UNRAVELLING THE ENIGMA
- SHIRDI SAI BABA - IN THE LIGHT OF SUFISM
by Marianne Warren
Sterling Paperbacks - New Delhi Revised edition 2004 - ISBN 81-207-2147-0

(Publisher's presentation): Marianne Warren's new work is an exciting new piece of research which examines Sai Baba of Shirdi from the standpoint of Islamic mysticism - the Deccani Sufism of 19th century Maharashtra - in order to unravel the mystery surrounding the saint. Sai Baba is consistently described by his Hindu biographers as a ' Muslim faqir' and a mystic, which, by definition, makes him a Sufi. However, no previous researcher has examined him thoroughly in this light. The author assumes the reader will have some familiarity with previous biographies of Shirdi Sai Baba and reviews incidents, anecdotes and sayings of the hagiography surrounding Sai Baba, in the light of the goals, practices and stories of the Sufis from the golden era of Sufism, and discovers that an amazing similarity and correspondence begins to emerge. Immediately, the more puzzling aspects of the saint's actions and sayings fall away, and Sai Baba himself becomes more understandable, attractive and lovable.
In the book. Dr. Warren brings two new pieces of scholarship to the subject. First she elucidates the English translation of part of the works of some l7th and I8th-century Maharashtrian Sufi poet-saints - their contribution having hitherto been neglected by scholars. Their lives and writings echo the life and teachings of Sai Baba. Secondly, she includes the English translation of the previously untranslated Urdu notebook, jotted down by Abdul, Sai Baha's faqiri pupil, from teachings based on the Qur'an given to him by his pir Sai Baba. Both these contributions allow us to see into a world hitherto closed, and expand our awareness of the famous miracle-worker of Shirdi. While Sai Baba has attained a universal appeal, transcending any one sectarian religious tradition, it is necessary to understand his Sufi origins in order to obtain a deeper and fuller appreciation of the enigmatic saint of Shirdi. Read review by P.D. Shastri at http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99oct24/book.htm#3 (if unavailable, click here)
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Dr. Marianne Warren died in September, 2004, a great loss to the sphere of independent and original academic research into the life of the Sufi saint. She taught Hindu Studies at Toronto University and, together with her husband, ran the Sathya Sai Baba Bookshop in Toronto for many years. They eventually moved to Mexico, where Marianne wrote an up-dated version of her book in which she authoritatively exposes some of the distortions made about the life and predictions of Shirdi Sai Baba by the deceitful Sathya Narayena Raju ("Sathya Sai Baba"), who claims to be Shirdi Sai Baba reincarnated.      Click here for further information on this book

See also a review and board discussion of 'Unravelling the Enigma' on the web page of the Shirdi Sai Baba organization.

Marianne Warren had plans to write a book exposing Sathya Sai Baba - together with me (Robert Priddy) and another Sai-exposé writer. However, she wrote a draft introduction to the issue she wanted to cover in the proposed book, and it is very instructive. Her ground-breaking work on Shirdi Baba remains as a valuable correction to myths about him now current in the Sathya Sai movement. It may be a solace to those followers of Sathya Sai Baba who are becoming able to realise the complete falsity of many of his excessive 'avataric' claims that any connection he supposedly had to Shirdi Sai Baba is now cast into severe doubt. Marianne Warren's introduction to the proposed book succinctly sums up her mature viewpoint on this alleged connection:-

An Introduction: 'Sathya Sai Baba - Godman or Conman' - projected book contribution by Dr. Marianne Warren

In my book Unravelling the Enigma - Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism, published in 1999, I outlined my intention to write a further book to incorporate theclaimed inter-connection between the two Sai Babas - the Maharashtrian saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi with the contemporary godman, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Due to a variety of reasons, which I will explain later, I felt it unsuitable to include the statements of Sathya Sai Baba regarding the Shirdi sage in this book, but the most compelling was that they are not independently verifiable.

