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Miracle Cures for a Suffering Nation: Sai Baba of Shirdi

  • David Hardiman (a1)

Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918, was raised as a Muslim but is today revered as a Hindu saint. One of his most important perceived qualities was his ability to provide miraculous cures for his devotees, and this has continued after his death. I argue here that the emphasis in the Hindu tradition on saintly figures healing the sick is a relatively modern phenomenon. Earlier, though such figures were renowned for their miracles, healing played a very minor part in this. Their miracles were generally designed to worst religious rivals and to enable them to speak truth to power. In the modern era, however, such saintly figures can gain a reputation through healing in a way that is presented as beyond the comprehension of modern medical science. Such people are seen to provide living evidence of the superiority of Indian civilization and its religious beliefs. This move became entangled with nationalist sentiments, so that getting the better of the “English” doctor became a means to reveal the limited scope of Western science and culture. Although this appears to suggest that many Indians have rejected the biopolitics associated with Western modernity (as defined by Foucault), I argue that certain elements of such biopolitics are central to this process, and illustrate this through a study of Sai Baba, a village holy man taken up by the Indian middle classes and made into a pan-Indian figure, with a now global presence.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Daud Ali , “Temporality, Narration and the Problem of History: A View from Western India c. 1100–1400,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 50, 2 (Apr. 2013): 237–59

Swapnaushadhi: The Embedded Logic of Dreams and Medical Innovation in Bengal,” Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry 38, 3 (2014): 387407

Lawrence A. Babb , “Sathya Sai Baba's Magic,” Anthropological Quarterly 56, 3 (1983): 116–24

Roger Keesing , “Anthropology as Interpretative Quest,” Current Anthropology 28 (1987): 161–78

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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