Sai Baba as Shiva-Shakti: a Created Myth? Or?

Alexandra H.M. Nagel
The Netherlands
September 11, 2001Email:


Sri Sathya Sai Baba is the famous Indian guru allegedly born in 1926 in Puttaparthi, a village in South India (now a thriving town) where he still resides in his ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, ‘the Abode of Supreme Peace’. He is visited daily by thousands of devotees from all around the world. One of the many special, divine claims Sai Baba has made is that he is a combined incarnation of Shiva and his female counterpart, or consort, Shakti. Shiva is one of the trimurti, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, who originated as the early Vedic god Rudra, a malignant storm god. Shiva is a destroyer and angry avenger, but also a benign herdsman of souls. With similar ambivalence, Shiva is associated with asceticism and yoga, and with the erotic. He is worshipped in the form of a lingam, the sacred phallus, or a lingam in the yoni, the sacred representation of the female organ.

Especially over the last 18 months Sai Baba has been accused of sexual misconduct with young men, even minors.[1] Among the material made public, principally via the Internet, there are a few stories that independently of one another connect with the erotic aspect of Baba’s Shiva-Shakti claim. The stories themselves are so very unusual that they could easily be disregarded as implausible. However, it is the purpose of this article to take them seriously and investigate them as far as such an endeavour is possible. Why, in fact, would a guru present himself over the course of almost 40 years as a Shiva-Shakti incarnation and why do weird stories surface? Is it possible to offer any explanation for this matter?

Firstly, the experiences referred to above will be presented, followed by the written account of Sai Baba’s 1963 claim to be Shiva-Shakti in this lifetime. Thereafter the material is approached from a theoretical angle in order to highlight the Shiva-Shakti duality. Following this is a brief discussion on how Sai Baba’s life history might be a constructed myth. The paper ends with the idea that a great deal of further research is necessary before any really cogent claim can be made that such is the case.

Strange Stories

One major aspect of life in Sai Baba’s ashram is darshan, literally ‘the seeing of him’. When during the morning and afternoon darshan Swami walks among the huge gathered masses, he selects individuals and groups for an ‘interview’. These ‘lucky ones’ then flock into a room and spend some time in relatively intimate contact with Sai Baba. There, Baba often ‘materialises’ some vibuthi (holy ash), a ring, or a trinket or two for these selected devotees, and invites someone, usually a male – less often a couple, or a family group, and very infrequently a woman – for a ‘private interview’. In a room, adjoining the room where the group is gathered, the special chosen one has his private, personal encounter with Sai Baba.

Here are some of the stories:

• In 1990 I stayed for three months in Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram. During my visit, I became acquainted with a young Englishman, who had received three invitations for interviews, the last two private. He confided to me what had actually happened during these special minutes. Once alone with him, Baba had come up to him, and hugged and kissed him. At a certain moment during the last private interview, Sai Baba had seized my friend’s hand and made him touch Baba’s groin. The first time this was done a penis was felt through the thin fabric of his robe. (It was not a skin to skin contact.) The second time he was invited to touch, he hadn’t felt a penis – there was something there that felt like a vagina. “This is divinity,” Sai Baba had said, which was supposed to be the explanation for this experience, and he warned him not to talk about it.

Shortly thereafter, when I had begun to investigate this subject, another young man from UK told me about an exactly similar experience during his private interview with Sai Baba.[2] Neither one of them had understood what the genital switch signified, nor why it had happened.

• In September 1999, a boy aged 15, who was visiting Sai Baba with his parents, got invited for a private interview on two occasions. In April-May 2000, the notes he took down in his diary were rewritten by hand by the boy himself on four sheets of paper. These were xeroxed and mailed with an explanatory letter from the mother to many devotees in the USA, because the mother had become upset with what the diary revealed: Sai Baba had forced himself upon the boy. From his notes of September 23, 1999, after the boy also had received money from Sai Baba:

thank you, Swami! “Don’t thank me. I am everything. See? (he pointed to his palm) everything is here!” “I am Shivashakthi.” what? “Shivashakthi. I am Shakthi.” (He took my hand and pressed it to his crotch. he moved it up and down, side to side, there was absolutely nothing there.) “See? Nothing! Nothing!” (He let go of my hand and snapped his fingers, then again took my hand.) “See? Now I am Shiva!” (this time, my fingers touched a penis.) [3]

• Helena Klitsie is a Dutch woman who, after having finished her studies in philosophy, travelled to India and kept doing so for fifteen years. Sathya Sai Baba is one of the many gurus she met, and whom she writes about in her recently published autobiography. A brief excerpt:

Once I travelled with a handsome German guy who stated that he was taken aside by Sai Baba. During this ‘being together’, Sai Baba not only allegedly touched his groin, but also led the young man’s hand to his own groin. Twice. The first time the German had felt a phallus, the second time a vagina. [4]

