Sai Baba of Shirdi is revered and regarded as a holy saint who provided spiritual guidance to his followers and taught them valuable lessons of kindness, compassion, togetherness, harmony etc.
Shirdi Sai Baba or Sai Baba of Shirdi is one of the most revered saints in the Hindu religion. He is regarded as a spiritual master and a guide, who helped people overcome the difficulties in their lives. Sai Baba taught and practiced the many important character traits of love, forgiveness, charity, devotion towards God, inner peace, etc. He always helped anyone and everyone, and expected nothing in return.
Birth and Naming
Sai Baba’s place and date of birth has been a very contentious issue, as there is no concrete evidence in the matter. Likewise, there has been no consensus about his real name and how he came to be known as Sai Baba. There are multiple theories as an answer to this question. Some opine that the name ‘Sai’ was given to him by his follower and the local temple priest Mahalsapati, upon Sai Baba’s arrival in Shirdi. Apparently, Mahalsapati recognized him as a Muslim saint and greeted him with the words 'Ya Sai!’ meaning 'Welcome Sai!' in Marathi. Sai or Sayi means ‘the poor one’ in Persian, and was used to denote Sufi saints and Fakirs. The term might also have originated from the Banjara language, where Sayi means ‘the good one’.
Also, the word sayi itself could be borrowed from the Persian word ‘Sayeh’, which means shadow, but is interpreted as patronage or protection. The same holds for the Hindi word ‘Saya’ as well. There is also another theory regarding the name Sai, which says that it’s an acronym of the Sanskrit term "Sakshat Ishwar". In other words, the letters ‘S’ and ‘a’ from “Sakshat” and the letter ‘I’ from “Ishwar”, when put together, make the word ‘Sai’. The suffix ‘Baba’ is an honorific title used in many Indian and Middle Eastern languages, and literally means "father, grandfather, old man, sir". So when the prefix Baba is added to Sai, the name Sai Baba means "holy father", "saintly father" or "poor old man", etc.
Very little or almost no information is available about Sai Baba’s early years. One of Baba’s disciples named Das Ganu, has attempted at reconstructing Sai Baba’s childhood years, in his biography of the great saint, titled as “Sai Gurucharitra”. Das Ganu has stated in his work that Sai Baba grew up in Pathri, a village in the Parbhani district of Maharashtra. He was brought up by a fakir and his wife until he was five years old. The fakir’s wife then placed the young child in care of a saint named Deshmukh Venkusha, with whom he stayed for many years. However, this story of Das Ganu couldn’t be corroborated with any evidence, which is why it is not included in the many biographies of Sai Baba.
In another biography titled Life of Sai Baba, written by Sai Baba’s biographer Narsimha Swamiji, it is stated that Baba’s parents were Brahmins of the Pathri village in the Nizam's State. It is further mentioned that as a child, Baba was handed over by his parents to the care of a fakir, who in turn brought him up as a fakir used to living in mosques and surviving on alms.
According to the book Shri Sai Satcharitra, the most important source of Sai Baba’s life story and his preaching, Baba arrived in Shirdi, in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, when he was sixteen years of age. At the time, he used to meditate frequently under a neem tree that he had made his abode. The villagers were awestruck to see a young child leading such an ascetic lifestyle. He mingled with no one and wasn’t afraid of anyone either. He never gave up his penance even in harsh heat or cold. Some people even considered him to be mentally ill and pelted stones at him. Baba left Shirdi after this to work with other saints and fakirs as a weaver. He returned to Shirdi in 1858.
Sai Baba in Shirdi
After returning to Shirdi in 1858, Sai Baba lived under a neem tree and wandered off into the nearby jungles for long periods. He never made an attempt to withdraw from his meditation, which he mostly chose to perform in isolation. He was always dressed in a one-piece Kafni robe, accompanied with the cloth cap on his head. Seeing that he had no place to live, the inhabitants of Shirdi persuaded Baba to live in a destructed mosque nearby. Sai Baba eventually gave in to the requests of the villagers and made the mosque his residence. Thereafter, all the people of Shirdi began recognizing Sai Baba and often visited him for counseling and guidance.
