|Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) or Bal Vikas Classes|
The Education wing of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation in India was formed during 1969 and called ‘Sri Sathya Sai Bal Vihar’. In the October 1975 issue of Bal Vikas Magazine (India) Professor Kasturi wrote, "We used to call it Bala ‘Vihar’ once; that meant we intended it to be the ‘play-way’ in child education. But Sai Baba changed the name to Bala ‘Vikas’; that meant, we ought to make it the ‘flower-way’ of child growth. ‘Vikas’ is what the bud does, when it blossoms into a lovely flower."
The early beginnings of the Bal Vikas movement were quite simple. During the 1950s and early sixties, Sai Baba had repeatedly urged parents to fulfil the spiritual needs of their children. He insisted that parents should take up the responsibility of molding the character of children who in turn would shape the destiny of the nation. Baba said:
Divine Discourse, 10-7-1974
In the book Blossoming of human Excellence (1983) Professor Shanti Diwakar wrote, "It was mostly mothers who started informal Bal Vikas Education through devotional group singing, teaching stories and japa, telling stories from the epics and puranas."
Following the prompting of Baba the mothers changed their attitudes from ‘My children’ to ‘Our children’ and opened the Bal Vikas classes to all children in the village or neighborhood, irrespective of class, caste or creed.
In 1974 Sai Baba galvanized the India Sai Organisation into action when he referred to the Bal Vikas teachers as ‘Bal Vikas Gurus’. He said:
Divine discourse, 3-1-1974
Sai devotees enthusiastically took up the call and by 1975 the number of trained Bal Vikas Gurus throughout India had grown to nearly 3500, with over 50,000 students. In that same year it was decided that Easwaramma Day (6 May, the last day of the earthly mother of Sathya Sai Baba) celebrations should form an integral part of the Bal Vikas program.
By 1975 the Bal Vikas program had expanded from informal Sunday home classes to regular structured education classes spanning six to seven year of a child’s life. It was now ready to be introduced into countries outside India. By 1980 there was enough momentum to have Bal Vikas Gurus from all Sai Centres of the world attend their first International conference held in Prashanthi Nilayam. In addressing the Gurus, Sai Baba said:
Divine Discourse, 1980
A second international conference was held at Prasanthi Nilayam the following year (1981), with Bal Vikas Gurus from 18 countries receiving specialized training. At this time Sai Baba sent a special message to all Bal Vikas student. He said, in part:
Divine Discourse, 1981
When the Bal Vikas Gurus (Sai Teachers) returned to their own countries there began a steady growth in the number of children attending Bal Vikas (SSE) classes at Sai Centres throughout the world.
To one who is new to the Sai Organisation it might seem at first that the Bal Vikas or SSE movement is the early beginning of yet another religion, with its focus on Sai Baba and His teachings. Yet Sai Baba has stated very clearly that He has not come to start a new religion, or to draw adults and children away from the religious practices they already follow. Rather, He has come to "repaint the signposts on the highway to God".
Early in the development of Bal Vikas, Sai Baba said:
The Sri Sathya Sai Bal Vikas Gurus should ask themselves whether they
This message of the equality of all religions was given not only to the Bal Vikas Gurus on many occasions, but also to the students attending Bal Vikas classes. To them Sai Baba said:
(In’ Blossoming Human Excellence’, 1983)