Category

Upasani Maharaj

Lord Meher Critique

By | Azar Kaivan, Bhau Kalchuri, Charles Purdom, Lawrence Reiter, Meher Baba, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Wikipedia
Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), Reiter edition
Analysis of a lengthy text can be a complex matter. This is certainly true of the multi-volume Lord Meher, a devotional and biographical work on Meher Baba (1894-1969). The title is a translation from the Hindi phrase Meher Prabhu. Partisan claims have described this book in terms of a definitive work by Bhau Kalchuri (1927-2013), one of Meher Baba’s mandali (ashram staff). There are complications for such an attribution.
Kalchuri was only one of the entities involved in the development of Lord Meher, originally in Hindi. A translation into English commenced in 1973. The resulting editorial process was intensive. Early supporters of the Reiter edition (1986-2001) maintained that this was the last word on Meher Baba, fastidiously conveyed by Kalchuri. The American devotee Lawrence Reiter (d.2007) was one of the editors; he undertook publication of seven thousand pages (including many photographs). This is sometimes known as the American edition.
The Meher Baba literature is now substantial. The present writer produced the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba (Shepherd 1988:248-297). The literature was even then prolific, indeed unusually so. Thirty years later, the dimensions are far more extensive. Critics complain at the rather lavish devotional titles in evidence. Some idioms are controversial. Assessment of this literature now requires considerable time and commitment. Lord Meher is the major stumbling block to easy overview, but some other complexities should not be understated.
The present writer has moved at a tangent to the “orthodox” perspective on Lord Meher. Many years ago, I composed an unpublished Life of Meher Baba in four volumes, commencing in 1967. I do not claim any status for this work, which merely facilitated my studies in the subject under consideration. I was able to tap some oral transmission, and also had access to much literature, some of this unpublished. Writing that lengthy biography did serve to underline, in my mind, the scope of interpretations possible, applying to factual details that were probed.
Meher Baba at Meherabad, 1941
Meher Baba is unusual for the sheer amount of materials available concerning him. His career of some fifty years (depending upon how one dates the inception) is described in numerous books, booklets, diaries, and journals. The presentation is attended by a wide variety of literary styles and modes of reporting. Certain of his deceased followers now have full length books about them (e.g., Fenster 2013).
Lord Meher (LM) is by far the longest work on the subject, and attended by some linguistic complexities. Kalchuri wrote in Hindi, and is reported to have completed his biography in seven months, working non-stop. His contribution was only a small part of the total text. Mistakes in English translation (and possibly the obscure Kalchuri text) were fairly numerous. The translator was Feram Workingboxwala (1901-1980), a Parsi devotee of Meher Baba. Feram had a limited knowledge of Hindi, and Bhau never read his translation, having some difficulty with English. Some of the extending materials in LM were translated by Feram from Gujarati and Marathi diaries and memoranda.
From 1974 onwards, substantial materials were added to the existing text, mainly by David Fenster, including diaries and personal accounts from many Indian and Western devotees. An online edition commenced some years after the Reiter volumes were published, and is often cited as authority. The online editor is David Fenster, Kalchuri’s son-in-law, an American devotee strongly involved in the overall editing dating back to the 1970s. Many revisions and additions have occurred in the online version.
The Reiter edition very briefly mentioned the translation and editing process on the copyrights page. Kalchuri’s foreword informed that the secretary Adi K. Irani “placed his office records at my disposal and allowed Feram Workingboxwala to assist me in compiling the material for this book, and translating pertinent documents from Gujarati and Marathi into English.” Kalchuri also acknowledges the oral contributions from Meher Baba’s surviving mandali at Meherazad and Meherabad ashrams. Numerous other devotees are also named in this respect. The identity of sources stops there.
The Reiter edition featured endnotes that do not establish the nature of sources and translations. The online edition has no notes, but features pop-up comments in a similar category. The endnotes in Reiter do include some interesting information, but make no attempt to analyse sources, which are not mentioned. The “Kalchuri” text was regarded by Reiter (and others) as needing no explanation in this respect.
The analytical assessor of LM will see the text in terms of undefined sources and translations. The lack of annotations and bibliographies has disconcerted some readers. What source did this statement come from? What was the original language? Who edited the source or translation? What is the degree of accuracy involved? These are some of the questions relevant to any full discussion.
Adi K. Irani, 1962
The office records of Adi K. Irani (secretary to Meher Baba) were almost legendary by the 1960s. These files included diaries and large quantities of correspondence. The languages represented were English, Marathi, and Gujarati. This archive was not on open view, being stored at Khushru Quarters in Ahmednagar. Most devotees of that period were content with general circular information via Adi and Mani S. Irani. I was an exception, wishing to know more about the elusive records.
I was in correspondence with Adi K. Irani during 1965-66. I found him helpful on some points. However, he was reluctant to discuss matters of history that were not already available in published literature. For many years he had been supplying “life circulars” on current events, and he did not feel inclined to make his archive better known.
I had learned that a vintage diary in English, by Ramju Abdulla, was in existence, being relevant to the early 1920s. I wanted to know more about this document, but met with disappointment. This diary was not published for another thirteen years (Deitrick 1979). That diary was one of those read dismissively by the Yoga enthusiast Paul Brunton almost fifty years before.
Charles Purdom
Still a major work on Meher Baba, during the 1970s, was The God-Man (1964). This is skeletal in detail by comparison with the total data now available. The author was Charles Purdom (d.1965), one of the earliest Western followers. I met Purdom (more than once) during the last months of his life. He was a fluent talker and could still lecture. I remember well that he prepared a liberal and non-sectarian paper on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (d.1886), read out at a London meeting by Molly Eve in his absence due to illness. Purdom’s speech was free of the devotional jargon that subsequently increased in the movement, i.e., Beloved and lovers, Avatar of the Age.
