SHIRDI SAI BABA (1838 — 1918) was a spiritual master who was and is regarded, by his devotees as an avatar of God, saint, fakir and sadguru. He was revered by both his Muslim and Hindu devotees and during, as well as after his life on earth, it remained uncertain if he was a Muslim or Hindu himself.
Sai Baba stressed the importance of surrender to the guidance of the true Sadguru or Murshad, who, having gone the path to Divine consciousness himself, will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training. The name “SAI” was given to him, upon his arrival at Shirdi, a town in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. SAI or SAYI is a Persian title given to Sufi saints, meaning ‘poor one’ and in Banjara language SAYI means ‘good one.’ BABA means ‘Father’ in many Indian and Middle Eastern Languages. Thus, SAI BABA denotes “Holy Father” or “Saintly Father.” Sai Baba remains a very popular Master, especially in India. He had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self-realization. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace and devotion to God.
His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam. He gave the Hindu name DWARAKAMAYI to the mosque he lived in, practised Muslim rituals, taught, using words and figures from both traditions. One of the well-known epigrams “MALIK EK” (ONE GOD) is associated with Islam and Sufism. He always uttered ALLAH MALIK (GOD IS KING). Sai Baba came to Shirdi when he was about 16yrs old. He led an ascetic life, sitting motionless under a neem tree and meditating while sitting in an asana. He stayed in Shirdi for 3yrs, disappeared for a year, and returned permanently around 1858.
Around this time, he adopted his style of dress of a knee-length one-piece ——— KAFNI ROBE and a CLOTH CAP ——– articles of typical Sufi clothing. This attire contributed to Baba’s identification as a Muslim Fakir. His manner was said to be withdrawn and uncommunicative as he undertook long periods of meditation.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 (DHUNI). He performed the function of a local HAKIM and treated the sick with the sacred ashes of the DHUNI. He also delivered spiritual teachings, 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).
After 1910, Sai Baba’s fame began to spread in Mumbai. People regarded him as a saint and they built his 1st temple at Bhivpuri, Karjat. He also emphasised the importance of performing one’s duties without attachment to earthly matters and of being content —— regardless of situations.
The Sai Baba Mandir, in Shirdi, is visited by around 20,000 pilgrims a day. The Shirdi Sai Movement has spread to the Caribbean and to countries such as the US, Australia, UAE, Malaysia and Singapore.