WHO WAS SHIRDI SAI BABA ?
Sai Baba of Shirdi (Unknown – October 15, 1918),
was an Indian Guru, Yogi and Fakir who is regarded by his Hindu and Muslim followers as a Saint.
The name “Sai Baba” is a combination of Persian and Indian origin,
S?? (Sa’ih) is the Persian term for “Holy One” or “Saint”, usually attributed to Islamic ascetics,
whereas B?b? is a word meaning “Father” used in Indian languages.
The appellative thus refers to Sai Baba as being a “Holy Father” or “Saintly Father”.
It is said that who-so-ever comes for Baba’s Darshan at Shirdi never goes back empty handed
because Baba comes to the rescue of each and every devotee in some or the other form.
But, do you know that Sai Baba was not originally from Shirdi !!!
And Baba himself never disclosed to anyone about his past, where he was born nor where he grew up.
Therefore, his real name, time/place of birth, his religion/caste, his parentage etc are still unknown,
and whatever details known about his life before the age of 16, are Obscure,
leading to speculations & theories attempting to explain Sai Baba’s origins
but till date nothing has been substantiated.
- EARLY YEARS –
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 had once reportedly stated to Mhalsapati, that he has been born of Brahmin parents in the village of Pathri.
In any case, the only agreement amongst historians and his devotees is that
there is NO conclusive evidence of his Birth Date & Place.
NO Authentic information is available about the birth and the early life of Shri Sai Baba.
However it is believed that, Baba was born on 28th September`1838, in the State of the Nizam`Aurangabad,
presently in Maharashtra. Soon after he was born, his Brahmin parents,
who had developed a feeling of total detachment and renunciation,
abandoned the boy (Baba) in the forest under a banyan tree and left to do penance.
In the same village there lived Roshan Shah Miyah, a Sufi fakir who was also childless,
and on finding the abandoned boy (Baba) crying, he adopted him and brought him up in his home.
The boy (Baba) stayed in the fakir’s home for four years (1838 to 1842).
When the boy (Baba) was 4 yrs old, Roshan the Sufi fakir passed away and wife,
who had great affection for the child, was grief-stricken.
To add to her worries, the boy (Baba) was behaving in a troublesome manner, as in Hindu temples,
he would sing songs in praise of Allah: “I am God” (Mein Allah hoon), “Allah is the Supreme Lord” (Allah Malik hai)
and in a Mosque he would declare: “Rama is God”, “Shiva is Allah”.
Members belonging to both the communities made complains about the boy’s (Baba) behaviour.
Unable to deal with this situation, the fakir’s wife handed over the boy (Baba) to a pious scholar named Venkusa,
who was living near her house.
Thus the boy (Baba) at the age of 5yrs, came under the care of Venkusa, who took the boy along with him to other villages.
In the year 1842, during summer, they both came to Shirdi village and they stayed there for 7 days.
They took their food in the house of Baijabai and slept in the small temples of the village.
This means Baba came to Shirdi first in the year 1842. (Not authenticated as yet)
Same way the boy (Baba) had met Nanavali for the first time in 1849. Nanavali used to address Baba as Uncle.
The boy (Baba) stayed in the care and guidance of Venkusa for 12 whole years
and when the time came for Venkusa to take Samadhi he asked the boy (Baba) to leave.
The boy (Baba) then about 16 years old, walked for three days along the banks of River Godavari,
till he reached a place called Kopargaon, in the year 1854, Margashira month on the third day after full moon.
After taking rest for a day, he again proceeded and reached the village of Shirdi by evening.
Not willing to approach anyone for shelter, he began to live under the shade of a big neem tree.
It is said that the boy (Baba) stayed in Shirdi for 3 years and then disappeared for a year
only to return again to Shirdi permanently around 1858, which posits a possible birth year of 1838.
There is no agreement among biographers about the dates of these event though.
After the boy (Baba) had left Shirdi, it is unknown where he stayed at that time or what happened to him.
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.
Some believe that the boy (Baba) left Shirdi and proceeded eastwards along the bank of River Godavari.
When he reached Trimbakeshwar, finding the high mountains suitable for his meditation, he did penance for a year.
Afterwards, he returned by the same route along the banks of River Godavari via Kopargaon and reached the place
where he and his Guru Venkusa had parted, on exactly on the same day of the same month.
In the year 1858, again on a full-moon day in the month of Margashira,
Venkusa gave darshan to Baba and told him to go back to Shirdi.
He further told him that he would also be there in the form of a jyothi (burning light) near the neem tree
in an underground structure.