It is very difficult to describe Charles Purdom as a devotee. He did not express devotion at all, but instead a muted form of respect. He was averse to exaggerated and repetitive stylisms. His book The God-Man is impersonal in tone, contrasting with many other partisan writings. Purdom had retained the discreet vocabulary and literary style of a 1930s British independent follower of Meher Baba (Purdom 1951). See the index references in Shepherd 2005:315.
The present writer early discerned an error in the LM translation of a statement about Azar Kaivan (d.1618). This was reported in an annotation to another book (Shepherd 1995:854 note 152). Several years ago, this error (together with the revision) was duly mentioned on a Wikipedia page by Simon Kidd, an academic real name editor on the web encyclopaedia. Kidd was not a stranger to Kaivan, having studied the Dabistan in Cambridge, under the guidance of a well known scholar. However, his intervention was opposed by a party claiming that Lord Meher was infallible text. As a consequence of more than one opposition from dogmatic interests, the revision was excised. However, the opponents lost all reference to their own “infallible” text in the process of Wikipedia editing at the same article. The altercation is very briefly represented on the current talk page of the Azar Kaivan article. 
The defective Reiter edition has the words: “After that, the last one, Dastur Azer Kaiwan, was false and obtained the sacred seat and started collecting money” (page 1020). This was belatedly reworded in the online Fenster edition as: “But after Dastur Azar Kaivan [who became a Perfect Master], a false, deceitful dastur obtained the sacred gaadi and started collecting money” (page 903, accessed 28/11/17). No reference was made anywhere in the Meher Baba literature to the earlier revision which appeared on Wikipedia. The dogmatic mistake had never happened. It is well known that the rendition of a name as Kaivan follows my publications and online articles, in contrast to the Kayvan found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The evasive online LM editing process might still have to revise the reference to Dastur Azar Kaivan in view of relevant arguments concerning priestly identities. The date of any revision should be duly recorded, and with full references.
Lord Meher, Indian edition 2005
Due analysis of a text, religious or otherwise, must transcend dogmatism. See Meher Prabhu/Lord Meher. There is evidence of a critical attitude to LM amongst a minority of Meher Baba devotees. A major exemplar of this attitude is Christopher Ott, an American. He is evidently very familiar with the genesis and development of LM. His contributions include History of Lord Meher. Ott emphasises elsewhere that the history of the editing process is “long and complex.” He makes a striking disclosure: “I have sworn privacy to one witness and am waiting for that person to die before sharing that person’s emails, confirming what more there is to say.”
The same informed commentator reveals the existence of “at least eleven versions of Lord Meher, none of them exactly the same.” One of these versions is the original handwritten Hindi manuscript of Bhau Kalchuri, “never made public.” An elaborated English version was achieved by Workingboxwala, “with additions and corrections inserted and compiled by David Fenster.” This version, dating to the early 1980s, is accessible. A subsequent version was the Reiter edition of 20 volumes (or more realistically, 13 vols in terms of binding). In 2005, an Indian edition of Reiter exhibited “some major changes.” Meanwhile, LM went online in 2002. The current online edition is “redacted monthly,” a process which has involved “drastic and constant changes, with both good corrections and grave new inaccuracies.” All quotes here are from Ott, “Original Lord Meher” (30/06/2017), featuring at meherbabathoughts.blogspot.com (formerly open access online but now available only to invited readers).
Ott makes additional comments of a radical nature. “There is currently no way to systematically ‘fact-check’ the events in any of these [LM] biographies.” The same commentator suggests that future scholars will resort to a new version of LM based directly on the sources, including extant diaries and correspondence.
In contrast, for many years, Western devotees were believing that Kalchuri was the sole author (and even translator) of LM. Ott entitles one of his blog communications rather dramatically: “The terrible truth about who translated Lord Meher.” Such revelations may encourage a more widespread disposition to analyse LM text.
Over thirty years ago, I wrote the independent work Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (I am now commencing a more intensive biography of an updated nature). Some American devotees maintained that the subject was Indian. Meher Baba was certainly born in India, but his parents were Irani Zoroastrians originating from Yazd. The controversial title was ventured in relation to Irani Zoroastrians who migrated to India, and who retained ethnic and linguistic features distinct from the Parsi population. For instance, Meher Baba and his father (Sheriar Mundegar Irani) spoke Dari.  Another consideration is that Meher Baba was not typical of contemporary Indian gurus like Rajneesh. The tendency to associate him with Hinduism is offset by such details as the Zoroastrian kusti girdle he wore in his early years until 1925 (Fenster 2013, 1:181). Another version, closely associated with Ott, maintains that he wore the kusti all his life [this is contradicted by a mandali report informing that Meher Baba discarded the kusti girdle in 1931].
Irani Zoroastrians are descendants of the original population of Iran in pre-Islamic times. To describe them as Iranians is not an error, nor a crime. The title of my book was not intended to be politically evocative, but to grant the subject a due ethnic perspective. The Wikipedia article on Meher Baba is maintained by pseudonymous Western devotees. These partisan editors deleted Iranian Liberal, an annotated book featuring the first critical bibliography. Such cordoning gestures have elsewhere been considered insular and arbitrary. I decline to be intimidated by such tactics (including hostile remarks on talk pages). Wikipedia is not a primary source for university academics and researchers.
The informed American devotee Ward Parks refers to the 2005 Hyderabad edition of LM as “a somewhat emended and corrected text.” Both the American and Indian published editions include selections from the 1920s Tiffin Lectures (silent discourses), not well known until recently. Parks informs:

Lord Meher was written primarily as a biographical account of Meher Baba’s life; and while it is rich in quotation from Meher Baba’s words, it was never meant as a critical edition of any of his messages and should not be taken as such…. Bhau does not ordinarily quote from his sources verbatim or with minimal rewrite…. Often he reduces extensive discourses into abridged versions that convey the essence or gist. On other occasions he selects main points from different junctures in a talk and works them together into an integral message that accurately expresses much of Meher Baba’s original thought but cannot be said to follow his verbiage except in patches. (Parks 2017:520)

Shirdi Sai Baba

The first Reiter volume included chapters on the five “masters” of Meher Baba, including the famous Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). Those chapters are informative to a degree, but are not by any means exhaustive portrayals. Now well known is the eccentric “Kalchuri” statement that Sai Baba smoked “a chilum pipe of opium” (Reiter edn 1986:64). This misleading assertion caused confusions, and was later excised from the online edition as an error (David Fenster has stated in an email that the error was caused by faulty editing). Shirdi Sai was far more reliably reported in early Marathi sources (Dabholkar and Dixit) as a smoker of tobacco (Warren 1999:106; Shepherd 2015:114; Shepherd 2017: viii, 65).  Narasimhaswami affords a confirmation of tobacco. The chilum was loosely associated with opium, but  also used to smoke other substances, including tobacco.

Fenster has recently mentioned adding a note to LM, suggesting the possibility that a small amount of opium or hashish was at times added to the chilum of Shirdi Sai, for the purpose of alleviating asthma. This suggestion was prompted by a very recent web trawl in November 2017, communicated to Fenster by email. The critic influenced the unwary Fenster on this point. The trawl was presented in terms of “research.” Fenster ignored my email protest at his projected new note, citing as his authority a presumed statement of Meher Baba which makes no reference whatever to the imagined contingency. This statement had been favoured by the critic, who did not bother to read any books on Shirdi Sai; this web trawler also explicitly stated to me (by email) that he had no interest in Shirdi Sai, whom he regarded as an illiterate village faqir of minor consequence.

The web trawl, which strongly influenced Fenster, located a recent surmisal that Shirdi Sai smoked a sparing amount of bhang for medicinal purposes. The critic was influenced by a 2015 blog of Shri Datta Swami (a contemporary guru), evidencing a preoccupation with allergy medication, namely Citrazin, Uni-carbozon, and Avil. Bhang was here viewed as the equivalent of pharmaceutical tablets. The alleged act of smoking bhang was supposedly an antidote to “illness based on allergy, which is serious cough.” The scenario here is very conjectural, and does not count as “research.” The convergence of diverse contemporary assumptions about what Shirdi Sai smoked is here obscuring what early sources stated a century ago.

Fenster provided two versions of his new suggestion in separate emails. In the first, he said that “sometimes a small amount of opium or hashish would be added to the chilum to alleviate Sai Baba’s asthmatic condition.” When I objected to this innovation, he modified the phraseology, but would not abandon his contention as to possibility. He showed no familiarity with Shirdi Sai literature. He gave the impression that he would shortly be placing online his new note [Fenster subsequently withdrew his contention when informed of more relevant data].
The web trawler has since stated in an email to myself (04/12/17): “Shirdi Sai Baba occasionally used a tiny amount of opium or cannabis to alleviate a life-long asthmatic condition.” This was a reference to smoking, and effectively relying on the mistaken suggestion of Fenster, which had been influenced by the same insistent trawler. The reciprocal confusion evidenced in these emails was substantial, creating imagined fact from mere surmisal.
The purported statement of Meher Baba quoted by Fenster (email 27/11/17) reads: “Seekers then used not only wine but also hemp, heroin, hashish and opium; so much so that even sadgurus would indulge in them. Sai Baba used to smoke a chillum and Upasni Maharaj smoked beedies.” This is the version found in the online edition of LM. No source is supplied for the 1929 statement. Furthermore, the same LM “Kalchuri” statement of Meher Baba has variants, e.g., “You have heard stories that Sai Baba used to smoke a chilum pipe and Upasni Maharaj smoked bidis” (Reiter edn:1227). Fenster makes no mention of the stories in his online edition.
Extending details are relevant. The same passage, of which the quotation is part, refers to “the ancient past” (Reiter edn:1227). This was when seekers and sadgurus used the substances specified. The ancient chronology is confirmed by the accompanying reflection of Meher Baba that “eventually during those times, ordinary people indulged in these intoxicants for the wrong reasons” (ibid). A lengthy period of time is indicated. In contrast, Fenster emails have opted to place the “ancient past” in the early twentieth century at Shirdi. This is not the most discerning evaluation of an early Meher Baba statement, even supposing that the statement is correct in rendition (all details of origin and transmission being absent in LM). Not all statements of Meher Baba were uniformly rendered, or presented accurately, especially when translation was involved from one language to another. The error relating to Azar Kaivan  is a case in point, and one which misled readers for nearly thirty years.
Upasani Maharaj at Sakori, 1930s
In the confusing LM passage at issue, the impression is given to unwary readers that Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) smoked a drug substance over a lengthy period. In reality, Upasani smoked bidis (country tobacco cigarettes) for a few weeks only. He did this solely because of a medical insistence that he resort to tobacco for the purpose of assisting bowel motions, at a point of crisis prior to a necessary surgical operation. Upasani himself disliked cigarettes, and had to be persuaded to smoke (Shepherd, Upasani Maharaj, chapter 49). He was an orthodox brahman opposed to drugs and alcohol.
Upasani Maharaj  is a subject closely converging with Meher Baba, but for the most part neglected in the Meher Baba literature. Due analysis of Upasani biography (and teaching) is long overdue. Upasani is also strongly linked with Shirdi Sai Baba, in situations requiring more detail than is customarily supplied.
Generations may elapse before all discrepancies in the lengthy composite work Lord Meher are resolved. Meanwhile, a dogmatic celebration of infallible text is not appropriate.
Bibliography:
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher: A Divine Romance (3 vols, 2003; second edn 2013).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher (revised edn, 8 vols, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Meher Mownavani, 2005). 
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher online, ed. David Fenster. 
Parks, Ward, and Meherwan B. Jessawala, eds., Meher Baba’s Tiffin Lectures as given in 1926-1927 (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2017). 
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951). 
——–The God Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba: An Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). 
——-Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995). 
——-Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——-Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
——-Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2017). 
——-Upasani Maharaj of Sakori: A Biography (unpublished). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
ENTRY no. 74
Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Swarupananda Saraswati and Shirdi Sai Baba

