Mortal remains murdered Australian grandmother found, and cremated in Puttaparthi

As feared, the body of Toni Anne Ludgate has indeed been found buried at the site one of the alleged assailants pointed out to the local Indian police.

Indian man, Pothulayya, points to the site where he allegedly buried the body of Australian woman Toni Anne Ludgate. Photo / AFP

Indian man, Pothulayya, points to the site where he allegedly buried the body of Australian woman Toni Anne Ludgate. Photo / AFP

The Daily Telegraph (Sidney) confirmed this news last night local time. Indeed, her mortal remains will be cremated in Hindu style so fast that her family will be unable to attend the service, due to the short time frame, we learn. For those who have read my previous blog, this sad outcome will alas not come as much of a surprise. Indeed, in the meantime, Mrs. Ludgate’s body has in fact been cremated. In an ABC article released later on, graphic detail of the circumstances surrounding her death is added:

Ms Ludgate was reportedly doing charity work at the ashram of popular Hindu guru Sai Baba, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, when she went missing in August.
Police said three men, including the guard at the building where she was living, were arrested.
Police Inspector B. Venugopal told the ABC investigators [they] believe Ms Ludgate gave the guard approximately $600 to pay her rent, but he only passed $200 to the landlord. Inspector Venugopal said when Ms Ludgate asked for the money back a few days later the guard and his two friends murdered her.
“They went 16 kilometres into the fields and they buried her,” he said. “They burned all her belongings – laptop and camera and documents … and passport.” “After that they kept quiet.”
Inspector Venugopal said police suspected the guard may have been involved after he told investigators he had not seen Ms Ludgate since August 24; others had reportedly seen her in the area up until August 28. He said the accused eventually confessed and told police where to find her body.
Police said her remains were cremated in a traditional Hindu ceremony at the request of her family. They said the accused are facing murder charges but the investigation is ongoing. Police are trying to recover Ms Ludgate’s phone, which they believe the guard sold or gave to a friend who has since left the state.
Earlier this month, Ms Ludgate’s daughter Traci Harding released a YouTube video offering a reward for any information that would lead to finding her mother. In the video, Ms Harding said her mother was a seasoned traveller who visited India every year to do charity work.

The Times of India posted the following video, detailing the whole sad affair with footage from Puttaparthi itself and interviews with many of the people closely involved in this human tragedy: ToI Andhra 3 arrested in Autralian woman murder case

In a first reaction to the press, Ms. Harding, daughter of Mrs. Ludgate and noted science-fiction author, reportedly said:

‘[My] mother was a source of happiness to all she knew. She was in love with the place; she had a karmic connection to it even. Considering what’s happened, you’ve just got to look at that.’

‘We are just happy to have found her so that we can put her to rest.’

‘She had a deep connection with this place (i.e. the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam), she wanted to end her days there – not like this obviously. She wanted an Indian burial and wanted her ashes spread at the ashram.’

To those not familiar with this kind of metaphysical reasoning, the family’s reaction might well be regarded as quite astonishing. One person commenting on the website of the Daily Telegraph voices exactly what to me also is most striking, the total absence of anger (Mind you, I do not agree with the racial slur). A woman naming herself susie writes there: ‘Am I alone in sensing a deplorable lack of anger from this woman’s family at this horrible crime? Let me put it this way … When an Indian citizen is attacked in Australia it is called a race-hate crime and people scream their heads off about it. Where is the same outrage for this poor woman and what happened to her at the hands of an Indian citizen in India – hypocrisy anyone????

Hodgepodge philosophy

It is exactly this kind of new-age, karma-driven philosophy, so prevalent amongst even highly educated Westerners, that accounted for much of Sathya Sai Baba’s popularity whilst still alive. Anything bad happening to someone under his protection could safely be attributed to their ‘bad karma’, and hey, life was just a fleeting illusion, so why worry about anything? The master of the universe was in control, after all… This cultish indoctrination also enabled the late guru of gurus to get away with many a vice: massive bribery, hoarding of money, abusing followers in all possible manners and building an empire for himself the likes of which has rarely been seen.

To me the lasting truth is this, though: Sathya Sai Baba was no saint. His ashram was no place of supreme peace but a den of corruption. And his empire is turning out to be as empty as his asham is nowadays, scarce three years after his demise.

Missing Australian woman presumed murdered in Prasanthi Nilayam

Just yesterday, November 7, news broke across India that an elderly Australian devotee, who was reported missing, has been murdered in Puttaparthi, within the confines of Prasanthi Nilayam, the ashram of guru Sathya Sai Baba, who himself died there under suspicious circumstances in April 2011.

