Sai Baba of Shirdi
Sai Baba of Shirdi
|Born||1838 (Otherwise unknown)
|Died||15 October 1918
|Era||19th to 20th century|
|Region||Shirdi, Maharashtra, India|
Sai Baba of Shirdi (unknown – 15 October 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba, was a spiritual master who was and is regarded by his devotees as a saint, fakir, avatar (an incarnation of God), or sadguru, according to their individual proclivities and beliefs. He was revered by both his Muslim and Hindu devotees, and during, as well as after, his life on earth it remained uncertain if he was a Muslim or Hindu himself. This however was of no consequence to Sai Baba himself. Sai Baba stressed the importance of surrender to the guidance of the true Sadguru or Murshad, who, having gone the path to divine consciousness himself, will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training.
Sai Baba remains a very popular saint, especially in India, 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. He gave no distinction based on religion or caste. Sai Baba's teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque he lived in, practised 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 also said, "Trust in me and your prayer shall be answered". He always uttered "Allah Malik" ("God is King").
- 1 Background
- 2 Early years
- 3 Return to Shirdi
- 4 Teachings and practices
- 5 Worship and devotees
- 6 Reported miracles
- 7 Historical sources
- 8 In various religions
- 9 In culture
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
No verifiable information is given regarding Sai Baba's real name, place or time of birth. When asked about his past, he often gave elusive responses. The name "Sai" was given to him upon his arrival at Shirdi, a town in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. Mahalsapati, a local temple priest, recognised him as a Muslim saint and greeted him with the words 'Ya Sai!', meaning 'Welcome Sai!'. Sai or Sayi is a Persian title given to Sufi saints, meaning 'poor one' and in Banjara language, "sayi" means good one. The honorific "Baba" means "father; grandfather; old man; sir" in most Indian and Middle Eastern languages. Thus Sai Baba denotes "holy father", "saintly father" or "poor old man". Alternatively, the Sindhi and Urdu word "sāī.n" (سائیں), an honorific title for a virtuoso, a saint, or a feudal lord (i.e. a patron), is derived from the Persian word "sāyeh", which literally means "shadow" but figuratively refers to patronage or protection. The Hindi-Urdu word "sāyā" comes from the same borrowing. Thus, it could also mean "Master Father." However, Sāī may also be an acronym of the Sanskrit term "Sakshat Eshwar", a reference to God. Sakshat means "incarnate" and Eshwar means "God".
Some of Sai Baba's disciples became famous as spiritual figures and saints, such as Mahalsapati, a priest of the Khandoba temple in Shirdi, and Upasni Maharaj. He was revered by other saints, 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.
Historians and devotees agree that there is no reliable evidence for a particular birthplace or date of birth. Communities have claimed that he belongs to them, but nothing has been substantiated. It is known that he spent considerable periods with Muslim fakirs, and his attire resembled that of a fakir. He did not discriminate based on religion and respected all forms of worship to God.
Little has been officially documented on the early life of Shirdi Sai Baba. An account of Shirdi Sai's missing childhood years has been reconstructed by his disciple Das Ganu, after researching in the area around the village of Pathri. He collected this story in four chapters on Sai Baba, later also called the Sai Gurucharitra. Das Ganu states that Sai Baba grew up in Pathri, with a fakir and his wife. At the age of five, says Das Ganu, the fakir's wife put him in the care of the saintly desmukh Venkusha, where the boy stayed several years. Dasganu calls the young Sai Baba the reincarnation of Kabir. Because Das Ganu was known to take poetic liberties when telling stories about Sai Baba, and as there are no other sources to corroborate this story, it usually is left out of biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Sai Baba's biographer Narasimha Swamiji claims that Sai Baba was born as the child of Brahmin parents:
"On one momentous occasion, very late in his life, he revealed to Mhalsapathy the interesting fact that his parents were Brahmins of Patri in the Nizam's State. Patri is part of Parvani taluk, near Manwath. Sai Baba added, in explanation of the fact that he was living in a Mosque, that while still a tender child his Brahmin parents handed him over to the care of a fakir who brought him up. This is fairly indisputable testimony, as Mahlsapathy was a person of sterling character noted for his integrity, truthfulness and vairagya." —Narasimha Swamiji, Life of Sai Baba
According to the book Sai Satcharita, Sai Baba arrived at the village of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra, British India, when he was about 16 years old. He led an ascetic life, sitting motionless under a neem tree and meditating while sitting in an asana. 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.
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. However, 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, which suggests a birth year of 1838.
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 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 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 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.
Teachings and practices
Sai Baba opposed all persecution based on religion or caste. He was an opponent of religious orthodoxy – Christian, 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 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 criticised atheism.