By | Dashanami Sannyasins, Naga Sadhus, Shankara, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj
Swami Swarupananda Saraswati
In June 2014, Swami Swarupananda Saraswati  commenced an ideological campaign against the deceased Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918) and his living devotees. Many television newsreels and national newspapers profiled the relevant events.  
The Swami is a figurehead of the monastic Shankara Order, whose leaders are known as Shankaracharyas and jagadgurus (Cenkner 1983). In 1973, he became Shankaracharya of the monastery known as Jyotir Math, at Badrinath. In 1982, he also became the Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Math, located in Gujarat. These two monasteries have a high repute, being amongst the five major mathas of the Shankara (or Dashanami) Order. That organisation has strong traditional ballast, reputedly being a continuation of the activity of Shankara, the famous exponent of Advaita Vedanta who lived over a thousand years ago (Pande 1994).
Shirdi Sai Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba was a faqir who lived at a rural mosque in Maharashtra. He gained an inter-religious following of Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians. This saint often resorted to allusive speech; he was not in any way doctrinaire. Some hagiology does attend his profile; careful investigation of background details is important in such instances. Sai Baba of Shirdi  is sometimes confused with Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011), a very different entity who lived in Andhra, claiming to be a reincarnation of the Shirdi mystic. 
After the death of Shirdi Sai, temple worship of his image was introduced at Shirdi. Other Sai temples also appeared. Swami Swarupananda insisted that Shirdi Sai was a Muslim faqir, not a god or a guru, and therefore could not be worshipped in the manner of a Hindu deity. He declared that images of Shirdi Sai were to be removed from temples. Swarupananda described his campaign in terms of protecting Hindu religion. He urged that Shirdi Sai temples should not be constructed. The critic also described the worship of Shirdi Sai in terms of a conspiracy to divide Hindus. The assertions of this Swami were strongly repudiated by Shirdi Sai devotees. Complaints were already being made against him, in June 2014, at Shirdi, Indore, and Hyderabad.
The disapproving Swami enjoined Shirdi Sai devotees to ensure their purification by fasting on Ekadashi day and bathing in the Ganges. He condemned the government minister Uma Bharti, alleging that she was not a true Rama bhakta after she spoke publicly in support of Sai Baba. Swarupananda demanded an apology from Bharti, on the grounds that Shirdi Sai was a meat-eater and did not bathe in the Ganges. He also urged that Sai devotees should not worship Rama.
In July 2014, a local court in Indore issued a summons to the Swami, requesting him to appear in court because of a complaint filed against him for making controversial statements. The Swami was able to postpone a legal confrontation for some time thereafter. He meanwhile urged the government to probe an alleged flow of foreign funding into the bank accounts of Sai devotees. Swarupanand insinuated that a foreign power was attempting, in this manner, to distort the sanatana dharma (true religion, i,e, Hinduism). There was no proof or confirmation for that contention.
A degree of conflict occurred between followers of the Swami and devotees of Shirdi Sai. Supporters of Swami Swarupananda notably included Dashanami ascetics or sannyasins, strongly associated with the Shankara monasteries (Clark 2006). The Dashanamis are divided into ten sub-groupings, including the Giris, the Puris, the Bharatis, and Saraswatis. The format has proved complicated for many Westerners to understand, involving different historical phases, and various other ascetic identities. For instance, the Naga (naked) sannyasins, or sadhus, gained a strong militant complexion in former centuries, becoming organised into akharas or “regiments.” They fought in diverse battles, a military scenario which sometimes astonishes readers (Pinch 2006). “The Nagas were also involved in warfare between rival princely states, usually fighting on opposite sides. Moreover, they fought for control of religious centres, since these constituted ever-flowing sources of revenue and solid bases of power” (Hartsuiker 1993:35).
Many of the Nagas cultivated ascetic feats and Yogic practices. Nagas still display weapons, especially the trident (trishul), at religious festivals such as the famous Kumbh Mela. “The Akharas attribute their origin to the great Shankara, an attempt no doubt to gain more respect and credibility” (Hartsuiker 1993:33). 
The Baghambari monastery (matha) was strongly influenced by Swami Swarupananda. The leader (mahant) of that monastery was Swami Narendra Giri, who “vowed to deface Shirdi Sai Baba’s temples, and let loose Naga Sadhus on the sect’s followers” (Chandan Nandy, Let Dialogue Prevail, 2014). Many observers in North India feared that the conflict between Nagas and Shirdi Sai devotees could get out of control. Fortunately, this did not happen. However, the tensions were dramatic enough. Indignant Sai devotees responded to the threats by burning effigies of Swarupananda in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares).
Swami Swarupananda verbally attacked the Shirdi Sai Baba Trust, based in Shirdi, accusing this body of regarding Sai as superior to Hindu deities like Hanuman. In October 2015, the Hindustan Times reported that Swarupananda “also claimed that there were no followers of Sai Baba in the country,” a theme which contradicted facts. The critic is reported to have described visitors to Shirdi as “mean, selfish and only want their wishes to come true.” The Swami expressed his belief that Hanuman had instructed his followers to build a Hanuman temple near every Shirdi Sai temple, with the intention of driving “the spirit of Sai” out of India.
