Faith-shaking events - the 1993 Prashanthi Nilayam Temple murders

There is one cardinal fact about the 1993 murders in Sathya Sai Baba's bedroom: nothing was ever cleared up either in court or by the Central Bureau Investigations. Maximum confusion and disinformation was created by the ashram authorities, the Puttaparthi police, Sai Baba in his discourse, by government ministers (Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan, and Chief Minister Mr. K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy) and, of course, the leaders of the Sathya Sai Organization (Mr. Indulal Shah and Dr. M. Goldstein note2 ). Then the entire subject was hushed up and everything was buried by the government. Currently, apologists for Sai Baba still try to spread further confusion and lies about the incident, attack all who even question the wrongs done and try to sideline all discussion into irrelevancies and libel. These indisputable facts speak volumes of themselves. The Sathya Sai Organization remains silent and a mafia-like omerta reigns among those involved and those who know anything.

The June 1993 attack on the temple, involving the killing of altogether six young men, unavoidably became a major news story in India. Like most other, when first I heard of it - and for a long time afterwards - it raised no serious doubts about Sai Baba himself. Even though I was already well acquainted with the kind of well-meaning (if self-defeating) propaganda often circulated both outside and inside the organisation, my faith was little jolted, even by facts as later presented by more neutral sources. It was simply out of the question to a devotee that Sai Baba himself could be personally involved in such things. However, some who were present at the time - including at least one top leader - became disaffected overnight (later the Central Coordinator for Australia, Terry Gallagher, turned his back on the Organization and Sai Baba).

The very heavy burden I inherited

The most important piece of information I ever received about Sathya Sai Baba was from V.K. Narasimhan - confided to me in 1996 - and it concerned the 1993 murders episode, which was also the most shattering. In the briefest words, when I asked Narasimhan in January 1996 in private to help clear up reputed facts about what had occurred, he said of Sai Baba's top officials in a hushed voice, "they did a terrible thing", using those very words. He referred primarily to Sai Baba's younger brother, Janakiramiah (now deceased) and other involved ashram officials and Central Trust members. They blackmailed the police into shooting the four intruders and claiming it was in self-defense. As soon as I heard this I knew this was the single worst secret, one I'd rather not have known, and that I would have to carry it thereafter, like it or not. Eventually I found myself alone with it, and knew that I should have to speak out about sooner or later.

Narasimhan was not personally present during the killings, being asleep in his apartment. However, he recounted to me a conversation at which he had been present when Sathya Sai Baba's younger brother, Jankiramaiah (a multimillionaire property owner and entrepreneur who now also virtually heads the Sathya Sai Central Trust) discussed the incident with "a very high official in the Indian Government", who it later transpired was the Union Home Minister, S.B. Chavan (now deceased). Chavan had congratulated Janakiramiah on having had the four intruders shot by the police, and one of them commented, "Dead men tell no tales", whereupon they actually laughed together. Narasimhan was deeply shocked. When one considers his position at that time, it is easy to see how powerless he was to stand up and announce what he knew. His life would almost certainly also have been in danger had he made a public statement about this!
(Note that Janakiramiah openly claimed to the press repeatedly and insistently that the intruders had intended to assassinate his elder brother, Sai Baba, though Sai Baba himself denied this repeatedly!)

It had sometimes caused me some problems and doubts that VKN confided to me experiences and facts known to insiders of the ashram but which he was unable, not least for reasons of his own and others' security, to speak openly about there. At the time I was still determined to rationalise everything nicely to make it all fit the Procrustean bed of Sai Baba's claims about his goodness and truthfulness, his work and 'mission'. The delayed-action 'bombshell' VKN handed me eventually put an end to all that. This was so shocking that it took me several years to come to terms with it, after a very painful process of realisation and disillusionment with Sai Baba himself. Yet it was also the key to the door that freed me from many of the fallacies and delusions about Sai Baba that are part and parcel of almost any follower's belief system. Since I first published these confidences, I have decided I must also post scan facsimiles of my notes made at the time, which should surely lend added weight to my accounts.
See scan of the original notes I made at the time of V.K. Narasimhan's shocking information and my comments

Early on June 7, 1993 in Prashanti Nilayam the news soon spread that five young men had tried to force entry to Sai Baba's room during the previous evening, allegedly to speak with him, argued and then fought with Sai Baba's two attendants in the interview room below and killed them with knives. [Note, however, that Basava Premanand, who has researched the matter far more closely than any other vocal 'outsider', has contested the putative 'fact' that the two servitors were actually killed by the intruders]. One of the five ran away, but the other four either became locked into Sai Baba's apartment (whether from within or partly from outside). Sathya Sai Baba reportedly fled down his back stars to the ladies side of the temple and shortly went into his garage nearby. When the police arrived over half and hour later, allegedly drunk as was their regular custom, they did nothing for hours. Later, the police shot dead at close range the four intruders who were locked in Sai Baba's apartment, claiming it was in 'self-defense'.

