Sai Baba of Shirdi (Unknown – October 15, 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (Marathi: शिरडीचे साईबाबा, Hindi: शिरडीके साईबाबा, Telugu: షిర్డీ సాయి బాబా), was an Indian guru, yogi and fakir who is regarded by his Hindu and Muslim followers as a saint. Some of his Hindu devotees believe that he was an incarnation of Shiva or Dattatreya.
Many devotees believe that he was a Sadguru. There are many stories and eyewitness accounts of miracles he performed. He is a well-known figure in many parts of the world, but especially in India, where he is much revered.
The name 'Sai Baba' is a combination of Persian and Indian origin; Sāī (Sa'ih) is the Persian term for "well learned" or "knowledgeable", usually attributed to Islamic ascetics, whereas Baba (honorific) is a word meaning "father; grandfather; old man; sir" used in Indo-Aryan languages.
The appellative thus refers to Sai Baba as being a "holy father" or "saintly father". His parentage, birth details, and life before the age of sixteen are obscure, which has led to a variety of speculations and theories attempting to explain Sai Baba's origins. In his life and teachings he tried to reconcile Hinduism and Islam: Sai Baba lived in a mosque which he called Dwarakamayi, practiced Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions and was buried in a Hindu temple in Shirdi. One of his well known epigrams says of God: "Sabka Malik Ek Hai" ("One God governs all") which traces its root to the Bhagavad-Gita and Islam in general, and Sufism, in particular. He always uttered "Allah Malik" ("God is Master"). He had no love for perishable things, and was always engrossed in self-realization, which was his sole concern. Sai Baba taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, devotion to God and guru. His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam and tried to achieve communal harmony between these religions. Sai Baba remains a very popular saint and is worshipped by people around the world. Debate over his Hindu or Muslim origins continues to take place. He is also revered by several notable Hindu and Sufi religious leaders. Some of his disciples received fame as spiritual figures and saints such as Upasni Maharaj, Meher Baba, Saint Bidkar Maharaj, Saint Gangagir, Saint Jankidas Maharaj and Sati Godavari Mataji .
Where and when Sai Baba was born in Pathari (Dist Parbhani, India), but various communities have claimed that he belongs to them. Nothing has been substantiated, however. It is known that he spent considerable periods with fakirs. His attire resembled that of a Muslim fakir. Baba reportedly arrived at the village of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, India, when he was about 16 years old. Although there is no agreement among biographers on the date of this event, it is generally accepted that Baba stayed in Shirdi for three years, disappeared for a year and returned permanently around 1858, which posits a possible birth year of 1838. Some claim Baba was born on 29 September, 1835, but there is no apparent reason on how the date was arrived at. In any case, the only agreement amongst historians and his devotees is that there is no conclusive evidence of his birthday and place. He led an ascetic life, sitting motionless under a neem tree and meditating while sitting in an asana. The Sai Satcharita recounts the reaction of the villagers: The people of the village were wonder-struck to see such a young lad practicing hard penance, not minding 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 the religiously-inclined such as Mhalsapati, Appa Jogle and Kashinatha regularly visited him, while others such as the village children considered him mad and threw stones at him. After some time he left the village, and it is unknown where he stayed at that time or what happened to him. However, there are some indications that he met with many saints and fakirs, and worked as a weaver; he claimed to have fought with the army of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Shirdi and teaching
In 1858 Sai Baba returned to Shirdi with Chand Patil's wedding procession. After alighting near the Khandoba temple he was greeted with the words "Ya Sai" (Marathi:welcome saint) by the temple priest Mhalsapati. The name Sai stuck to him and some time later he started being known as Sai Baba. It was around this time that Baba adopted his famous style of dress, consisting of a knee-length one-piece robe (kafni) and a cloth cap. Ramgir Bua, a devotee, testified that Baba was dressed like an athlete and sported 'long hair flowing down to his buttocks' when he arrived in Shirdi, and that he never had his head shaved.
It was only after Baba forfeited a wrestling match with one Mohdin Tamboli that he took up the kafni and cloth cap, articles of typically 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. According to B.V. Narasimhaswami, a posthumous follower who was widely praised as Sai Baba's "apostle", this attitude was prevalent even among some of his devotees in Shirdi, even up to 1954. For four to five years Baba lived under a neem tree, and often wandered for long periods in the jungle in and 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 had the custom of giving sacred ash ('Udhi') to his guests before they left and which was believed to have healing powers and protection from dangerous situations.
At first he performed the function of a local hakim and treated the sick by application of Udhi. Baba also delivered spiritual teachings to his visitors, recommending the reading of sacred Hindu texts along with the Qur'an, especially insisting on the indispensability of the unbroken remembrance of God's name (dhikr, japa). He often expressed himself in a cryptic manner with the use of parables, symbols and allegories. He participated in religious festivals and was also in the habit of preparing food for his visitors, which he distributed to them as prasad. Sai Baba's entertainment was dancing and singing religious songs (he enjoyed the songs of Kabir most). His behavior was sometimes uncouth and violent. After 1910 Sai Baba's fame began to spread in Mumbai. Numerous people started visiting him, because they regarded him as a saint (or even an avatar) with the power of performing miracles. and they built his first ever temple at Bhivpuri, Karjat as desired by Sai Baba.
Sai Baba left behind no spiritual heirs and appointed no disciples. In fact, he did not even provide formal initiation (diksha), despite requests from some of his devotees. Some disciples of Sai Baba achieved fame as spiritual figures like Upasni Maharaj of Sakori and Meher Baba of Ahmednagar. After Sai Baba died, his devotees offered the daily Aarti to Upasani Maharaj when he paid a visit to Shirdi, two times with an interval of 10 years.
