (23 November 2006)Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi once again gave the go-ahead for
as massive and costly a celebration of his own alleged 81'st Birthday.
As stated by others, the date 23rd November was doubtless selected for
reasons of enhancing his alleged Divinity. This is partly because of
Sri Aurobindo's famous declaration in the following: "November
24, 1926, was the descent of Krishna into the physical. A power infallible
shall lead the thought. In earthly hearts kindle the Immortal's Fire,
even the multitude shall hear the voice." [Why there is
one day discrepancy is inexplicable, unless it was the result of a printed
inaccuracy so typical of inexact Indian Sai-devotee reports and writings]
However, in those days, the British administrative system alone recorded
births and deaths accurately: See
the official record that shows Sathya Sai Baba (Sathyanarayana Raju)
was actually born on October 4 1929). Therefore, he is three
years younger than he claims!
The usual hype was spread throughout the unreliable, unchecked reports of most of the Indian media. However, CNN-IBN forwarded two entirely different estimates - "His devotees number, some say, 6 - 10 million", but also in another report presented a devotee stating "He has around 100 million followers" [and that there were "millions" at the recent 81st birthday celebration]. Compare this with the recent report in The Guardian of November 4, 2006, noted "an estimated 30 million followers worldwide"(see CNN-IBN web captures below). However, all the costly efforts were not enough to bring the number of visitors to the million mark. Even the presence of the Harlem Globetrotters (for decades much more famous than Sai Baba) exhibiting their basketball skills, and the usual (donation-financed) handouts of free food and goodies to countless poor villagers who came by train for free. The Hillview Stadium where the celebrations were held has an absolute maximum 'sardine capacity' of less than 1/2 million. The ashram cannot house anywhere near half a million even with large additional tent areas outside Puttaparthi, as were erected for the 70th birthday. The photos of crowds in Puttaparthi and surroundings are literally dwarfed by the three million crowds photographed and filmed on world media at Mecca in recent years. Even the Christmas and New Year celebrations at St. Peters' Square in the Vatican attract crowds which visibly far exceed anything seen around Sai Baba, and these are usually rated at between one and two million only.
Sathya Sai Baba's huge exaggerations - or the "numbers game"
The ex-editor-in-chief of the Indian Express group, V.K. Narasimhan (VKN), was a truth-seeker both of worldly facts and spiritual insight, with a critical sense and high standards, certainly not given to naive judgements, hasty conclusions, or exaggerated reports. As I got to know him in various situations, I came to regard his perceptions as very largely credible, not least because - despite all the good sense in many of Sai Baba's activities, he always harboured doubts about his more extravagant assertions. Though he seldom mentioned it in public, it was he who pointed out to me that SB repeatedly exaggerates figures wildly.
On the 70th birthday Sathya Sai Baba had predicted that there would be 3 to 4 million visitors, said VKN to me beforehand. The ashram engineer, Mr. Ashoka, told a Norwegian engineer (Mr. Terje Nedland, who I knew well and who was planning an ashram water project) that he calculated that, at any one time, the entire accommodation facilities of the ashram and Puttaparthi in (1995) were less than 50,000 persons. About 250,000 maximum can occupy the Hillview Stadium, where the entire crowd was present at the main ceremony, a fact also verified by calculating the size of the Hillview Stadium, which was not even entirely full even at the main opening ceremony, as photos show. Meanwhile, the ashram was as empty. Even when largish areas with tents and outside camps are accounted for, the figure of 500,000 persons is reckoned to be much greater than had been present in the area on the Birthday. An American friend, Robert Bruce, who I have known for years, was told by Sai Baba in a brief interview after the celebrations that there had been 3 million persons present! Others reported similar statements by Sai Baba. (Some, unable to make his figures add up, argued that - "since Swami is never wrong" - this perhaps was intended to include disembodied souls visiting God! The basis for this was Sai Baba's own statement to that effect at a previous large celebration). When I asked VKN for clarification, he replied, "Swami always multiplies these numbers by ten." He was well placed to know, if anyone was! In the preceding year to the 1995 birthday bonanza, Sai Baba had told one interview group that there would be 7,000 Japanese there, but in fact the registered number was 75! A group from New Zealand led by Mr. Arthur Hillcoat were informed by Sai Baba that he wanted 5,000 service workers (Seva Dals) from their country present in 1996 at the Birthday. But at the 70th birthday, the biggest foreign contingent, however, came from the USA – 750 persons in all. (I then heard Mr. Hillcoat also tell that Baba told them that radiation pollution from French nuclear tests would cause great havoc, ecological destruction and deaths in N.Z. and other places thousands of miles distant. This has evidently not occurred as far can be judged).
The ashram accommodation office, which handles the passports of every foreign visitor, stated after the birthday event that there were at total of 8,000 delegates from 137 countries. This was the total number of foreign visitors registered at the ashram, whether believer or not: all were freely given the status of 'delegates', even mere tourists and inquisitive sceptics. My wife and I had to share a room with a couple, one of whom never even went to darshan (to look at SB) even once! This was no isolated case of such multiplication by Sathya Sai Baba, for VKN told me all important birthday attendance figures had been hugely overblown.
