Sai Baba of Shirdi
Sai Baba of Shirdi (died 15 October 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba, was an Indian spiritual master who is regarded by his devotees to be a manifestation of Sri Dattaguru and identified as a saint and a fakir. He was revered by both his Hindu and Muslim devotees during, as well as after his lifetime.
Shirdi Sai Baba
|Died||15 October 1918|
Shirdi, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
|Resting place||Samadhi Mandir, Shirdi|
1. Allah – Malik (God is Master) 2. Shraddha – Saburi (Faith – Patience) 3. Sabka Malik Ek (Everyone's master is one)
According to accounts from his life, he preached the importance of "realization of 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 teachings 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 (Everyone's Master is One), is associated with both Hinduism and Islam. He is also known to have said "Look to me, and I shall look to you" and Allah tera bhala karega. He was said to be an incarnation of Dattatreya.
Background and events
Sai Baba's date of birth including his birthplace remains unknown. Most information about Shirdi Sai Baba tends to be derived from a book called Shri Sai Satcharitra written by a disciple called Hemadpant (also known as Annasaheb Dabholkar / Govind Raghunath) in 1922 in Marathi. The book itself is a compilation based on accounts by his various disciples and Hemadpant's personal observations of Sai Baba from 1910 onwards.
Information about Sai Baba's origins
There are various beliefs surrounding Sai Baba’s place of birth and parents. According to multiple sources, Sai Baba was born in a small village Pathri in Maharashtra to a boatman called Ganga Bhavadia and his wife Devagiriamma. Sai Baba is also claimed to have been born in Tamil Nadu. According to this version, his mother’s name was Vaishnavdevi and his father’s name was Abdul Sattar. Sri Narasimha Swamy, a devotee of Sai Baba wrote a book Life of Sai Baba. It claims that Sai Baba would make references to Patri in the Nizam State and much later in life told one of his staunch devotees. Many devotees of Sai Baba do not concern themselves with his birthplace or the religion of his family, as Baba actively discouraged such inquiry nor sought to align himself with any region or religion.
According to multiple sources, he was brought up by Fakir in early childhood. Even from an early age, he was always dispassionate and imbibed the detachment from his foster father, the Fakir. Unfortunately, the fakir too died within 4–5 years of adopting Baba.
Sai Baba at Shirdi
Sai Baba's real name remains unknown. The name Sai was given to him by Mahalsapati[a] 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 Mahalsapati, 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 Gagangiri Maharaj, Saint Janakidas Maharaj and Sati Godavari Mataji. Sai Baba referred to several saints as 'my brothers', especially the disciples of Swami Samartha of Akkalkot.
Controversy over birth place
In January 2020, Uddhav Thackeray, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, announced a ₹100 crore (US$14 million) grant for development of facilities at ‘Sai Janmsthan’ (transl. birthplace of Sai) at Pathri in Parbhani district. Local people from and around Pathri believe it is the birthplace of Sai Baba. The announcement irked the residents of Shirdi, which is claimed to be the birth place of Sai Baba. After protests, Thackeray decided to remove the mention of Pathri as the birthplace of Sai Baba.
Although Sai Baba's origins are unknown, some indications exist that suggest that he was born not far from Shirdi. Baba was notorious for giving vague, misleading and contradictory replies to questions concerning his parentage and origins, brusquely stating the information was unimportant. He reportedly told a close follower, Mahalsapati, that he was born of Deshastha Brahmin parents in the village of Pathri and had been entrusted to the care of a Muslim fakir in his infancy. On another occasion, Baba reportedly said that the fakir's wife had left him in the care of a Hindu guru, Venkusa of Selu, and that he had stayed with Venkusa for 12 years as his disciple.
Baba reportedly arrived at the village of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra, India, when he was about sixteen years old. Although there is no agreement among biographers about 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, just after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. This posits a possible birth year of 1838. 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.
Some of the religiously-inclined villagers (Mahalsapati, Appa Jogle and Kashinatha) visited him regularly. The village children considered him mad and threw stones at him. After some time he left the village and it is unknown where he went or what happened to him. 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.