• In a critical article about Sai Baba in India Today, briefly, there is mention of the experience of Sam Young who was sexually approached by Sai Baba many times between 1995-1998:

The sexual abuse included Baba grabbing Sam's head and forcing him to give oral sex ... Baba would fondle and suck on Sam’s penis and get angry because he could not get an erection. Sam said he did not like boys that way. Baba then promised to change himself into a beautiful woman and take Sam inside of him but it never happened. [5]

When I told Sam what I had heard of the two English young men, and asked him if something similar had happened in his case, he informed me that the same ‘switch in genitals’ had been experienced by him on two different occasions. The specifics were that: a) Sam first felt nothing, b) Baba had blown on his fingers, and c) on the second touch ‘a bulge’ was felt, upon which Sai Baba had said, “See? God is both man and woman”.

• The first person to write about the special attention received from Sai Baba and about his sexual experiences with him, was Tal Brooke, USA, who resided in the ashram for a prolonged period in 1970-71. His book Avatar of Night includes the story of a young Indian, Patrick, who looked like an American, and who was also taken aside by Sai Baba. The story was told to Brooke by a person named Surya Das, but he had heard it from a person named Raymond, all three of whom Brooke knew personally.

'Well…,' Surya Das said, slowly shaking his head. '… Aw man you're not going to believe this. But I'm gonna have to tell you anyway. At any rate, Baba treated him like he does you, you know, all the special attention beside the chair, addres­sing things only to him, smiling a lot. When all the others left and Baba got him alone, he did his usual number of materi­alizing things and telling him his inner secrets, though I don't know why the devil he didn't know that Patrick just lived down the road. Well, the next thing that happened was that in one smooth motion, Baba reached down and unzipped Patrick's fly, and pulled his tool out.' Surya Das stopped far a long pause to let this one fully drop on me. Then he looked up as though to say, 'Okay, are you ready for this next one?'
'Well, when he worked Patrick up... Man I don't know why the guy just stood there and put up with this crap. In fact when I asked Raymond, all he said was that Patrick was only about seventeen, horny, perhaps a little naive, and I guess didn't give a blue jay what the other partner was. Maybe he was curious or just wanted to see that whole weird thing through, or maybe the kid's a bisexual. Though Raymond told me that Patrick is only interested in girls, and just may have had some what-ya-call liberal curiosity. How the hell should I know? But at any rate he worked up a bone alright, and the next thing that hap­pened is really gonna blow your mind. Baba lifted his robe and inserted the thing. That's right. Maybe he's got a woman's organ and a man's organ down there. Yeah, a her­maphrodite. But he honestly inserted it. Patrick said it felt just like a woman.'
I was chilled to the marrow, and really did not want to believe what I was hearing. The problem was that till then, I knew it was true.[6]

With this story, Brooke reported what he had heard concerning Patrick. What he knew to be true was not that he believes that Sai Baba is a hermaphrodite, but that Sai Baba had approached Brooke himself sexually,[7] and “the very thought that Sai Baba was a homosexual was grotesque and disqualified for all of his claims of divinity and the like”.[8], [9]

Sai Baba’s Claims

On June 29th, 1963, as the event was described by Narayan Kasturi, Sai Baba’s principal biographer, Sathya Sai Baba had come down with what appeared to be a stroke. The left part of his body had become paralysed. Doctors were summoned; severe symptoms were diagnosed as ‘tubercular meningitis’. For the next few days, Sai Baba’s devotees prayed that their beloved guru would be able to heal himself. He then slowly recovered a bit, rejected medical treatment, regained consciousness, and, on July 6th, insisted on participating in the festivities for Gurupurnima Day. At a certain moment on that day Baba, virtually paralysed and propped up in a chair, gestured for water to drink. When the water came, he sipped a few drops and with the fingers of his right hand sprinkled some water on the left part of his body. Within minutes he stroked the left hand with his right, stroked his left leg with both hands, and rose, ready to begin his Gurupurnima discourse, during which he made an amazing statement. First Baba explained that he had taken on the illness of a devotee, eventually followed by “I have been keeping back from you all these years one secret about Me; the time has come when I can reveal it to you. This is a sacred day. I am Siva – Shakti”.[10]

What Sai Baba had allegedly been keeping secret was a mythical story about Bharadwaja. This sage had studied the Vedas for hundreds of years, but still had not completed them. Bharadwaja then decided to perform a ritual and wanted Shakti to preside over and bless it. When Bharadwaja went up to Mount Kailasa and arrived there, he noticed that the time for presenting his petition was not right. Shiva and Shakti were competitively trying to find out who could dance longer. After eight days Shakti saw him standing in the cold, smiled at him, but kept on dancing anyway. Bharadwaja understood this as a denial of his request and turned his back in order to descend, only to find out that the left part of his body was out of action due to a stroke. Then Shiva saw him fall. He consoled Bharadwaja, and told him that Shakti had indeed blessed him and his ritual. Shiva revived him by sprinkling water over him. Later both Shiva and Shakti attended Bharadwaja’s ritual, which pleased them so much that they granted Bharadwaja even more boons. Sai Baba:

