Open sesame! Baba & his chamber of secrets

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By G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
  • Published 18.06.11
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June 17: Nike and Adidas sneakers. Whole cupboards of perfume and hairspray. Packets full of — and gold crowns studded with — diamonds.

Total worth Rs 35 crore and counting.

The world knew that Sai Baba lived in a cocoon of riches. Only since yesterday has it seen for itself.

Around 8.30 on Thursday morning, the doors were thrown open at Yajur Mandir, the late spiritual leader’s two-storey living quarters at the centre of his Puttaparthi ashram that had been out of bounds for almost everyone for the past 25 years.

A team of chartered accountants, income-tax and bank officials, and members of the Sathya Sai Central Trust walked into the half-dozen rooms to which only Satyajit, the monk’s personal attendant for the past 20 years, had so far had access.

What they found, after Satyajit negotiated the combination locks and biometric security, left everyone staggered, ashram sources said.

If the Rs 11.5 crore in currency notes stashed in cabinets were a surprise, hardly anyone had expected separate almirahs for hair spray and expensive shoes, for dry fruits and biscuits. (See chart)

Thirty-six hours on, the bank officials and student volunteers from the Sathya Sai Educational Institute had just finished counting the cash, aided by three machines from the State Bank of India (SBI). The inventory of jewellery and stones was still incomplete late tonight.

“There are numerous cloth packets with diamonds, whose number and value has not yet been assessed. They and most other valuables will be shifted to the vaults of the SBI’s Puttaparthi branch,” said a trust member.

Some of the gold, silver and personal belongings will stay on at Yajur Mandir, which will be converted into a museum for the monk, who is believed to have left behind assets of Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

Only a handful of VIP visitors had ever been inside the building, and even they would have seen only the outer chamber where the Sai Baba received them.

The complex was locked immediately after the monk was admitted to hospital on March 28, four weeks before he died on April 24. Even yesterday and today, nobody other than the official team was allowed in.

Correction

An earlier version of this report had erroneously mentioned that industrialist Ratan Tata had made an unannounced visit to the Puttaparthi ashram.

Tata’s trip to the ashram was planned several weeks ago. He did not fly into Bangalore nor was he in a Mercedes as the report said. He landed in Puttaparthi airport and drove in an Audi.

Tata did not meet any of the trust members nor visit Yajur Mandir. He had gone to pay his respects like any other person to the Kulwant Hall and the Samadhi. The secretary of the trust took him around the Samadhi and the hall where he paid his respects.

Tata wasn’t “looking for something” nor “took anything”. Tata visited the ashram out of his deep personal reverence for Swami Sathya Sai Baba. His visit was totally unconnected with the work of the trust and the tax authorities there.

We apologise for the mistakes.