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Birth and early years Sanatana was born in Jessore, now in Bangladesh, in 1488 as the son of Mukunda, the private secretary of the Sultan…
Sai Baba of Shirdi, also known as Shirdi Sai Baba was an Indian spiritual leader who is regarded by his devotees as a saint, a fakir, a satguru and an incarnation (avatar) of God. He was revered by both his Hindu and Muslim devotees during, as well as after his life.
According to accounts from his life, he preached the importance of realization the self, and criticized love towards perishable things. His teachings concentrate on a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to the God and guru. He stressed the importance of surrender to the true Satguru, who, having trod the path to divine consciousness, will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training.
Sai Baba also condemned distinction based on religion or caste. It remains unclear if he was a Muslim or a Hindu. This, however, was of no consequence to Sai Baba.His teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque in which he lived, practised both Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions, and took samadhi in Shirdi. One of his well-known epigrams, ‘Allah Malik’ (‘God is King’) and ‘Sabka Malik Ek’ (‘One God governs all’), is associated with both Hinduism and Islam. He is also known to have said ‘Look to me, and I shall look to you.’
As per the popular belief and due to lack of evidence there is no exact proof of Sai Baba’s birth. Some say that Sai Baba appeared and not born. Sai Baba’s real name remains unknown. The name ‘Sai’ was given to him by Mhalsapati when he arrived at Shirdi, a town now in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. The word ‘Sai’ refers to a religious mendicant but can also mean’God’. In several Indian and Middle Eastern languages the term ‘Baba’ is an honorific signifying grandfather, father, old man or sir. Thus Sai Baba denotes holy father, saintly father or (venerable) poor old man.
Some of Sai Baba’s disciples became famous as spiritual figures and saints, such as Mhalsapati, a priest of the Khandoba temple in Shirdi, and Upasni Maharaj. He was revered by other saints as well, such as Saint Bidkar Maharaj, Saint Gangagir, Saint Janakidas Maharaj, and Sati Godavari Mataji. Sai Baba referred to several saints as ‘my brothers’, especially the disciples of Swami Samartha of Akkalkot.
According to the book Sai Satcharita, Sai Baba arrived at the village of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar District, British India when he was about 16 years old. He led an ascetic life, sitting motionless under a Neem tree and meditated while sitting in an Asana. The Shri Sai Satcharita recounts the reaction of the villagers:
The people of the village were wonderstruck to see such a young lad practicing hard penance, never minding the heat or cold. By day he associated with no one, by night he was afraid of nobody.
His presence attracted the curiosity of the villagers, and he was regularly visited by the religiously inclined, including Mahalsapati, Appa Jogle and Kashinatha. Some considered him mad and threw stones at him. Sai Baba left the village, and little is known about him after that.
There are some indications that he met with many saints and fakirs, and worked as a weaver. He claimed to have been with the army of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It is generally accepted that Sai Baba stayed in Shirdi for three years, disappeared for a year, and returned permanently around 1858.
Sai Baba returned to Shirdi in 1858. He arrived at the Khandoba Mandir in Shirdi, where Mhalsapati welcomed him to Shirdi, saying ‘”Aao, Sai!”‘ This event is of utmost importance, as this name (Sai Baba) stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Around this time he adopted his famous style of dressing, consisting of a knee-length one-piece Kafni robe and a cloth cap. Ramgir Bua, a devotee, testified that Sai Baba was dressed like an athlete and sported ‘long hair flowing down to the end of his spine’ when he arrived in Shirdi and that he never had his head shaved. It was only after Baba forfeited a wrestling match with one Mohiddin Tamboli that he took up the kafni and cloth cap, articles of typical Sufi clothing. This attire contributed to Baba’s identification as a Muslim fakir and was a reason for initial indifference and hostility against him in a predominantly Hindu village.
For four to five years, Baba lived under a neem tree and often wandered for long periods in the jungle around Shirdi. His manner was said to be withdrawn and uncommunicative as he undertook long periods of meditation. He was eventually persuaded to take up residence in an old and dilapidated mosque and lived a solitary life there, surviving by begging for alms and receiving itinerant Hindu or Muslim visitors. In the mosque, he maintained a sacred fire which is referred to as a dhuni, from which he gave sacred ashes (‘Udhi’) to his guests before they left. The ash was believed to have healing and apotropaic powers. He performed the function of a local hakim and treated the sick by application of ashes. Sai Baba also delivered spiritual teachings to his visitors, recommending the reading of the Ramayan and Bhagavat Gita for Hindus and Qur’an for Muslims. He insisted on the indispensability of the unbroken remembrance of God’s name (dhikr and often expressed himself in a cryptic manner with the use of parables, symbols, and allegories.