If this turns out to be true, this latest murder in the ‘Abode of Supreme Peace’ is one in quite a few, and just goes to show that this remote place was nor is a safe haven at all. It was not so while the master was still alive, it is not so now.

What makes it doubly sad is that the victim, identified as 75 year old mrs. Ludgate, went to the ashram to do seva, voluntary work, every year, even after the premature demise of her guru. Apparently, she arrived in Puttaparthi in July and was supposed to fly back to Australia on October 27.

The case drew national attention in Australia, as Mrs. Ludgate is the mother of noted novelist Traci Harding.


Author Traci Harding with her mother, mrs. Ludgate

The family, filled with hope even on November 6, judging by an extensive report in The Daily Mail (Family missing grandmother optimistic), now most likely has to deal with the stark reality of a mother and grandmother brutally murdered for money and possessions.

Though reports from India state the murder as a fact (Times of India: Missing Australian woman found murdered), up til this morning the body of mrs. Ludgate has not been found. The alleged killer, mr. Bhagwanth, the keeper of Sai Gauri House, her lodgings, has confessed to the murder to the local police. The victim’s remains are allegedly buried on the shore of a nearby lake. The location will be searched today.

‘Why fear when I am here? I am always guarding you’
As stated, this murder does not stand alone. It fits in a long line of similar cases in what is still considered by many as a saintly place. Though Sathya Sai Baba always boasted that no one under his protection would ever need to fear anything, he himself did not even walk his talk. Judging from all reliable reports, he fled an infamous murder scene in his own chambers in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram in 1993, and amped up his personal security to an unprecedented level afterwards.

Many other, not so powerful devotees of the late master met with a fate far worse: they either disappeared, suffered and sometimes died from terrible accidents, killed themselves or were murdered, like mrs. Ludgate.

The self-proclaimed avatar, who could not effectively protect himself without the help of hired security forces and who took near permanent shelter in a fortress-like new appartment complex for the remainder of his life, was never any good in protecting those who sought his refuge and thought he was their saviour. Poor mrs. Ludgate is to be pitied as the latest victim who paid the ultimate price based on an entirely false sense of protection, actively promoted by her late master.

Puttaparthi is not a safe place. The few Westerners who are still living there or go to visit the Abode of Supreme Peace are in fact in real danger of being taken advantage of, robbed, or worse.

More to follow.

An Early Example of Sathya Sai Nonsense

To this very day, and probably until kingdom come, devotees of the prematurely deceased godman Sathya Sai Baba keep presenting highly dodgy stories and ‘evidence’ in order to underscore their guru’s self-professed claim that he was the grandmaster of the universe, the great ‘cosmic visitor’.

An early, outlandish example that reappears from time to time is the tale of a person called Homer Young, who if we are to believe current internet postings by die-hard devotees supposedly worked as an engineer for or close to NASA in the 1970’s and who is said to have ordered a set of four satellite pictures taken of the Puttaparthi area as it looked back then from 200 miles up in the air. As is often the case with the material presented as proof of Sai Baba’s miraculous and superhuman powers, it is almost entirely based on hearsay. There is no first-hand account available by mr. Young himself, as far as I have been able to establish.

The first time I myself learned of Homer Young (or, to be accurate: Homer S. Youngs, in actual fact a rather unsuccessful inventor) was more than thirty years ago, back in 1981, when I read his story in a newly published book called Living Divinity, by mrs. Shakuntala Balu of Bangalore. As far as I know, this book is the sole and primary source of the ‘miracle’. Mrs. Balu and her family were ardent devotees of the rising star of the south from the early seventies onwards. As they lived in Bangalore, they had the opportunity to visit the avatar frequently, and she, her husband Venkataraman Balu and her two sons got well befriended with Sai Baba, who visited their home on several occasions.

living divinity

Mrs. Balu’s book Living divinity was actually finished as early as 1978, but took a couple of years before it hit the market. It made quite the impression within the devotee community, as it was written in an accessible, personal style, and told not only first-hand accounts of the Balu family with Sai Baba but a host of stories of very early devotees and their miraculous encounters with the slender, young Sathyam.