Shiva said that They would take human form and be born in the Bharadwaja Gothra (lineage) thrice: Shiva alone as Shirdi Sai Baba, Shiva and Shakthi together at Puttaparthi as Sathya Sai Baba, and Shakthi alone as Prema Sai, later. Then, Shiva remembered the illness that had suddenly come upon Bharadwaja at Kailasa on the eighth day of waiting in the cold on the ice. He gave another assurance. “As expiation for the neglect that Shakthi showed you at Kailasa for 8 days, this Shakthi will suffer the stroke for 8 days when We both take birth as Sathya Sai and, on the eighth day, I shall relieve her from all signs of the disease by sprinkling water, just as I did at Kailasa to your illness.” [11]

The claim of Sai Baba to be an incarnation of the saint Shirdi Sai Baba was not new in 1963. Shirdi Sai Baba is, according to scholars[12], said to have arrived in 1872, aged about sixteen, in Shirdi, a village 200 km northeast of Bombay, where he lived until his death in 1918. Sai Baba of Shirdi had the practice of keeping a hearth burning permanently. Ashes are a typical element in saivite (Shiva) traditions. When Sathya Sai Baba announced his mission in 1940, he added the claim to be the incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. What was new in this 1963 Gurupurnima discourse was the claim to be an incarnation of Shiva, plus the statement that Shiva would incarnate three times in the lineage of Bharadwaja. In other words, besides the claim of being Shiva incarnated in a particular dual form of Shiva-Shakti, he extended the lineage by saying that he will come again as Prema Sai, to be born after Sathya Sai Baba has passed away in 2022.[13]

It is interesting to note that, after suffering a severe illness from which he seems to have miraculously cured himself, Sai Baba explained it firstly as having taken on the illness of a devotee and secondly as re-living, or embodying, an ancient myth about the saga Bharadwaja. But how can one verify or make sense of these claims?

Theoretical Perspective

In 1982 Deborah Swallow published a lengthy scholarly article exploring and analysing the Shiva mythology to which Sai Baba has connected himself. Swallow pointed out that the first step into this mythology was Sai Baba’s claim to be an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. By doing so, she argues, in spite of the fact of not being born in a Brahmin caste, Sai Baba gained access to a “heritage which derives from a number of saintly and ascetic religious traditions. Although the links are vague they are sufficient to connect him to a past, and give him respectability and authority.”[14] The vague links Swallow describes connect Shirdi Sai Baba with the saivite tradition, i.e. now that Sathya Sai Baba had connected himself to Shirdi Sai Baba, he also made connections with the god Shiva. Probably, she reasons, in preparation for the later claim to be a god himself. Now, the second step according to her, serves several purposes:

It establishes Sathya Sai Baba in a line of spiritual succession in a Brahman [sic] gotra [lineage], thus indirectly asserting his Brahman [sic] status despite his non-Brahman [sic] origins. At the same time, through the prognostication of the third incarnation, the claim serves to ward off any challenge from rival disciples of Sai Baba and eliminates the need to establish a line of formal sectarian succession. But the main theme is Sathya Sai Baba’s claim to be Siva incarnate, and the demonstration of his supreme healing powers.[15]

She explains that Shiva is the “ithyphallic yogi”, the “supreme lover” and the “supreme ascetic”, worshipped by both ascetics and householders.[16] Although Swallow views Sathya Sai Baba as an ascetic figure himself, he, “in contrast to the usual ascetic appearance of Siva, tends to dress in an erotic mode”. Baba wears long silk robes and his hair is fairly long and well groomed, unlike the matted hair many saivite yogis have. Also, he does not smear his body with ashes as they do, but, she explains, miraculously “produces” a constant stream of ashes, “a symbol of detachment and a curative agent, a life-giving force”. Her analysis continues on the Bharadwaja myth:

The story he tells and its dramatization derive their meaning from their position in relation to a larger corpus of Siva mythology. This mythology explores the paradox of conflicting aims which is of universal concern. Only Siva, who indulges in both extreme ascetic and extreme erotic activity, the creator and the destroyer, the quiescent and the active god, who represents both the cyclical motion of the universe and spiritual immortality can offer devotees both paths of immortality through rebirth, or renunciation and spiritual immortality. He is the living lingam in the yoni, and the androgyne. Both symbols contain the paradox within themselves and provide a resolution. Sathya Sai Baba lays claim to the same ability to resolve the conflict for his devotees. But the story of Bharadwaj actually repeats the pattern of the Siva myths.[17]

