Friday, March 19, 2004

Shirdi Sai Baba's bones found in South Africa

Wednesday, March 17, 2004 Posted: 4:17 PM EST (2117 GMT)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (NESBE) -- In a find called "momentous," researchers Milford Wolpoff and Michel Brunet, said they had discovered the complete skeleton of a little known Indian saint named Shirdi Sai.

The 6-foot-tall skeleton, estimated to be at least 86 years old, could provide long sought-after clues to the last known movements of the saint. It was discovered at Sterkfontein on the outskirts of Johannesburg, which was also the site of the discovery of South Africa's first hominid, or "ape-man," skull in 1924.

"Just one bone would be exciting but this is apparently the whole skeleton -- the holy bones have finally been found," said Professor Michel Brunet, who led the team of researchers from South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

He told a news conference that the discovery was "probably the most momentous find ever made in Africa," and said it would finally lay the eight-decade controversy to rest. The discovery followed three years of work after Wits researcher Ron Clarke learnt of a little-known utterance of the Baba told to one of his closest disciples, Hari Sitaram Dixit, of how how would be "going to Africa." Clarke realized that the prophecy had been incorrectly noted in Sai lore as "going to Allah," which accounts for the discrepancy.

"Dixit was responsible for quite a few errors," said Clarke. "Apparently he also said that the Baba would be reincarnating again eight years after his mysterious disappearance, which is nonsense."

Much of the skeleton remains embedded in fossil rock at Sterkfontein. Clarke said the complete significance of the skeleton would not emerge until after it had been unearthed from a 15-meter- deep limestone shaft. "But what we do already know is that it will reveal a very great deal about the anatomy of an early saint which will throw new light on his life and times," Clarke said.

Clarke's findings appeared Wednesday in the South African Journal of Science and were due to be published Thursday in the journal Nature. He said there were signs of further hominid fossils at Sterkfontein, which the South African government has nominated to become a World Heritage site.

"At the very least," recounted Clarke, "The Baba's words about his bones will speak from his tomb will finally become a reality. The next inevitable step in our findings will be to transport the skeleton back to Shirdi where it belongs."

The All-India Sai Samaj did not respond to NESBE's request for an interview.


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