Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. October 15, 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba, 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 incarnation of Shiva or Dattatreya, and he was regarded as a satguru and an incarnation of Kabir.
The name 'Sai Baba' is a combination of Persian and Indian origin; Sāī (Sa'ih) is the Persian term for "holy one" or "saint", usually attributed to Islamic ascetics, whereas Bābā is a word meaning "father" used in Indian languages. The appellative thus refers to Sai Baba as being a "holy father" or "saintly father". His parentage, birth details, and life before the age of sixteen are obscure, which has led to a variety of speculations and theories attempting to explain Sai Baba's origins. In his life and teachings he tried to 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").
Sai Baba taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, devotion to God and guru. His philosophy was Advaita Vedanta and his teachings consisted of elements both of this school as well as of bhakti and Islam.
Sai Baba remains a popular saint and is worshipped mainly in Maharashtra, southern Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Debate on his Hindu or Muslim origins continues to take place. He is also revered by several notable Hindu and Sufi religious leaders. Some of his disciples received fame as spiritual figures and saints.
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, which posits a possible birthyear 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. His presence attracted the curiosity of the villagers and the religiously-inclined such as Mhalsapati, Appa Jogle and Kashinatha regularly visited him, while others such as the village children considered him mad and threw stones at him. After some time he left the village, and 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.
After 1910 Sai Baba's fame began to spread in Mumbai. Numerous people started visiting him, because they regarded him as a saint (or even an avatar) with the power of performing miracles. and they built his first ever temple at Bhivpuri, Karjat as desired by Sai Baba.Sai Baba took Mahasamadhi on October 15, 1918 at 2.30pm. He died on the lap of one of his devotees with hardly any belongings, and was buried in the "Buty Wada" according to his wish. Later a mandir was built there known as the "Samadhi Mandir".
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 also enjoyed listening to moulu and qawwali accompanied with the tabla and 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 of Shirdi was also an opponent of religious orthodoxy - both 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 texts like the Ramayana, Vishnu Sahasranam, Bhagavad Gita (and commentaries to it), Yoga Vasistha. 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.
Sai 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. Another example of the way he combined both faiths is the Hindu name he gave to his mosque, Dwarakamai.
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. Sai Baba 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.
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. Other favourite sayings of his were: "Why do you fear when I am here", "He has no beginning... He has no end." Sai Baba made eleven assurances to his devotees:
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 Trust is based there. The first ever Sai Baba temple is situated at Bhivpuri,Karjat.
The devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba have spread all over India. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Religion there is at least one Sai Baba mandir in nearly every Indian city. His image is quite popular in India. Some ordinary non-religious publishing houses (such as Sterling Publishers) publish books about Shirdi Sai written by his devotees. Shirdi is among the major Hindu places of pilgrimage. 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 U.S. 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. 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.
Sai Baba had many notable disciples:
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. His devotees have many stories and experiences to tell. Many books have been written on the same.
The most important source about Sai's life is the Shri Sai Satcharita written in Marathi, in 1916 by Govindrao Ragulnath Dabholkar (translated into English by Nagesh Vasudevanand Gunaji with English title: Shri Sai Satcharitra) 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. Sri Sai Baba and His Teachings by Acharya Ekkirala Bharadwaja is an indepth study of Sai's life routine and activities.
|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|
|1993||Sai Baba||Yashwant Dutt||Babasaheb S. Fattelal||Marathi||Also featuring Lalita Pawar|
|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 TV serial, Sai Baba.|
|2008||Malik Ek||Jackie Shroff||Deepak Balraj Vij||Hindi||Expected release in 2008. Also featuring Manoj Kumar, Divya Dutta, Rohini Hattangadi, Zarina Wahab and Anup Jalota as Das Ganu.|
In the popular Hindi film Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Rishi Kapoor playing the Muslim character Akbar sings "Shirdi Wale Sai Baba" in a temple. Laxmikant Pyarelal composed the music, Anand Bakshi wrote the lyrics, and Mohd. Rafi was the playback singer. The song became a hit and is still played today.
A more recent Hindi TV series, "Sai Baba" was made by Ramanand Sagar and broadcast by Star Plus in 2006, with 31-year old Mukul Nag in the title role. A TV serial on Sai Baba is telecasted on Star TV network on every Sunday at 8:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. by Prof. C. V. Vijendra in Hyderabad.