Shirdi Sai devotees countered the opponent with legal petitions, emphasising his “deliberate intent to hurt religious sentiments.” As a consequence, in September 2015, Swami Swarupananda prudently tendered an apology for controversial statements he had made. He requested Madhya Pradesh High Court to dispose of a petition made against him. 
While staying in Bhopal during 2015, the Swami created a poster portraying Lord Hanuman attacking Shirdi Sai with a tree trunk. This pictorial gesture was considered by some Hindu observers to be extremist. A disciple of Swarupananda was reported, on the media, as saying that the influence of Shirdi Sai would be driven out of India in the next three years by the grace of Hanuman.
In April 2016, The Hindu reported reactions of Sai devotees to the orthodox critique. Swarupananda had interpreted the temple worship of Shirdi Sai in terms of creating a drought in Maharashtra. Officials of the Shirdi Sai Baba Trust countered that the Shankaracharya appeared to be suffering from a feeling of insecurity, because so many devotees were visiting Shirdi, instead of going for the darshan of Swami Swarupananda. 
The Swami is reported to have said, while staying at Hardwar: “The unworthy Sai is being worshipped while the real Gods are ignored. This is happening in Maharashtra, and particularly in Shirdi. Hence, Maharashtra is facing drought.” Sai devotees responded that Swarupananda only wanted publicity. They pointed out that drought was also prevalent in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and the Punjab. A social worker, active at Shirdi, informed the press that the Sai Baba Trust had donated crores of rupees as charity aid whenever floods, earthquakes, and other calamities had struck Maharashtra and surrounding regions (The Hindu, “Sai Baba devotees fume over Shankaracharya’s remarks,” 2016).
Another pronouncement of the Swami, not relating to Shirdi Sai, was strongly resisted. In April 2016, he complained against the termination of a four hundred year ban on the entry of women to the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra. Feminists were very indignant at his verdict. A human rights lawyer said that Swami Swarupananda should be charged with contempt of court. (Shriya Mohan, “Shankaracharya is a misogynist,” 2016). Swarupananda was contradicting a judgement of the Bombay High Court. 
The depiction of Sai Baba, as a Muslim outsider to Hinduism, neglects due context of a very liberal attitude on the part of this faqir towards Hindus, and also to the members of other religions (Shepherd 2015). Shirdi Sai was not a preacher or political agitator. He lacked any sectarian bias. In this respect, his eccentricities may be considered refreshing. Shirdi Sai has been described as a Sufi mystic (Warren 1999). However, he did not project any separatist attitude in his predominant encounters with Hindus. His origins are obscure. An influential theory of his Hindu birth at Pathri remains unconfirmed (Kher 2001:1-14).
An account of Shirdi Sai’s devotional following, during the past century since his death, relays that the pilgrims to Shirdi are primarily Hindus, but also include Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians (McLain 2016). 
Very much neglected in the recent orthodox Hindu version of events is the instance of Upasani Maharaj (d.1941). This entity was a major disciple of Shirdi Sai, subsequently establishing an ashram at nearby Sakori. Upasani is still largely obscure in the abbreviated and distorted reports commonly known. A paradigmatic Hindu ascetic, and a learned shastri, he was completely unwesternised. 
During an evocative episode occurring at Benares in 1920, Upasani strongly defended Shirdi Sai, while in bold confrontation with an assembly of orthodox brahman priests and pundits. “He did not deny that Sai Baba was a Muslim, but maintained that the deceased saint was above religious distinctions, existing as much for brahmans as for Muslims” (Shepherd 2005:79). Upasani would not defer to the biases of that prestigious assembly, who were sustaining habitual religious discrimination against Muslims.
Moving to more general matters, some Indian intellectuals have expressed concern at national trends. For instance, the British-Indian sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor referred to a recent development in which “dozens of Indian writers handed back their literary awards in protest, following communal violence against Muslims and attacks on intellectuals” (Anish Kapoor, India is being ruled by a Hindu Taliban, 2015). The “militant Hinduism” of the Indian government was here seen as being at risk of “marginalising other faiths” (ibid). This issue is controversial. Certainly, the population statistics in India comprise about 965 million Hindus and 170 million Muslims.
Some Indian writers emphasise the extremely shocking 2002 attack on Muslims (by Hindus) in Gujarat, a tragedy in which “more than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in carefully planned and coordinated attacks of unprecedented savagery” (Pankaj Mishra, Gujarat Massacre, 2012).
The long-standing friction between Hinduism and Islam is a disconcerting drawback to Indian cultural unity and the history of religions.
Bibliography:
Cenkner, William, A Tradition of Teachers: Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983). 
Clark, Matthew, The Dasanami Samnyasis: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (Leiden: Brill, 2006). 
Hartsuiker, Dolf, Sadhus: Holy Men of India (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993). 
Kher, V. B., Sai Baba: His Divine Glimpses (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2001).
McLain, Karline, The Afterlife of Sai Baba: Competing Visions of a Global Saint (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016). 
Pande, G. C., Life and Thought of Sankaracarya (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994). 
Pinch, William R., Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires (Cambridge University Press, 2006). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——-Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; revised edn, 2004).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd 