Chapter 10 of Part I,  Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Satellite, deals with the Homer Young(s) miracle. It is 4 pages long, and offers a quite detailed description of a six-year period (1972-1978) in which the scale of the supposed miracle gradually became clear to the main characters, Homer and Lila Young(s), and a circle of devotees in the same California region. Unfortunately, mrs. Balu does not say anything on how she got this information. Did she meet the Youngs herself over these years and/or talk to them? She certainly wants us to believe so, but it remains a mystery. Noteworthy also is the fact that Sai Baba never debunked the story as a myth in the 30 years he lived after its first appearance.

This is the tale in short, as I found it on the internet, posted by a devotee called Mannar Krishna on a Yahoo-group (It can be found in numerous other places also, including in Sathya Sai Baba’s commemorative museum, Puttaparthi!):

Laila and Homer Young were a couple living in California. Homer used to work in the establishment concerned with launching of satellites.

In 1972, Laila joined a group led by Indra Devi of Mexico, an ardent devotee of Swami, and came to Puttaparthi to meet Bhagawan. Homer desired that Puttaparthi should be photographed from space right at the time his wife was in Bhagawan’s Presence. Several photographs were taken by a satellite from 200 miles above the earth. Because of the great distance, no clear details of habitations, hills or buildings could be seen in the photographs, which showed only a number of patches and dots in black and white that made no sense. When Laila saw them on return from Puttaparthi, she felt very much disappointed. Being middle class people, she felt they should not have wasted US$60 on these poor pictures.

Several years went by. Some Sai devotees on their way to Tecate to attend the wedding of Indra Devi’s daughter visited the Homers’ home. He was then running a Sai Book Centre. There were several photos of Bhagawan in different poses in the Centre. As the visitors showed interest and liked some of them, Homer showed them the satellite pictures of Puttaparthi too. The visitors were closely looking at those photographs. Suddenly, a lady cried out, “Here is Sai Baba!” Curiosity aroused, they could all discern the face, in profile, of Sri Sathya Sai composed by the numerous patches and dots, which had earlier made no sense to Homer and Laila. The image was now crystal clear. The crown-like thick black hair on the head, the eyes, the shape of the nose and, wonder of wonders, even the birthmark on the cheek of the enchanting face of Bhagawan could be clearly seen.

Homer made his own calculations. He took into account longitude and latitude and found that the photograph covered a vast area, 40 miles long and 20 miles wide. He realized with considerable astonishment, that Swami’s form filled so much area. From the data available, Homer concluded that Bhagawan was looking at an extensive area surrounding Prashanti Nilayam.

In 1978, Homer came to Puttaparthi to meet Bhagawan. He saw a great circular aura around Swami’s head. He took several photographs and showed them to Swami. Bhagavan smiled sweetly and said, as Lord Sri Krishna told Arjuna, “These are trifles in my boundless divine magnificence (Anantha Mahimas).” These photographs taken on 29th November 1972 have been placed for exhibition in the planetarium in Prashanti Nilayam.

Several of the details are unaccounted for or plain wrong but the gist of the story is clear enough: a cosmic miracle, photographed by a NASA (well no, actually EROS) satellite, showing the visitor from space watching over his own earthly birthplace annex ashram: wow! If that does not constitute proof of… yeah, of what, actually??

Below: The supposedly untouched EROS satellite image of Puttaparthi (November 1972):


Below: The supposedly relevant section enlarged. Image on the left is said to be untouched. Image on right is a composite image to show the striking resemblance to Sathya Sai Baba (including a mole on his left cheek):


Mind you, the EROS-satellite used to take these pictures is unsuited to reveal any detail on the ground, other than river beds and large patches of vegetation. The blotches and apparent rocks are in fact chiefly clouds, not features like towns or habitation on the earth surface itself. Some might say that only adds to the mysterious way of the former Lord of Lords but does it?

To me, this whole show of so-called evidence of Sai Baba’s universal omnipresence captured in ‘natural phenomena’ (See later examples, e.g. of Sai Baba’s appearance on the moon)  speaks of a desperate predilection of his cult members to see their master’s hand (or face, or feet, or ash) in every single thing. If science is seemingly involved, the miracle gains even more stature and credibility. (For an example of another apparent NASA involvement in a Sai ‘miracle’, read Robert Priddy’s post Malaysian Lawyer Hariram Jayaram on faked miracle photo etc.)


In reality, this photo’s interpretation seems nothing more than an example of a well-known scientific phenomenon called pareidolia. Pareidolia is an inherent psychological  urge to see meaningful patterns, especially faces, in random and coincidental stimuli. Simply put, we have an almost uncontrollable predisposition to see faces in meaningless pictures. It is akin to a statistical Type-I error or a false positive. Common examples of pareidolia include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

Some examples of pareidolia to clarify matters and drive home the immediacy and near-inescapability of this phenomenon:

Martian ‘face’


Elephant pareidolia



Woman in tree


Profile in mountain range


Mad Capsicum?

