With Baba in the Hills
Come to me with empty hands. I shall fill them
with gifts and grace. Sathya Sai Baba
One winter in Madras Sai Baba invited
my wife and myself to spend the following June with him at his summer
retreat at Whitefield, near Bangalore. We were filled with joy at the
prospect, but we had learned by then that it is far wiser to have no firm
expectations about Baba's future movements. There is such a colossal
demand for his presence and time, and it seems that he goes wherever he is
most needed; or in other words he does whatever is most relevant to the
advancement of his mission. At least that is the interpretation we put on
Baba's movements, but the fact is that they follow some law beyond our
comprehension. So we told each other that we might, if lucky, be with him
for a day or at Whitefield. As for spending a whole month in his presence
well, it was all right to hope, but presumptuous to expect.
Still in this state of mind, we arrived in Bangalore at the beginning of
June and stayed the night with a fellow member of the Theosophical
Society. He drove us in his car the next morning to Whitefield, which is
on rising ground about twelve miles outside the city. On the way he
explained that Whitefield had come into being as a British community, but
now there were very few Europeans left. It was, we found, a widely
spread-out place, with most of the houses large and in broad, pleasant
gardens. Eventually, set in a high brick wall, we found a gate with the
name "Brindavanam" above it and a khaki-clad Gurkha on guard. We knew from
the name that this was Baba's residence.
Just inside the gate was a cottage from which came a benign, snowy-haired
man who proved to be Mr. M.S. Dixit. He installed us in a room of his
cottage, which I supposed had been the lodge in former days, and gave us
the good news that Sai Baba was in residence. We could see no signs of
another house, and I wondered where Baba actually lived.
However a little later in the morning Mr. Dixit led us across the
tree-studded grounds, through wandering tribes of monkeys, and up a flight
higher terrace. Here was a park-like garden of shrubs and covered walks
and a good-sized house where we found Sai Baba surrounded by a party of
resident guests, with many day visitors from Bangalore.
"Swami", as his devotees mostly address him, welcomed us like a mother who
is happy that her children have come home. He offered us the choice of
moving into the big house with him, in which case we would have to
separate, Iris sleeping dormitory-style with the women on one side of the
house and I in the men's dormitory on the other. Or we could lodge where
we were with Mr. Dixit, but have our meals and spend as much time as we
wished in the big house. We chose the latter.
That morning we watched a "thread ceremony" in the central hall of Baba's
residence. The boy receiving the sacred thread was the son of Mr. Jawa,
owner of the Joy Ice-cream factories. The parents, grandmother and other
family members, all of whom are Baba devotees, were present for the
ceremony and the hall was crammed with spectators. Under Sai Baba's
supervision, pundit priests from Prasanti Nilayam carried out the ritual.
At the right moment Baba stepped into the centre of the scene, waved his
hand in the now well-known manner, and from that occult niche in space
which he sometimes calls "the Sai Stores" produced the necessary thread to
place around the boy's neck.
After the ceremony came a feast on the broad verandah. We sat cross-legged
on the floor in two long rows, eating Indian dishes from plantain-leaf
plates while a servant kept the monkeys: at bay with a pole. Swami walked
around making sure that all his guests were happy. On this festive
occasion men and women ate together, but normally at Brindavanam they use
the dining room at separate times, Baba eating with the men and sometimes
visiting the ladies to talk to them during their meals.
Sai Baba has found that it certainly would not pay him to advertise. Even
without the benefits of publicity, crowds tend to impede his movements. So
my wife and I felt honoured when he confided to us quietly that he was
taking a small party to spend a couple of weeks with him at Horsley Hills,
some ninety miles north of Bangalore, and we were overjoyed to learn that
we were to be included in the party. All accommodation arrangements had
been made by one of his devotees, Mr. T.A. Ramanatha Reddy, the
Superintending Engineer of Roads and Buildings in the large area which
included Horsley Hills. We should be ready to move, Swami said, in a
couple of days' time. We understood that this was confidential
As we had expected to be away from headquarters at Adyar for the whole
summer in various types of climate, we had a good deal of luggage with us.
So we began to plan what to take and what to leave stored at Brindavanam.