In addition to this, Swallow observed another way in which Sai Baba expresses his Shiva-Shakti duality. Previously, at the crowded annual Mahasivaratri festival, a two-day Hindu celebration, Sai Baba was worshipped as Shiva. The male aspect is demonstrated by Sai Baba himself, Shiva, producing massive quantities of vibuthi, according to Swallow “which in some contexts represents metaphysically transformed seminal fluids, here metaphorically appears to represent semen in its natural creative aspect.”[18] The female aspect, Shakti, is demonstrated through the creation of a lingam[19], an oval symbolic representation of Shiva-Shakti. Not from Swallow, but taken from Paul W. Roberts is a quotation showing the impact of this annual event on vast crowds of devotees. Roberts lived in the ashram in the ’70s, even for some months in Sai Baba’s quarters, and has witnessed many of the Swami’s miracles, among them the (alleged) creation of the Shiva lingam at the Mahasivaratri Festival in 1977:

After some fifteen minutes he suddenly clasped his throat and convulsed, rocking back and forth in his chair. Only fifteen feet away, I thought I saw a kind of dreamy agony in his eyes. There was something truly awesome, rather than frightening, about this spectacle. (…) Then Baba lurched forward, opening his mouth. I glimpsed an odd green glow inside it. He heaved violently, his eyes closing as if he were in pain. Then, with one hand, he began to pull from his mouth what looked like a large, crystalline egg. Indeed, so large was it that blood appeared at the corners of his lips as the object came through. Like a new baby, it was suddenly out. He caught it in a handkerchief, wiped it clean, then transferred it to his other hand as he dabbed at the blood around his mouth and smiled, every bit the proud new mother.
The crowd roared. It was such an extraordinary sight that I felt no one seemed quite sure how to respond. Baba stood, holding up this egg of greenish crystal, inside which a light pulsed like a heartbeat, like something alive. Then something burst inside my heart and I started sobbing uncontrollably. At that moment it was exceedingly hard to doubt that Baba was indeed who he said he was. Here was the symbolic reenactment of Creation itself: the Siva-Shakti force, the yin and yang, the mighty opposites, the bisecting circles giving birth between them to the lingam that represents life itself, life plucked from nothingness. Because of what I felt and saw, I have never for a moment thought that he had swallowed the object earlier and then regurgitated it.[20]

To recapitulate, the story told by Sai Baba on July 6, 1963 connected Sai Baba to the Brahmin caste and to the Shiva tradition with a threefold lineage. By doing so, Sai Baba prophesied his eventual successor. Furthermore, through the healing of his stroke, he not only showed his incredible healing powers but offered a demonstration of the Shiva-Shakti form.

Swallow’s perceptive analysis of Baba’s Shiva-Shakti claim is fascinating and valuable (and rare among the Baba literature). It is interesting, however, to note that, although she emphasises the twin poles of the erotic–ascetic and male-female and the link with the annual production of vibuthi and lingams by Sai Baba at the Mahasivaratri festival, she appears to have had no information about the sort of strange incidents described earlier in this essay. And yet these unusual stories to fit in rather well with the complex and paradoxical Shiva theoretically described by Swallow. For instance, Sai Baba presents himself outwardly to devotees as the ascetic Shiva, claiming not to have bodily desires, a statement his devotees believe. On the other hand, when alone with a young man, Baba presents himself at times as the lustful Shiva, particularly noticeable in the brief lines on the 15-year old, Sam Young and the story of the boy named Patrick. Regarding the Shiva-Shakti claim: Sai Baba either literally transforms himself from a body with male genitals to one with female genitals, hypnotises the devotee, or performs a plain trick. In this connection, it should be remembered that, as a boy’s trick, the penis can be pulled under and tucked away between the legs. It then seems that the male part has disappeared and a male ‘can turn into a female’, (or the other way around), in an instant.[21]

Discrepancies and Questions

When researching this topic further, confusion enters, questions boil up and discrepancies surface. One of them is related to the alleged incarnations of Sai Baba as Shirdi and Prema Sai. Why, for instance, did Sathya Sai Baba not refer to Shirdi Sai in his discourses between 1970 and 1989? (There are no references to Shirdi Sai in the volumes X-XXII of Sathya Sai Speaks, the official publications of the Sai Baba Organisation on Sai Baba’s discourses and lectures.) Why has Sai Baba (apparently) never visited the place where Shirdi Sai lived? Why did he not travel to New Delhi between 1981 and 1999? Could it be because of the strength of the Shirdi Sai devotee association in Delhi and the North of India, most of whose members do not recognise Sathya Sai Baba as a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai? Furthermore, in spite of much gossip and writings by Sathya Sai devotees and close Indian associates, why is it that only two statements can be traced to Sai Baba’s discourses about his future incarnation as Prema Sai?[22], [23]