In his teachings, Sai Baba emphasised 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 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 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." Other favourite sayings of his were "Why do you fear when I am here" and "He has no beginning... He has no end."
Sai Baba made eleven assurances to his devotees:
- 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.
Worship and devotees
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 Shirdi inhabitants and a few people from other parts of India. The movement started developing in the 20th century, with Sai Baba's message reaching the whole of India. During his life, Hindus worshiped him with Hindu rituals and Muslims considered him to be a saint. Many Hindu devotees – including Hemadpant, who wrote the famous Shri Sai Satcharitra —consider him as an incarnation of Lord Krishna while other devotees consider him as an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. In the last years of Sai Baba's life, Christians and Zoroastrians started joining the Shirdi Sai Baba movement.
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 Bhivpuri, Karjat. The Sai Baba Mandir in Shirdi is visited by around 20,000 pilgrims a day and during religious festivals this number can reach up to a 100,000. Shirdi Sai Baba is especially revered and worshiped in the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. In August 2012, an unidentified devotee for the first time donated two costly diamonds valuing Rs 11.8 million at the Shirdi temple, Saibaba trust officials revealed.
The Shirdi Sai movement has spread to the Caribbean and to countries such as the United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Singapore. The Shirdi Sai Baba movement is one of the main Hindu religious movements in English-speaking countries.
Sai Baba left behind no spiritual heirs, appointed no disciples, and did not even provide formal initiation (diksha), despite requests. Some disciples of Sai Baba achieved fame as spiritual figures, such as Upasni Maharaj of Sakori. After Sai Baba left his body, his devotees offered the daily Aarti to Upasni Maharaj when he paid a visit to Shirdi, two times within 10 years.
Sai Baba's millions of disciples and devotees believe that he performed many miracles such as bilocation, levitation, mindreading, materialisation, exorcisms, 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, and helping his devotees in a miraculous way. He also gave Darshan (vision) to people in the form of Rama, Krishna, Vithoba and many other gods depending on the faith of devotees.
According to his followers he appeared to them in dreams even after he left his body and gave them advice. His devotees have documented many stories.
Biographers of Sai Baba (e.g., Govindrao Raghunath Dabholkar, Acharya Ekkirala Bharadwaja, Smriti Srinivas, Antonio Rigopolous) have based their writing on primary sources. One such source is the Shirdi Diary by Ganesh Shrikrishna Khaparde, which describes every day of the author's stay at Shirdi.
Speculation about the unknown episodes of Sai Baba's life are primarily based on his own words.
The most important source about Sai's life is the Shri Sai Satcharita, written in Marathi in 1916 by Govindrao Raghunath Dabholkar, whom Sai Baba nicknamed 'Hemadpant'. Consisting of 53 chapters, it describes Sai Baba's life, teachings, and miracles. The book compares Sai Baba's love to a mother's love: caring and loving, but reprimanding when needed. It describes Baba's lifestyle, his selfless attitude, and his love for his devotees. The book describes how one should surrender one's egoism at God's feet and trust one's guru. It explains how God is supreme and His devotees should trust Him and love Him. It teaches that God is omnipresent in all living things, so that everything on Earth must be treated with love and respect.
Sai Baba of Shirdi and His Teachings by Acharya Ekkirala Bharadwaja is an in-depth study of Sai Baba's life routine and activities. Shortly after Sai Baba's passing, devotee B.V. Narasimhaswamiji compiled accounts by eyewitnesses such as Sri Sai Baba's Charters and Sayings and Devotee's Experiences of Sai Baba.
Regarding the original photographs of Shirdi Sai Baba, research still needs to be done to identify the authentic ones, as there are also paintings as well as photographs of other persons of similar appearance in circulation besides the few genuine photographs.
In various religions
During Sai Baba's life, the Hindu saint Anandanath of Yewala declared Sai Baba a spiritual "diamond". Another saint, Gangagir, 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, to which he belonged, known as the Nath-Panchayat.
According to B.V. Narasimhaswami, a posthumous follower who was widely praised as Sai Baba's "apostle", this attitude was prevalent up to 1954 even among some of his devotees in Shirdi.
Meher Baba, who was born into a Zoroastrian family, met Sai Baba once, during World War I, in December 1915. Meher Baba was a youngster named Merwan Sheriar Irani, when he met Sai Baba for a few minutes during one of Sai Baba's processions in Shirdi. 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 in Lord Meher, the life story of Meher Baba, there are innumerable references to Sai Baba.
Meher Baba 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 Qutubs, a "Master of the Universe" in the spiritual hierarchy).