It was good, we thought, that Swami had given us plenty of warning. If
anyone else at Brindavanam knew about the pending move, they said nothing
and we said nothing to anyone.
We prided ourselves on having learned to keep a secret, but we still had
an important lesson to learn. Like Yama, the god of death, Baba may
sometimes give you a warning but you can never know the exact time when
his beckoning finger will be seen. Next morning we were awakened from our
slumbers about 6 o'clock by a stern voice saying: 'What, aren't you ready?
Swami is leaving in five minutes' time."
It was a terrible situation; our things were scattered everywhere. We had
neither showered nor dressed nor had a cup of tea, let alone packed. And
Baba was waiting to take us away for two weeks. How long would he wait?
Would he go without us? We staggered around blindly trying to think and
throw things into suitcases.
The stern voice of the devotee at the window agreed to give us a quarter
of an hour. But even that still presented an impossibility. When we came
out in about half an hour with our cases and valises, we were told that
Swami had left. Our hearts sank, but it was not as bad as it seemed; he
had gone on ahead in one car, but left another for us. In it we found a
few other lucky devotees bound for the hill station, including Mr.
Ramanatha Reddy who was to guide us there.
In a forest a few miles along the route we were happy to see Baba's car
waiting beside the road, his red-robed figure and a small group of men
standing beside it in the morning sunshine. He teased us a little about
taking so long, looked startled at the amount of our luggage, then led the
whole party in among the fragrant trees for a picnic breakfast.
After that there was a reshuffle of passengers and I had the privilege on
my first journey with the great man himself. Raja Reddy, perhaps Baba's
closest disciple at the time, was driving the car, two teenage boys sat in
the back with Baba, while Ramanatha Reddy and I were in front with the
driver. We rolled on through empty barren country and an occasional
village or town with people teeming like ants over sugar. Slate-coloured
rocky hills began to outline against the sky. The last town we passed
through was Madanapalle, the birthplace of J. Krishnamurti. Just before we
climbed the steep Horsley Hills we passed a road sign to Rishi Valley
where the well-known school run by Krishnamurti's followers is located.
Right on the crest of the hills, some 4,800 feet above sea level, we came
to the white Circuit House, our destination. It is not very large but has
the comforts of a first-class hotel, being intended primarily as a
guesthouse for government ministers and important official visitors. Our
host, Mr. Ramanatha Reddy, had been able to secure it for what was to his
mind the V.I.P. of all V.I.P.s; Satya Sai Baba, plus whatever party the
latter cared to bring along.
Besides the host and myself there were four males in the group: Dr
Sitaramiah, Mr. V. Raja Reddy and two teenagers; and there were
half-a-dozen women, including three Indian princesses. Being the only
married couple in the party, Iris and I were given a suite to ourselves.
This was only two doors from Baba's suite, and opened onto a broad balcony
from which there was a wonderful view of the country far below.
The plains were a smoky dun-and-green carpet, with isolated hills like
children's blocks scattered carelessly over it, and the scores of water
"tanks" shone like broken pieces of mirror fallen on the giant carpet. We
were living up in the sky - in more ways than one. Here, we thought, we
could at last have Baba to ourselves, just a small group of us. At last
the ubiquitous crowds were left behind. We could live on intimate terms
with this superhuman being from morning till night. We could see what his
life was like and enjoy his wonders to the full. No matter how early we
arose in the crisp mornings we found that Baba was already up, usually
sitting writing by his open door; he attends to his large correspondence
himself, besides writing regular articles for his ashram magazine,
Sanatana Sarati ("The Timeless Charioteer").
Sometime during the morning, after breakfast with us, he would gather all
of us into a room for a spiritual discourse. This would often take the
form of narratives from the Ramayana, the Mahabbarata, or the Srimad
Bhagavata. Interpreting the stories, Baba would reveal in sharp relief the
profound wisdom of Bhakti Yoga.