Crazed Capsicum


Pareidolia is part of a larger conglomerate of phenomena called apophenia. This term was coined by German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his 1958 study of the onset of schizophrenia. Unlike an epiphany, apophany does not provide insight into the true nature of reality or its interconnectedness, according to Conrad. It is a hallmark of delusional thinking. Brugger later defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but nowadays, it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling and paranormal phenomena.


As a one time devotee, I can still recognize this selfsame need to interpret each and every random event or pattern in my life as intrinsically meaningful and connected to the guru. Everything had some kind of deeper meaning; you just needed to ‘see’ it. And boy, did I and all those brainwashed other devotees did some hineininterpretierung! Is that a problem? Yes, because there is no end to reading personalized purpose and meaning into perfectly natural phenomena that are simply unconnected, or at least not meaningfully connected to us. It is hard to snap out of it, but it is not impossible. Like fellow former devotee Barry Pittard said regarding this Homer Young picture in his 2007 post Sai Baba To Be Seen In Moon? But Where Was Moon?:

Certainly, Sai Baba’s so-called ‘spiritual’ museum exhibitors cater for such spurious ‘confirmatory’ evidence of their ‘Lord’s’ greatness. On show for example is what purports to be a NASA satellite photo of Sai Baba. It appears to some as though the very terrain for miles around his abode shows him watching over it…  …Here you are, dear Reader – but gaze on this divine miracle of Sai Baba, and, should you become fully enlightened, please remember me in your Will.

I say Amen to that!

Professor Haraldsson’s Final Verdict on Sathya Sai Baba and his Western Critics

Miracles are my visiting cards

Icelandic Professor Emeritus and octogenarian Erlendur Haraldsson (1931) has built a name for himself chiefly as a result of his psychological research into paranormal and psychokinetic phenomena, mediumship, death, the possibility of an afterlife and reincarnation. He became widely known as one of very few scientists who investigated the ‘man of miracles’, Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, over a prolonged period of time. Haraldsson visited Sai Baba in India mainly in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century and had numerous interviews and occasions to see him at work. Although Haraldsson and his fellow researcher Dr. Carlis Osis were denied any occasion to perform controlled experiments, their published account¹, perhaps willy-nilly, was seen by many to endorse Sai Baba’s claim of genuine materialization and bilocation, among other abilities. Absence of detectable fraud and arguments of plausibility led Haraldsson to a circumspect conclusion that Sathya Sai Baba might be ‘the real deal’.

miracles are my visiting cards_1

First edition, 1987

This was no sudden conversion-type turn of events. Every previous peer-reviewed paper by Haraldsson concerning Sai Baba, dating back as far as 1975 (‘Nothing up his sleeves’²), at least hinted in the same direction. Remarkably so for a psychic researcher who on every occasion emphasized the necessity of a neutral stance, in 1980 Haraldsson lauded Sai Baba in a commemorative book called ‘Golden Age’³, published by Sai Baba’s very own Trust to herald the dawn of a new era. Haraldsson called him a remarkable man on that occasion, a saint ‘true to his nation’.

Haraldsson and Sai Baba, with the book Golden Age

Haraldsson and Sai Baba, with the book ‘Golden Age’ (1980)


The first publication (England) was quickly followed by an American edition (different title), a German one and, over time, translations in 10 or more languages. It was generally received as a well-rounded depiction of an enigmatic man, who seemingly could materialize and dematerialize objects at will. In 1997 an English re-issue was published, with minor changes to the original. Further editions followed, 17 in total, with differing covers and differing subtitles, up til 2006, without substantial change to the original, although by 2006 nearly twenty years had passed since its first release, and Sathya Sai Baba had in the mean time become the focal point of growing controversy, due to the emergence of serious allegations of wrongdoing, allegations that had been made earlier, by the way, but became more widespread and of far wider scope.

Long wait for a ‘full’ update

After years of silence on the issue of Sathya Sai Baba, claiming not to have anything new to say on the matter save a short article on a video clip which seemed to show Sai Baba fraudulently materializing a large necklace⁴, professor Haraldsson now returns to this subject with the publication of an update and rewrite of his erstwhile study¹.