In 1977, when Sai Baba materialized the lingam at the Mahasivaratri festival, it was said that this would be the last time he would do so because of the dangers from excessive crowds of devotees. However, 22 years later, in 1999 (and also in 2000 and 2001), Sai Baba once again produced Shiva lingams. In seeking a reason for this resumption, it should be remembered that in 1999 it was already known in Baba circles that significant denunciations from former devotees were expected to be published imminently. Some sceptics and ex-devotees have suggested that lingam materializations (coughed up into a handkerchief) were merely a trick, after swallowing the object beforehand and then regurgitating it.[24]

As can be seen in the quotation from Tal Brooke, there is an explanation which postulates the possibility of Sai Baba being a hermaphrodite. Maybe there is a vagina behind the penis. This explanation is uncommon, but not impossible. My mother told me that her mother had once known a child born with both genitals – a rare twist of nature. The male part had been cut off. There must be similar case histories. Is there perhaps literature, like medical reports on such sporadic flaws in nature? The strange stories mentioned however, deal with ‘either-or’: either a penis was felt, or a vagina – not both at the same time.

Brooke seeks an explanation for Sai Baba’s sexual encounters in the occult sphere. He says Sai Baba used to collect semen in a white handkerchief. Semen seems to be a very potent agent to use for occult practices. Somewhat in line with this is what David Bailey wrote in The Findings, the document that has raised major controversies about Sai Baba since it was issued in March 2000. People of various ages came up to Bailey, and they told him that Swami would take young men and boys into the private interview room alone with him, then insist that they take their trousers down. Sai Baba then “would massage them, often masturbating them, and/or insisting on oral sex and sometimes collecting their semen in his handkerchief.”[25] But maybe – probably – Sai Baba just collects the bodily juices before they spill on clothing or elsewhere. In my opinion, this occult explanation only adds to the confusion that already exists concerning the sexual advances the Baba allegedly makes towards young men.

One final inconsistent element to be mentioned is the fact that Sai Baba, besides claiming to be an incarnation of Shiva, claims to be an incarnation of Vishnu (one of the trimurti), the deity described as ‘the sustainer of life’, who has manifested himself as the Kalki avatar to save the world from evil in the (current) Kali Yuga era.[26] Why would Sai Baba claim to be Shiva and Vishnu? Shiva and Vishnu have rather different ‘characters’, so to speak. Shiva already carries many opposites within – why would Sai Baba add even more to the controversy by also claiming to be an incarnation of Vishnu?

Discussion and Final Questions

Would it matter to know whether Sathya Sai Baba is the Shiva form incarnated, or Vishnu, or both? No, not really. If Sai Baba is All, why could he not be Vishnu as well as Shiva? Does it matter if Sai Baba has said only a little about Prema Sai and didn’t mention his connection to Shirdi Sai Baba for years? Perhaps it does, as it relates to the (for me) most intriguing question whether the Bharadwaja story itself is a myth only, or contains (some) truth. In spite of the many people who allegedly witnessed the events, further checking should be carried out by independent investigators. For instance, are there any medical reports on Sai Baba’s physical conditions in July 1963? Did he have a stroke, or ‘tubercular meningitis’ as Kasturi stated in his Sathyam-Shivam-Sundaram, Part II? Did Baba really cure himself? Have people present at the festival been systematically interviewed? What about this devotee whose illness Sai Baba said to have taken on? Can that person be traced down? If so, did something extraordinary happen to this person?

A further point needs to be made about the idea of Sai Baba embodying the Bharadwaja myth. Scholar Lawrence Babb thought it a striking feature that in the narrations about Sathya Sai Baba, his life emerges with an almost complete elision of individual personhood. What looks at first like life-history turns out to be something quite different: a suppression of unique life-history, and a removal of the life in question from history. At virtually every turn individuating details are subordinated to one timeless mythic paradigm or another. His birth was not a particular birth but the birth of a deity-infant, as evidenced by the resounding of the tambùrã and the cobra under the bedding. His childhood was not a particular childhood but the childhood of a juvenile god, for which the ruling paradigm in India is the early life of Krishna. With the first of the two great disclosures, the image of the magical child is superseded by another – that of the archetypal holy man, as represented by Sai Baba of Shirdi. In the second disclosure this identity, in turn is encompassed within yet another, which is not only wider, but universal. Now he is revealed to be Shiva and Shakti, who together represent the Absolute.[27]

