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Saturday May 7, 2011

Sai Baba cave temple

Sathya Sai Baba, the world-famous spiritual guru who died last month, is immortalised in the Sai Baba Tambun Cave Temple near Ipoh, Perak.

I FIRST met Sai Baba in a cave near Ipoh. However, it wasn’t the real Sai Baba, I hasten to add; it was just his statue.

It was the first time I had seen a cave temple dedicated to this spiritual leader — and I’ve seen a lot of cave temples over the years. This particular site stayed prominently in my memory because, unlike other cave temples, it housed many faiths and had statues from other religions.

Sathya Sai Baba, the Indian spiritual guru, died aged 84 on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011. He was revered by millions of followers as a living god. Apart from being a spiritual figure, he was also an educator. Sai Baba was born in India in 1926. What stood out about him was that he didn’t adhere to a particular religion, and his followers were free to keep their original religions.

At the centre of the Tambun Cave Temple’s back wall are large photos of Sathya Sai Baba.

And this is what makes the cave temple something special.

The temple is located outside of Ipoh in Perak, near Tambun Lost World, just before the new Banjaran spa resort. It is called Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Prashanti Nil Ayam, or more simply Tambun Cave Temple. It is the first such temple in Malaysia and was established more than 35 years ago.

As you enter the temple, your eyes are immediately drawn to the brightly coloured statue of a seated Sathya Sai Baba, who had distinctive frizzy hair and was always clad in his trademark saffron robes. This statue occupies a prime spot in the room. A highly polished shiny reflective floor and whitewashed walls add to the brightness.

Sathya Sai Baba has his right hand raised in a gesture as if greeting you, and the sign on the base of his chair says: “Om Sai Ram”. Sai Ram is a greeting, and it is said as a repeated mantra.

In the centre of the back wall, there are large photos of the guru. These are surrounded by statues from other religions, which I found fascinating. Adjacent to Sathya Sai Baba is a colourful statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, a white Buddha, and a smaller statue that I think may represent the “first” Sai Baba.

The recently deceased Sathya Sai Baba proclaimed himself in 1940 to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba, a holy man who had died eight years before Sathya was born. At the age of 13 or 14, he made the proclamation and from then on, began to attract devotees. As a child, Sathya Sai Baba was said to be highly intelligent and charitable. During his adult years, he set up temples and ashrams.

Sathya Sai Baba was only 36 when he suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks. However, he announced he would die at the age of 96, and stated he would be born again eight years after his death. Despite this, his health started failing in 2005, and he died in 2011, 12 years before his predicted death.

The temple is housed in a cave chamber. There are natural alcoves around this chamber, and these are used to hold other statues and pictures from the Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu and Catholic faiths. These include the Hindu Krishna, the Chinese Monkey God, the Goddess of Mercy and the different Buddhas. There is even a Christian shrine with statues, photos and a crucifix.

The Sathya Sai Baba movement believes in the unity of all religions. The number of international devotees are said to be in the millions. Sathya Sai Baba supported charitable work in over 165 countries. However, he only made one overseas trip in 1968, and that was to Uganda.

In 1976, he claimed to be a full divine Avatar. The word avatar seems to be getting more use in recent years, maybe as a result of the 2009 science fiction film by James Cameron. In Hinduism, an avatar is a descent of a deity from heaven to earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being, commonly referred to in English as “incarnation”, but more accurately as “appearance” or “manifestation”.

Around the world, devotees sing devotional songs in front of his picture. Although they follow different religions, they all have a goal to confirm their own faith and become better followers of that faith. The meetings might be daily or weekly on Sundays. The Tambun Cave Temple holds Baba Bhajan, or devotional songs, on a Sunday. Their motto is “Love all, serve all. All are welcome”.

I certainly felt welcome on the few occasions I have visited the temple. Although not a follower of the Sathya Sai Baba movement, I am always pleased to see a place that encourages people of different religions to come and visit. Indeed the temple is a fitting tribute to the multicultural and multireligious aspects of Malaysia.

o The Shirdi Sai Baba Society of Malaysia ( 03-3323 5259 / 012-273 9486 / 012-239 2911 / email: kannan_malik@yahoo.co.in) is located at Lot 2574, Jalan Seruling 59, Taman Klang Jaya, 41200 Klang, Selangor, Malaysia.

The Sathya Sai Nivas association holds events such as prayers and peace gatherings in Malaysia, see more at http://sathyasainivas.net/.

Fact File

The Sai Baba Cave Temple is located near Tambun, northeast of Ipoh, off Jalan Tambun. It is near the Sunway Complex, and the Lost World of Tambun, and is immediately before the entrance to the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat.

The temple is open Sundays from 10 am to noon. The Tambun Cave Temple has a Face Book page.

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