Sathya Sai Baba | Biography, Teachings & Allegations Of A Self-Proclaimed Godman

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*Disclaimer* There have been many allegations against Sathya Sai Baba including sexual abuse, fraud, sleight of hand, and even murder. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

Sathya Sai Baba was a revered Indian guru prominent in the late 20th century and early 2000s.

Known for his humanitarian work and performance of miracles, devotees considered him an avatar of God, and he claimed himself to be the reincarnate Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Preaching a spiritual teaching of service, love, and compassion, Sri Sathya Sai Baba expounded an interfaith route to God-realization from a Hindu template.

Shrouded in controversy, Sathya Sai Baba was also the subject of sexual abuse allegations, and his organization was the subject of financial impropriety.

In this article we’ll cover all aspects surrounding the guru, as below:

  • Sexual Abuse Allegations
  • His Early Life
  • His Spiritual Awakening
  • Becoming A Guru
  • His Death
  • His Teachings
  • Miracles
  • His Organizational Work
Sathya Sai Baba waving
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Darshan‘, by Sainiventa, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sexual Abuse Allegations

Sathya Sai Baba has been the subject of scrutiny and controversy, unfortunately much like the overwhelming majority of gurus. It is important to note that Sathya Sai Baba has faced allegations of both financial impropriety and sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse allegations have come from ex-devotees.

One of these allegations includes the participants in a 2004 BBC documentary titled “The Secret Swami”, in which they claim that he had massaged their testicles with oil and coerced them into performing oral sex.

Others come from Jeff Young, ex-president of the Sai Baba Organisation, who disclosed that his 16-year-old son was sexually molested by Sai Baba in 1977.

Early Life

Sathya Sai Baba was born in 1926 in Puttaparthi in South India (near modern day Chennai).

indian flag

His mother claims that he was born of immaculate conception.

Much like the stories of other Indian gurus, Sathya Sai Baba had an immense spiritual inclination as a child, manifesting in his contemplative nature, seemingly innate scriptural knowledge and compassionate actions.

Supposedly, as a child, Sathya Sai Baba would act with great compassion for those in poverty, insisting that his share of food is shared with a local beggar. 

Furthermore, he would eat vegetarian-only food, in spite of his family eating primarily non-vegetarian food, choosing to eat with the Brahmins of their village.

This led to him being known in his locality as ‘Guru’, and ‘Brahmajnani’ (knower of Brahman). 

A bit of a far-fetched belief of his childhood was that he could manifest objects out of thin air, like food, flowers, and sweets.

It is important to note that the documentation of Sathya Sai Baba’s life, specifically his early life, is written from a hagiographic lens, meaning the writers have an idealized conception of the subject as a saint.

hands holding up to the sun

Spiritual Awakening

Sathya Sai Baba was only 14 years old when he made a declaration that he was the reincarnate Sai Baba of Shirdi.

In the months prior to this declaration, we can see an awakening unfold. It is said that he was stung by a scorpion, leading him to lose consciousness. Over the next few days, he had a huge shift in behavior that doctors chose to diagnose as hysteria.

Reportedly, he sung Sanskrit verses, laughed and cried, and entered periods of silence intermittently. 

His concerned parents took him to priests and exorcists, unsure of the reason for this change in behavior.

Towards the end of this dramatic episode, Sathya Sai Baba was apparently materializing sweets out of thin air, and came to tell his family and witnesses that he was in fact the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.

someone walking a path along the sea with the full moon overhead

Maybe less of a spiritual awakening and more of a spiritual declaration, Sathya Sai Baba named himself an avatar for the purpose of raising spirituality within humanity. 

He initially moved in with the Brahmin lady that he ate vegetarian food with as a younger child, where the very first of his devotees started to visit him.

Establishing Himself As A Guru

Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s spiritual legacy as a guru is largely due to his devotees ascribing actions of miraculous virtue. On top of this, he performed a lot of social activism as a spiritual leader. 

In his becoming as a guru, a Hindu temple was built near his home village of Puttaparthi – now referred to as the older temple. This is due to the building of Prasanthi Nilayam, built in 1950. It is known as more of an ashram than a temple, and means “Abode of Highest Peace”.

It is here where Sathya Sai Baba deliberated the majority of his affairs as a guru, and where he gained fame for his supposed ‘mystical powers’ and healing abilities.

sathya sai baba sat on a chair looking at his hands
Sri Sathya Sai Baba‘, by Venkatant, licensed under CC BY 2.0


Sathya Sai Baba prophesied that he would die around 2022 at 96 years old. He in fact died at 84 in 2011 following respiration issues. 