When he was still quite young, an Indian boy, Sathyanarayana Raju, claimed to be the reincarnation of a well known nineteenth century Muslim miracle-worker known as 'Sai Baba', who passed away in 1918. So insistent was this boy that he was this saint reincarnated that he became known locally as Sai Baba, and to differentiate between the two Sai Babas, became known as Sathya Sai Baba. Over the intervening decades an extensive corpus of material had accrued from statements made by Sathya Sai Baba relating to this earlier figure. These two, the nineteenth century Indian saint of Maharashtra and the current Swami residing in his ashram in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh both bear the name 'Sai Baba', and the two have become inextricably linked in the minds of many of Sathya Sai Baba's devotees. However, this linkage is not apparently the case with devotees of Shirdi Baba either in Shirdi itself or throughout northern India, many of whom are violently opposed to the reincarnatory claim of Sathya Sai. So this is a one-sided connection, as Shirdi Sai Baba never anticipated any future incarnation of his own. Indeed, he intimated that he would have no physical successor, and furthermore that he would be subtly present after death to help his devotees. This attitude is commonly accepted in western India, where both the essence and healing powers of a Sufi saint are felt to remain and be active in his dargah or tomb, even after the passage of hundreds of years. This theme will be explored further in the chapter on the Shirdi Sai claim.

Sathya Sai Baba, however, has constantly invoked the name of the earlier saint Shirdi Sai Baba from age thirteen or fourteen onwards. According to the official biography, it was in 1940 when he first made the announcement that he was the reincarnation of this saint, being born in 1926, eight years after Shirdi Baba passed away in 1918. These dates are now in dispute as will be discussed in a later chapter. However, Sathyanarayana Raju took the name 'Sai Baba' adding it to his own, forming his now familiar and famous title, Sathya Sai Baba.

On the other hand, much of what Sathya Sai Baba has stated about his reincarnation of Shirdi Baba cannot be independently verified, so this material has to be classed as hagiography and indeed takes on a mythical or even puranic quality. Thus, for my thesis, I excluded all of the material which originated from Sathya Sai Baba, although it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is original and which part is Sathya Sai Baba's version of, for example, the parentage and birth of Sai Baba of Shirdi. So much of the later Swami's version has become integrated into the accepted hagiography, and is then endlessly repeated in the secondary literature. Since there is a certain amount of material still extant on the Maharashtrian saint, I decided to concentrate on writing about this saint alone, and exclude unverifiable claims made by Sathya Sai Baba. In addition, it is very difficult and even libelous to write critically of someone who is still alive. My book, Unravelling the Enigma - Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism, therefore, contains only a short chapter called 'The Sathya Sai Baba Connection', which briefly outlines a few salient points.

Although one sees the familiar figure of Sai Baba of Shirdi with one leg crossed over the other, all over Maharashtra in taxicabs, auto-rickshaws, wayside shrines, pavement artists' drawings, small altars in stalls and shops and many other places, in fact my initial interest in the Maharashtrian Sai Baba sprang solely from my interest in the contemporary Swami Sathya Sai Baba. This claim of reincarnation was a fascinating piece of information to me - for someone not only to know who he was in his previous life, but apparently to remember it all. However in this case the reincarnation of the Shirdi saint as Sathya Sai Baba was more amazing as he claimed that he did not have to perform any sadhanas or spiritual practices in this present life, even as a child, in order to reclaim his powers acquired in the Shirdi form. He declared that he was an avatar and came with full divine powers. Further, he announced at a later time that Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi was the first part of a triple incarnation being the descent of God in human form. Such a claim is totally unprecedented in the extensive literature on reincarnation. According to Sathya Sai Baba, he himself is the second part and a third incarnation forming the triple avatar is to be called Prema Sai, who will be born in 2030, eight years after the death of Sathya Sai. The broad scope of this vision is so breathtaking, and the claim of such a magnitude that one cannot conceive of anyone making such a spectacular claim unless it was true. Certainly millions of Sathya Sai devotees think so. In later chapters these claims will be put under the microscope to see if they stand up to detailed scrutiny.

