Sri Sai Baba, the foremost saint of modern India, lived in
the village of Shirdi, Maharashtra for nearly sixty years and
elevated it to the status of a great pilgrimage centre. He initially
stayed on the outskirts of the village for some time and as more people
become acquainted with his divine nature, he finally shifted to a
dilapidated mosque in the heart of the village.
The birth and parentage of Sri Sai Baba are wrapped in mystery
and Sri Sai himself always eluded such questions. The historical facts
of his life were of no relevance to Him. The blessed saint of Shirdi, in
whom the light of Divinity was fully manifest, had come to awaken man to
his Divine nature, and save them for delusion and ignorance and to
inspire them to strive for self-realisation.
Yet some facts of this
life are important as they lead us to better understanding of who He was
and His mission on earth. It was during his
stay at Shirdi from 1858 to 1918 that he performed His thrilling Leelas
(Divine Play), miracles of spiritual transformation and granted
liberation to innumerable creatures-human beings and animals alike, who
were drawn to Him, by an unseen force.
He lived as a muslim fakir in a dilapidated
mosque he called “Dwarakamayee Masjid”. He begged for alms twice
or three times a day from only five chosen houses and shared what he got
with his devotees as well as those animals and birds Which lived in His
ambience. His external appearance was that of a
fakir – simple, illiterate, traditional, moody and empathetic – at
times fiery and abusive – at others, full of humane concern and
compassion. He enacted all his
simple yet charming Leelas (Divine Play), for six decades, only to hide
His real identity as the God incarnate. The
villagers of Shirdi and afar soon found out that his was no ordinary
fakir but an avatar (incarnation) of a very high order. He demonstrated
through his miracles and utterances, the purpose and intention for which
he had come. He would often say, “My Leela is inscrutable”. To
each one he met he imparted knowledge according to the capacity of the
recipient to absorb it. Baba’s Leelas were plenty and varied, and we
recount just a few which occurred during and after his lifetime.
Long before Sai Baba’s
fame spread, he was fond of burning lights in the masjid and other
Temples. But for the oil needed in those little earthenware lights that
he lit, he depended on the generosity of the grocers of Shirdi. He had
made it a rule to light earthenware lamps in the masjid every evening
and he would call on the grocers for small donations. But there came a
time when the grocers got tired of giving oil free to Sai Baba and one
day they bluntly refused to oblige him, saying they had no fresh stocks.
Without a word of protest Sai Baba returned to the masjid. Into those
earthenware lamps he poured water and lighted the wicks. The lamps
continued to burn deep into the midnight. The matter came to Sai Baba
with profuse apologies. Wouldn’t Sai Baba kindly pardon them?
Sai Baba pardoned them,
but he warned them never to lie again. “You could have refused to
give me the oil, but did you have to say you didn’t have fresh stocks?”
he admonished them. But he had made his point.
Once, harvesting in shirdi had been completed and the food grains of the
entire village had been stored in a yard. The summer was on. The heat
was intense as only those who have lived in shirdi know. One afternoon
Sai Baba summoned Kondaji Sutar and said to him: “Go,
your field is on fire!” Frightened,
Kondaji ran to his field and frantically looked around for any sign of
fire. There wasn’t any. He returned to the masjid and informed Sai Baba
that he had looked everywhere but had found no trace of fire and why did
Baba have to frighten him?
Unfazed Baba said:
“You better turn back and look again.”
was right after all. Kondaji noticed that a sheaf of corn was indeed on
fire and smoke was billowing from it. A strong wind was fanning the fire
and word had gone round to the villagers who now came running to the
“Sai Baba,” the
people shouted, “help us, help us put the fire out!”
Thereupon, Sai Baba
walked casually towards the yard, sprinkled some water on a stack of
sheaves and said: “There now! The fire will die down!”
And so it happened.
Was it a miracle?
There was that other
occasion when many thought that the masjid which housed Sai Baba itself
would be consumed by fire from the flames which leapt up from the dbunt.
All that Baba did was to take some swipes at a wooden pillar in front of
him. With every blow the flames subsided and the fire died down.
his devotees. Often they would notice him stirring some hot concoction
over the kitchen fire, not with a ladle but with his bare hands. There
was a time when his hand was scalded. What supernatural powers did he
On yet another occasion,
Sai Baba was partaking of food with three of his devotees
in the masjid
when, without any cause for provocation, he exclaimed: “Stop!”
Then, as if nothing had happened, the four continued with their meal.
Lunch over and the dishes cleared, they stepped out of the masjid, when
large chunks of the ceiling fell on the very spot where they had been
seated only a few minutes earlier. Did Sai Baba’s powers extend even to
inanimate matter, the devotees wondered.
Instances have been
quoted by his devotees as to how Sai Baba commanded the rains to stop
and the winds to cease. There is the story of one Rao Bahadur Moreshwar
Pradhan who has come to Shirdi to take Sai Baba’s darshan along with his
wife.As the couple were about to leave, it began to rain heavily.
Thunder and lightning rent the air. As the Pardhan couple along round in
dismay, Sai Baba prayed. “Oh Allah!” he intoned, “let the
rains cease. My children are going home. Let them go peacefully!”.