Thus the boy (Baba) proceeded till he reached a village called Dhoop Gaon near Aurangabad
and took rest near a big boulder, under a Mango tree, where he was first spotted sitting
by a Mohammedan gentleman Chand Patil, who was the head of Dhoop Gaon.
Chand Patil requested the Fakir (Baba) to come and stay with him at his home.
The Fakir (Baba) went to Chand Patil’s house and stayed there for some time.
Patils wife’s brother’s son was to be married and the bride was from Shirdi.
So Patil made preparations to go to Shirdi for the marriage and the Fakir (Baba) also accompanied the marriage procession.
Thus, after One year again the fakir (Baba) returned to Shirdi with Chand Patils Nephews Wedding procession.
When the marriage – party came to Shirdi,
it alighted at the foot of a Banyan tree in Bhagat Mhalsapati’s field near Khandoba Temple.
The Carts were loosened in the open courtyard of Khandoba’s temple and the members of the party descended one by one.
Bhagat Mhalsapati on seeing the young Fakir getting down, spontaneously accosted Him “YA SAI” (Welcome Sai).
Hence this fakir (Baba) came to be known as “Sai”
After the wedding got over, all returned to Dhoop Gaon but Baba stayed back at Shirdi.
For 4-5 years Baba lived under a Neem tree and often wandered alone for long periods in the jungles around Shirdi.
Later, Baba shifted over to an Old mosque which he affectionately called “Dwarkamai”,
where he stayed for approximately 60 years and removed the sufferings of people.
Baba always used to laugh and avoid answering to questions asked by the villagers,
as to Who he was, from where had he come, who his Parents were and where his family is.
As a result, people stopped asking him such questions and till date no one knows anything about Baba’s Background.
Baba also never told anything about himself to Baijabai, to whom he was very much attached.
When asked about his relatives and other details he gave only one answer: “From very Long”.
Note: These words uttered by Sai Baba have been actually heard by the daughter-in-law of Baijabai Kote Patil.
She was a witness to the dialogue between Baijabai Kote Patil and Baba who came for Bhiksha at Baijabai’s place.
ONCE BABA WAS ASKED:
Q: “What is your name?”
A: “They call me Sai.”
Q: “Your father’s name?”
A: “Baba (Father).”
Q: “Your guru’s name?”
Q: “Your Creed or religion?”
Q: “Whats your Caste or community?”
A: “Parvardigar (almighty sustainer).”
Q: “Whats your Age?”
A: “Millions of years.”
Q: “What is your religion?”
A: “The religion of God.”
Q: “Where from did you come?”
A: “I have come from the Atma (Soul)”
Q: “What is your caste?”
A: “The caste of the Divine.”
Baba answered all the questions in this manner. Earlier he had been hailed as “Sai”.
And when he gave his father’s name as Baba, he was therefore called “Sai Baba”.
It is evident from these replies that Baba did not look upon himself as his body
and so he never revealed anything of his early life to any devotee.
In later life he spoke of his teacher, one Roshan Shah, who had initiated him into this path
and there is some confusion whether Venkusa is a mispronunciation of Roshan Shah.
A devotee of Sai Baba,
Rao Bahadur Hari Vinayak Sathe (Build the first chatram or chavadi at Shirdi in the year 1905-06) reports,
“Baba told me that the tomb close to the neem tree was that of his guru. He gave his name. It ended with ‘Shah’ or ‘Sah’.
Some of Sai Baba’s devotees felt that they heard Baba say that his guru was Venkusa.
While “Roshan Shah” is a Muslim name, “Venkusa” was a Hindu name.
Whether this ambiguity lay in Baba’s pronunciation or in his giving different answers
to the same question when put by devotees of diverse temperaments, cannot be determined.
Swami Sai Sharananandaji, who lived for quite some time with Baba, wrote in his book “Shri Sai the Superman” that:
on one occasion, Sai Baba had told him that “My Guru’s name is Roshan Shah Mia”.
Subsequently, Swami Sai Sharananandaji marked that Baba was, from time to time, using the word “Roshan”.
He used it particularly when he told some parables.
It seems Roshan Shah thereafter had cast off his mortal coil (his body) and Baba had entombed him near the Neem tree,
at present found in Shirdi Navlkar’s wada or mansion.
When the previous owner of this wada, Shri.R. S. Sathe, wanted to put up a storey and terrace,
at the time of putting up a stair-case he unearthed a tomb with an under-ground cellar or a cave under the Neem tree.
Baba was asked as to what should be done about the tomb and the cave. Baba said that the place belonged to his elders
and it should neither be disturbed nor opened & should be covered up with the stone as before”.