Sacred art and architecture
In India, its a common sight to find a Sai Baba temple in any city or town; in every large city or town there is at least one temple dedicated to Sai Baba. There are temples located outside India as well, like United States, Netherlands, Kenya, Cuba, Canada, Pakistan, Australia, United Kingdom and more. In the mosque in Shirdi in which Sai Baba lived, there 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. In Sai Baba temples, his devotees play devotional religious music, such as aarti.
On 30 July 2009, the New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah inaugurated what has been acclaimed as the largest solar steam system in the world, at the Shirdi shrine. The Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust paid an estimated Rs. 13.3 million for the system, Rs. 5,840,000 of which was paid as a subsidy by the renewable energy ministry. It is said the system can cook 20,000 meals per day for pilgrims visiting the temple.
Film and television
Sai Baba has been the subject of several feature films in many languages produced by India's film industry.
|1955||Shirdi Che Sai Baba||Unknown||Kumarsen Samarth||Marathi||Won All India Certificate of Merit at 3rd National Film Awards|
|1977||Shirdi Ke Sai Baba||Sudhir Dalvi||Ashok V. Bhushan||Hindi||Also featuring Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Sachin, Prem Nath|
|1986||Sri Shirdi Saibaba Mahathyam||Vijayachander||K. Vasu||Telugu||Dubbed into Hindi as Shirdi Sai Baba Ki Kahani, into Tamil as Sri Shiridi Saibaba. Also featuring Chandra Mohan, Suthi Veerabhadra Rao, Sarath Babu, J.V. Somayajulu, Rama Prabha, Anjali Devi, Raja.|
|1989||Bhagavan Shri Sai Baba||Sai prakash||Sai prakash||Kannada||Also starring Ramkumar, Brahmavar, Vijaylakshmi.|
|1993||Sai Baba||Yashwant Dutt||Babasaheb S. Fattelal||Marathi||Also featuring Lalita Pawar|
|2000||Maya||Sai Baba||Ramanarayanan||Tamil||Also featuring S. P. Balasubrahmanyam|
|2000||Sri Sai Mahima||Sai Prakash||Ashok Kumar||Telugu||Also featuring Murali Mohan, Jaya Sudha, Sudha, P.J.Sharma|
|2001||Shirdi Sai Baba||Sudhir Dalvi||Deepak Balraj Vij||Hindi||Also featuring Dharmendra, Rohini Hattangadi, Suresh Oberoi|
|2005||Ishwarya Avatar Sai Baba||Mukul Nag||Ramanand Sagar||Hindi||Composite movie drawn from Sagar's Sai Baba (TV series).|
|2010||Malik Ek||Jackie Shroff||Deepak Balraj Vij||Hindi||Released in 2008. Also featuring Manoj Kumar, Divya Dutta, Rohini Hattangadi, Zarina Wahab and Anup Jalota as Das Ganu.|
|2012||Shirdi Sai||Nagarjuna Akkineni||K.Raghavendra Rao||Telugu||Released on 6 September 2012. Also featuring Srikanth (actor), Srihari, Kamalini Mukherjee, Rohini Hattangadi, Sharat Babu, Brahmanandam|
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- Rao, Sham P. P., Five Contemporary Gurus in the Shirdi (Sai Baba) Tradition, Bangalore: Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1972. LC Control No.: 75905429.
- Rigopoulos, Antonio, The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi State University of New York press, Albany, (1993) ISBN 0-7914-1268-7.
- Ruhela, S. P. (ed), What Researchers Say about Sri Shirdi Sai Baba, Faridabad, Sai Age Publications, 1994. ISBN 81-85880-85-9
- Ruhela, S. P. (ed), Sri Shirdi Sai Baba – The Universal Master, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 1994. ISBN 81-288-1517-2
- Ruhela, S. P. (ed), Truth in Controversies about Sri Shirdi Sai Baba, Faridabad, Indian Publishers Distributors, 2000. ISBN 81-7341-121-2
- Venkataraman, Krishnaswamy, Shirdi Stories, Srishti Publishers, New Delhi, 2002. ISBN 81-87075-84-8
- Warren, Marianne, Unraveling the Enigma. Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism, Revised edition, New Delhi, Sterling Publishing, 2004. ISBN 81-207-2147-0
- White, Charles S. J., The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of India Saints in Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Aug. 1972), pp. 863–878
- White Charles S. J., The Sai Baba Movement: Study of a Unique Contemporary Moral and Spiritual Movement, New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, 1985.
- Williams, Alison, Experiencing Sai Baba’s Shirdi. A Guide, revised edition, Shirdi, Saipatham Publications. 2004 ISBN 81-88560-00-6 available online
- Walshe-Ryan, Lorraine, I am always with you, Reprint 2008, New Delhi, Sterling Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978-81-207-3192-9.
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