The Sathya Sai Baba movement in Malaysia 1982 on Sai Baba, salvation and syncreism plus religious change in a Hindu movement
Alexandra Nagel 2001
Excerpt from “Contributions to Indian Sociology (NS)” vol. 16, no. 1 (1982) p. 131-132
Title: Sai Baba, salvation and syncretism: Religious change in a Hindu movement in urban Malaysia
“The Sai Baba movement in Malaysia is not a unified movement. Neither has the movement received full support from all quarters of the Hindu community in Malaysia. The controversies surrounding Sai Baba in India have also spread to the Hindu community in Malaysia. These controversies range from Sai Baba’s lavish life-style and fraudulent activities to sexual perversion.12 While the members of various Hindu organizations, such as the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, have not openly condemned Sai Baba, they have quietly rejected him as a flamboyant healer of an apotropaic cult.
Within the movement in Malaysia, two types of conflict have developed over the last five years. Firstly, competition among members over the reins of leadership has resulted in the formation of several splinter groups. Secondly, and more importantly, some members have begun a quiet campaign to discredit Sai Baba after they had conducted personal investigations of his life-style and behaviour.13 This campaign to expose Sai Baba comprise mainly taped revelations by several Malaysian Indian students who claimed that they had been sexually abused by Sai Baba. Another thrust of this campaign has been the re-examination of the Hindu scriptures to highlight the assumed contradictions in Sai Baba’s claim that he is a joint incarnation of Shiva and Shakti.14 The Chinese press has also been influenced by this campaign. Some Chinese newspapers have published articles warning the Chinese public not to be taken in by Sai Baba. So far, the campaign has been fairly successful as several devotees have renounced Sai Baba a their saviour and some have even withdrawn their children from Sai Baba colleges in India.
On the other hand, there are many devotees who have dismissed this campaign as a contrived effort to malign their guru. These are largely the leaders and core members of the various Sai Baba groups in Malaysia. These individuals feel a strong need to publicly defend their guru in order to maintain their position in the movement and to prevent mass defection. One prominent leader in the movement had announced at a bhajan that even Jesus Christ and other great religious leaders had suffered persecutions and had weathered various accusations for fraud, immorality and sexual perversion. The anti-Sai Baba campaign has inadvertently provided a catalyst for the feuding groups mentioned earlier to join forces temporarily in the face of a common threat to the movement.”
12. See, for example, “The Illustrated Weekly of India” 10 April, 1977, p. 33; and Mangalwadi (1977: 164-168). (…)
13. Two of my informants told me that they had journeyed to India and had taped interviews with several Malaysian Indians (males) who claimed that they had been seduced by Sai Baba while studying at one of the many colleges established by him. These students also revealed that they were familiar with Baba’s sleight-of-hands that are considered miracles by others. My informants also told me about their interviews with Baba’s elder brother and his neighbors in Puttaparthi who do not regard him as an avatar.
14. Because there is little avatar doctrine in Saivism, some members have capitalized on this to point out to Shaivite devotees that Sai Baba’s claim is invalid. However, Parrinder (1970: 87) has indicated that Shiva is a complex character and is believed to make occasional appearances as a personal god, guru, or in some human form.
V. Mangalwadi (1977) “The world of gurus” New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.
G. Parrinder (1970) “Avatar and incarnation” London: Faber and Faber.
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