Sai Baba of Shirdi
|Full name||Sai Baba of Shirdi|
|Died||October 15, 1918 (c. age 81)|
|Era||19th to 20th Century|
|School||Hinduism (Advaita Vedanta) and Islam (Sufism)|
Sai Baba of Shirdi (Unknown,1837– October 15, 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (Marathi: शिर्डीचे श्री साईबाबा, Hindi: शिर्डी के श्री साईं बाबा, Urdu: شردی سائیں بابا), was an Indian guru, yogi, and fakir who is regarded by his Hindu and Muslim devotees as a saint. Many Hindu devotees including Hemadpant who wrote the famous Shri Sai Satcharitra consider him an incarnation of Lord Krishna while other devotees consider him as an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. Many devotees believe that he was a Satguru, an enlightened Sufi Pir, or a Qutub. He is a well-known figure in many parts of the world, but especially in India, where he is much revered.
Sai Baba’s real name is unknown. The name “Sai” was given to him upon his arrival at Shirdi, a town in the west-Indian state of Maharashtra, by Mhalsapati, a devotee of Kandoba Raya at the temple stairs where he first saw him. No information is available regarding his birth and place of birth. Sai baba never spoke about his past life, though he did mention to several devotees like Shyama that their relationship exists since 72 births.
Sāī is of Sanskrit origin, meaning “Sakshat Eshwar” or the divine. The honorific “Baba” means “father; grandfather; old man; sir” in Indo-Aryan languages. Thus Sai Baba denotes “holy father” or “saintly father”.
Sai Baba remains a very popular saint, and is worshiped by people around the world. He had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self-realization. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and guru. Sai Baba’s teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque he lived in, practiced Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions, and was buried in Shirdi. One of his well known epigrams, “Sabka Malik Ek ” (“One God governs all”), is associated with Islam and Sufism. He always uttered “Allah Malik” (“God is King”).
Sai Baba is revered by several notable Hindu religious leaders. Some of his disciples became famous as spiritual figures and saints, such as Mhalsapati, a priest of Kandoba temple in Shridi, Upasni Maharaj, Saint Bidkar Maharaj, Saint Gangagir, Saint Jankidas Maharaj, and Sati Godavari Mataji.
Return to Shirdi
In 1858 Sai Baba returned to Shirdi. Around this time he 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 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 Mohdin 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. According to B.V. Narasimhaswami, a posthumous follower who was widely praised as Sai Baba’s “apostle”, this attitude was prevalent up to 1854 even among some of his devotees in Shirdi.
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. The Shri 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.
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 sacred Hindu texts along with the Qur’an. He insisted on the indispensability of the unbroken remembrance of God’s name (dhikr, japa), and often expressed himself in a cryptic manner with the use of parables, symbols and allegories.
Sai Baba 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.
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.