Return to Shirdi
Sai Baba returned to Shirdi in 1858. When he appeared at the Khandoba Mandir in Shirdi, the temple priest, Mahalsapati, welcomed him by saying "Aao, Sai!" ("Come Sai!"). From then on, he was known by the name Sai Baba.
Around this time he adopted the practice of dressing in 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 one reason for the initial hostility toward 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 (a dhuni) from which he gave sacred ash ('Udi') 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 Ramayana 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 is believed to have tended a garden called Lendi Baug, named after a riverlet called Lendi which flowed nearby. The garden still exists; it contains temples (samadhis) of people and animals associated with Sai Baba's life, and continues to be visited by pilgrims.
In 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.
Final years and death (Samadhi)
In August 1918, Shirdi Sai Baba told some of his devotees that he would soon be "leaving his mortal body". Towards the end of September, he had high fever and stopped eating. As his condition deteriorated, he asked his disciples to recite holy texts to him, although he also continued to meet visitors. He died on 15 October 1918, the same day as that year's Vijayadashami festival. His remains were interred at Buti Wada in Shirdi, which later became a place of worship that is known today as Shree Samadhi Mandir or Shirdi Sai Baba Temple.
Teachings and practices
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 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: faith (Shraddha) and patience (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 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. Sri 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."
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 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.
Today, the Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi is visited by an average of 25,000 pilgrims a day and during religious festivals, this number can reach up to 100,000. The Sai Baba temple in Shirdi is managed by the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. Inside the temple, the statue of Sai Baba and the Samadhi are carved out of Italian marble and is seen draped with royal cloth, wearing a gold crown and adorned with fresh flower garlands. The interior is made of old stone bricks. The interior, as well as the exterior (cone) of the temple, is covered with gold. As per rituals and traditions dating back to when Baba was still alive, four Aartis are held daily (corresponding to the time of the day) inside the Samadhi Mandir.
- Kakad Aarti (The Morning Aarti) at 4:30 (am)
- Madhyan Aarti (The Afternoon Aarti) at 12:00 (pm)
- Dhup Aarti (The Evening Aarti) 6:30 (pm)
- Shej Aarti (The Night Aarti) at 10:30 (pm)
The Palanquin procession of Sai Baba takes place every Thursday from the Samadhi Mandir to Dwarkamayi, onward to Chavdi and back to the Sai Baba Mandir. Devotees belonging to all faiths are welcome to take Darshan in the Samadhi Mandir and have free meals in the Prasadalaya, irrespective of caste, creed, and religion as these were one of the ideal principles of Sai Baba.
Sai Baba of Shirdi is especially revered and worshiped in the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. In August 2012, an unidentified devotee, for the first time, donated two expensive diamonds valuing ₹1.18 crore at the Shirdi temple, as revealed by Saibaba trust officials.
In recent years, the Shirdi Sai movement has spread to the Netherlands, Caribbean and to countries such as the Nepal, Canada, United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Singapore.
Non-discrimination of devotees
Baba himself maintained an ambiguous profile, unwilling to identify with either of the two religions. His Muslim devotees were fully convinced that he belonged to their fold, identifying him as an avaliā. The Hindu bhaktas also viewed him as one of them, since he often identified himself with their gods and customs. Sai Baba wanted to belong to all and be shared by all. When pressed on whether he was Hindu or Muslim, he would often get very angry. Once he told a devotee: "You have been with me for eighteen years now. Does Sai mean for you only these three and a half cubits of height?" Sai Baba was able to avoid clashes between the two communities, and, in fact, succeeded in unifying them in an atmosphere of general harmony. In a verse of the midday arti, devotees sing:
"In essence or basic principle, there is no difference whatever between Hindu and Muslim. You took birth in human body to point out this. You look with affection on both Hindus and Muslims. This, Sai, who pervades all, as the soul of all, shows."