ENTRY no. 71 

Copyright © 2017 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

The Sai Baba Movement

By | Basava Premanand, Meher Baba, Sathya Sai Baba Controversy, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj
Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Meher Baba, Sathya Sai Baba
A phrase that has become fairly well known is not in general duly analysed. This phrase, namely the “Sai Baba movement,” has caused much confusion and misconception. Ignorance of the matter is so pronounced that a Wikipedia editor attributed the origin of this phrase to myself. In reality, I merely wrote a book whose title included the phrase under discussion, over thirty years after the phrase first appeared.
The category “Sai Baba movement” was innovated in the early 1970s by Charles White, an American academic who wrote an article on this subject that can be strongly faulted. White associated two Indian celebrities who had the same name; the resulting confusion became accepted by some academics as a legitimate argument for viewing various events in terms of a “Sai Baba movement.”
Twenty years later, the misconception had developed to the stage where a leading American university press published a book with a rather explicit statement on the paperback cover. The State University of New York Press declared that “a vast and diversified religious movement originating from Sai Baba of Shirdi, is often referred to as ‘the Sai Baba movement.’ ” This statement supported the contents of a book by Dr. Antonio Rigopoulos about Sai Baba of Shirdi (d.1918).
Rigopoulos was clearly in support of the “Sai Baba movement” formulation devised by White. Both White and Rigopoulos were partisans of Sathya Sai Baba (d.2011), and evidently wished to support that guru’s lavish claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai.
Sathya Sai Baba, of Puttaparthi, created an elaborate avataric hagiology that included Shirdi Sai Baba. Sathya Sai categorically claimed to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai, and was believed to be an avatar by his followers. However, the claim was elsewhere strongly resisted by followers of Shirdi Sai. The claim was regarded by them as an opportunist fiction.

One of the more well known instances of disagreement occurred when, in 2006, devotees of Shirdi Sai filed an objection in the court at Rahata (near Shirdi), requesting a permanent injunction on claims made by devotees of Sathya Sai that the latter is a reincarnation. Also at issue here was Sathya Sai lore about the birth of Shirdi Sai, including the purported identity of his mother (Mumbai Mirror, 11/01/2006). 
The present writer provided biographical and other materials in the book Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (2005). This volume is annotated and indexed. I covered the three major figures in Maharashtra who were incorporated by Rigopoulos into the “Sai Baba movement” scenario. I am referring to Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani (Upasni) Maharaj (d.1941), and Meher Baba (d.1969).
On the basis of the actual data available, these three entities do not emerge as part of a conglomerate movement. Rather, each of these mystics created a distinct movement or following in their own name. However, this trio were strongly interconnected, in that they met each other. Moreover, Upasani was the disciple of Shirdi Sai, and Meher Baba was the disciple of Upasani. In contrast, Sathya Sai did not meet any of these three saints, and lived in a different region of India.
Sathya Sai Baba of Andhra is viewed by some partisans as the culmination of events in Maharashtra. Critics affirm that this theme encounters a difficulty in sustaining credence. The partisan idea is supported by belief in the reincarnation claim of Sathya Sai, not by any facts of continuum. What we are actually confronted with is the spectacle of four separate movements, the one based in Andhra having no effective or close resemblance to the movements originating in Maharashtra.
When the biographical details are investigated, there may be strong reason to doubt the legitimacy of a reincarnation claim. The ascetic lifestyle of Shirdi Sai features pronounced differences to that of his namesake. Sathya Sai adopted the name of the Shirdi saint in the early 1940s, gaining much popularity as a consequence.
My book included three appendices reporting the disillusionment of Western ex-devotees of Sathya Sai Baba. I also made reference to the leading Indian critic of Sathya Sai, namely Basava Premanand (d.2009), of Indian Rationalist fame (who composed a lengthy book on the notorious bedroom murders at Puttaparthi ashram in 1993).
A scholar who wrote an account of Shirdi Sai, in a Sufi context, was a follower of Sathya Sai until 2000. Afterwards, Dr. Marianne Warren (d.2004) became an ex-devotee in relation to the Andhra guru, being greatly disillusioned by increasing reports of dubious behaviour at Puttaparthi ashram. 
In 2006, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement was favourably cited in a Wikipedia article about an academic ex-devotee of Sathya Sai. This was Robert Priddy, whose report I had included in my book. The online citation was strongly resisted by a Wikipedia editor, who transpired to be an American apologist for the Sathya Sai movement. SSS108 (alias Gerald Joe Moreno) pressed for deletion of the Priddy article, and also produced a Wikipedia User page dismissing the validity of all my books. It became obvious that Moreno had not read these books, but was instead reacting from a sectarian stance, involving a strong antipathy towards ex-devotees and anyone who favourably mentioned them. The Moreno internet campaign of defamation lasted until 2010. 
Research into the “movement,” or rather movements (in the plural), is not so easily to be eliminated by ideological conveniences preferred by “crowdsourcing” (to borrow a description of Wikipedia process favoured by academic affiliates of the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
In another camp, some Western devotees of Meher Baba, acting as editors on Wikipedia, refused to acknowledge the relevance of Investigating the Sai Baba Movement. They had evidently not read the book; they only knew of the title. One of them mistakenly insinuated that I had coined the phrase “Sai Baba movement.” Until such denominational antipathies and errors of judgment are improved, Wikipedia and other internet media are likely to remain afflicted by misinformation. The suppression of relevant reports, on whatsoever pretext, is no effective substitute for due evaluation. 
Some partisans of Sathya Sai Baba refer to the “Sathya Sai movement.” This is quite a different idiom, and equivalent to “Meher Baba movement” or “Shirdi Sai movement.” Identification of these trends in terms of separate movements is surely preferable to the umbrella phrase “Sai Baba movement,” which has logical difficulties of exegesis. See further Sai Baba Movement at Issue.
Misconceptions are evident, even in some academic books, about the actions of Shirdi Sai. For instance:  
Many were suspicious of his claims… but he [Sathya Sai] reportedly substantiated his claims with miraculous acts. For example, Sathya Sai Baba, as he had come to be known, regularly materialised healing vibhuti, sacred ash which devotees imbibe and/or apply to their foreheads. These materialisations established Sathya Sai Baba’s connection to Shirdi Sai Baba, who had also materialised vibhuti for his followers. (Srinivas 2010:9, and citing Srinivas 2008) 
Such statements attest a pronounced confusion about the supposed similarity between Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai. In reality, the Shirdi saint did not materialise sacred ash, and nor did he claim to do so. Instead, Shirdi Sai merely took ash from his dhuni fire, located inside the mosque where he lived (Shepherd 2015:398-399 note 730). In contrast, Sathya Sai claimed to miraculously materialise ash from thin air. Indian critics like Basava Premanand have described the action of Sathya Sai in terms of sleight of hand, a perspective which differs radically from the devotee version. 
One interpretation has emphasised the term avatar in terms of an advantage for the Sathya Sai movement. This is not agreed upon by all parties. An academic review states:

Whereas Shirdi Sai Baba mixed elements of a Sufi faqir, Hindu guru, and devotional sant, Sathya Sai Baba consistently adopts the term avatar, a divine being who descends from above at a time when truth and righteousness are threatened. [Smriti] Srinivas proceeds to argue that his identification as an avatar increases Sathya Sai Baba’s scope of travel and creates a greater capacity to reach devotees, in contrast with an identification as a faqir, guru, or sant. (Loar 2009:1)

Some discrepancies are discernible. The conception of Shirdi Sai as a devotional sant is misleading.  The Shirdi saint has been depicted as both a Sufi faqir and a Hindu guru, but a substantial number of portrayals limit the attention to detail that is possible in this instance. 

The claim of Sathya Sai to avataric status does not establish any priority in communication over Shirdi Sai in relation to devotee followings. The guru of Puttaparthi contributed a lavish puranic mythology of Shirdi Sai, this development assisting a general tendency to marginalise Sufi dimensions of the latter. The overall consequence of this preference was to obscure contextual data relating to the Shirdi saint, who furthered an eclectic approach to Sufism and Hinduism.

Bibliography:

Loar, Jonathan, review of Smriti Srinivas, In the Presence of Sai Baba, in Practical Matters: A Journal of Religious Practices and Practical Theology (2009, Issue 2, 1-3).
Premanand, Basava, Murders in Sai Baba’s Bedroom (Podanur, Tamil Nadu: B. Premanand, n.d., but 2001). 
Rigopoulos, Antonio, The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Srinivas, Smriti, In the Presence of Sai Baba: Body, City, and Memory in a Global Religious Movement  (Leiden: Brill, 2008). 
Srinivas, Tulasi, Winged Faith: Rethinking Globalization and Religious Pluralism Through the Sathya Sai Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; new edn, 2004). 
White, Charles S. J., “The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of Indian Saints,” Journal of Asian Studies (1972) 31:863-878. 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
ENTRY no. 68
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Shirdi Sai Baba