A lifetime of fame and renown meant that the local Government declared two days of mourning, and his funeral was attended by an estimated half a million people, including the now Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Sathya Sai Baba is most well known for his famous quote “Love All, Serve All. Help Ever, Hurt Never”.

Ultimately, according to Sathya Sai Baba, the goal of life is to attain God-realization. 

Reaching this comprehension of divinity happens through selfless service to others, devotional practice or bhakti yoga, and leading a moral, good life based on core spiritual values like ahimsa, satya, and karma yoga.

woman praying with hands together

This great emphasis on living a moral life in service to others, we break down into these core principles below:

  1. God-Realization: He believed that every individual has the potential to realize their true nature as divine beings, and that self-realization is the ultimate goal of human existence. 
  2. Oneness Of All Religions: Sai Baba taught that all religions lead to the same goal, and we should respect and learn from all faiths.
  3. Love And Compassion: He stressed that love is the fundamental principle of the universe, and practicing selfless service to others is crucial.
  4. An Honest Approach: Sai Baba emphasized that truthfulness and honesty are essential for leading a virtuous life, and we should always speak and act truthfully.
  5. Detachment: Sai Baba taught the importance of detachment from material possessions and desires, and encouraged cultivating a spirit of renunciation and detachment. 
  6. Education: He stressed the importance of education for personal growth and contributing to society.

Philosophical Roots

Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings primarily reside in Hinduism. 

However, he expounded an interfaith approach to spirituality, and his organization incorporated practices from Hinduism and Islam, as well as drawing influence from Christian, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian traditions.

Reincarnation And An Avatar

Sathya Sai Baba claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, and some of his devotees claimed he was an avatar of Shiva.

golden statue of Sai Baba of Shirdi
Sai Baba Shirdi‘, by Manojdnp, licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is common practice amongst highly-esteemed Hindu gurus and devotees, with another example being Ramana Maharshi believed to also be an avatar of Shiva.

Satha Sai Baba Miracles

Followers of Sai Baba attributed miraculous abilities to him, including the ability to manifest holy ash and various small items such as jewelry.

They also reported numerous cases of miraculous healings, resurrections, clairvoyance, and bilocation, and believed that he possessed omnipotent and omniscient qualities.

For example, in 1963, Sathya Sai Baba was left paralyzed as a result of a series of heart attacks. Reportedly, one of his healing episodes occurred on himself, when he ‘recovered’ in front of an audience comprising thousands of people.

Although, no matter how prolific his Sathya Sai Baba miracles, he has been accused of trickery and sleight of hand. For example, he could only produce palm-sized objects, which were the only objects small enough to be concealed.

a spiritual guide holding another persons hand

Organizational Work

In modern times, Sathya Sai Baba amassed millions of followers of his teachings across over 150 countries. The institutional embodiment of his teaching was the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust.

He also founded a large number of schools and hospitals in India and abroad and so led an exemplary campaign of humanitarian work worldwide.

Supporting His Teaching

During the early 1970s, Sathya Sai Baba founded the Sathya Sai Organization also known as the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. This was established with the aim of helping a person realize their divinity or God-consciousness.

This organization grew globally, and there are now an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centres on the planet.

The Sathya Sai Organization was also granted Special Consultative status in 2020, as it continues to provide spiritual work to the world through its members.

As well as individual spiritual transformation, the trust had a mission consisting of humanitarian aims such as providing healthcare, facilities for the poor, education, and public welfare efforts.

hindu statues carved in stone

Humanitarian Efforts


Sathya Sai Baba in his lifetime provided a lot of aid for those in poverty in relation to healthcare and sanitation through the Trust.

In 1995, he established a water project to provide clean drinking water to over 1 million people in Andhra Pradesh.

In his local area, Sai Baba also established a medical institute with intensive care units, operating theaters and other medical facilities. He also established a speciality hospital in Bangalore that provides free medical healthcare to those who need it.

Apart from the permanent institutions he founded, Sathya Sai Baba coordinated aid to general hospitals, mobile dispensaries and medical camps in the rural lands of India. 


Sathya Sai Baba coordinated comprehensive education support through the Trust in his lifetime in India and across the world. 

The primary delivery of this education support has been formally through Indian state and private schools through a homegrown education programme, as well as official Sathya Sai Schools.

For example in 1981, he founded a secondary school in his hometown of Puttaparthi, which is recognized as one of the top 10 CBSE schools in India. 

Furthermore, he founded a university that provides free education in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Sathya Sai Baba and his legacy, why not take a look at our other articles about figures, yogis and gurus:

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Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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