Baba would often talk about the Hindu gods, quoting from sacred texts or even commenting upon passages of the Bhagavad Gita, the Isha Upanishad, and so forth. The names of Krishna and Rama seem to have been particularly dear to him. With his Muslim followers, Baba would always talk of Allah and the Koran, often quoting Persian verses. One of his favourite expressions was "Allah rakhega vaiia rahena", that is, "Let us be content with what we have, and submit our will to Allah." On several occasions, Sai reassured his listeners by saying that he, like them, was but a devotee of Allah, a humble faqir with two arms and two legs. In later years, Parsis and even a few Christians would come to Shirdi. Sai Baba respected all creeds, true to his conviction that all religions are but particular paths leading to one ineffable goal. His notion of the unity of all mankind that appealed to everyone was very congruous with Sufism of Islam. "God being one and the master of all also meant that all his creatures were part of one big family," writes Sikand. "This belief was entirely in keeping with ... the teachings of Sufis, who believed that the light of God exists in every creature, indeed in every particle of His creation." Sai Baba urged his Hindu followers to read their holy books and find their own path. For him, all paths were equally valid, "Ishwar" (the Hindu God) and "Allah" being synonymous.
People coming to his abode were so taken aback to see Hindus, Muslims, and others living together so peacefully that in many instances it changed their entire lives and belief systems.
Sai Baba's disciples and devotees claim that he performed many miracles such as bilocation, levitation, mind-reading, 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 their experiences.
Sai Baba left behind no spiritual heirs, appointed no disciples, and did not provide formal initiation (diksha), despite requests. Some of Sai Baba's notable disciples include Mahalsapathi, Madhav Rao (Shama), Nanasaheb Peshway, Bayijabai, Tatya Kote Patil, Kakasaheb Dixit, Radhakrishna Maai, Hemadpant, Bhuti, Das Ganu, Lakshmi Bai, Nanavali, Upasni Maharaj, Abdul Baba, Sapatanekar, Nanasaheb Chandodkar, B.V. Narashima Swamiji. 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.
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.
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 Qutubs, 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.
In popular culture
Shri Sai tends to be a very common name for establishments in Mumbai in particular and Maharashtra in general. It tends to be popular for a variety of establishments including restaurants, real estate agencies and hotels.
Sacred art and architecture
There are many temples of Sai Baba in India. Temples are also located in countries outside India, including the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Netherlands, Kenya, Benin, Cuba, Canada, Pakistan, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and New Zealand. 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.
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||Dattopant Aangre||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|||
|1999||Maya / Guru Poornima / Jayasurya||Rama Narayanan||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, Alok Nath, Rohini Hattangadi, Suresh Oberoi|
|2005||Ishwarya Avatar Sai Baba||Mukul Nag||Ramanand Sagar||Hindi||Composite movie drawn from Sagar's Sai Baba.|
|2010||Malik Ek||Jackie Shroff||Deepak Balraj Vij||Hindi||Also featuring Manoj Kumar, Divya Dutta, Rohini Hattangadi, Zarina Wahab and Anup Jalota as Das Ganu.|
|2010–11||Bhagwan Sri Shirdi Sai Baba||Surya Vasishta||Bukkapatna Vasu||Kannada||Also featuring Ravindranath, Ravi Bhat, Venkatadri, Bhavyashree Rai, Chandrika Challakere and others. Aired on Kasturi (TV channel)|||
|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|
|2017–Present||Mere Sai||Abeer Soofi||Sachin P. Ambre
|Hindi||Currently airing on Sony Entertainment Television Asia-India since September 2017.|||
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The identification of Sāī Bābā of Śirḍī with Dattātreya is such that the Śrī Sāī Satcarita—the most "authoritative" hagiography on the saint's life—is often called "the modern Guru-caritra"; see Shri Sai Satcharita; or, The Wonder-ful Life and Teachings of Shri Sai Baba, xvii. On Sāī Bābā of Śirḍī as Dattātreya, see also Babu, Dattātreya: Glory of the Divine in Man.
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