By | B. V. Narasimhaswami, Hinduisation, Meher Baba, Shri Sai Satcharita, Upasani Maharaj, Urdu Notebook of Abdul Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba
The faqir known as Sai Baba (d.1918) lived in an obscure mosque at Shirdi, a village in Maharashtra. His precise date of birth is not known. His early life is difficult to reconstruct, although his last years were reported in far more detail. 
The sources contain much data about numerous devotees, involving a majority of Hindus, some Muslims, and a number of Zoroastrians. One of the Hindus was Govind R. Dabholkar, who composed the Marathi work Shri Sai Satcharita, a verse epic commemorating Shirdi Sai Baba (to be distinguished from Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi). Dabholkar’s commentary is both devotional and philosophical. Hagiographical elements here attend a coverage of episodes reflecting a factual content. One drawback is the lack of chronology.
The earliest years of Shirdi Sai are associated with the Aurangabad region, part of the territory ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad. A popular version of his birth emphasises the village of Pathri. A less well known legend concerning Jerusalem also developed. His arrival in Shirdi has been awarded different dates by major commentators, varying from the 1850s to the period 1868-1872. Dabholkar is associated with the earlier dating. 
Shirdi Sai emerged as a rigorous ascetic committed to a daily begging round. He was initially aloof from the villagers, and became widely regarded as a Muslim faqir. This identity was attested by his attire, and also his habit of speaking in Deccani Urdu. He is reported to have frequently uttered Islamic phrases such as Allah Malik (God is the Owner/Ruler). His Sufi background has been the subject of different interpretations. In contrast, he is often presented as a Hindu, or as a person with no distinct religious background. Complexities of reporting are often ignored. The theme of Hinduisation was emphasised by Dr. Marianne Warren, who complained at the obscurity befalling Sufi components in popular accounts. 
An early Muslim devotee, Abdul Baba, composed in Urdu a Notebook preserving statements and reflections of Shirdi Sai. A due English translation of this document did not appear until 1999 (Warren 1999), over eighty years after the death of Sai Baba. The Notebook reveals a pronounced familiarity with Islamic and Sufi traditions. There is also a significant eclectic disposition represented, one that sought to reconcile the Hindu and Muslim religious temperaments.
An important event, plausibly dated to 1894, involved the confrontation of Sai Baba with a party of local Muslim militants who sought support from the Qazi of Sangamner. Tambuli and others were annoyed by the appearance at the mosque of Hindu worship, as cultivated by the devotee Mhalsapati, who made Sai Baba the object of his improvised puja. The sources relate that the Shirdi faqir supported Mhalsapati against the vengeful opponents.
A prominent source is B. V. Narasimhaswami. This ascetic did not himself meet Sai Baba, but appeared at Shirdi in the 1930s. He contributed much valuable data, and also his own interpretations. Certain discrepancies have caused confusion (especially his criticism of Upasani Maharaj). The major work of Narasimhaswami is entitled Life of Sai Baba. Much depends upon the accuracy of his observations, and also the discernment of opinion and hagiography as distinct from fact (cf. Shepherd 2015:328-337). This is a different kind of coverage to that of Dabholkar, and was written in English. Narasimhaswami also produced related works, including Charters and Sayings, an edited contribution which both merits and requires close analysis (e.g., Shepherd 2015:300-303).
During his last years, Sai Baba became noted for allusive speech. This characteristic has tended to give him a repute for enigma and symbolism. In contrast, a number of his statements were markedly forthright, and of an ethical complexion. Some witnesses remarked upon the relative absence of metaphysical themes in his delivery, especially those associated with Vedanta.
From about 1910, a large influx of urban devotees arrived at Shirdi. These were predominantly Hindus from Bombay (Mumbai) and other areas. A few became resident devotees, while many others became regular visitors. The general situation changed as a consequence.
The faqir now introduced his distinctive habit of requesting dakshina, meaning donations, from the affluent. He would not ask all the visitors for a gift, and could stipulate varying amounts. Whatever cash he received was daily redistributed amongst ascetics, poor people, and diverse retainers and villagers. By nightfall he had no money left in his possession. This situation meant that he had no money or assets when he died. To the last, he retained his simple lifestyle of a begging faqir
Some outsiders and critics could not understand his ways. By caste standards, Shirdi Sai was eccentric, not adhering to conventional taboos, instead welcoming untouchables and even lepers. One of his well known devotees at Shirdi, namely Bhagoji Shinde, was a leper. 
His tactics included reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. His reported statements are free of religious bias. His universalism extended to Zoroastrians, Christians, and Sikhs.
A feature of his last years at Shirdi was the procession known as chavadi utsav. Sai Baba consented to this development at the imploring request of devotees, but he refused to sit in the palanquin they gifted him with. The utsav is sometimes compared with Vaishnava celebrations at Pandharpur; Shirdi Sai himself had nothing to do with that major pilgrimage site in Maharashtra. He did not advocate any particular form of worship, and remained neutral in this respect. 
Shirdi Sai gained attention from eminent individuals like Balasaheb Bhate. Originally a materialist sceptic, Bhate became a devotee of the distinctive faqir. Like a number of other followers, Bhate was a revenue official, a role which he renounced in 1909 after meeting Sai Baba.
More well known celebrities were Ganesh Khaparde (1854-1938) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). These politicians both visited Shirdi, although Khaparde had a more intimate link with the faqir. The Shirdi Diary of Khaparde records his numerous encounters with Sai Baba during a sojourn in 1911-12. The saint exhibited various moods reported by the diarist.
Another entity who visited Shirdi was Merwan S. Irani, a Zoroastrian later to become known as Meher Baba (1894-1969). His initial encounter with Sai Baba, in 1915, is evocative (Shepherd 2015:270-271). In later years, Meher Baba expressed a high estimation of the Shirdi faqir.
A very unusual disciple of Sai Baba was Upasani Maharaj (1870-1941), an Ayurvedic physician who arrived at Shirdi in 1911. Upasani became a distinctive ascetic, later establishing his own ashram at nearby Sakori.
The wealthy devotee Gopalrao Buti constructed at Shirdi a spacious private home known as Butiwada. This imposing building became the tomb of Sai Baba, now known as samadhi mandir. Through the efforts of Narasimhaswami and others, a nationwide following of Sai devotees resulted. Shirdi is a famous pilgrimage site, with large numbers of annual visitors reported.
Bibliography: 
Anand, Swami Sai Sharan, Shri Sai Baba, trans. V. B. Kher (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, 1997).
Dabholkar, Govind R., Shri Sai Satcharita: The Life and Teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba, trans. Indira Kher (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kamath, M. V., and Kher, V. B., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Unique Saint (Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1991). 
Khaparde, Ganesh S., Shirdi Diary of the Hon’ble Mr. G. S. Khaparde (n.d.; repr. Shirdi: Shri Sai Baba Sansthan, 1994).
Narasimhaswami, B. V., ed., Sri Sai Baba’s Charters and Sayings (Madras: All India Sai Samaj, 1942).
 
Narasimhaswami, B. V., Life of Sai Baba (4 vols, Mylapore, Chennai: All India Sai Samaj, 1955-6; first edn composite volume, 2002). 
Rigopoulos, Antonio, The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Gurus Rediscovered: Biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1986).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
Vijayakumar, G. R., Shri Narasimha Swami: Apostle of Shirdi Sai Baba (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009).
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999; new edn, 2004).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 67 
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.
sdfgdsfgsdfgs