|Facts and Figures|
|Languages||Telegu, Hindi, English.|
|Best time to visit||July to March and November|
THE LAND OF THE SAI
India is known throughout the globe as the land of the occult and of spirituality. She has been the birthplace of several holy seers and prophets, and this is the cause for the religious consciousness of the people here. Puttaparthi (also Puttaparthy), in the southern flanks of the country, has given birth to one such prophet, Sri Satya Sai Baba. Innumerable devotees, from all over the globe flock to this small town every year to have a glimpse of the seer, and be touched by his divine presence.
Located in the southwestern parts of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, Puttaparthi is surrounded by the arid and rocky hills bordering Karnataka. It is the seat of Prasanthi Nilayam, the ashram of Sai Baba. Sai Baba resides here from July to March.
Satyanarayana Raju was born on November 23, 1926 in Puttaparthi, an obscure village in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. He is said to have shown prodigious talents and unusual purity and compassion from an early age. His apparently supernatural abilities initially caused some concern to his family, who took him to Vedic doctors, eventually to be exorcised. Having been pronounced to be possessed by the divine rather than the diabolical, at the age of fourteen he calmly announced that he was the new incarnation of Sai Baba, a saint from Shirdi in Maharashtra who died eight years before Satya was born.
Gradually his fame spread, and a large group of followers grew. In 1950, the ashram was inaugurated and a decade later Sai Baba was attracting international attention. Through his miraculous powers, including the ability to materialize vibhuti or the sacred ash, with curative properties, Sai Baba has millions of devotees worldwide, a considerable number of who turn out for his birthday celebrations in Puttaparthi, where he delivers a message to his devotees.
SITES TO VISIT
The ashram itself is a huge complex with room for thousands, with canteens, shops, a museum and library, and a vast assembly hall where Sai Baba gives darshan twice daily (6.45-7.00 am and 3.45-4.00 pm). Queues start more than an hour before the appointed time, and a lottery decides who gets to sit near the front.
One of the oft-visited locations in the ashram is the museum, perched on a nearby hillock. The museum contains models of various temple structures including the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Mecca mosque, etc. The story of Satya Sai Baba, right from his birth to the time he attained Nirvana, are also depicted in the form of pictures. The museum is open daily from 10 am to 12 noon. It contains a detailed, fascinating display on the major faiths with illustrations and quotations from their sacred texts, punctuated by Sai Baba's comments. Within the campus of the ashram, there is a sophisticated planetarium as well.
The Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences became operational in November 1991. Within a period of four years, it had performed 4,250 heart surgeries. The interesting part of the institute is that it runs its services free of charge, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality, and status. This institute is fast becoming a leading center for cardiac surgery, interventional cardiology and sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic methodologies for diseases of the heart, and is ably supported by a team of dedicated cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, anesthetists and technical staff. The support facilities include a central sterilization department, blood bank, clinical laboratories, diet kitchen, laundry and central stores among others. In order to ensure a constant supply of skilled personnel and to provide worthy vocational training, a nursing school was also established in September 1992. The institute has an uro-nephrology department, ophthalmology department, x-ray unit, blood bank, total body-scanning unit, and vitreoretinal services cell.
Sai Baba founded the Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning on November 22, 1981. An autonomous body, it has been recognized by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, and the University Grants Commission (UGC) as a deemed university. To effectively mold a student’s personality, hostel living has been made compulsory and patterned in the ancient gurukula style.
On the way between Bangalore and Puttaparthi, one can find the Veerbhadra temple at Lepakshi. At the entrance of the town, there is a huge, monolithic Nandi, the sacred bull of Lord Shiva. The temple is about 500 meters away.
HOW TO REACH
Puttaparthi is accessible by road from Bangalore in Karnataka, from where five daily buses (4 hours) run to the stand outside the ashram entrance. Taxis are also available from Bangalore. The town is also connected to Hyderabad (10 hours) and Chennai (11 hours). Regular buses make the 42-kilometer run to Dharmavaram, the nearest railhead, which has good services to the north and south of the country. There are also two flights a week from Mumbai and Chennai.
For traveling in and around Puttaparthi, one should not face any problem. The bus station has regular buses to areas such as Dharmavaram and Hindupur. Auto-rickshaws and cars can be hired from Sri Sai Ravitheja (Ph. 87429), opposite the ashram on the main road.
WHERE TO STAY AND WHAT TO EAT
Most visitors stay at the ashram in large bare sheds or smaller rooms, if available. Except in the case of families, accommodation is strictly demarcated by sex. Costs are minimal, and though one cannot reserve in advance, one can enquire about availability at the secretary's office (Ph. 87583). Outside the ashram, lodges are rather overpriced. Sai Ram Lodge (Ph. 87412) is about the cheapest; at the other end of the scale, try Sai Towers (Ph. 87270). Even non-residents can eat in the ashram canteen, and there are simple eating joints along the main street.