Sai Baba

Monday, 23 January 2017 06:57 Written by

Sai Baba of Shirdi, is an Indian saint who lived from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. 'Sai Baba of Shirdi' or 'Shirdi Sai Baba' (circa 1838 - October 15, 1918), (real name, birth place, and date of birth unknown), He was born in a Brahmin family and 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 Avatar of Shiva, Dattatreya, a satguru and the next incarnation of Kabir.

In his life and teachings he tried to embrace and reconcile Hinduism and Islam: Sai Baba lived in a mosque, was buried in a Hindu temple, practised Hindu and Muslim rituals, and taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions. One of his well known epigrams says of God: "''Allah Malik''" ("God is Master").

Some disciples of Sai of Shirdi have received fame as spiritual figures and saints.

Sai Baba is also one of the most popular of Indian saints (worshipped mainly in Maharashtra, southern Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh) and revered by several notable Hindu, Sufi and Zoroastrian religious leaders.

Early life

There is no clear record of Sai's given name, nor of his origins. However, there are some indications based on his own words that he was born in a Brahmin family in the village of Pathri, under the name ''Haribhau''. According to estimates he was born circa 1838. Once he told his devotee - Mhalsapathy - that he had been born in Pathri and his parents had given him to a "Fakir" (it is uncertain what Sai Baba meant using this expression). According to some sources as a boy Sai Baba was brought up by a Sufi fakir and according to others by a Hindu guru. Some people combine both these theories (that Sai Baba was first brought up by a fakir and then by a guru).

First stay in Shirdi

Sai arrived at the village of Shirdi in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra state when he was about sixteen years old (in 1854). There he led an ascetic life - he stayed in a den under a neem tree where he meditated sitting in an asana. He aroused the interest and admiration of a few villagers of Shirdi; they said that it was due to his unusual peace, fearlesness and resistence to difficult conditions.

Years 1854 - 1858

After approximately two months Sai Baba left Shirdi for four years . It is unknown where he stayed at that time or what happened to him. There are some indications however that he met saints and fakirs, worked as a weaver and fought in the army of Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai during Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Second stay in Shirdi

In 1858 Sai Baba returned to Shirdi together with Amin Bhai Patil's wedding procession. When he entered the Khandoba temple in Shirdi he was greeted by the priest Mlahaspathy with the words ''Ya Sai'' (''welcome saint''). The name ''Sai'' stuck to him and some time later he started being known as ''Sai Baba''.

He stayed in Shirdi till his death in 1918. There he lead a simple and ascetic life; e.g. he begged for food. His home was an old mosque. At first he performed the function of a local hakim and treated the sick. In the mosque he kept up a sacred fire - a Dhuni. He had the custom of giving Udhi to his guests before they left - they believed that it had healing powers and could protect them in dangerous situations. Sai also delivered spiritual teachings to his visitors (and according to what the witnesses said) performed many miracles. He took part in religious festivals. He 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).

In 1910 Sai Baba's fame spread to the whole of India. Numerous people started visiting him, because they regarded him as a saint (or even an Avatar) with the power of performing miracles.

Death

Sai Baba of Shirdi took Mahasamadhi on 15 October 1918. He died on the lap of one of his devotees with hardly any belongings. He was buried in the "Buty Wada" according to his wish. Later a mandir was built their known as the "Samadhi Mandir".

One of his devotees - Sharada Devi - says that before his death he told her secretly that in eight years he would reincarnate in Andhra Pradesh, under the name of Sathya (which means 'truth'); this is in accordance with the birth of Sathya Sai Baba in 1926, in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh who claims to be the next reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba. Later Sharada Devi became a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba believing that he was the next incarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.[8]

Shirdi Sai Baba, leaning against the wall of his masjid, with devotees

Teachings

In his teachings Sai Baba concentrated on uniting the Hindu and Muslim religion. He took part both in Hindu festivals and Muslim pilgrimages. He prayed in the Hindu and Muslim way. Together with his disciples he read the Qur'an and the Hindu scriptures. He wore the clothes of a Sufi fakir, and sometimes performed salat. Another example of the way he combined both faiths is the name he gave to his mosque - Dwarakamai (it is connected with Hinduism - the sacred place Dwaraka where Krishna lived). Sai Baba also opposed all sorts of persecutions on religious or caste background. (In India at the times when he lived religious intolerance and conflicts were common).

Sai Baba of Shirdi was also an opponent of religious orthodoxy - both Hindu and Muslim.

Although Sai Baba himself lead 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 Vasishta. He advised his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, 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 emphasised the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to earthly matters and being ever content regardless of the situation.

