Deep in the southwest of the state, amid the arid rocky hills bordering Karnataka, a thriving community has grown up around the once insignificant village of PUTTAPARTHY, birthplace of spiritual leader Sai Baba. Centring on Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Peace), the ashram where Sai Baba used to reside most of the year, the town has schools, a university, hospital and sports centre that offer up-to-date and free services to all. The ashram itself is a huge complex, with canteens, shops, a museum and library, and a vast assembly hall. The museum (daily 10am–noon) contains detailed displays on the world’s major faiths and presents a positive unitarian message.
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Shri Satya Sai Baba
Shri Satya Sai Baba
Born on November 23, 1926, in Puttaparthy, Satyanarayana Raju allegedly displayed prodigious talents from an early age. His apparently supernatural abilities initially caused some concern to his family, who took him to Vedic doctors and eventually to be exorcised. Having been declared possessed by the divine rather than the diabolical, at the age of 14 he calmly announced he was the new incarnation of Sai Baba, a saint from Shirdi in Maharashtra who died eight years before Satya was born.
Gradually his fame spread and a large following developed. In 1950 the ashram was inaugurated and a decade later Sai Baba was attracting international attention; he still has millions of devotees worldwide, more than two years after his death on April 27, 2011. Just 5ft tall, with a startling Hendrix-style Afro, his smiling, saffron-clad figure can be seen on posters, photos and murals all over south India. Though his miraculous powers reportedly included the ability to materialize vibhuti, sacred ash, with curative properties, Sai Baba always claimed this to be unimportant, emphasizing instead his message of universal love. During his last years a number of ex-followers made serious accusations about coercion and even sexual abuse on the part of the guru himself, which have been vehemently denied.
Predictably, following the passing of the guru, there have been further rumours of corruption by the trustees of his organization, casting its future into some doubt. Whatever your feelings about the divinity of Sai Baba, the atmosphere around the ashram remains undeniably peaceful. You can find out more about the Sai organization at wsaibaba.ws.