The title has changed little (though the subtitle is something of a foregone conclusion). It is called Modern Miracles: The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet. The book appeared a couple of weeks ago, both in print (412 pages) and as a Kindle e-book.


Front cover of revised edition, July 2013

A question of balance

As to its content, Haraldsson reshuffled some of his earlier material and added a sizeable number of chapters to fill in the near thirty-year gap. He also visited Puttaparthi in February of this year, together with Dr. Houtkooper, and talked to some close first-hand observers of the late guru on that occasion. On reading this new material, it also becomes apparent that Haraldsson kept on visiting Satyha Sai Baba at more or less regular intervals after the eighties.

Of special interest at this moment in time is the section in which Haraldsson addresses the many allegations against Satyha Sai Baba that sprang up especially since 1999, when first reports of fraud, sexual misconduct and misappropriation of funds reached the news and appeared on the internet. They in turn led to a massive decline in devotees, especially those from the West.

Chapter 32 (p. 321 onwards) deals with this issue, and that of  Western critics, in quite unequivocal terms. Right off the bat Haraldsson disqualifies every scholarly entry on the internet because they are (by definition?) not peer-reviewed, then curtly dismisses professor Beyerstein’s objections and after that goes on to openly discredit ‘an enthusiastic devotee from Norway‘, who over the years became increasingly anti-Baba.

First quote from Haraldsson on some of Sai Baba's and, by proxy or directly, Haraldsson's critics

First quote from Haraldsson on some of Sai Baba’s and, by proxy or directly, Haraldsson’s critics

Haraldsson goes on to say that sources on the internet can be very informative but with the definite drawback that anyone can write anything, and you can do little to protect yourself.

The same holds true of Haraldsson’s assertion in this book, which is not peer-reviewed either, one might counterargue. Given the scarcity of his references as to this ‘war on the internet’ (only one particular webpage of Brian Steel is mentioned, between brackets), Haraldsson’s source material on which he bases his judgment here remains altogether vague. This leaves open the possibility that some of the very websites Haraldsson dismisses as anti-Baba were in fact copiously used by him to gather necessary background information and detailed accounts. If so, it is my view that he did it without proper reference to their sources and/or authors. Simply stating, as Haraldsson does here, that Websites presenting the skeptical stance can be easily found on the internet is not up to par. Moreover, such a general statement helps create the perhaps faulty impression that Haraldsson has studied many if not all of them extensively.

Half a page later Haraldsson makes a distinction between older Western critics and ‘the new western critics’:

scan 2 haraldsson

Quote 2, concerning ‘The New Western Critics’

The very fact of having been a devotee at some time during one’s life seems alien to Haraldsson and is apparently enough to discredit one’s judgment and opinions for ever, no matter how well they are underpinned. Once a fool, forever a fool, seems to be his credo. How can any sane westerner believe such tall claims as omniscience or omnipresence, is Haraldsson’s rebuke. Ipso facto, if you are so gullible to have believed this in the first place, you must be disappointed or disgruntled ever after, and by necessity remain clouded and lopsided in your current views.

Haraldsson then briefly addresses the issue of Sai Baba’s alleged homosexual behavior.

Quote 3: Sai Baba's alleged homosexual behavior

Quote 3: Sai Baba’s alleged homosexual behavior

Haraldsson plays down the gruesome allegations by hardly once using the word ‘abuse’ or sexual misconduct. Instead he minimizes the ‘alleged’ horror of so many, boys included, by referring to the whole matter in a rather flippant way: it seemed to affect Indian devotees hardly at all, just a sizeable amount of westerners… ‘For us‘, he goes on to state (‘us’ who?), ‘an important question is, do psychic powers or the ability to perform miracles stand in any relationship to sexual orientation?’ ‘It is neither Sai Baba’s statements about himself nor his alleged sexual conduct (usually considered off limits in biographies) that make him outstanding. Usually we measure a man by his greatest accomplishments and abilities’…(sic!)

No indeed! If these were the things that made a man outstanding, Sai Baba’s fairytale claims and predictions of grandeur and his sexual ‘behavior’, it would be grave to the extreme. But to Haraldsson the whole matter of child molestation seems to be a mere squabble, as are all other moral compunctions any ethically attuned person would have with the character of Sathya Sai Baba. Haraldsson shows his true colours here, as far as I am concerned: cold, morally aloof, seemingly neutral and balanced but more likely narrowly pursuing a quite rigorous, self-serving academic agenda of promoting his own name and career, which meant keeping silent on certain matters when the master was still alive and secretly being quite enamored and taken in by the massive charm that the late guru of gurus was capable of.