Viewed from this perspective, the discourse about Bharadwaja could be seen as a fabricated story, perhaps one of the many concerning Sai Baba’s life. It is said, for instance, that Sathya Sai Baba was born in Puttaparthi. However, as it was common practice for women in that time to return to their home village when a child would be born, and as many people in Puttaparthi know, Baba’s mother followed this practice.[28] She returned to Karnatakka-Nagepalli, a village on the other side of the Chitravati river that runs through Puttaparthi, so Karnatakka-Nagepalli is the village where Sathyanaraya Raju (Sai Baba’s original name) was really born. Also, it is said that Sai Baba was born on November 23, 1926, and began his mission at the age of 14, on October 20, 1940, the day he left school, which for several decades has been celebrated as “Avatar Day”. Interestingly, in a recently published book about Sai Baba’s early days, it is shown that his school register reads October 4, 1929 as his birthday, and the date he declared his mission is given as October 20, 1943.[29] His actual day of birth would have been somewhere in May-June 1929, states Hari Sampath, who has been collecting conflicting and troubling material regarding Sai Baba.[30] The change of date, he has been told, would have been made to fit in with in an important event in the life of Sri Aurobindo,[31] another important spiritual leader from India, who was succeeded by the Mother:

On November 24, 1926, Sri Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion to devote his life to his supramental Yoga (…). The Mother explained afterwards that ‘Krishna on that day descended into the physical to join and help Sri Aurobindo in this work’.[32]

Diverse explanations have been going around concerning the happenings on 24 November 1926 in Aurobindo’s ashram. Nowhere, however, does Georges Van Vreckhem mention Sai Baba in his study on that special day in the life of Sri Aurobindo.[33] Now, suppose some of the information concerning Aurobindo’s seclusion in the late ’30s and ’40s has reached Puttaparthi, and Sai Baba, or the people associated with him, have been fabricating a myth, why not fit it in with a name like Aurobindo who is in one way or another linked with Krishna descending on earth? That the precise date is shifted one day (Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion on Nov. 24th; Sai Baba is said to be born on the 23rd) could merely be a mistake, due to the vagueness of the stories available.

If facts like these have been twisted, if Sai Baba is presented as little Krishna reborn, and simple things like Sai Baba’s often quoted saying ‘My life is my message’ may be outright plagiarism of a sentence Gandhi once scribbled on piece of paper when asked by a journalist for a message to take back to his people,[34] why not come up with a myth of the sage Bharadwaja to present oneself as Shiva-Shakti incarnated? And embody this idea through (some kind of trick that looks like) a male-female, or female-male genital switch?

What is the purpose of Sai Baba’s genital switch and Shiva-Shakti claim? Is there any purpose? Why, if it is something extraordinary Sai Baba does, is this act of his clouded in secrecy and mystery? Is it because the strange stories are hard to believe anyway and therefore are easily dismissed by his devotees? Why would he have been acting out like this for several decades? And on the other hand, if Sai Baba is in fact not a divine Avatar, what could be his purpose for claiming to be Shiva-Shakti incarnate? And what is behind the genital switch? Why would he only do so when alone with a man?

Furthermore, even if it is only a trick that Sai Baba performs, by pulling back his penis between his legs, why would he do it? Why the pattern: in 1990 with two young Englishmen, around 1996 with Sam Young, and again in 1999 by the 15-year old? For me it is difficult to believe that those have been the only ones who have experienced the ‘Shiva-Shakti change’. The stories I have offered are probably the few that have surfaced, because who dares to talk about such strange experiences with someone who is believed to be God himself? And what did happen in 1970 with Patrick, the young fellow who said he had intercourse with Sai Baba as if Sai Baba were a woman? Surely, in this case, where there is smoke, there must be fire, ergo, something must have taken place.

Is Sai Baba a self-created myth, an ordinary human being (with an appealing spiritual teaching) giving darshan to thousands of people daily who adore him as God incarnated in a human body and who, by so doing, help the preservation of this fabricated myth?

Or might he really be someone special? By exposing male and female aspects, and socially approved and not approved behaviour, is Sai Baba offering mankind a living example that God is good and not good, that God is All? Could it really be possible that Sai Baba is God incarnate as his devotees believe?

And do we therefore have to look further into matters like the Shiva-Shakti aspect to reach answers to the questions whether Sai Baba’s life may have been turned into a gigantic myth, or whether he could be a divine teacher, or ‘a partially enlightened master’? Should we make a serious study of the idea of Sai Baba’s miraculous genital switches, before we dismiss them on the grounds of the published allegations that Sai Baba is a homosexual who has sexually abused (young) men, or that his life appears to be a created myth? Personally I think we should – but we need further research from scholars more knowledgeable in fields like comparative religion, Hindu mythology, and psychology. It is to be hoped that such persons will follow where Deborah Swallow left off, in a field that has so far failed to attract the serious attention of the academic community.


Thanks to all those who helped me to write this paper: firstly, the young men who told me about their private interviews with Sai Baba, then the several persons who gave me their comments on the draft of this paper, and finally Brian Steel who edited my English.