After a walk in the gardens, followed by lunch and a siesta, would come
afternoon tea in the lounge. The first difficulty here was to persuade the
Indian women to sit on chairs, for they thought it incorrect to be on the
same level as their Swami. Indeed some to the very end insisted on sitting
at his feet on the carpet, leaving empty chairs. But when Baba had managed
to get the majority onto seats, albeit stiffly and ill-at-ease, he would
usually launch into some comic theme, making us all laugh. Nevertheless,
this always had practical hints and implications on the ethics of right
In the late afternoons or evenings the party frequently went for a drive,
followed perhaps by a walk, weather permitting. Otherwise there might be
another enlightening discourse by Baba. On one occasion we all visited an
Indian village, far off the busy highways and beautifully, unbelievably
silent. Here at the home of some Baba devotees we were entertained to
dinner, while the whole village crowded around in the courtyard to see and
be blessed by the avatar.
But within the first few days another element began to disturb the even
tenor of our Horsley Hills idyll. Even in this remote spot the crowds
began to gather. Somehow the word had spread that Sai Baba was in the area
and people came from far and near, by car, by bus or on foot. Before
breakfast the first few would appear, and then throughout the whole day a
crowd would be standing in the grounds looking up at the balcony, waiting
for the blessings of a look and a sign from Sai Baba.
And he never disappointed them. Often he would go out onto the balcony,
look on them with loving compassion and raise his hand in a characteristic
gesture of upliftment and benediction. Sometimes he would go down and walk
among the visitors, talking with them and producing vibhuti or something
else to help those who were sick or in troubled. If a crowd of poor people
had come a long way on foot, he would give them all money so that they
could go home by bus. Every evening he would bring all who were there into
the large foyer and front corridor of Circuit House, and lead them and us
in beautiful bhajan songs for half an hour or more.
Interspersing all these daily activities were the miracles of physical
phenomena, several each day. Here are some of the more outstanding ones.
One afternoon soon after our arrival we all went for a drive and, leaving
the cars, strolled about on a rocky knoll of the hills. Baba several times
picked up a piece of broken rock, played with it awhile, and then threw it
away. Finally, just as we were returning he kept a piece about the size of
a man's closed fist and carried it back to Circuit House.
Arriving there, he took us into one of the suites and sat on the carpet
while we sat in a semi-circle around him. He began to talk
conversationally on everyday topics, occasionally throwing the piece of
rock a couple of feet in the air and letting it fall on the floor.
Presently he tossed it over to me, asking:
"Can you eat that?"
I examined the rock closely. It was hard granite, streaky and rather
lightish in colour. I admitted its inedibility and bowled it back to him
he was not more than two yards away from me.
He took the stone and, still chatting casually, threw it in the air again,
while a dozen pairs of eyes watched expectantly. I felt that something
strange was going to happen and never let the stone out of my sight. Now
as it lay on the carpet I could see a slight change in its appearance.
Although of exactly the same size and shape, and still streaky, it was a
little lighter in colour than before.
Swami rolled it back to me across the carpet. "Can you eat it now?" he
asked. To my amazement and joy it was no longer rock but sugar candy. Baba
broke it into pieces giving us each a portion to eat. It was sweet and
delicious as candy should be. Is this an illusion, I wondered, are we all
hypnotised? So I put a piece in my pocket. I still have it and to it's
still sugar candy.
I thought of the popular song about 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' and
jokingly said to him, "I wish you would turn the whole mountain into candy
or chocolate." Baba seemed to take this seriously or maybe as a kind of
challenge. Anyway he replied solemnly that it would not be right to
interfere too much with Nature's housekeeping.
Then it occurred to me that my joke was rather superficial. If willpower,
or whatever power it is, can transmute a small piece of igneous rock into
an entirely different substance, why not a large piece? And why not into
any substance? Gold, for instance? So how very important it is that a man
who understands and can employ the occult laws of Nature, must be above
Nature: must be beyond normal human desires for such things as power and
material gain. Otherwise what might happen?
Writing on this theme in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when a
good deal of 'physical phenomena' came before the public eye, A.P. Sinnett
said: "It is enough to say that these powers are such as cannot but be
dangerous to society generally, and provocative of all manner of crimes
which would utterly defy detection, if possessed by persons capable of
regarding them as anything else but a profoundly sacred trust." He goes on
to say that such powers in the hands of people willing to use them for
merely selfish and unscrupulous ends are productive of disaster - as it is
said to have been for the Atlanteans.