In the circumstances described above, it is surprising to find that there is no mention in the Shirdi Sai literature of an avataric mission. The Maharashtrian saint does not appear to have been aware of a future triple avatar, and in fact he personally never described himself in these terms, although his Hindu devotees occasionally termed him an avatar, but more as a mark of their esteem, than a literal designation. If this was a God-inspired, God-planned descent into three physical incarnations spanning 250 years as claimed by Sathya Sai Baba, one might expect some awareness of the fact from Shirdi Sai himself. But the sage makes no reference to such a mission or role. This is but one of many discrepancies and anomalies between the extant literature on Shirdi Baba and the way he is described by Sathya Sai Baba. Sathya Sai Baba goes further, claiming that Shirdi Baba was the incarnation of Shiva, that he himself is an incarnation of Shiva-Shakti and that Prema Sai, the third and future incarnation, would be Shakti alone. This would be a magnificent idea if it had fitted, but Shirdi Sai was a Muslim mystic who showed no awareness of his cosmic powers as Lord Shiva of the Hindu tradition. No wonder then that Sathya Sai Baba has emphasized the Hindu characteristics of Shirdi Sai Baba, bestowing on him a Hindu birth, and other Hindu features. One of the most glaring errors I discovered is that in a full-length painting of Sai Baba of Shirdi in the Prasanthi Nilayam mandir, he is depicted as wearing an orange full length robe. This is a color that only Hindu sadhus would wear, but Sai Baba of Shirdi was a Muslim. Muslim faqirs would only ever wear white, and extant photographs of him confirm this to be true. I will expand on these and other discrepancies in a later chapter.

The idea for a second book incorporating what Sathya Sai Baba had said about Shirdi Sai Baba, was therefore rattling around in my head so to speak, around 1999-2000, when devastating news came in the form of revelations made available on the Internet. In April 2000, these revelations were published under the innocuous title of "The Findings". The Findings were a collection of stories, affidavits, letters etc., compiled by David and Faye Bailey from ex-devotees, and revealed various hitherto unknown or hidden aspects of Sathya Sai Baba's behavior and practices that were fraudulent and sexually explicit. There were strong allegations of homosexual pedophilia. These revelations brought an instant response from myself and my husband, as well as many others around the world, to distance ourselves as soon as possible from the Swami. We had been volunteers in various aspects of the organization, but dropped these activities immediately. Few could credit that Swami who had repeatedly declared his Divinity could be involved in these dreadful acts, but evidence soon mounted. The content of The Findings and subsequent revelations is the subject of this present book.

This book therefore is not the work I originally intended to write. As a result of all the investigations, research, allegations and revelations, I present this document as objectively as possible, as a warning to those who may discover the literature on Sathya Sai Baba and all the extraordinary claims, and are tempted to believe it.
Read further comments

It is also informative to read on the front page of the Mumbai Mirror of January 11, 2006 that: Followers of Sai Baba file case against devotees of Sathya Sai of Puttaparthi to restrain them from calling him a reincarnation of the Shirdi seer by Manoj R Nair.
Further, comments on this by Indian devotees are found under the article reproduced at
http://saibabaexposed.blogspot.com/2006/01/sai-baba-devotees-sued-by-sai-baba.html

FOR THE LOVE OF BABA – SHIRDI BABA

My observations and experiences as a devotee in Parthy – 1997-2008

by Lorraine Ryan

Lorraine Ryan, who was born in India became a Shirdi Sai Baba devotee and was later drawn into the Sathya Sai Baba organization. She writes of her experiences at the ashrams and in the organisation groups, describing many untoward aspects which have been experienced by so many who have left the entire Sathya set-up and virtually all it stands for. Her book "My Truth" is available in Hardcopy or e-book at reasonable prices.

