Sai Baba of Shirdi (September 28, 1838 – October 15, 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (Marathi: शिर्डीचे श्री साईबाबा,Urdu: شردی سائیں بابا), was an Indian guru, yogi, and fakir who is regarded by his Hindu and Muslim devotees as a saint. Hindu devotees consider him an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. Many devotees believe that he was a Sadguru, an enlightened Sufi Pir (Urdu: پیر), or a Qutub. He is a well-known figure in many parts of the world, but especially in India, where he is much revered.
Teachings and practices
Sai Baba opposed all persecution based on religion or caste. He was an opponent of religious orthodoxy - Christain, 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, Vishnu Sahasranam, 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 criticized atheism. In his teachings, Sai Baba emphasized the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to earthly matters, and of being content regardless of the situation.
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 said that God penetrates every thing and every being. He emphasized the complete oneness of God which was very close to the Islamic tawhid and the Hindu doctrine of the Upanishads. Sai Baba said that the world is transient, and that only God and his gifts are eternal. He emphasized 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 guru. He said that everyone was the soul and not the body. He advised his followers to develop a virtuous character, and taught them that all fate was determined by karma.
Sai Baba left no written works. His teachings were typically short, pithy sayings rather than elaborate discourses. Sai Baba would ask his followers for money (dakshina), some of which he would give to the poor and other devotees the same day, and the rest was used to buy wood to maintain Dhuni. According to his followers, this was done to rid them of greed and material attachment.
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 favorite 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:.
- 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 Dwarakamayi.
- 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 at me, I look at 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.
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".
His parentage, birth details, and life before the age of sixteen are obscure, which has led to speculation about his origins.
Sai Baba had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self-realization. He remains a very popular saint, and is worshipped by people around the world. 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 Dwarakamayito the mosque he lived in, practiced Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions, and was buried in a Hindu temple in Shirdi. One of his well known epigrams, "Sabka Malik Ek " ("One God governs all"), is associated with both the Bhagavad-Gita and Sufism. He always uttered "Allah Malik" ("God is King").
Though the debate over his Hindu or Muslim origins continues, many of his practices point more to his being a Muslim believing in the unity of God, reciting Al-Fatiha and other Qur'anic readings at Muslim festival times, listening to hamds and qawwali twice daily, practicing Salah (Namaz), wearing clothing reminiscent of a Sufi fakir, eating meat, and abstaining from alcohol. A mosque still stands in Shirdi, a place in which he once lived and continued to visit regularly. According to Purdom, when Kulkarni Maharaj requested Upasni Maharaj to pay a visit to Sai Baba, Upasni replied 'Why should I go to a Muslim?'
Sai Baba is revered by several notable Hindu and Sufi religious leaders. Some of his disciples became famous as spiritual figures and saints, such as Upasni Maharaj, Saint Bidkar Maharaj, Saint Gangagir, Saint Jankidas Maharaj, and Sati Godavari Mataji.
Historians and devotees agree that there is no reliable evidence for a particular birthplace or date of birth. Various communities have claimed that he belongs to them, but nothing has been substantiated. many historians support this finding. It is known that he spent considerable periods with fakirs, and his attire resembled that of a Muslim fakir. Baba reportedly arrived at the village of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, India, when he was about 16 years old. 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.
Sai Baba 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 Mhalsapati, 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 fought with the army of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
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 1954 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. 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. His behavior was sometimes uncouth and violent.
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
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