VKN's very worried confidence to me on how the Puttaparthi police were blackmailed I cannot doubt either, though I should have wished it otherwise. He told me how both some ashram and some Central Trust authorities used a lever with which to blackmail the police into executing by gunfire the four young men! Armed only with knives, the youths could have been disarmed one by one before they were allowed to exit the room or, at least only shot to disable them if they threatened the police. Learning what was no doubt unquestionable facts started to shake my perceptions of almost everything around Sai Baba worse than anything before. It has also obviously had repercussions on my faith in the alleged universal benevolence and protection offered by Sathya Sai to his devotees. Anyhow, I assumed (then) he had given no instructions himself but just let things happen.

Sai Baba himself was never actually attacked, as he has emphasised. Who pressed the alarm and set the temple lights ablaze may have been Sai Baba or it may have been the intruders. Further, a long-term resident of the ashram from New Zealand, an electro-engineer called Robin who helped clean up the shambles, told a compatriot that the veranda was deep in blood. An official of the Indian Administrative Service we knew, Mr. V. Ramnath, himself professionally involved in security, insisted to me that another officer he knew well had been involved after the killings and his account made me realise that something was terribly wrong. It was said that some of Sai Baba's students had heard the alarm and rushed to the scene and fought with the four attackers. It was alleged that the students had tied the intruders with ropes and beaten them to death (or nearly so) on the veranda. All this was alleged with much conviction to me. Only weeks later did I discover that this was at least partly inaccurate. Others deny this and claim the intruders were locked into Sai Baba's apartment from the start and were eventually killed by police bullets. Other unofficial sources insisted that it was a well-known fact in Puttaparthi that beatings and subsequent shootings were observed by many as having taken place on the veranda.

The whole mess of conflicting reports and interpretations began to seem like something combining a grand speculative confusion of the sort well-known in Indian life which was fortuitous for creating such uncertainty that it could lead to a major cover-up. It certainly illustrates how little official frankness there was about the incident.

The means by which the Puttaparthi Police were blackmailed

The chief means of blackmail, VKN told me, was that the ashram officials knew the Puttaparthi police had been told the hiding place of Rs. 8,000.- by the two thieves who murdered a German-speaking (presumably Swiss) lady to take it in early 1989 (or thereabouts). She had been waiting for the allocation of a room she had already donated for, and this was granted by the accommodation office at Prashanthi Nilayam around the day Sai Baba left the ashram for Bangalore. She had taken over the room and intended to have it refurbished it in the way many residents do to make it more practical and comfortable. She had walked back from the State Bank in Puttaparthi where she had withdrawn about Rs. 80,000.- for this purpose but she failed to conceal the money properly. When she returned to her room later that evening, she surprised the two male non-devotee villagers (brothers) in her room where they had found the money. They slashed her to death with knives. See independent report by letter from an American lady who was around at the time.

As usual when such incidents occur, the staff had immediately cleared the ashram of all foreigners (all had to have vacated their rooms by next morning). The police soon caught the two killers and locked them up. All this was conveyed to my wife and I by a foreigner who had long lived in Brindavan. It was confirmed for me that this had taken place when - during a subsequent visit to Prashanthi Nilayam - I asked the leader of the Danish Organisation, Thorbjørn Meyer, about the incident. He replied that the lady in question had been silly to show her money so openly, so what should one suspect! (I must add that this is a kind of mentality I really despise!) The murderers managed to 'escape' from police custody after a few weeks. The police never accounted for the money and Narasimhan told me that they had extorted the hiding place of the money from the prisoners, which they took themselves in return for allowing them to escape. All this became known to various officials in the ashram, who apparently took no action, not even on behalf of the murdered lady or her family! That is one of the dangers of Prashanthi Nilayam - total non-accountability even when murder occurs! Sai Baba himself was in close proximity to the scene all the time, and eyewitnesses report he had retreated to his garage building (attached to the temple) where he conversed with Central Trust and ashram officials during the hours before the execution shots were heard. He certainly did nothing to stop the process! As all who know anything of the ashrams' workings, Sai Baba has complete information about - and indisputable authority over - everything therein.

A bank official was an eyewitness, who went under cover later, told the BBC's journalist (who was early on the scene) that Janakiramiah (Sathya Sai Baba’s younger brother) had shouted out to the police to order the killing of the four inside the bedroom directly after he emerged from the room where Sai Baba was. One can easily understand why the eyewitness then made himself scarce... it does not pay to hang around such a killing scene making accusations, however true they are!