Teachings and practices
Shirdi Sai Baba, leaning against the wall of his masjid, with devotees. In his personal practice, Sai Baba observed worship procedures belonging to Hinduism and Islam; he shunned any kind of regular rituals but allowed the practice of namaz, chanting of Al-Fatiha, and Qur'an readings at Muslim festival times. Occasionally reciting the Al-Fatiha himself, Baba also enjoyed listening to moulu and qawwali accompanied with the tabla and sarangi twice daily. He also wore clothing reminiscent of a Sufi fakir. Sai Baba also opposed all sorts of persecutions on religious or caste background. Sai Baba was also an opponent of religious orthodoxy - both Hindu and Muslim. Although Sai Baba himself led the life of an ascetic, he advised his followers to lead an ordinary family life. 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, texts like the Ramayana, Vishnu Sahasranam, Bhagavad Gita (and commentaries to it), Yoga Vasistha. He advised his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, love every living being without any discrimination, treat them with love and develop two important features of character: faith (Shraddha) and patience (Saburi). He also criticized atheism. In his teachings Sai Baba emphasized the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to earthly matters and being ever content regardless of the situation. Sai Baba also interpreted the religious texts of both faiths. According to what the people who stayed with him said and wrote he had a profound knowledge of them. He explained the meaning of the Hindu scriptures in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta. This was the character of his philosophy. It also had numerous elements of bhakti. The three main Hindu spiritual paths - Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga - were visible in the teachings of Sai Baba. Another example of the way he combined both faiths is the Hindu name he gave to his mosque, Dwarakamai. Sai Baba said that God penetrates everything and lives in every being, and as well that God is the essence of each of them. He emphasized the complete oneness of God which was very close to the Islamic tawhid and the Hindu doctrine, e.g. of the Upanishads. Sai Baba said that the world and all that the human may give is transient and only God and his gifts are eternal. Sai Baba also emphasized the importance of devotion to God - bhakti - and surrender to his will. He also talked about the need of faith and devotion to one's spiritual preceptor (guru). He said that everyone was the soul and not the body. He advised his disciples and followers to overcome the negative features of character and develop the good ones. He taught them that all fate was determined by karma. Sai Baba left no written works. His teachings were oral, typically short, pithy sayings rather than elaborate discourses. Sai would ask his followers for money (dakshina), which he would give away to the poor and other devotees the same day and spend the rest on buying wood to maintain Dhuni. According to his followers he did it in order to rid them of greed and material attachment. Sai encouraged charity and the importance of sharing with others. 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 be certainly 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." Other favorite sayings of his were: "Why do you fear when I am here", "He has no beginning... He has no end."Sai Baba made eleven assurances to his devotees:
Sai Baba of Shirdi (took samadhi in 1918)
1.Whosoever puts their feet on Shirdi soil, their sufferings will come to an end. 2.The wretched and miserable will rise to joy and happiness as soon as they climb the steps of Dwarakamai (Mosque). 3.I shall be ever active and vigorous even after leaving this earthly body. 4.My tomb shall bless and speak to the needs of my devotees. 5.I shall be active and vigorous even from my tomb. 6.My mortal remains will speak from My tomb. 7.I am ever living to help and guide all who come to Me, who surrender to Me and who seek refuge in Me. 8.If you look at Me, I look at you. 9.If you cast your burden on Me, I shall surely bear it. 10.If you seek My advice and help, it shall be given to you at once. 11.There shall be no want in the house of My devotee.
Worship and devotees
Main article: Shirdi Sai Baba movement
The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the 19th century, during his life, while he was staying in Shirdi. A local Khandoba priest - Mhalsapathy - is believed to have been his first devotee. However, in the 19th century Sai Baba's followers were only a small group of Shirdi inhabitants and a few people from other parts of India. It started developing in the 20th century and even faster in 1910 with the Sankirtans of Das Ganu (one of Sai's devotees) who spread Sai Baba's fame to the whole of India. Since 1910 numerous Hindus and Muslims from all parts of India started coming to Shirdi. During his life Hindus worshipped him with Hindu rituals and Muslims revered him greatly, considering him to be a saint. Later (in the last years of Sai Baba's life) Christians and Zoroastrians started joining the Shirdi Sai movement. The Sai Baba mandir in Shirdi is active and every day worship of Sai is conducted in it. Pilgrims visit Shirdi every day. Shirdi Baba is especially revered and worshipped in the state of Maharashtra and in Gujarat. A religious organization of Sai Baba's devotees called the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust is based there. The first ever Sai Baba temple is situated at Bhivpuri, Karjat. The devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba have spread all over India. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Religion there is at least one Sai Baba mandir in nearly every Indian city. His image is quite popular in India. Some ordinary non-religious publishing houses (such as Sterling Publishers) publish books about Shirdi Sai written by his devotees. Shirdi is among the major Hindu places of pilgrimage. The Shirdi Sai Baba movement is partially organized. Only a part of his followers and devotees belong to the Shri Saibaba Sansthan or to other religious organizations that worship him. Beyond India the Shirdi Sai movement has spread to other countries such as the U.S. or the Caribbean. Sai Baba mandirs and organizations of his devotees have been built in countries including Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the USA. The Shirdi Sai Baba movement is one of the main Hindu religious movements in English-speaking countries. According to estimates the Sai mandir in Shirdi is visited by around twenty thousand pilgrims a day and during religious festivals this number amounts to a hundred thousand.