It is with the same kind of rhetoric that Haraldsson depicts Sai Baba’s lasting legacy:

Quote$: Haraldsson on Sai baba's lasting legacy

Quote 4: Haraldsson on Sai Baba’s lasting legacy

Haraldsson concludes this part of the chapter by listing three qualities that made Sathya Sai Baba outstanding in Haraldsson’s view, a modern day prophet no less, namely: his charisma, his ability over seven decades of performing miracles and thirdly, his ‘immense welfare and service activities‘.

Without going into further detail, this chapter to me represents the gist of Haraldsson’s verdict concerning Sai Baba and his critics.

Sai Baba was a great man, his critics are mainly ex-devotees, which skews them in their scope and perspective. The whole exercise of this ‘new’, so-called unique and painstaking examination of the phenomenon Sathya Sai Baba is to me more lopsided and hagiographic than Haraldsson’s previous stance, which, though aloof and one-sided, could be attributed to a lack of information. Haraldsson knows more than he lets on by now but this does not refrain him one bit from praising the late guru and discrediting fellow scientists, who scrupulously and meticulously tried to expose serious wrongs in the man and his movement.

This is a preliminary comment I received today (9-11-2013) from fellow academic Brian Steel from Australia (see quote 2, where he is mentioned briefly). Steel is one of the most prolific and methodical researchers of Sathya Sai Baba over the last 15 odd years, see here: An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba in Three Parts.

Fascinating, Chris, but also a cause for alarm.
I reserve full judgement till I can read the new edition myself. Haraldsson appears determined to preserve and promote his outdated and flawed judgements on SSB for posterity and to steadfastly deny any documentary evidence to the contrary. More later.

More to follow…

1. Erlendur Haraldsson (1987). “Miracles are my visiting cards”. An investigative report on psychic phenomena associated with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. London: Century-Hutchinson, 300 pp.
Erlendur Haraldsson (1988). Modern Miracles. An investigative report on psychic phenomena associated with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. New York: Ballantine Books, 304 pp. (USA edition of “Miracles are my visiting cards”.)

2. Erlendur Haraldsson and Karlis Osis (1975). Nothing up his sleeves – the materializations of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Theta, 3-5.

3. Erlendur Haraldsson (1980). True to his nation. In “Golden Age”, Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications, Prasanthi Nilayam, Andhra Pradesh, 255-256.

4. Erlendur Haraldsson & Richard Wiseman (1997).  Assessing film evidence of alleged trickery by Sathya Sai Baba. In R. Wiseman (Ed.): Deception and Self-Deception. Investigating psychics (pp. 183-197). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (First published in Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 1995, as “Reactions to and assessment of a videotape on Sathya Sai Baba”.)

Sai devotee Nicolas Maduro dubious new president of Venezuela

In my previous blog, Nicolas Maduro: next VIP Sai Disciple who does not lead by example, I commented on the behaviour of then interim president Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. Meanwhile, Maduro has won the April 14 election, but the outcome is still in contest, due to alleged irregularities and the very narrow margin with which Maduro defeated his opponent Capriles. The Washington Post commented on the matter here.

American president Obama’s administration has still not recognized Maduro as the next president. The day before yesterday Maduro reacted to this by saying that he will not be deterred even by the grand chief of devils, meaning Obama. (See this press release by France24: Venezuelas Maduro blasts devil Obama.)

Maduro blasts devil Obama

Maduro blasts devil Obama

Maduro, a self-proclaimed follower of the late guru Sathya Sai Baba, whom he visited in 2005, appears to be anything but a peacemaker.

Sai Baba 'inner'views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)

Sai Baba ‘inner’views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)

Like his proclaimed example, his predecessor Hugo Chavez, he seems prone to self-aggrandizing propaganda. Why the relatively few remaining important members of Sai Baba’s coterie make such a great deal about this man being a disciple of the late guru baffles the mind. But then, Sai Baba himself had a friendly encounter with Idi Amin back in the day and has also been quoted as speaking highly of Adolf Hitler. Also in his own ‘backyard’, meaning India, Sai Baba was used to surround himself by VVIPS with money and political clout. To be fair, the issue has been raised that as a world-renowned figure, Sai Baba was no exception in also having to deal with leaders of ill repute, much like ambassadors do as part of their job. This is not untrue, I find, but answer me this: why did he never speak out in public against these dictators? Even decades after Amins reign had ended, Sai Baba reminisced fondly upon his visit to Uganda. And to my knowledge Sai Baba never ever said a cross word about India’s political elite’s corruption. I call that a sin of omission of gargantuan proportion.