Once Baba also told Shri Sai Sharananandaji,
pointing to a pillar near his dhuni (the sacred fire) in the mosque (Dwarakamai)
that there was a cave thereunder to which he always confined himself
and that once his beard grew so long that it reached the ground
and swept it and that he never came out except to meet some holy or religious man.
On another occasion, Baba had told Swami Sai Sharananandaji,
“I was only 8 years old when I left my parents and came to the Ganges.
(Baba always referred to the Godavari River near Kopargaon as Ganges) Then I came to Shirdi”.
This is perhaps an instance of Baba identifying himself with Sripada SriVallabha – the 1st incarnation of Lord Dattatreya,
who had left his home when he was only 8 years old.
Dr.K.B.Gawankar, in his book on Sai Baba, has recorded a few more of Sai Baba’s reminiscences of his pre-Shirdi days.
Once Sai baba told his devotees, Bade Baba and Bapugir Gosavi,
“I grew up in Mahurgad (a holy place sanctified by the presence of Lord Dattatreya), when people pestered me I left for Girnar,
there too people troubled me much and I left for Mount Abu. There too the same thing happened.
Then I came to Akkalkot and from there to Daulatabad. There Janardan Swami (a great saint) did me a lot of seva (i.e. service).
Then I went to Pandharpur and from there I came to Shirdi”.
- SABKA MALIK EK -
Baba understood the important aspects of Islam and Hinduism and also the blind customs in both.
Having been brought up by Roshan Shah who was a Sufi saint,
and later by Venkusa (devotee of Lord Venkateswara) who being a Hindu, used to take Baba to the Samadhis
of great persons of both the religions and explain their teachings and theories in detail.
So Baba’s teachings combined elements of both Hinduism and Islam, thereby,
trying to achieve communal harmony between both these religions.
He shunned any kind of regular rituals in both the religions,
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 also enjoyed listening to Moulu & Qawwalis accompanied with the Tabla & Sarangi twice daily.
He also wore clothing reminiscent of a Sufi fakir.
Sai Baba also opposed all sorts of persecutions on religious or caste background.
Sai Baba was also an opponent of religious orthodoxy – both Hindu and Muslim.
In 1897, Gopalrao Gund proposed holding the Urus, as in expression of his gratitude to Baba.
Baba gave his permission for the celebration and fixed the day for Ramnavami.
This was an ingenious touch of Baba’s.
Urus is a Muslim festival honoring a Muslim Saint and by holding the Urus on the day of a Hindu festival,
the two communities were brought closer tighter, in a natural yet remarkable way.
Hindu & Muslim influence was seen in his life also.
He lived in an abandoned mosque which was rechristened as “Dwarakamai”,
which means Mother Dwarika (Birth place of Lord Krishna)
and begged for alms till his last day. By appearance he was a Muslim fakir and wore a tattered kafni (long robe)
and wrapped a cloth around his head with a large knot. But his ears were pierced which is a Hindu sign.
He had intimate knowledge of both the Hindu Sciptures & the Quran.
He regularly recited Hindu and Muslim prayers and encouraged his disciples to follow the holy books of their religion.
He took Mahasamadhi on 15th October`1918 at 02.30 pm,
when the Hindu Festival “Dassara” & the Muslim Festival “Muharram” fell on the same day.
So Baba used to celebrate Hindu festivals like Rama-Navami, Guru Purnima etc
and also permitted the “Sandal” procession of the Mohammedans and on Id festivals,
he allowed Mohammedan’s to say their prayers (Namaz) in his masjid.
Once in the Moharum festival, some Mohammedans proposed to construct a Tajiya or Tabut in the Masjid,
keep it there for some days and afterwards take it in the procession through the village.
Sai Baba allowed the keeping of the Tabut for four days
and on the fifth day removed it out of the Masjid without the least compunction.
He allowed all devotees to celebrate festivals at Shirdi,
according to their preferences and religious adopted by them.
- THE SAI BABA MOVEMENT -
The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the 19th century, during Baba’s lifetime itself, while he was staying in Shirdi.
A local Khandoba priest, Mhalsapati is believed to have been his first devotee.
However, 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.
It started developing in the 20th century and even faster in 1910 with the Sankirtans of Das Ganu,
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.
Thats why, even today Baba’s devotees feel that Baba cannot be associated to any one particular religion.
They say that Baba blesses everyone equally irrespective of their Caste, Creed, Religion or Status.
So thats why, wherever Baba was Born and in which ever Religion, it makes no difference to his devotees.
No wonder the number of his devotees is just increasing day by day, such that
today, devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba are present not only in India but all over the world.