Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Aug 5:
Few people know about the background of Odisha godman Sarathi Baba, whose stay with a woman in a room at a posh hotel in Hyderabad revealed by a local television channel has triggered widespread reaction in Odisha.
The real name of Sarathi Baba is Santosh Kumar Raula, son of Krushna Chandra Raula, whose native place is Ganjam district. The family later shifted to Kendrapara district after Krushna Chandra was appointed as a meter reader in the Electrical Sub Division office at Mahipala.
The family initially stayed in a rented house at Baniamal area in Kendrapara town. The family had nothing except an old bi-cycle and two trunks.
After completing his primary education, Santosh completed his Matriculation from Gulnagar High School in Kendrapara. Later he took admission in Kendrapara College. He was not good at his studies and used to sit in the last bench in his class.
“He would bunk classes and spend time in the graveyard instead. He was frequently thrashed by his father for neglecting his studies,” said someone who used to be his neighbour years ago.
After coming to the college with the bi-cycle of his father for some time, Santosh purchased a second-hand bi-cycle.
His classmates say Santosh used to tell them that one day he will become a God and they will fall on his feet.
Reminiscing about the days before Santosh became famous, Kendarapra based lawyer Binod Bihari Nayak says; “He used to run errands for us. He would fetch tea, paan and other such stuff for us. I don’t how and when he became a Baba.”
Nayak says Santosh vanished from Kendarapra in 1985 and reappeared in the town after seven years in 1992. “He had completely changed his attire and now sported a white dhoti, a white half-banyan and a Bombay Dyeing turkish towel on his shoulder. Though no one quite knows where he spent the intervening seven years, many believe he went to Kamaksha and learnt some black magic before returning to Kendrapara,” he says.
From then on, Santosh identified himself as Shrimad Sarathi and began his second innings of his life at Barimula on the Kendrapara-Indupur road in 1992-93 where he purchased two gunths of land at Rs 65,000. There he set up a modest ashram in a thatched house and conducted satsang every Sunday.
Sarathi Baba, however, soon went beyond holding satsangs and graduated to performing ‘miracles’ producing bibhuti out of nowhere and having honey dripping from his feet, drawing large crowds in the process.
With a large number of people becoming his disciples, his ashram grew from a thatched house to a two-storey building and finally a huge temple, known as Sarathi temple, during Rath Yatra in 2014. Sarathi Baba used to sit on an embellished throne and addresses his disciples.
Reliable sources said that the area of his ashram has grown up to over two acres while the Baba is now the head of the Trust of the ashram. The Trust has several bank accounts in which transaction worth crores of rupees is done. The ashram is now having a roaring business including selling of audio cassettes and CDs containing speeches of Sarathi Baba, clothes, books, incense sticks and other puja items. All profits from the sale of these items go into the accounts of the ashram.
Apart from this, Sarathi Baba has opened a separate account in his original name of Santosh Raula.
While the Baba claims to be a bachelor, he has adopted a son who handles some of the bank accounts of the ashram.
The Baba also has several benami properties of Sarathi in Puri, Bhubaneswar and Baleswar, sources said.
The Godman presently has a group of influential devotees including political leaders, IAS, OAS and police officers, well-known industrialists and cine stars. Many BJD politicians, including a minister from the district, are frequently seen in his ashram, aver those who have seen from close quarters.
“On one occasion, I have seen members of a committee of the Assembly, which was on a visit to the district, at his feet,” claimed a man from Kendarapara town who would rather not be named.
“The Baba would vanish from Kendarapara periodically, but always in the company of a young woman. Tickets would be booked on trains for four, five girls out of which the Baba would settle for one through a draw of lots at the very last minute. I know of cases where the girls have threatened to commit suicide after being denied the opportunity to accompany the Baba by the last-minute lottery,” says the man who has watched Santosh alias Sarathi Baba from the days when he was in school.