Today in our world men of exoteric science have learned the secret and
hold the power of disintegrating matter into atomic energy, and this
stands as a constant threat to the very existence of humanity on this
earth. They have also learned to transmute base metal to gold though the
process is too expensive to be economically and socially disruptive. A
safeguarding law of occultism is that spiritual and moral advancement
should keeps pace with the growth of the intellect and the acquisition of
the knowledge of Nature's deeper secrets. When this law is broken a
dangerous situation must inevitably arise.
One sparkling morning I was walking with Swami and the two teenage youths
in the gardens of Circuit House. Baba was wearing an ochre coloured robe
which fell like a smooth cylinder from shoulders to ground. As Iris had
ironed some of his robes a couple of days earlier, I knew for certain that
they contained neither pockets nor places where anything could be
concealed. His sleeves were straight and loose, without cuffs. He carried
nothing in his hands.
One of the young men was returning to Bombay next day and wanted to take
photos of Swami, so the latter posed for several pictures. Occasionally,
as we strolled and talked, he paused to pick a berry or a bud from one of
the shrubs. This he would examine with the concentration and
thoughtfulness of a botanist: then after a while he would throw it away as
if it were not quite suitable to some purpose he had in mind. Finally he
picked a small bud from a bush, examined it, seemed satisfied, and handed
it to me, saying. "Keep that."
Soon afterwards we went back up the steps to the front entrance. Baba did
not go to his own suite but walked straight into ours. He sat on an
armchair while the young men, my wife and I gathered around him on the
Swami asked for the bud that he had given me. I handed it to him, and he
held it in his fingers for a while, discussing it.
"What flower is it?" he asked.
We confessed our ignorance. He suggested that it might be a button rose
and we agreed.
Then looking at me he asked: "What do you want it to become?"
I was at a loss to know what to say, so 1 replied: "Anything you like,
He held it in the palm of his right hand, closed his fist, and blew into
it. Then he asked me to stretch out my hand. I gasped, and my wife gave a
squeal of delight as from the theurgic hand that held the flower bud there
fell into my open palm a glittering diamond of brilliant cut. In size it
matched the bud, which had completely vanished.
Baba graciously presented me with this beautiful and amazing product of
transmutation magic. I still have it.
We were on the floor around Baba expecting a morning discourse, perhaps
one of those wonderful stories from Indian mythology which lead the mind
to the deeper truths of life. However, before talking, he showed us a
green leaf and wrote on it with his fingernail.. Then he handed the leaf
to me, but I could make nothing of the writing, which he said was a
mantram in Sanskrit.
Next he asked for a book, and one of the ladies who occupied the suite
passed him her Telegu grammar. Placing the leaf between the pages, he shut
the book and tapped its cover several times. Now he opened it and took out
the leaf. The writing was still on it, but instead of being green and
fresh as it had been a moment before it was brown and so dry that it
easily crumbled into dust.
Baba tossed the book on the carpet nearby and, after talking for a while,
left the room. Well, I thought, on the face of it this miracle would not
stand up to the sceptic; the brown leaf could have been somehow "planted"
in the book earlier. So I picked up the volume and searched its pages for
the missing green leaf, but could find nothing.
Why am I doubting, I asked myself when I have seen him do so many things
equally incredible and inexplicable? Sai Baba had somehow blasted this
leaf, as another One who stood above Nature had blasted a tree two
thousand years ago. It was as if, for the leaf, many months of summer had
been telescoped into that one magical moment when Baba tapped the book.
On the subtle planes of being, interpenetrating our physical plane of
existence, there may well be classes of entities for whom our physical
space would be actually non-existent: our "here" and "there" would be all
one to them. The ancient wisdom teaches that there are such beings. It
also teaches that a physical object can be disintegrated into a subtler
substance, or "energy-system", which can be moved by some agency at near
light speed, and reintegrated to form the original object. This is the
general principle behind the phenomenon known as an apport; that is, so
far as it is understood.
At Horsley Hills Sai Baba produced a particularly striking example of such
telekinesis. One evening a party of us were sitting on the carpet in his
suite; Ramanatha Reddy, the doctor, the young men, Iris and myself were
there. Swami asked me the year of my birth, and when I told him, he said
that he would get for me from America a coin minted there in that same
He began to circle his down-turned hand in the air in front of us, making
perhaps half a dozen small circles, saying the while: "It's coming
now..... coming..... here it is!"