Another incident involving multiplication was in 1990, when Dr. Samuel Sandweiss had tried to interest 120 Russian psychiatrists in Delhi to come to Prashanthi. Only 12 had actually planned to come, though even they did not all arrive. The 12 Russians (on an official State visit in India) who had wanted to come were stopped in Delhi because they would not accept the ordinary tourist visas they were offered, for - being invited delegates to an Indian psychiatric conference - they were expecting official treatment instead. However, after hearing of these 12 psychiatrists from Sandweiss in the interview room, Swami himself announced on the porch outside to students and others that 120 Russians were coming to see him. VKN heard Dr. Sandweiss tell SB of his mistake, and SB became very angry with him and told him to leave the ashram immediately and return to the USA. This was hushed up by all who heard it, as is usually done by those who are 'in the know'.
There are a number of round figures constantly repeated. The supposed 6,000 villages, then the 60,000 villages. (In fact, the entire village regeneration programme fell into total decline.) The 6 million devotees of Sai Baba in the 1970s, was later repeatedly restated as 'around 60 million'. Now one often sees 300,million and even 600 millions as an official estimate of followers of Sathya Sai Baba!
Repeated visits to the ashrams during 16 years never gave me the sense that this was a movement with several millions, I saw many, many of the same faces over and again, and I could seldom count more than 4 thousand persons on normal darshan days, even in the 1990s. Remark: See the official Sanathana Sarathi Nov-Dec. 1995 - photo of the 70th birthday crowd in the Hillview Stadium. The stadium contained virtually everyone in the entire area at the time it was taken (I left early and so saw how few people were left in Puttaparthi village, while the ashram was nearly deserted). If one compares this to a photo of this year with two million pilgrims at Mecca, (eg. such as was distributed by Reuters around 20/2/02), one appreciates that the Prashanthi crowd is around 1/10 of that number. No panoramic photos of the 70th birthday crowds show no more than ca. 200 thousand people.
Further, anyone who follows the news on TV could perhaps recall that the Pope's send-off from Poland in August, 2002 was attended by an official count of three million people. All could very easily see that the absolutely gigantic crowd this makes - which could then only be seen in part on the screen - far, far exceeded the number of people in the Hillview Stadium for SB's biggest birthday yet, the 70th, which was much photographed to give a sense of a multitude.
What is truly remarkable about this 'magical' playing around with
numbers is that every other report from the media operates with a wholly
different "estimate"... and never is any remotely reliable
basis quoted, for there simply exist none. Compare for example CNN-IBN's
report on this propaganda with the recent report in The Guardian:-
Meanwhile, the most reliable estimate being given by the independent website 'Adherents.com' click here to view the results for Sathya Sai Baba - this being more reliable than most sources because it does at least list some of the underlying reported figures of members and so forth.
The on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia's estimate of
Sai followers reflects the vast divergence of opinion on the numbers:-,
So what is the origin of the most inflated numbers? [other than the
well-known game "Think of two numbers, multiply the one by the
other, add some zeroes... etc."]
One part of the answer is also that the Sathya Sai Organisation has for decades already reported in many of its pamphlets, films, books and articles that the number of devotees worldwide is 60 million. This figured remained unchanged by most Sai Organisation sources for close on 15/20 years, even despite the evident increase in numbers of visitors to his ashrams over that period!
One Wikipedia page on Sathya Sai Baba states: "According to the Sathya Sai Organization, there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 130 countries world-wide. The number of Sathya Sai Baba adherents is estimated sometimes as around 6 million, and followers cite "50 to 100 million". The Sai Paradox contradictions of and surrounding Sathya Sai Baba" from the magazine "Religieuze Bewegingen in Nederland, 'Sekten' "/"Religious movements in the Netherlands, 'Cults/Sects' ", 1994, nr. 29. published by the Free University Amsterdam press, (1994) reports the following estimates: Beyerstein (1992:3) [skeptic]: 6 million; Riti & Theodore (1993:31): 30 million; Sluizer (1993:19): 70 million; Van Dijk (1993:30) [follower] "between 50 and 100 million" ; Adherents cites Chryssides, George. Exploring New Religions. London, U.K.: Cassells (1999) with 10 million "
How did the Sai officials dream up their estimated number of 60 million (and somtimes much more)? In this Sai officials imitate Sai Baba's constant exaggeration of numbers of followers and of visitors to his birthday celebrations, as if this increased his self-declared Divine status.
Though claims as to how many followers Sathya Sai Baba has vary from only a million or so (and even through to a billion!) There is no known basis of measurement for either of these figures - not can one identify who is a follower or not. A majority are still Indian villagers, of whom very many have probably no strong attachment to him but have visited out of curiosity (to see the luxury and showpieces, including light shows, free meals or for a jaunt on a festival day. Total membership of the Sathya Sai Organization is a tiny fraction of the number of followers claimed, but due to the criticism of the inflated estimates usually published, the organization no longer published any data on this for public consumption. It is apparently now a 'trade secret'. Part of the reason would be the very considerable fall-off in non-Indian devotees since the exposure of Sai Baba through many sex abuse allegations from 1999 and a range of damaging facts about him, his impossible claims and failed predictions etc. Sathya Sai Baba exaggerates figures wildly (see here) and his minions take after him. They have been successful through constant repetition in getting much of the media to reproduce some of these fantastic numbers.
The CNN-IBN network reproduced the statement of a Sai devotee (i.e. NOT a neutral witness) on the number of visitors to the "80th" birthday Whether this means last year's or this year's is unclear, he is now 80 years old but is in his 81st year. In either case it's all a matter of wishful thinking anyhow. The capacity of the stadium where it takes place is not even half a million. One can see how this question has been handled by Sai and his officials in the past click (link below)!
See also some of the many office-bearers and prominent devotees who have declared they have left Sathya Sai Baba and/or his Organization.
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