Baba also planted a garden of saplings called Lendi Bagh, out of his love for nature. (All those saplings have now grown into huge trees to provide peaceful greenery to the premises.)
Every alternate day, Baba used to sleep in the Chavdi, and the Procession from Dwarkamayi to Chavdi used to take place worth great pomp and fervor.
After 1910, Sai Baba’s fame began to spread in Mumbai. Numerous people started visiting him because they regarded him as a saint with the power of performing miracles or even as an avatar. They built his first temple at Bhivpuri, Karjat.
Sai Baba attained Mahasamadhi on the 15th of October, 1918, which happened to be the day on which the Hindu festival of Dusshera and Muslim festival of Eid coincided.
This took place at about 2:00 pm after the Madhyan Aarti.
Before leaving his mortal shell, Baba is said to have given 9 coins as Dakshina to Lakshmi Bai, an ardent devotee. These coins are safeguarded by the Descendents of Lakshmi Bai.
It is said that Baba gave his life to save the life of one Tatya Patil from a life-threatening disease, thus keeping his promise to a deceased devotee, Radhakrishna Mai.
Das Ganu was another great devotee who spread Baba’s fame far and wide and composed a myriad of Bhajans on Baba.
Sai Baba opposed all persecution based on religion or caste. He was an opponent of religious orthodoxy — Christian, Hindu and Muslim.
Sai Baba encouraged his devotees to pray, chant God’s name, and read holy scriptures. He told Muslims to study the Qur’an and Hindus to study texts such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Vasistha. He was impressed by the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and encouraged people to follow it in their own lives. He advised his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, love every living being without any discrimination, and develop two important features of character: devotion to the Guru (Sraddha) and waiting cheerfully with patience and love (Saburi). He criticized atheism.
In his teachings, Sai Baba emphasized the importance of performing one’s duties without attachment to earthly matters and of being content regardless of the situation. In his personal practice, Sai Baba observed worship procedures belonging to Islam; he shunned any kind of regular rituals but allowed the practice of Salah, chanting of Al-Fatiha, and Qur’an readings at Muslim festival times. Occasionally reciting the Al-Fatiha, Baba enjoyed listening to mawlid and qawwali accompanied with the tabla and sarangi twice daily.
Sai Baba interpreted the religious texts of both Islam and Hinduism. He explained the meaning of the Hindu scriptures in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta. His philosophy also had numerous elements of bhakti. The three main Hindu spiritual paths — Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga — influenced his teachings.
Sai Baba encouraged charity and stressed the importance of sharing. He said: “Unless there is some relationship or connection, nobody goes anywhere. If any men or creatures come to you, do not discourteously drive them away, but receive them well and treat them with due respect. Shri Hari (God) will certainly be pleased if you give water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and your verandah to strangers for sitting and resting. If anybody wants any money from you and you are not inclined to give, do not give, but do not bark at him like a dog.”
The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the 19th century, while he was living in Shirdi. A local Khandoba priest, Mhalsapati Nagre, is believed to have been his first devotee. In the 19th century, Sai Baba’s followers were only a small group of inhabitants of Shirdi and a few people from other parts of India.
Because of Sai Baba, Shirdi has become a place of importance and is counted among the major Hindu places of pilgrimage. The first Sai Baba temple is situated at Kudal, Sindhudurg. This temple was built in 1922. It is believed that Sai Baba gave one Rupee to Dada Madye ji with which he built the temple in Kudal.
In the Shrine in Shirdi, four Aartis take place every day with great fervor, as per the tradition that began when Baba was still alive. Kakad Aarti-The Morning Aarti(4:30 am) Madhyan Aarti-The Afternoon Aarti(12:00 pm) Dhup Aarti-The Evening Aarti(6:30 pm) Shej Aarti-The Night Aarti(10:30 pm)
Mahanaivedyam or Royal Meals to the deity are offered three times a day. Unlike other Shrines, devotees are allowed to touch the Samadhi of Baba here.