Nicolas Maduro: next VIP Sai Disciple who does not lead by Example

Recently, President Chavez of Venezuela succumbed to cancer. Several months prior to his death Chavez appointed Nicolas Maduro, his long time Minister of Foreign Affairs, as his future successor.

Nicolas Maduro, interim President of Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro, interim President of Venezuela

Strange though it may seem, it is a known fact that now acting President Maduro is a fervent devotee of the late Sathya Sai Baba. Many refer to Maduro as an inconsequential puppet of Chavez, a former bus driver, but this does him no justice. Maduro is a descendant of the very influential Maduro clan, who hold positions of power in Central and South America, and have done so for decades. He is a well-educated and well-connected man, though he makes it increasingly hard to believe the former, judging by his recent rhetoric. In his announcement of the demise of former president and despot Hugo Chavez, for instance, Maduro (meaning ‘the mature’) ranted against the United States and accused the West of poisoning Chavez with cancer. A year earlier, he called his political opponents ‘big faggots’, something no one would expect from a man who is widely considered a thoughtful pragmatist. But then, birds of a feather flock together, do they not? Maduro was handpicked by Chavez and Chavez himself was not unlike Sai Baba in his latter days, come to think of it. Both advocated very outlandish ideas, to say the least. Chavez e.g. suggested in public that ‘the civilization of Mars had been destroyed by capitalism’. Doesn’t this sound as abstruse as Sai Baba’s declaration that he was himself an enormous magnet or that he would lift mountain ranges? Maduro and his wife did visit Puttaparthi in 2005, as Robert Priddy mentioned in his blog of March 19 (Sai Baba was visited in 2005 by Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela), and is publicized widely and uncritically in India and in western newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post).

In this photo mr. Maduro can be seen during his ‘private’ interview with his Late Greatness. Opposite him sits his wife Cilia Flores, an influential lawyer.

Sai Baba 'inner'views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)

Sai Baba ‘inner’views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)

The orange-clad guru looks decidedly masklike to me, inane, near-dead, like he increasingly did during the last ten years of his ‘reign’.

Talking of power brokers and outlandish ideas, Maduro, the Incumbent, has made headlines again two days ago. It seems he has cursed, yes CURSED all those who do not vote for him in the upcoming elections: so much for walk your talk, and help ever, hurt never!

Read and shiver! This piece was published on ITV News.

Venezuela acting president threatens curse on election

Last updated Sun 7 Apr 2013

Self-aggrandizing gesturing by presidential candidate Maduro during an election rally

Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro has said a centuries-old curse would fall on the heads of those who do not vote for him in next week’s election to pick a successor to late leader Hugo Chavez.

Maduro’s invocation of the “curse of Macarapana” was the latest twist in an increasingly surreal fight between him and opposition leader Henrique Capriles for control of the South American OPEC nation of 29 million people.

“If anyone among the people votes against Nicolas Maduro, he is voting against himself, and the curse of Macarapana is falling on him,” said Maduro, referring to the 16th-century Battle of Macarapana when Spanish colonial fighters massacred local Indian forces.

This kind op political browbeating puts him in a league with people like russian Prime minister Putin, who visited the Netherlands yesterday, only to be met with the largest pro-gay demonstration he has ever witnessed (You could almost hear him mumbling: ‘Big faggots!’).

In earnest, if this is the kind of man who calls himself a devotee of the Sai Baba movement, he is the latest in a pitiful yet long line of both Indian and foreign VIPS who, for their own intents and purposes, coveted the now deceased saffronwearing, bushyhaired guru from Parthi.

A Trip down Memory Lane

In a previous blog of mine, Pray tell: can a dead guru answer prayers?, dated January 25 of last year (i.e. 2012), I described developments during the last three decades of Sathya Sai Baba’s ‘ministry’ like this:

Because of the ever-increasing unavailability of direct contact with Sathya Sai Baba over the previous decades, which was the inevitable result of the sheer increase in numbers of visitors to the ashram and the very limited amount of time the master provided for interaction with them (twice a day for maybe twenty minutes darshan, plus the rare interview, accosted to the ‘happy’ few), large groups of devotees resorted more and more to indirect ‘proof’, whether through prayer, dreams, premonitions, contact with VIP-devotee-clearvoyants like Phyllis Krystal, and other, sometimes all-too-primitive supposed channelers and channelings of the master…
Being unavailable is one of the devices cult leaders use in order to gain an ever-increasing aura among their believers, by the way. Especially when their followers are cooped up in primitive dwellings, and are deprived of contact with the outside world their whole day revolves around the master. Not seeing him, not being able to come into close, personal contact with him, makes people anxious, which in turn serves as an incentive to listen to tall tales and boosting the master’s omnipotence through any number of stories heard through the grapevine. It also hides the master quite effectively from any altogether too inquisitive a view from people who are a bit more sceptical.
If a master at all, Sathya Sai Baba certainly was one in this respect! He pulled off the most unlikely feat: not letting himself get caught for the massive fraud, deception and abuse he was involved in during sixty odd years. Instead, he managed to achieve an enormous following and influence the world over, culminating in a state funeral, with full honours, and very few awkward questions asked even after his demise.

The situation in the early eighties

Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi

During my first visit to Sai Baba, in 1981, although crowds were already gathering from all around the globe, still, at times Puttaparthi was a relatively peaceful and quiet place, with little more than 4 to 6 rows on the men’s side and little to no security in place.

Sweeping the holy sand in front of the temple, August 1981

Sweeping the holy sand in front of the temple, 1981

As can be gleaned from these photographs, which were taken by me, it was fully possible to take pictures freely and without interference from overly zealous Seva Dal-members.

Sai Baba exiting the mandir

Sai Baba exiting the mandir

It was also fine to shoot film footage and have a recording device in the mandir, to tape the bhajan singing. The only thing you were not allowed to do was to carry a tape recording device into the interview room (which I did manage to do on one occasion, by the way). With a little luck, the dreariness of the day was interrupted by three appearances of a still brisk and healthy looking Master (morning darshan, evening darshan, bhajans in the mandir, Sai Baba sitting in front), sometimes even more (see e.g. the darshan from the balcony).

Darshan from above, on the balcony.

Darshan from above, on the balcony

Although you had to wait in line-up already, and then sit for hours on end, at least you could have an inkling of  hope to get some close and personal contact. Also, the grouping together of devotees from the same country was not implemented yet: this happened a few years later, when the guidelines became yet more uniform. If Sai Baba went away for a couple of hours, to visit his elephant Sai Gita or one of the nearby schools or colleges, you stood a fair chance to suddenly meet him up front or in his car: it happened to me on several occasions, and was regarded as very auspicious, of course.

77. Close up men's side, garage being built in background, 1981 001a

Close up men’s side, garage being built in background, 1981

Mind you, this was 12 years before the infamous killing of four intruders in his private quarters, in June 1993, after which the all-powerful master felt the need to protect himself with trained bodyguards, and more and more restrictions were put in place to limit his personal risk. This inevitably meant that devotees were confronted with ever-increasing security measures. Personally, I had had quite enough of ashram life, by then. Even in the period I visited Sai Baba, especially Prasanthi Nilayam felt more like a concentration camp than an abode of peace. Devotees misbehaved, staff even more, corruption and favoritism were rife, living conditions were very poor yet everyone, myself included, seemed to not want to see what was so blatantly obvious: that Sai Baba was an uneducated but highly enigmatic con man, prone to mood swings (boy, did I see him become angry at times!) and megalomaniac ideas.

Brindavan, Whitefield

If Sai Baba stayed at his annex, in Whitefield, just outside Bangalore, which he did not do very often, the situation was quite similar. A few hundred devotees came to see him twice a day, when he walked out of his private quarters (Trayee Brindavan) towards the old mandir under the large banyan tree. There, everyone had gathered in a circle, the women on one side, the men on the other. He would walk around, take letters, talk to some people and go sit in an elevated chair, where he ‘kept the beat’ of the bhajans. Interviews were rare, more so than in Puttaparthi.

Devotees gathering in Brindavan, Whitefield

Devotees gathering before darshan in Brindavan, Whitefield (1981)

Many devotees liked the location, though. Firstly, you could stay in a hotel in the city, and commute easily. This was far less oppressive than staying in Prasanthi Nilayam, where virtually everything was regulated or forbidden: no talking, no loitering outside the hallowed grounds. Escaping this environment was next to impossible because housing and food shops outside the ashram were still virtually non-existent. A second reason why many preferred the atmosphere in Whitefield was the illusion of closeness, simply because Sai Baba got a bit nearer to everyone present.

44. A closer view of SB giving darshan, Brindavan, 1981 001

Darshan under the old canopy in Whitefield