Sai Baba's Shirdi LIES 2
The influence of Shirdi Sai Baba started to become prevalent in Raju's own activities only after his move to study at the Samithi Elementary School in Bukkapatnam, which is located across the Chitravathi river four miles away from Puttaparthi. Bukkapatnam is home to an extended temple complex - with separate shrines dedicated to Lakshminarayanaswami (Vishnu), Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman - and is located directly opposite Raju's school and at which Raju spent almost all of his free time with friends. There was another temple dedicated to the goddess Chowdamma located outside the town which was also a favourite haunt of Raju's, where he often ate his lunch in solitude. G.V. Sathyanarayana and T. Kesappa, two classmates of the young Raju, testify that after lunch he would be lost in thought while gazing constantly at a small picture of Shirdi Sai Baba which he always carried with him.
LIMF contains the following unattributed story: Gummagatta Suba Rao, a local government clerk, lived with his wife, Thippamma, in one of the rooms of the Lakshminarayanaswami temple complex. As part of fulfilling her daily religious duties it was Thippama's habit to circumambulate the temples, and she occasionally noticed Raju sitting behind the inner shrine in the Hanuman temple. Her suspicions raised, she hid herself one day in order to observe Raju. After a picture of Shirdi Baba picture was materialised and worshipped by Raju, Thippamma saw the boy light camphor on his palm and offer arati to the picture. He then materialised fruits and powdered dried ginger mixed with powdered sugar as an offering to the deity, ostensibly of Hanuman. A footnote informs us that this ginger preparation is similar to that of sanctified food given in the actual Shirdi shrine.
In spite of the verifiability (or not) of this story, it begs the question as to why mention of Shirdi Sai Baba is made in connection with the young Raju as far back as 1941, when Raju was believed to be just eleven years old (working from the school-registered birthdate of 10th October 1929). We have previously noted Sathya Sai Baba's testimony that no one knew of Shirdi Sai Baba in the immediate area of Puttaparthi until he declared himself as the latter's reincarnation in 1943. Indeed, a culture of Shirdi Sai worship existed in Puttaparthi contary to Sathya Sai's contention:
"Thippamma's daughter, Nagalakshmi, would perform Shirdi Sai Baba worship at home. Sathya would stay after school, sitting in a corner of Subba Rao's puja room until the worship was completed. He would then take prasadam and leave." - LIMF, P. 71.
Supporting evidence for this is contained in a footnote that informs us that a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba (for woshipping purposes) was gained by Sathyavathamma, Nagalakshmi's sister, who had obtained it from the famous Narasimha Swamiji of Mylapore, Madras, and to whom she had been for training. For those who are unfamiliar with B.V. Narasimha Swamiji, he became a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba (after the Baba had passed away) and who spent the bulk of his life in visiting devotees and collecting stories about Shirdi Baba from his direct disciples in order to publish books on the Baba, which included a four-volume biography and a three-volume compilation of devotees' experiences. He also founded the 'Sai Sudha' magazine and was responsible for opening many Shirdi Sai temples which he collectively maintained under the umbrella organisation, the All-India Sai Samaj, based in Madras. He notably preached powerfully in South India, and is arguably Shirdi Baba's greatest ambassador and is highly revered in Shirdi circles even today.
Taking this into consideration, it can be seen clearly how the posthumous influence of Shirdi Sai Baba could filter into Puttaparthi due to word-of-mouth and indirect affiliations with famous Shirdi figures. This could also explain how the young Raju was able to procure pictures of the deceased saint. The Shirdi influence was so patent that LIMF surprises us with the revelation that two of Raju's own uncles were openly known as Shirdi Sai devotees!
"The practice of Shirdi worship was becoming common in Puttaparthi. Raju's uncles, Venkatarama Raju and Venkatasubba Raju were worshippers of Sai Baba of Shirdi, long before Raju announced himself as being 'that' Sai Baba. Venkatasubba Raju bought a Shirdi Baba portrait and started offering worship before it. During the worship, Raju used to sit behind him and, on many occasions, would fall into a trance. Venkatasubba Raju often read aloud the biography of Sai Baba. Whenever he erred while reading, Raju would point out the mistake and explain where the mistake was, including page number, stanza or line." - LIMF, p. 117.
How could Raju have known of the Sri Sai Satcharita in detail? One rational answer, and also the obvious one, would be that he spent an inordinate amount of time studying it. As a schoolboy, Raju was naturally accustomed to studying and was thus well placed to swot up on the Shirdi milieu, given his tendency to spend long periods of time in solitude worshipping the Baba of Shirdi! Indeed his classmate, T. Kesappa, recalled that during such times Raju never meditated but used to recite the 'Shirdi Sai Dandakam', an ostensible Shirdi liturgy. Another classmate, R. Venkataramudu, has the following to say:
"Even in school days he used to bring flowers and perform worship to Shirdi Sai. He had pasted Shirdi Baba pictures in all his books and also carried one in his pocket. Sometimes he would move his hands in the air as he does now. Sometimes he was seen lost to this material world." - LIMF, p. 78.
This is corroborated by Sankara Chinna Obulesu, also a classmate:
"He was like us in many ways but we knew he was also different, since he was often lost to the world, chanting or muttering things holy. He had a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba. He would invoke gods and goddesses and we knew he was pure." - LIMF, p. 79.
It should be noted that the practice of keeping a picture of a deity in one's pocket is extremely prevalent especially in South India, and is often taken as a public exhibition of one's devotion to that particular saint or deity. This means that the young Raju's keeping a picture of Shirdi Sai Baba in his shirt pocket signifies his dedication and public adoration to the saint.
All of these hitherto-unknown anecdotes tell us is that in spite of the revisionist biographers and Sathya Sai Baba's own unfortunate misrepresentations of the situation, there was a strong culture of Shirdi worship in Puttaparthi that, in all likelihood, made a significant contribution to the young Raju's delusions of grandeur. In spite of foggy biographical timelines, Love Is My Form has managed to surprise us all with it's unearthing of newly-discovered facts and figures meant to illuminate a mysterious period in the history of this dubious "avatar".
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