Fuzzy Dates in the Official Biography of Sathya Sai Baba. A Re-examination
Some of the strong assertions made by Sathya Sai Baba’s hagiographers, as well as by the Sathya Sai Organisation and by spokespersons and devotees, are highly controversial, in particular claims of SSB’s Divinity and Avatarhood. Internet and other coverage of these controversies is already substantial and easy to find. This short essay, which is addressed to researchers and other open-minded readers, sheds light on two details of the controversy surrounding his official biography (hagiography).
As stated in my ‘Dossier 4’ and in earlier articles of mine, new evidence offered by the (devotee) researchers who published Love is My Form, Volume 1 in 2000 draws attention to the circumstantial uncertainties surrounding SSB’s declared official date of birth (1926) and the date of his alleged Declaration of Mission – as “Sai Baba” (1940).
On the first point, since the official biography, which gives SSB’s year of birth as 1926, has always linked the two numbers ‘1940’ and ‘nearly 14’ to SSB’s first declarations that he was “Sai Baba”, the strong recent LIMF evidence that leads to the inevitable conclusion that these Declarations took place in 1943 shows that one of these official figures (14 or 1926) must be incorrect. If SSB was 14 in 1943, as is possible, then he was born in 1929; if he was born in 1926, then he was nearly 17 at the time of the Declarations in Uravakonda in 1943, which is also possible.
To my knowledge, the Sathya Sai Organisation has never refuted (or even mentioned) the LIMF evidence which points to 1943, or my Internet articles about it. There has been no official adjustment to to SSB’s stated age when he undertook his Mission nor to the date of that alleged event. When the SSO does decide to address this question, there are other pieces of information relating to his date of birth which they will need to consider.
In LIMF (pp.132-133) the 1943 Register pages (apparently from Uravakonda High School) give Sathya Narayana’s date of birth as 4-10-39. This is an obvious clerical error. However, the later correction to “4-10-29”, with a signed clarification, “fourth October Nineteen Twentynine” (dated, as far as the writing is legible, 11-8-76). (Note that the same date of birth, in 1929, is also given – with an intricate disclaimer caption (plausible but also defensive), which needs to be taken into consideration – on the transfer certificate from distant Kamalapuram School to neighbouring Bukkapatnam School, in 1941, LIMF, p. 68.) However, before too much is made of the 1929 date ‘discrepancy’, we have been informed, in LIMF (p. 68), and by other experts on Indian culture, that such errors were quite common in rural India in those days. Equally relevant, therefore, is the hypothesis that, in such a remote Indian village in the 1920s, no one would have remembered the exact birth date and the date in the register is an approximation. It is also possible, of course, that the date of birth will never be proved one way or the other, but in the light of demonstrable discrepancies, all the evidence should be considered.
1. On this document, the other boys in Sathya Narayana’s class have birthdates ranging from 1933 to 1938, and leaving dates from 1946 and 1949. Sathya Narayana’s early leaving date (suggesting a younger than usual termination of studies), although not recorded, is assumed (according to the LIMF evidence) to have been October 1943, when he made his second Mission Declaration.
2. Still to be investigated is the note by prominent SSB proselytiser, M.N. Rao (A Story of God as Man, 1985, p. 28). It states that after Sathya left, there was an entry in the Uravakonda High School records to that effect. “In the fourth form (ninth class) attendance register of 1940, the entry against the name Rathnakaram Sathyanarayanaraju read as follows: “Discontinued – no T.C. claimed.”
An additional relevant consideration is that the 1926 date of birth is inextricably linked with the claim by SSB and the SSO that Shirdi Sai Baba predicted before his death (in 1918) that he would return in 8 years – a claim not supported, as far as I am aware, by the official Shirdi Sai Association literature. (The two Associations are totally separate.) Equally dependent on the official 23rd of November 1926 date of birth is the confident assertion by SSB writers and devotees that Sri Aurobindo’s declaration on 24 November 1926 about the descent of Krishna into the physical on the preceding day was really an acknowledgement of SSB’s divine Advent. In other words, it is one of a series of unsupported (and often demonstrably unconvincing) official (and devotee) claims that SSB’s birth was foretold by many important sages and leaders. This particular claim was never recognised by Aurobindo (who died in 1950) or by his followers. The latter have always interpreted this special announcement as the arrival of the Divine spirit into Aurobindo’s consciousness, for which he had prayed for years.
The voluminous (partisan) literature on SSB offers a few further pieces of circumstantial evidence for solving this biographical puzzle. First of all, innocent quotations offered in veteran devotee Smt. Vijayakumari’s memoirs seem to provide a degree of independent support for the possibility that SSB’s date of birth may not have been in 1926 but in 1929. In 1945 the little girl’s cousins were strolling in the affluent Bangalore suburb of Malleswaram when they heard bhajans being sung. They entered the house to listen. Sai Baba, who was present there, invited them to go to Puttaparthi (whose name they had never heard). When they returned to their town of Kuppam (south-east of Bangalore, but in today’s Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh), the cousins told the girl’s mother about their meeting. The latter was keen for them all to go, but the idea was vetoed by the father, who said: “You tell me He is sixteen years old and claims to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. This is all humbug” (Vijayakumari, p. 12). That night the mother had a dream of SSB and they were immediately given permission by the father to visit the ashram for three days. This first visit allegedly took place during Dasara, in October 1945 (p.13). The family soon became very close to SSB and visited for long periods.
However, since the fortuitous assistance of the research behind LIMF has enabled us to establish that SSB was (allegedly) nearly 17 when he made his October 1943 Declaration, Vijayakumari’s words quoted above indicate that, two years later, in 1945, SSB was not nearly 19, as would be expected, but 16. If true, this would make his year of birth 1929 (as indicated by the register entries in LIMF). What is also interesting about this possibility is that at the time of the (alleged) Mission Declarations of 1943, he would have been almost 14 years old – as he and his biographers have always claimed!
The rest of this essay is to be found HERE.
Padmanaban, R. et al , Love is My Form. Vol. 1 The Advent (1926-1950). Prasanthi Nilayam, Sai Towers, 2000. [Often referred to as LIMF]
Vijayakumari, Smt., Anyatha Saranam Nasthi. Other than You Refuge is There None, Chennai, [n.p.], 1999. [Available from the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust]
For an introduction to the alleged forecasts of Sathya Sai Baba’s birth and their prominence in the official promotion of SSB: ‘Counter-Evidence to the Sathya Sai Baba Divinity Myth and Related Topics. A Basic Source Guide’