This is written because ssb TAINTED/DEFAMED THE NAME OF MY BELOVED SHIRDI BABA by falsely claiming himself to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba. After the publication of my 1st book in 2006 on my spiritual journey starting with ssb then continuing my journey with Shirdi Baba, I received emails from the UK, India and elsewhere congratulating me on the book, but I now feel I sent out the wrong message at the time, for I DID NOT AND NEVER will see ssb as Shirdi Baba, I plead my ignorance and innocence, I cannot undo what has already been done, it is just annoying that I fell into the clutches of this so called godman, ssb.

Our bhajan devotees were such a tight knit group and the focus was only on ssb that I too began to think and behave like the others, losing my own identity just going with this cult. Then Shirdi Baba came into my heart/ life with the purchase of the Sai Satcharita and other experiences of Him. When I held this book, knowing nothing about what it contained or of Shirdi Sai, He “touched my soul” on merely looking at a picture of this Baba, Shirdi looked NOTHING like his supposed reincarnation ssb.. The ssb devotees kept stressing to me that ssb IS the reincarnation of Shirdi Baba. I just accepted this fact being in awe of ssb and dared not challenge the bhajan group for I did not know much at this time about avatars etc..

I got even more involved with the group, but detested going to Study Circle which was held after bhajans, as I felt that here were people preaching the words of ssb, often quoted some of his famous Thought for the Day as below (no reference ever being made to Shirdi Baba, not even a picture or statue on the alter, I eventually put one of Shirdi Baba on the alter, without the permission of the co-ordinator).

1. ssb-We should not eat meat as it was NOT SATWIC food (Shirdi Sai begged for his food in the latter part of his life but also cooked for all initially even cooking MEAT. ..

2. ssb - We should detach ourselves from life especially if we wanted to get closer to him, the self proclaimed GOD MAN in most of his repeated discourses with the English interpretation by the LOUD Anil Kumar. Shirdi LOVED AND SERVED all, no differentiation between human, animal or nature. No discourses from Shirdi, a mere glimpse of His to one, and one obtained his silent guidance and message. I still do till today.

My thoughts – what of our families and friends and neighbours and the world in general, should we desert them for ssb.

Detach – yet he manifested FAKE JEWELLERY FOR THOSE WHO PLEASED HIM and these rings and things were certainly flaunted in Parthy by the wearers themselves. Thought of the DAY – HAVE NO EGO!. And I STORE NOTHING. What a find now in the Nilayam.

Shirdi collected nothing except burnt matchsticks. He wore 1 torn kafni.

2a. Every message written in the Sanathan Sarathi, I found to be the exact same message repeated every year – and yet we HAD to buy a copy of this each year. When I took the manuscript of my first book to the offices of ssb, they would not even glance at it and asked me in ununcertain terms to leave the office, without so a mere glimpse of the book because it had Shirdi Baba on the cover as explained to me by one of the guys there. The mind boggled.

3.ssb proclaiming that He was God and we are all God too – really? Again I dared not speak my mind here particularly to the co-ordinators of the groups, I was too afraid anyway to voice my opinion, but on occasion I did find it laughable, the sadness being the sincerity of these people, myself included, by our worshipping of ssb. Shirdi Sai uttered “I am NOT God but a humble servant of God”. Allah Malik.

4.On my frequent visits to Parthy, feeding the poor, doing as I was told to do by this brainwashed group, me having become one of them, Zombiefied, eating veg food and also visited Hagalappa in Mysore where I was appalled at his treatment of the children/women there – I did state it to him and he threw me out of his ashram. I also pointed out to him that it was NOT AMRIT that he was duping all with, just mere sugar and water. Shirdi Sai gave every paisa that was given to Him as dakshina to the poor, and the Dhuni that He started, the Udi – sacred ash, was distributed to all by Baba in blessing. This Dhuni is still burning.

5.During the ssb darshans in Parthy, it irked me from the very onset, in having to queue for hours to get a glimpse of this Avatar as he was referred to, who didn’t so much as look or linger at the womens side for too long, he always darted towards the men/boys area and spent most of his time there. Yes, we all longed for the elusive interview and I was no exception, in Sai Kulwant hall.