The storm thereupon ceased, the downpour became but a slight drizzle and
the Pradhans were able to reach their destination safely.
When Sai Baba first came
to Shirdi it boasted of no basic facilities. There was a well but only
in name. It had no natural spring water and if ever there had been one,
it must long ago have dried up. Water had to be fetched from a distance.
When, therefore, Sai Baba gave his permission to the villagers to
celebrate the Ram Navami Fair, (Baba’s
Birthday) the big problem facing the organizers was one of
water supply. So what should they do but go to Sai Baba with their
“Oh yes,” said Sai
Baba, “so you want plenty of water, do you? Here, take this and drop
it in the well and wait and see.”
“This,” turned up
to be a platter of flowers on which some prasad (blessed food) had been
placed along with the remnants of alms Baba had received earlier in the
The villagers had no
qualms about doing as they were bid. Their faith in Sai Baba was total.
No sooner had that platter of leaves been dropped in the well, it is
said, water rose from the bottom as if by divine command and completely
filled it. And great was the rejoicing of the people.
One report has it that
word had spread that the 3 – year old daughter of a poor man called babu
Kirwandikar had fallen into the well and had been
drowned. When the
villagers rushed to the well they saw the child suspended in mid-air as
if some invisible hand was holding her up! She was quickly pulled out.
Sai Baba was fond of that child who was often heard to say: “I am
Baba’s sister!”. After the incident, the villagers took her at her
word. “It is all Baba’s Leela”, the people would say
philosophically. They could offer no other explanation. These were
instances of things they had seen with their own eyes. It was not second
– handed information they had gathered. Sai Baba was to them as real as
their homes and their fields and their cattle and the distant hills.
Das Ganu once had an
unforgettable experience. On a festive occasion, he sought Baba’s
permission to go to a place called Singba on the banks of the Godavari
to have a bath in the holy waters.
“No,” Baba replied
resolutely, “where is the need to go all the way when the Godavari is
here right at my feet?”.
Das Ganu was vexed. He
was willing to concede that Ganga the holy river (and Baba frequently
referred to Godavari as Ganga) rose from the feet of Sri Narayana (one
among the Hindu trinity of Gods) himself, but his faith was not deep
enough to believe that the waters of the Godavari could spring from the
feet of his master, Sri Sai.
Baba who was reading Das
Ganu’s mind decided that this was the time to strengthen Das Ganu’s
faith. He told his devotees: “come closer to me and hold the hollow
of your palms at my feet!”
As soon as he did so
water flowed freely out of the toes of the master’s feet and filled the
hollow of Das Ganu’s palms in no time. His joy Knew no limits. He
sprinkled the water on his head and his body was distributed some more
among the assembled devotees as tirtha (holy water).
In the present time
Sri Sai, has been relentlessly continuing with his Leelas.
Baba always maintained
the “Dhuni” or the perpetual fire. The realisation that all
phenomena in nature are perishable and unworthy of our craving, is
signified by “Udi” which Sai Baba distributed to all.
Baba never left Shirdi.
He talked to people who came to see Him. Sai Baba would often speak in
symbols and parables leaving his devotees to work out the answer – such
as, “A man had a beautiful horse, but no matter what he did, it would
not run in harness. An expert suggested it should be taken back to the
place from where it had come. This was done and it become tractable and
useful”. The explanation of this story is that the horse is the Ego.
As commander of the physical and mental powers of man, it is useful but
self-willed and therefore causes endless trouble. Taking it back to its
source is re-absorbing it in the spirit or self from which it arises. It
is the return to the source which purifies and enlightens. From there
the ego issues forth again, no longer an ego, but a conscious agent of
Baba would ask for
Dakshina (money offered with respect to the guru) from some of those who
came to see Him. This was not because he needed their money. This was
one of Baba’s methods for testing out the devotee’s attachment to
worldly things and willingness to surrender his ego. Once one has
surrendered himself totally to Him, Baba takes care of all His spiritual
and temporal needs.
Baba regarded money like
everything else, in a symbolical manner. He at once said, “I ask only
from those who the fakir (God) points out and in exchange I give them
ten times as much”. By the end of the day, all the money Baba had
earned was disturbed to the destitute, poor, sick and the needy.
Baba used to feed the
fakirs and devotees and even cook for them. For those who were
accustomed to meat, be cooked meat and for the others vegetarian fare.
The Dwarakamayee of Sai Baba was opened to all, irrespective of caste,
creed or religion. Among those who came to see him and got his darshan
(Establishing spiritual contact with the guru) and the blessings were
ministers, government officials business people and village folk.
He was the common man’s God.
He stayed with them, he
joked with them, he slept and ate with them, he smoked a chilim (pipe)
with them, he sang and danced with them, having no pretensions of a God.
But all of them knew that He protected them. Even today, though he has
left his gross body, we feel his presence and realise his worth all the
Baba would also refer to
the sounding of the drum of the beginning of eternity within the soul.
This “anahat” sound emerged from Baba’s heart from every limb,
every bone and pore of his body. It was permeated with divine essence
and Baba claimed that though one day of his physical body will not
exist, his remains will communicate with you from the grave. Therefore,
the most important place in shirdi is Baba’s temple – the Samadhi Mandir
is his grave, which literally millions have visited and still continues
to draw many more.
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