Sai Baba held a discourse some weeks after the murders (3.7.1993). It rambled around in detailed side-issues - discussions he had with his servitors about drinking buttermilk and going out of the ashram for some time. His disconnected and extremely incomplete account avoided any description of the sequence of events or who did what. A masterpiece of misdirection perhaps. He held that all came about as a result of "jealousy", one of his favourite allegations in general.That was all he ever mentioned as to the cause! He announced, nonetheless, that the whole episode would only serve to increase his fame in future. That is chutzpah! (In fact, it has added to his notoriety).

Narasimhan was continually perplexed about Sai Baba's behaviour and he told me twice that he had been able to question Sai Baba at some length about the reason for the murders. In October 1998 he repeated in the presence of others that he found Sai Baba's replies were "not convincing, not convincing". It is significant that Sai Baba would even unbend enough to listen to such questions from anyone at all, but - as I have made clear - Narasimhan was a very important player in Sai Baba's bid for influence and respectability. (See my notes about VKN's discussing why Sai Baba behaved as he did).

Devotees in denial

Most devotees hold with Sai Baba that everything he says or does has meaning. What that meaning is , moreover, is very often hidden from us, whether temporarily or permanently. The devotee conversation-stoppers is: "Only Swami knows the meaning", and poor fallible and all-too-human you and I cannot understand it. Best not to ask either! This attitude efficiently sustains the cult of secrecy around Sai Baba. None will even consider asking with any seriousness what the meaning of the killing of six persons could have been - devotees at that! Two servitors died right under the nose of Sai Baba, and he did nothing, but reportedly words to the effect 'keep quiet down there!' The other four were shot down in a hail of over 30 bullets while he stood within the same building complex, the absolute ruler of the Prashanthi Nilayam ashram (i.e. the "Abode of Supreme Peace"). Horrific executions took place at the instigation of his own officials and younger brother, but what right has anyone to ask the self-proclaimed only Divine avatar of this age the whys and wherefores of his involvement? That is the attitude even today of devotees, officials and Sai Baba himself!

In his discourse of 3.7.1993 - after nearly a month of silence in the entire issue - Sathya Sai Baba told that his two close attendants, Radhakrishna Menon and Sai Kumar Mahajan, had been given clear directions by him which would have ensured their own safety but which they ignored on purpose.He claimed that the incident was caused by 'jealousy' though he never explained whose jealousy or of whom or for what. That would have been too revealing, undoubtedly. That there were factions vying for power and money was reported by many who investigated, but this may well only have been a part of the motive involved (the sex abuse of boys issue was also alleged in confidence to various sources by students and others more or less involved). Sai Baba also made very vague comments on the death of his two attendants and rambled around some apparently irrelevant circumstances (like buttermilk drinking). Devotees had to make do with these vapid and misleading words - a revealing lack of honesty and pathetic attempt to mollify opinion.

Though some main facts stand out clearly enough, no one can be certain of everything with the many unresolved questions surrounding the details, missing evidence and the completely irreconcilable reports of police vs. various witnesses etc. The CBI investigation was quashed by intervention from the highest levels of government. The Home Minister, S. B. Chavan, was observed to have visited Sai Baba a number of times through the months before the eventual CBI investigation was closed down by government order.

Eventually the Indian government decided to provide security for Sai Baba. They supposedly declared Sai Baba to be a 'national treasure', and installed a security system with armed guards and metal detectors at both main ashrams, which system is still in place. In 1996, V.K. Narasimhan told me that the ashram was spending 10 lakhs per month for plain clothes security, which came in addition to regular batches of hundreds of Seva Dal volunteers who always guard all parts of the ashram and carry out surveillance work. Sai Baba claimed to VKN that this is for the benefit of devotees. Considering that Sai Baba himself lives in what Narasimhan characterised as a fortress-like apartment designed by himself with an impenetrable overhanging balcony and access only by a lift, all is concentrated primarily on protecting Sai Baba, not his devotees at all. Since this apartment was found wanting for some unknown reason, Sai baba built a twin palatial residence for himself (and college students!) opposite the Poornachandra hall former residence.

Please note: Originally, when first I wrote this document around 2001, I stated here "Some of what I experienced of Sai Baba's extraordinary and positive powers through many years is undeniable, even after the most rigorous sceptical investigations, and I do not regard him as any ordinary person. After much soul-searching and disturbing discoveries, however, I have simply had to realise that his actions in the worldly and human sphere are not infallible and are not always setting a perfect example for others".