6.I remember looking at the rabid dogs around the ashram and saying to myself
”If this is God living here, why can’t he help the dogs, feed them and look after them too, why do they have to live in this ungodly and dirty condition”, but it was pointed out to me by one of the Seva dals there that it was their karma. I often saw the seva dals and others actually take sticks or branches of trees to the dogs to either hit or shoo them off. Shirdi fed the animals himself even sharing His food together with them, all eating together from the same receptacle.

7.I was distressed when I saw the VIP building in the Nilayam and the VIP’s always had the front row while we had to queue for hours, while waiting for the tokens to be picked and praying we would all get token no.1 and even if token no.1 was chosen and we happened to be in that “lucky row”, when we ran into the hall it was to be either in the 2nd row onwards as the 1st row was for the VIP’s only. If there is equality between all, then why this differentiation, should not the VIP’s stand in queue too like all else? Seva dals who shoved us into line and were rude and discourteous most times, even to the elderly, with all the pushing, the shoving, the stinking smells while we sat in the hall waiting for hours for ssb to appear for 5 minutes. . Shirdi had an amazing following then and a bigger one now, but He never tried to steal the limelight, never bringing attention to Himself.

8.I met a most beautiful lady named Anu a great devotee of ssb. She was so old, bent and frail and was housed in a hole, having to climb 3 flights of stairs to get into the hole. I asked her why ssb did not help her to find better accommodation, the usual answer “My karma”. My heart went out to her but my anger went to ssb, if he could house the rich then why not the poor. Anu should have been housed in the VIP bldg for all her devotion to ssb.

The rich and poor were the same to Shirdi Baba with all being treated equally.

I started reading the Sai Satcharita beginning to understand and loving everything about this enigmatic Shirdi Baba. The mind kept saying – He is not ssb and ssb is certainly not Shirdi Baba, I felt a great love, a great joy even on mention of the name Shirdi Baba and on visiting the Samadhi of Shirdi, felt an immediate BOND with Shirdi Baba. There I fell even more in love with this compassionate being, this being who became my life, this being who became and still is my God, this being whose name I constantly utter, this ever so humble GOD, my GOD. I still continued to go to Parthy, mainly to feed the poor in the villages, though I loved going to Shirdi even more for my heart was NEVER with ssb in Parthy even though I was physically there.

If only I had heeded my mother at the time for mother does know best, but I was heeding the words of ssb through his devotees to detach from my family and follow him alone. I now apologies to my darling, wise mother, my beloved daughter and all the members of my dear family and close friends whom I detached myself from by heeding the words of a false prophet, ssb. I am back to being very close to my family again and grateful to my Shirdi Baba for His guidance in this direction and in the guidance of every area of my life, for without Shirdi I am nothing. I also started talking and praying to Shirdi Baba. During darshan in Parthy even though the avatar of the day was standing in front of me, my mind was on Shirdi Baba, I challenged ssb at darshan, “If you are Shirdi Baba, well then show me His form in you”. This challenge was put forth to ssb every year that I went to Parthy and it was never fulfilled. The more I asked the more I felt distanced from ssb and closer to Shirdi Sai. Yet Shirdi Sai fulfilled the desire of many when He showed them the God that they worshipped in His form and in any form that they desired. I have this experience with Shirdi and encounter Him in various form, often.

9. I had many dreams of ssb during this period, but most of them was of him looking at me with such a ferocity in his glaring eyes, such anger – not like the soft eyes of my Shirdi. To me it was like experiencing the dark night of the soul. In Parthy too, even when he passed us in the street and our eyes met, I only saw HATE in ssb’s eyes not love. My stupidity lay in following ssb and doing what everyone else was doing, ie. attending bhajans and the myriads of festivals in his name that was celebrated each year, my mind kept saying “this is a mere mortal – nothing else”, but I continued with the followers of ssb.