Once Sai Baba started living in the old mosque which he called as Dwarakamai, he became an integral part of the people living in Shirdi and their lives. He became their spiritual master and a sort of patriarch, who would be ready help anyone at anytime. He never hesitated to perform a kind deed. At his residence, Baba used to always have visitors, who would constantly offer him edibles and other items of comfort. However, Baba never gave up his life of penance, in spite of such favors from the villagers. Instead, Baba used to survive by begging for alms. He used to always share his meals with his visitors and his animal and bird friends, even if very little or nothing remained for him to eat. Sai Baba had carved out a special place in the heart of each and every inhabitant of Shirdi.
Teachings, Deeds and Miracles
Sai Baba is regarded as one of the finest spiritual masters ever to have graced the Indian soil. He always advocated inner peace and harmony, among many other useful teachings. He never used to discriminate people on the basis of their religion, creed, caste, social status, etc., and always treated everyone equally. Baba maintained a sacred fireplace in the mosque, known as Dhuni, the ashes (Udhi) of which he used to distribute among all his followers and visitors, irrespective of their wealth or religion. He stressed on the importance of being together and standing up for each other in times of crisis. For promoting religious harmony, he always said “Sabka Maalik Ek”, meaning “All are governed by one God”. Sai Baba encouraged great many people to believe in their religion. He told the Muslims to study the Qur’an, while he told the Hindus to be well versed in the sacred texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvad Gita, etc. Baba himself performed Namaaz, as well as the daily Aarti.
Apart from urging people to develop and practice the important qualities of compassion, love, morality, devotion to God, etc, Sai Baba always emphasized on two character traits which he himself heavily relied on. These qualities were of Shraddha and Saburi. Shraddha means to have eternal devotion for the Guru, and Saburi means waiting cheerfully with patience and love. Besides providing mental and spiritual counseling to his followers, Sai Baba also treated people who were declared incurably sick by doctors, etc. He never charged a penny for these services and always looked to help a person recover from all his illnesses. Baba was also in the practice preparing food for his visitors which he distributed as Prasad among one and all.
Other than his teachings and kind deeds, there have been many reported instances where Baba has performed some incredible feats. Some of the miracles that he performed include: bilocation (the act of being at two places simultaneously), levitation (the rising of a human body into the air by mystical means), mind reading, materialization (the creation or appearance of matter from unknown sources), exorcism (the practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person), etc.
Besides performing these feats, Sai Baba is said to have performed other miracles such as making the river Yamuna, 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, after death rising on third day, preventing a mosque from falling down on people, etc. Many people have also documented stories where they had visions of Baba giving them Darshan (appearance) as Hindu deities such as Krishna, Rama, Vithoba, among others.
Samadhi and his Assurances
On 15th October 1918, Sai Baba left his body through Samadhi (the complete absorption of the individual consciousness in the self at the time of death). The place where he took Samadhi is now thronged by millions of Sai followers and devotees each year, as the place has been converted into a Temple shrine. The temple is looked after and maintained by the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. The trust also provides various facilities of lodging, traveling, food, etc. to the devotees who flock what has turned into a major Hindu pilgrimage center. A trip to Shirdi would be incomplete without visiting the nearby Shani Shingnapur, where Lord Shani’s holy shrine is located.
Before abandoning his earthly body, Sai Baba made some assurances to his followers and devotees, which are as follows:
- No harm shall befall him, who steps on the soil of Shirdi.
- He who comes to my Samadhi, his sorrow and suffering shall cease.
- Though I be no more in flesh and blood, I shall ever protect my devotees.
- Trust in me and your prayer shall be answered.
- Know that my spirit is immortal, know this for yourself.
- Show unto me he who has sought refuge and has been turned away.
- In whatever faith men worship me, even so do I render to them.
- Not in vain is my promise that I shall ever lighten your burden.
- Knock, and the door shall open, ask and it shall be granted.
- To him who surrenders unto me totally I shall be ever indebted.
Blessed is he who has become one with me.
Special celebrations in Shirdi - Vijayadashmi Day (Mahasamadhi of Sai Baba)