Then he closed his hand and held it before me, smiling as if enjoying my
eager expectancy. When the coin dropped from his hand to mine, I noted
first that it was heavy and golden. On closer examination I found, to my
delight, that it was a genuine milled American ten-dollar coin, with the
year of my birth stamped beneath a profile head of the Statue of Liberty.
"Born the same year as you," Swami smiled.
What would the sceptics say about this, I wondered. Would they suggest
that Baba carried around with him a stock of coins so that he would have
one to match my year of birth. Such old American coins, now long out of
circulation, would not be easy for him to obtain in India through normal
I have no doubt whatever that this was one of Baba's many genuine apports.
While he circled his hand before us, some agency under his will had
dematerialised this gold coin at some place somewhere, carried it at
space-annihilating velocity, and re-materialised it in Sai Baba's hand.
From where did it come? Who knows? Baba would never say; perhaps from some
old hoard, hidden, lost, forgotten long ago, and now belonging to no one
Although I had come to know through first-hand experience that Sai Baba
was certainly not an impostor and that his miracles were genuine, I could
not help thinking that the use of sand as a medium for production was
something which gave fuel to the sceptic. Admittedly several of his
followers had told me that in fact everything he had produced from sand he
had also produced at other times without it that is, from the air.
Even so, an objective psychical researcher, hearing the stories of the
sand wonders, is bound to raise the queries: are the objects previously
"planted" in the sand? Or does Baba by some lightning sleight-of-hand slip
them in just before he digs them out? In fact, for anyone who had neither
seen the miracles for themselves nor felt the spiritually elevating
presence of Sai Baba, I suspected that "sand productions" must leave a
bigger question mark in the mind than "other productions". .
But this was because such events had not hitherto been fully and
thoroughly reported to me by a careful observer. At a later period I had
my own close observations of the sand miracles confirmed by several of
India's leading scientists - but that is jumping ahead of the story.
The first point I want to make clear about my Horsley Hills experience of
Baba's "sand productions" is that on the journey from Circuit House to the
place of the miracles I sat in the front of the car with Sai Baba and Raja
Reddy, who was driving. Baba carried nothing in his hands, and he was
wearing his usual robe; none of the objects later produced could have been
concealed on his person.
A few miles from Circuit House the car, and several other vehicles
following it, stopped by the roadside. We all got out and went to a patch
of sand some fifty yards away which had been seen from the road on an
Baba asked the young men in the party to make him a sand platform, so they
scraped and pushed the sand with their hands to build a flat stage about a
foot high and four feet square. Baba sat cross-legged in the middle of
this and the party clustered in a semi-circle around him. I was in the
front row of the spectators, right at the edge of the sand platform. The
thought passed through my mind that if any object had previously been
buried here, near where Baba was sitting, he would have to dig down more
than a foot through the newly-piled sand to reach it.
He began as usual with a spiritual discourse which, apparently, always has
the effect of harmonising and purifying the psychic atmosphere around.
Maybe this is a necessary preparation for the miracles. Then with his
forefinger he made a drawing on the surface of the sand just in front of
him, and asked me what it was. From where I sat it looked rather like a
human figure, and I told him so.
Laughing, and with the expression of a happy child playing on a beach, he
scooped up the sand to form a little mound above the drawing, about six
inches high. Still with an air of happy expectation he put his fingers
lightly into the top of the mound, perhaps an inch down, and drew out,
head first, a silvery shining figure, like the drawing he had made. It was
a statue of the god Vishnu, about four inches in height. He held it up for
everyone to see, then put it to one side, smoothed out the mound before
him to make a flat surface again, and began once more to discuss spiritual
Soon he made another drawing in the sand on the same spot as before. Again
he scooped sand over it, making a mound - a wider flat topped one, this
time. Again with a happy chuckle he felt with his finger-tips into the top
of the mound and scraped a little sand away; less than an inch down was a
photograph. He pulled it out, shook the yellow grains away, and held it up
for us to see. It was a glossy black-and-white print, about ten inches by
He passed it around for some of us to look at closely, and later I
examined it at leisure back at our quarters. It was a photograph of the
Hindu gods and avatars, standing in two rows to form a forward-pointing
arrowhead, with Lord Krishna in the foreground at the tip. Heads of Satya
Sai Baba and Shirdi Baba could be seen as small inserts on the body of
Krishna. This print, I felt, was not produced in any earthly studio. Baba
later gave it to Mr. and Mrs. T. A. Ramanatha Reddy, our hosts. It stood
with the unearthed statue of Vishnu for some days on a side table in the
dining room at Circuit House.