The statue of Sai Baba installed beside the Samadhi is carved out of pure Italian marble, and is draped in silk, adorned with gold crowns, jewelry and flower garlands, and so is the Samadhi.
The Palki seva or Palanquin peocession takes place every Thursday, from the Samadhi Mandir to the Dwarkamayi to the Chavdi.
The Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi is revered as the Samadhi Mandir, where Baba’s mortal remains were buried. The Shrine is visited by an average of 50,000 pilgrims a day, and during religious festivals, this number can reach up to 1,50,000.
The shrine is managed by Shri Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. The shrine receives donations of cash and kind worth billions of dollars every month.
Also managed by the Sansthan trust is the Sai Maha Prasadalaya, a mega kitchen which serves three meals a day to about 40,000 people(per meal), for free.
People belonging to all faiths are welcome to take Darshan in the Samadhi Mandir and have meals in the Prasadalaya, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, as were the ideals of Baba.
Sai Baba left behind no spiritual heirs, appointed no disciples, and did not provide formal initiation (Diksha), despite requests. Some disciples of Sai Baba achieved fame as spiritual figures, such as Upasni Maharaj of Sakori. After the demise of Sai Baba, his devotees offered the daily Aarti to Upasni Maharaj when he paid a visit to Shirdi twice within 10 years.
Sai Baba’s disciples and devotees claim that he performed many miracles such as bilocation, levitation, mindreading, materialisation, exorcisms, entering a state of Samādhi at will, lighting lamps with water, removing his limbs or intestines and sticking them back to his body (khandana yoga), curing the incurably sick, appearing beaten when another was beaten, preventing a mosque from falling down on people, and helping his devotees in other miraculous ways. He also gave Darshan (vision) to people in the form of Sri Rama, Krishna, Vithoba, Shiva and many other gods depending on the faith of devotees.
According to his followers, he appeared to them in their dreams and gave them advice. His devotees have documented many stories.
During Sai Baba’s lifetime, the Hindu saint Anandanath of Yewala declared Sai Baba to be a “spiritual diamond.” Another saint, Gangagir, also called him a “jewel.” Sri Beedkar Maharaj greatly revered Sai Baba, and in 1873, when he met him he bestowed the title Jagad guru upon him. Sai Baba was also greatly respected by Vasudevananda Saraswati (known as Tembye Swami). He was also revered by a group of Shaivic yogis, known as the Nath-Panchayat. He is considered an avatar of the Supreme Reality (Brahman or God), a satguru, or saint, depending on individual proclivities. This is not uncommon in Hinduism where there is no central doctrine or cosmology, but a basis in individual faith and spirituality.
Saibaba was revered by prominent Zoroastrians such as Nanabhoy Palkhivala, Farhaad Panthaky, and Homi Bhabha, and has been cited as the Zoroastrians’ most popular non-Zoroastrian religious figure.
Meher Baba, who was born into a Zoroastrian family, met Sai Baba once, during World War I, in December 1915. This event is considered as the most significant in Meher Baba’s life. Shri Sai Satcharita (Sai Baba’s life story), makes no mention of Meher Baba but Lord Meher, the life story of Meher Baba, there are numerous references to Sai Baba.
Meher Baba, who claimed he was an (the) Avatar, credited his Avataric advent to Upasni, Sai Baba, and three other Perfect Masters: Hazrat Babajan, Hazrat Tajuddin Baba, and Narayan Maharaj. He declared Sai Baba to be a Qutub-e-Irshad (the highest of the five Qutub, a “Master of the Universe” in the spiritual hierarchy). This classification of avatar and satgurus and the associated name is applied within the Meher Baba community alone.
There are many temples of Sai Baba in India. Temples are also located in countries outside India, including the United States, Netherlands, Kenya, Benin, Cuba, Canada, Pakistan, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Present in the mosque in Shirdi in which Sai Baba lived, is a life-size portrait of him by Shama Rao Jaykar, an artist from Mumbai. Numerous monuments and statues depicting Sai Baba which serve a religious function have been made. One of them, made of marble by a sculptor named Balaji Vasant Talim, is in the Samadhi Mandir in Shirdi where Sai Baba was buried.