I would like to add my thanks to Sathya Sai Baba for being such an enigmatic, unbelievable controversial character, who has stirred up extreme opposing thoughts and feelings in me, through which I have been able to learn more about my own beliefs concerning what I consider to be right and ‘wrong’. Nevertheless, thanking Sai Baba does not imply that I condone his sexual (and other) misconducts.


[1] For the developments of the last year, see two unpublished papers, available on the Internet at (under ‘English’, then ‘articles’ and scroll down to 15 August 2001): Nagel, Alexandra H.M. A Guru Accused. Sai Baba, from Avatar to Homo-paedophile and For and Against Sathya Sai Baba on the Internet. Or, in Dutch: De Neergang van een Goeroe. Sai Baba: van avatar tot homo-pedofiel, unpublished paper for the course ‘Religious Sociology and Psychology: New Religious Movements’ of the Educational Institute of Theology and Religion Studies, University of Amsterdam, January 2001, 40 pages.

[2] Independently of these two, I have heard of two other similar experiences.

[3] The text is literally copied from the letter, (available on and, sent by the boy’s mother. For privacy reasons names are not mentioned.

[4] Klitsie, Helena Liefde’s Logica, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Maarten Muntinga, 2001:35, my translation.

[5] Thapa, Vijay Jung et al. “Test of Faith, a God Accused”, in India Today 4 December, 2000: 44-46. Quotation is from p. 44, my italics.

[6] Brooke, Tal Avatar of Night. The Hidden Side of Sai Baba, New Delhi: Tarang Paperbacks, 1984:328-329 (first edition in 1972). In the edition Avatar of Night. Special Millennial Edition, Berkeley: End Run Publishing, 2000:330, the last sentence of the quotation has been slightly amended: “The problem was till then, I knew at least some of this stuff from firsthand experience.” The 2000 edition contains pictures, among them of Surya Das (Brooke, 2000:328).

[7] See note 6, and Brooke, 2000:111, 138.

[8] Personal communication from Tal Brooke.

[9] Tony O’Clery, a former Sai Baba devotee from Canada, posting regularly on several critical Sai Baba message boards and known for his inflammatory messages, has stated several times that he once met transsexuals who told him the same thing regarding this excerpt of Tal Brooke’s book. Taken from message # 13533 on March 21, 2001:

“They were transexuals not transvestites. They were part of a group going to pn [Prasanthi Nilayam]. They knew a lot about sb [Sai Baba] being a hermaphrodite and were going for about the third time, to see him. I was a devotee at the time and didn't want to know the details, but did accept the possibility of sb being a hermaphrodite. I just didn't know he was a molestor and gay that's all. These transexuals obviously did and were devotees because of that.”

[10] Kasturi, N. Sathyam Sivam Sundaram (part II): The Life of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Publication & Education Foundation, 1984:88 (first edition in 1973).

[11] The paragraph on the Bharadwaja myth is based on, and this quotation, is taken from “Shiva Shakthi” in Sathya Sai Speaks III. Discourses in 1963, Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Baba Publications Trust, (revised Indian edition):87-92; the quote is on page 91. The story can also be found at the official website of the Sathya Sai Baba Organisation under http://www.sathysaiorg/discour/1963/d630706.htm, and in Sandweiss, Samuel H. Sai Baba. The Holy Man … And the Psychiatrist, Prasanthi Nilayam, India: Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust, 1975:97-101.

[12] See Swallow, D. A. “Ashes and Powers: Myth, Rite and Miracle in an Indian God-Man’s Cult”, in Modern Asian Studies, 16(1), 1982:123-158; Steel, Brian The Sathya Sai Baba Compendium. A Guide to the First Seventy Years, York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1997:244-248; and White, Charles S.J. “The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of Indian Saints”, in Journal of Asian Studies, 31(4), 1972:863-878.

[13] For a few references on Prema Sai, see Steel, 1997:204-205.

[14] Swallow, 1982:135.

[15] Swallow, 1982:136. Notice: Swallow is quoting on p. 136 Kasturi, 1973:88-89 on the threefold Shiva incarnation. Kasturi wrote originally that Shirdi Sai Baba was Shakti incarnated alone, and that Prema Sai will be Shiva alone. In the revised edition of Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. III, it has been changed into Shirdi Baba being Shiva, and Prema Sai being Shakti alone. See also note 23.

[16] Swallow, 1982:137.

[17] Swallow, 1982:145.

[18] Swallow, 1982:149.

[19] For an explanation of ‘lingam’, see Steel, 1997:110-113.

[20] Roberts, Paul William Empire of the Soul. Some Journeys in India, New York: Riverhead Books 1997: 41 (first edition in 1996). For references to other descriptions and witnesses of the lingam creation at Mahasivaratri festivals, see Steel 1997:113-119.

[21] Not all the males I talked to about this trick agree that it is easy; some are not convinced that this explanation holds for Sai Baba’s genital switch.