Other objects produced from the sand in the same manner went to various
people in the audience. There were, for example, a jappamala (rosary) for
Mr. Niak, the Collector of Kolar District, and a pendant which was given
to a revenue officer.
But there was one supreme production from that sand patch of which we all
had a share. Baba did his outline sketch, which I could see from where I
sat was a little container of some kind. Then, in the usual way, he
scraped the top sand with his open hands to make a tiny hill above the
drawing. Pausing a moment with a delighted smile, he felt into the crown
of the hill and took out a silver-coloured container. This was of circular
shape with a neck and a screw-top. At a guess its spherical bowl would be
perhaps two and a half inches in diameter.
Sai Baba unscrewed the lid and a wonderful perfume pervaded the air.
Putting the container to one side, he went through the same process again
of drawing and mound-building. This time the product was a golden spoon
like a small teaspoon. With this he stirred the contents of the bowl and,
standing up, began to give some to each of his spectators.
Like the others I opened my mouth while he poured a spoonful onto my
tongue. The word that came into my mind was "ambrosial"; it seemed nothing
less than the food of the gods; it suggested a mixture of the essences of
the most heavenly fruits, the divine archetypes of the loveliest fruits of
earth. The taste is quite indescribable; it has to be experienced.
The devotees call this glorious nectar amrita, which has much the same
meaning as ambrosia - the food of the immortals. Several devotees,
including some westerners like Nirmalananda and Gabriela, had told me
about seeing it produced on rare occasions from the sand, and all tried in
vain to describe its exquisite taste and aroma. Others, including Dr.
Sitaramiah, had witnessed Baba produce amrita by squeezing his own hand,
and in other ways. But no one at this time had seen manifestation of
amrita for about three years, and I was very grateful that Baba had given
my wife and myself this personal experience of a thrilling, deeply-moving
miracle. It was witnessed on this occasion at Horsley Hills by about
forty-five men and more than a dozen women. Baba went around giving some
to all, except to the women who were staying at Circuit House. There was
enough amrita for everyone to have a spoonful each and the bowl was still
not empty. Baba handed it to me to carry back to our quarters. I felt very
honoured and held it carefully in my hand as we drove up the sharp bends
to the crest of the hill. Sand still clung to the designs carved on the
silvery metal, which I was told was the sacred alloy panchaloha. On the
balcony of Circuit House I handed the container back to Baba and he
straight away walked around giving some to each of the ladies who had not
yet tasted the "food of the gods".
I sometimes wondered afterwards what had happened to the little bowl but
about a year later a Bombay devotee told me he had visited Baba at Horsley
Hills a day or two after the event and been presented with the panchaloha
container. It still held some amrita which he and his family enjoyed, and
the miracle bowl now occupies a place of honour in his home.
So here are the answers to the two points raised by my inner psychical
researcher. First, the objects could not have been previously hidden in
the sand patch ready for Baba to take out because they came from the top
of a mound, made before our eyes, on the top of a foot thick sand stage,
also built while we watched. Secondly, even if Baba could have carried the
objects to the sand patch that night without my seeing them, an utter
impossibility, he could not by the most expert legerdemain have slipped
such articles as a glittering idol, a large photograph, a bulky jappamala
and a shining bowl of nectar into the sand under our noses without our
being aware of the fact. If he could, he is superior to the most expert
conjuror and should be making fame and fortune on the stage as an
Quite apart from the miraculous production of such objects there is the
strange mystery of the amrita itself - its ambrosial out-of-this-world
quality, its power (shown on various occasions) to increase in quantity to
meet the needs of whatever numbers happen to be present. What, I wondered,
was its actual significance? I determined to ask Sai Baba about this at
the first opportunity.
Source:Howard Murphet's Man of Miracles
<<preceding Next>> to to be continued.