I should have corrected this long ago, but better late than never! I did then still think things undeniable which I am now fully aware are not so! I was then still suffering from a degree of denial about Sathya Sai Baba's abilities. Many of what I believed to be Sathya Sai Baba's extraordinary and positive powers I have since had increasing reason to doubt. The still emerging evidence of fakery and fraud, deceptions and lies has mounted to proportions which cause me to consider him a charlatan, though not any "ordinary" one but rather a particularly gifted one. At that time I had not, despite the depth of my investigations while still a devotee (i.. basically biased towards excessive positivity towards him and all reports about him) reached the level of "most rigorous sceptical investigations". This is proved by my record in the past decade during which more and more fraudulent claims, doubtful testimonies, conflicting accounts and counter-evidence concerning Sai Baba's activities have been uncovered, particularily many of his bogus materializations. There will of course never be conclusive evidence that all of Sai Baba's supposed 'powers' were bogus, since these events are in the past and were never observed by independent witnesses trained in detecting bogus claims, assisted 'tricks' by sleight-of-hand and misdirection. Not least few then knew of the powerful techniques of mind control (some call it instant hypnosis) without any obvious preliminaries, such as is demonstrated extraordinarily as most effective in many different settings by Derren Brown of Channel 4 TV in UK. Even my friend the para-psychologist Professor Erlendur Haraldsson, who had consulted with magicians on how tricks are performed prior to his visiting India, evidently did not concentrate all the time on following the hand movements of Sathya Sai Baba's (such as behind his back and in his chair cushions). Sai Baba certainly chooses the unexpected psychological moment when attention is most misdirected to perform his "materializations", which can well be preplanned with information about the visitors, what would intrigue them and so forth. Further, Haraldsson did not have the genuineness of any the alleged materialized 'diamonds' tested by expert jewellers, nor does he mention the wide availability at many shops in South India of trinkets, rings, pendants, lingams etc. identical to those Sai Baba gives as "materializations". Had he done so, I may have been saved a lot of trouble myself, for I did not get the alleged "diamond" in a ring Sai Baba seemed to take out of thin air and gave me in 1986 assayed until 2002. One lives and learns... or, at least, some do.

Notes: The Hindu Vishakpatnam. 1-7-1993 reported: "The Rationalist Association of Andhra Pradesh has demanded that the police must examine Sri Satya Sai Baba or ask him to file a statement on the death of six persons as Prashanthi Nilayam at Puttaparthi recently. If he fails to do so, he should be arrested and interrogated, Mr. K. Innaiah, President of the Association, demanded at a press conference here on Wednesday.
It would be a violation of the regulations under Cr. P.C. to hesitate to examine Sri Sai Baba, as he was a direct witness to the happenings, he said. Politicians including the Chief Minister, Mr. K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy, must stop visiting Baba’s ashram at Puttaparthi at public expenditure, he said and criticised the Central and State Ministers for their ‘attempts’ to protect Baba."

2. The murders are no longer ever mentioned by officials in the Sai movement. Commenting upon them at the time, Indulal Shah, the International Chairman of the Sathya Sai Organization and member of the Sathya Sai Central Trust, stated to the press: "…the matter is purely internal and we do not wish to have any law enforcement agency investigating into it." (The Hindu, 10-6-1993). This almost incredible admission can only mean that I. Shah (and those he represents) saw the perpetrators of such major crimes put completely above and beyond the law! Yet worse, this is how things ended up!
The report and comments sent out by ashram authorities shortly afterwards were inaccurate and swathed in warnings to take no notice at all of these events. This has become standard practice at Prashanthi Nilayam after anything untoward happens: keep silent, send everyone away and cover it up somehow. An inaccurate, confused and emotional written report was circulated as official information to centre leaders in the western Sai Organisation by Dr. Michael Goldstein (overall leader in the Western Hemisphere). In this, Goldstein claimed that Sai Baba had unexpectedly come rapidly back to Prashanti Nilayam on the eve of the night attack, as if specially to be present during it (indicating prescience).

"The purpose of this visit was to find the reason why former students of Sai Baba's college would want to kill him, particularly when they had been given a free education! The eye witness accounts were horrific! After bursting into the Mandir, four students found themselves trapped upstairs where Sai Baba was staying. Each was interrogated by police, then one at a time they were executed! The stench of death was everywhere. I made further inquiries about Sai Baba having sexual relations with college boys and male students - some of these as young as seven years of age - and whether this was the reason for former students wanting to kill him. I was told, to my horror, that this was an acceptable Indian practice! I felt sick, and just wanted to take my family and leave the ashram and India as quickly as possible. Before we did, we were all called for interview with Sai Baba and we told him what we had experienced and been told. Sai Baba made no comment on our accusations and was only anxious to know who had told us these details, requesting us to tell him several times! Having had dozens of interviews over the years, this was the most stressful and uncomfortable interview our family had ever experienced. Sai Baba was tense and agitated and his body language told us all, that what we had found out about him was the truth! We left the interview and returned to Australia."

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