10. Was taken to different venues during these years where Vibhuti was supposedly appearing on pictures in homes in India and Australia. In one of the homes, I have now forgotten its location, saw a room with a chair and a large picture of ssb flooded with vibhuti. It looked to me that the picture was not oozing this ash by itself as stated by the owners of the house, but more like a bucket of ash had been poured onto this picture, this left me wondering.

11.At another venue there was a large picture of ssb with ash, the ash was not behind the glass, but ON the glass, which made me suspicious that this was not divine intervention of any kind, but a smear of ash (perhaps from the constant incense burning in front of this picture) or clearly smudged on the glass by a human hand and here was the lady of the house claiming it to be ssb’s grace. Wherever I was taken at that time, I reacted the same way, with such glee and belief like the other ssb’s devotees that I completely forgot to listen to my heart, forgot to think for myself forgot to realise that the God in me, Shirdi Sai WAS trying to guide me in His gentle way in the right direction, I chose to listen to follow a man instead. Shirdi only ever uttered two words to all Shraddha (Faith) and Saburi (Patience). He did not like anyone to debate, neither did He ever discourse or materialise anything.

12. One was made to feel guilty if one did not continue to do seva, we were here to help the world at any cost, even if we were old, frail, sick or whatever, to get an interview with ssb we had to do seva. Hence I overworked myself, forgetting family and friends, just immersing myself in work, day and night. My family had to endure all of this, the only thing I did dutifully was to ring my mother once a week to ask how the rest of the family were, too afraid to do anything else, as we were supposed to not be lazy or socialise, I gave up eating meat and drinking my favourite glass of wine or listening to my my jazz, having to listen to bhajans constantly, all in the name of ssb. I now suffer chronic anaemia. Shirdi Sai cooked even meat for those who ate it.

13. ssb’s claim to healing of the sick – I spent 14 years in Parthy, sometimes weeks at a time, why did he build those enormous hospitals if, as God, he could by the click of his magical fingers, heal the sick himself. I saw the same sick people/sick children unhealed, year after year still waiting for a cure from the godman, still attending his darshan and still hoping. Shirdi Sai as a Hakim cured many with just a few herbs and words of kindness.

14. Give to the Needy (from one of the messages for the day) – I stupidly gave a lot of my jewellery (pure gold bangles and rings to some of the needy everytime I went to Parthy, all in the name of ssb, until I became one of the needy with all these wrong messages that I followed. Look what has now been discovered in the vaults of ssb who said he stored nothing.

I cannot for the life of me and nor can millions of other people worldwide, understand why ssb was not made accountable for any or all of the wrong that he and his trustees did, ie. the sex abuse, the murders, the hidden wealth (while millions are slumming it in India). The cow dung you claimed to be vibhuti. I read recently that ssb was raised in a travelling circus, he certainly made clowns of us all. The pain that he has caused to the innocent, boys slaughtered in his bedroom, what was God doing while your boys were being killed, what did you do to the boys before they were killed and what did you do to the boys after their murders? What did the Indian Police do? Certainly not their job. God is immortal – even your prediction of your demise at 96 proved your uselessness – perhaps if you had lived till 96 you would have suffered the consequences of YOUR actions.

You have tainted the words “spirituality” for many, you have desecrated the name of Shirdi Baba and I am sorrowed and upset with myself for believing in someone like you. May my Shirdi Sai and my family and friends forgive me for my neglect of them.

The main reason for these pages is that ssb used my Shirdi Baba’s name to attain his fame. There was much I questioned about ssb here in Australia and in Parthy, but had to be discrete at all times, out of fear. I am no longer afraid to speak my truth, and especially to vindicate my Beloved Shirdi Baba. I feel for all who were sexually abused by ssb, I feel for the poor of Parthy who will be even poorer now, ie. the beggers, I feel for my beloved old and dear friend Anu in Parthy, I feel for the boys murdered in Parthy and I feel for all those devotees of ssb who are still so guilt ridden and continue to profess their faith in ssb.

FIE ON YOU SATHYA SAI BABA.

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