[22] I am indebted to Brian Steel, who pointed out to me these confusing elements concerning Sai Baba’s references to Shirdi Baba and Prema Sai. See, for Sai Baba’s references to Shirdi Baba and Prema Sai, the Index compiled by Robert C. Priddy (since withdrawn from circulation).

[23] Another inconsistency relates to note 15. As said there, in Kasturi’s biography it was said that Shirdi Sai Baba was to be Shakti incarnated, and that Prema Sai Baba was to be an incarnation of Shiva. Later, in the official Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. III, the reverse is stated. Since Kasturi has told us that Baba often corrected the official published record, we can only speculate about which version Baba actually gave in his discourse.
This matter is further complicated by the recent publication of an important book of early reminiscences by Vijayakumari, Smt., (Anyatha Saranam Nasthi. Other than You Refuge is There None, Chennai, [n.p.], 1999), apparently privately published but available from Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust. This book written by a long-time and well known devotee (the daughter of the allegedly resurrected Mr Radhakrishna), states the same as Kasturi originally did. What we do not know is whether she is quoting from her memory of the discourse (she is a Telugu speaker), or from Kasturi. According to Vijayakumari, 1999:298-299, Sai Baba said:

“It is said, For one who is without protection, God Himself is protection”. A devotee, who did not have anyone he could call his own, was suffering. I took it over from him. I have allayed his suffering. The root cause is to be found in a Puranic story. I kept it a secret for thirty-eight years and am disclosing it now. In the Treta Yuga, Maharshi Bharadwaja proposed to conduct a Yajna. He wished to have Parvati as the presiding deity and proceeded to Kailasa to persuade Her. There, Siva and Sakti (Parvati) were engaged in competing with one another in dancing. He who gets exhausted first would be the loser. Absorbed in the joy of the thandava (dance), Parvati did not notice the sage’s arrival for eight days, nor listened to his entreaty, even though Siva told her about the sage’s arrival. The sage became angry and said, “You have insulted me!” and turned back. Immediately, his hand and leg were paralysed. He could not speak, but recovered when Siva sprinkled water from his water pot (Kamandulu). Moved to pity at this, Sakti told him that, in the excitement of the dance, She had not noticed him, and promised that both of them would attend the Yajna. She granted him the boon that, in the Kali Yuga, they would take birth as three avatars in his lineage. Shirdi Sai Baba, born in the Bharadwaja gothra, was an incarnation of Sakti. That is why, in that avatar, there was so much short temper. Because it was Sakti Herself, nobody knew much about that avatar. Again, another incarnation of the same gothra is this figure - Satya Sai, the true form of Siva-Sakti, of Gowri-Shankara. The one to come will be in the form of Siva, the avatar of Prema Sai. Further, Siva added: when we are born together in your lineage, Sakti - the left side of this body - because She made you suffer for eight days by her indifference, would also undergo the same suffering. After eight days, Siva (the right side of the body) would sprinkle holy water and cure the disease completely.”

[24] See for the ‘materialisation’ of a lingam on the Mahasivaratri festival in 2000 the video on or Also, Steel, Brian The Powers of Sathya Sai Baba, Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1999:55-57.

[25] Bailey, David & Faye The Findings, Conwy, North Wales: private publication, 2000:9, accessible on internet at, or

[26] See for instance: Sluizer, Berdien Sathya Sai Baba en Kaliyuga, Deventer: Ankh-Hermes, 1993.

[27] Babb, Lawrence A. “Sathya Sai Baba’s Saintly Play”, in Saints and Virtues, John Stratton Hawley (ed.), Berkeley, CA: California University Press, 1987:168-186. The quotation is from p. 173.

[28] See messages # 1320, 1324 and 1329. There are also pictures on this message board accompanying the statements.

[29] Padmanaban, R. Love Is My Form, Vol. 1, The Advent (1926-1950), Bangalore: Sai Towers Publishing, 2000:68, 132-133, 147.

[30] Personal communication with Hari Sampath. See also his statement concerning Sai Baba’s birthday on message # 1321.

[31] See Sampath’s writing on message # 1322, and, for his own strong involvement in the Sai exposé activities,

[32] Steel, 1997:252; see also Brooke, 2000:303 and Brown, Mick The Spiritual Tourist. A Personal Odyssey Through the Outer Reaches of Belief, London: Bloomsbury, 1998:156.

[33] Van Vreckhem, George Voorbij de Mens. Leven en werk van Sri Aurobindo en de Moeder, Deventer: Ankh-Hermes & Schiedam: Stichting Aurofonds, 1995:143-149. For describing the mysterious event on November 24, 1926 in Sri Aurobindo’s life, Van Vreckhem drew on several close sources who were witnesses on that particular day.

[34] Easwaran, Eknath Gandhi, the Man, Tomales, California: Nilgiri Press, 1997:140 (original edition in 1972).

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