Today we shall share the story of our beloved Sai Baba. He was a man who was gracious and generous to all. For as beloved as he was by his millions of devotees, it is argued that the love he showed them back was even greater. Whether you were short or tall, big or small, white or black, or any shade in between, from the tiniest ants to the tallest mountains Sai Baba had love for all things. In his essence, he thrived in his modest and humble nature. He led a simple life, taught simple virtues, and asked for simple things in return by his devotees. Sai Baba asked that we stand strong in our faiths, whatever they may be. He asked that we love God. And above all else he prayed that we showed the same love to each other. In return, bestowed us with his blessings and graced us with his miracles, or Leelas as we have come to call them. “Listen to me, and your prayers shall be answered” as he often proclaimed.
We shall start with the early years of Sai Baba, the years before the fame. Much of the details of his life during this time remain unknown. We do not know his true name, his family, where he was born, or even his birthday. On the last two, all that exist are guesses. This continues to beg the question, “where did Sai Baba come from?” This puzzle has boggled the minds of scholars from around the world for nearly two centuries and will continue to do so.
So now we move onto more concrete things. Sai Baba packed his sparse belongings and travelled west before arriving at the beautiful and quiet village of Shirdi in Maharashtra, British India. At this time, he was at the ripe age of 16 years old. It was in Shirdi where he quickly earned the name that he is known by today. “Sai” can have an array of meanings ranging from a person of religious importance to a literal God. “Baba” is a loving term signifying grandfather, father, or sir. When one puts these words together, it is easy to see the highest honor in holding the title “Sai Baba”.
The way he could generate such undying devotion, loyalty, and respect from his followers around the world began at an early age as well. Even as a mere teenager he lived the life of an ascetic. He distanced himself from material pleasure and set his sights upon higher wonders, wonders that only the eternal thirst for faith and knowledge could satisfy. Sai Baba was often seen under a Neem tree, where he would sit quietly and still as a statue. Under this very tree he would stay and meditate for hours, and sometimes even days without stopping. Food and water were of little concern, as God gave him the energy to continue.
The villagers watched this child in awe and many times they questioned how such a young boy could practice such disciplined faith and resist such common temptations. Time after time, Baba even in his youth displayed levels of wisdom and faith that far outlasted his years. Burning hot days and bone chilling nights, neither the heat nor cold bothered him. Oftentimes he was visited by other religious members of Shirdi and beyond. Some understood his journey but others, in their ignorance, called him mad and would throw stones at him. Sai Baba thus left Shirdi to continue his travels, but one year later he would return.
In 1858 Sai Baba made his glorious return to Shirdi, where he would remain for the duration of his life. Being the ever-so-stylish man he was, he soon adopted his signature clothing line of a knee length one-piece Kafni robe and a bare cloth cap. His outfit highlighted the simple life that he was content with living, but not without some opposition. Some took Baba’s clothing to be a proclamation that he was a devout Muslim, which he was not.
For a period of nearly 5 years after his return to Shirdi, he lived under the very same Neem tree he was seen meditating under. He spent his days wandering the leafy Indian jungle and undertaking long periods of fierce meditation. Later, a disgruntled Sai Baba was persuaded to take shelter in and old and dilapidated mosque, where he lived out the rest of his days. Baba aided his humble lifestyle by begging for alms every day. He received multitudes of both Hindu and Muslim visitors. In his mosque, Sai Baba would constantly maintain a Dhuni (sacred fire). While he gave spiritual lessons to his devotees and guests alike, Baba distributed the ashes from his Dhuni to his visitors, for they were said to have healing powers and bring about good fortune. Being the benevolent avatar that he was, Sai Baba would also take these ashes to help treat the sick within Shirdi.
Baba lived out his days in this manner and by 1910, his fame and stories of his miracles had spread like wildfire and gained him immense popularity stretching all the way to Mumbai. Soon after, followers built his first temple in Bhivpuri, Karjat. On October 15th, 1918 Sai Baba decided for himself that it was time to move on from this world to the next. So, by his own accord and meditations he entered a trancelike state, a Samadhi, which allowed him to pass on, while his soul has remained with us forever.
Of his teachings, they proceed as follows:
Sai Baba frowned upon the persecution of other people. Regardless of their religion, caste, race, or any other factor he stressed the significance of peace and equality. He asked that his devotees pray and read their holy scriptures. For Muslims this meant the Qu’ran and for Hindus this meant the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Vasistha. He did not claim just one religion accordingly, for he saw beauty in all practices the same way he saw beauty in all things. His beliefs and teachings drew heavily on influences by Hinduism, Islam, and even shows traces of Christianity.
Baba used these lessons and the combined beauties of all these beliefs to form what he and millions across the world believe to be the most virtuous way of living. He asked of his devotees to lead a moral life and to always strive for what is right, to aid the poor, and to never discriminate. Baba implored of devotees never lose faith in God and to exhibit patience and love in all things. Lastly, Sai Baba preached that in order to truly believe, you must give without the intention of receiving. Do not do good for a reward. Do good because it is right. To let go of earthly possessions and to practice due to faith and morals is the proper way to live. Acting out of duty will always trump acting for one’s own self benefit.
What began as a young man meditating under a Neem tree in a small village has now blossomed into a worldwide empire. From the humble village of Shirdi, Sai Baba’s religious awakening has spread to the Caribbean Islands, Nepal, Canada, the US, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, the UK, Germany, France, and Singapore.
Devotees have rejoiced in his Leelas during his life and long after. During his time, he graced us on earth, he was known to make items levitate, mindreading, lighting lamps with water, curing what was deemed incurable, telling the future, and aiding his devotees in every way that was needed in between. Since his departure from this earth it is arguable that Sai Baba has accomplished just as much. He bestows upon the faithful these very same miracles when he sees true devotion, and has even been known to visit us in our dreams.
Om Sai Ram
By Amit Gattadahalli