Shirdi 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.[14] This does not mean however that they were exclusively Hindu - they had many Islamic elements.[15]

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 emphasised 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.[16]

Shirdi Sai also emphasised 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.[16]

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 matches. 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."[18]

Other favourite sayings of his were: "Why do you fear when I am here",http://chavadi.saibaba.org:8080/index.htm"He has no beginning... He has no end",. Sai Baba made eleven assurances to his devotees:

  • Whosoever puts their feet on Shirdi soil, their sufferings will come to an end.
  • The wretched and miserable will rise to joy and happiness as soon as they climb the steps of the mosque.
  • I shall be ever active and vigorous even after leaving this earthly body.
  • My tomb shall bless and speak to the needs of my devotees.
  • I shall be active and vigorous even from my tomb.
  • My mortal remains will speak from my tomb.
  • I am ever living to help and guide all who come to me, who surrender to me and who seek refuge in me.
  • If you look to me, I look to you.
  • If you cast your burden on me, I shall surely bear it.
  • If you seek my advice and help, it shall be given to you at once.
  • There shall be no want in the house of my devotee.
  • His eleven famous sayings are:
  • No harm shall befall him who sets his foot on the soil of Shirdi.
  • He who cometh 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 sought refuge and 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 ye shall be granted.
  • To him who surrenders unto Me totally I shall be ever indebted.
  • Blessed is he who has become one with Me.

Miracles

Sai Baba's millions of disciples, followers and devotees believe that he had performed many miracles. Some of them were: bilocation, exorcisms, curing the incurably sick, helping his devotees in need in a miraculous way, reading the minds of others. Numerous inhabitants of Shirdi talked about these miracles. Some of them even wrote about them in books. They talked and wrote about how they (and others) were the witnesses of his unusual Yogic powers: levitation, entering a state of clinical death at wish, even removing his limbs and sticking them back to his body (''Khanda Yoga'') or doing the same with his intestines.

According to his followers he appeared to them after his death, in dreams, visions and even in bodily form, whence he often gave them advice.

With firm faith one can evoke miracles from Sai Baba. Each of his devotees has many stories and experiences to tell.[19]

Notable disciples

Some disciples of Sai Baba achieved fame as spiritual figures like Upasni Maharaj of Sakori. It is said that though they appear as disciples, their spirtual status is varied from other disciples. After Sai Baba dropped body, his devotees offered the daily Arati to Upasani Maharj when he paid a visit to Shirdi, two times with an interval of 10 years. Also currently Shri C. B. Satpahty is leading the Sai Movement in India and the whole world. He has been instrumental in creation of more than one hundred and fifty temples in India and Abroad.

Historical sources

Biographers of Sai Baba of Shirdi (e.g. Govindrao Ragulnath Dabholkar, Smriti Srinivas, Antonio Rigpolous, Satya Pal Ruhela) when writing about him base it on what people who knew Sai Baba said and wrote. The words of two devotees of Sai who died at the turn of the twentieth century - Shivamma Thayee and Sharada Devi - are of particularly important to contemporary biographers of Sai. Another source they use is the ''Shirdi Diary'' written by Ganesha Shrikrishna Khaparde, which describes every day of the author's stay at Shirdi. When speculating about the unknown episode's of Sai Baba's life, they mainly base their conclusions on his own words.

The most important source about Sai's life is the ''Shri Sai Satcharita'' written in Marathi, in 1916 by Govindrao Ragulnath Dabholkar whom Sai Baba nicknamed ''Hemadpant'', which is an account of his life, teachings and miracles. Other important sources about Sai Baba are books by B. V. Narasimhaswamiji such as ''Sri Sai Baba's Charters and Sayings'' or ''Devotee's Experiences of Sai Baba''.

Worship and devotees

Main articles: Shirdi Sai Baba movement

The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the nineteenth century, during his life, while he was staying in Shirdi. A local Khandoba priest - Mlahaspathy - is believed to have been his first devotee. However, in the nineteenth 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 twentieth 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.[20]

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. A religious organisation of Sai Baba's devotees called the Shri Saibaba Sansthan is based there.

The devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba have spread all over India. The Shirdi Sai Baba movement is partially organised. Only a part of his followers and devotees belong to the Shri Saibaba Sansthan or to other religious organisations that worship him.

Beyond India the Shirdi Sai movement has spread to other countries such as the USA or the Caribbean. Sai Baba mandirs and organisations 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.[26]

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.[27]

Shirdi Sai Baba in various religions

Hinduism

During Sai Baba's life a Hindu saint - Anandanath of Yewala declared Sai Baba a "[spiritual] diamond". Another saint - Gangagir called him a "[spiritual] jewel". Sri Beedkar Maharaj greatly revered Sai Baba, and in 1873, when he met him he bestowed the title Jagatguru upon him. Sai Baba was also greatly respected by Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati (known as Sri Tembye Swami). Sai of Shirdi was also revered by a group of Shaivic yogis, to which he belonged, known as the ''Nath-Panchayat''.

 

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