Details of the time and place of Sai Baba’s birth are unknown. Various communities have claimed that he belongs to them, but nothing has been substantiated. It is known that He spent considerable periods with fakirs, and His attire resembled that of a Muslim fakir. Baba reportedly arrived at the village of Shirdi in Maharashtra, India, when He was about 16 years old.
Although there is no agreement among biographers on 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 suggests possible birth year of 1838 although others claim Baba was born on 29 September 1835. 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 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.]
In 1858 Sai Baba returned to Shirdi. It is also widely believed that He was already known as Sai. . It was around this time that Baba adopted his famous style of dress, consisting of a knee-length one-piece robe (kafni) and a cloth cap, typical Sufi clothing. This attire contributed to Baba’s identification as a Muslim fakir, and was a reason for initial indifference and hostility against Him in a predominantly Hindu village. According to a follower who was widely praised as Sai Baba’s “apostle” this attitude was prevalent in Shirdi, even up to 1954.
For four to five years Baba lived under a neem tree, and often wandered for long periods in the jungle in and around Shirdi. His manner was said to be withdrawn and uncommunicative as He undertook long periods of meditation.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 which is referred to as a dhuni, from which He had the custom of giving sacred ash (‘Udhi’) to His guests before they left and which was believed to have healing powers and protection from dangerous situations. At first He performed the function of a local hakim and treated the sick by application of Udhi. This ash is also known as vibhuti.
According to Hemadpant, His constant companion and author of “Satcharita”, there were many miracles performed with this ash. One person who did not have the ash with him, took up some dust from the roadside, meditated on Sai Baba, invoked His aid and applied it to the forehead of his wife which cured another devotee of bubonic plague !!
Baba also taught His devotees the principles of discrimination between the Real and the Unreal, non attachment for the Unreal by His Udi and Dakahina. Udi taught discrimation and Dakshima taught non attachment.
Baba also delivered spiritual teachings to his visitors, recommending the reading of sacred Hindu texts along with the Qur’an, especially insisting on the indispensability of the unbroken remembrance of God’s name (dhikr, japa). He often expressed himself in a cryptic manner with the use of parables, symbols and allegories also indulging in wit and humour..
He participated in religious festivals and was also in the habit of preparing food for His visitors, which He distributed to them as prasad. 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.
Sai Baba 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)and , Yoga Vasistha
He advised his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, love every living being without any discrimination, 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 emphasized 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.
Sai Baba said that God penetrates everything and lives in every being, and that God is the essence of each of them. He emphasized 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 emphasized 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 buying wood to maintain Dhuni. 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. Sai Baba made eleven assurances to his devotees proclaiming:
1. Whosoever puts their feet on Shirdi soil, their sufferings will come to an end.
2. The wretched and miserable will rise to joy and happiness as soon as they climb the steps of Dwarakamai (Mosque).
- I shall be ever active and vigorous even after leaving this earthly body.
- My tomb shall bless and speak to the needs of my devotees.
- I shall be active and vigorous even from my tomb.
- My mortal remains will speak from My tomb.
- I am ever living to help and guide all who come to Me, who surrender to Me and who seek refuge in Me.
- If you look at Me, I look at you.
- If you cast your burden on Me, I shall surely bear it.
- If you seek My advice and help, it shall be given to you at once.
- There shall be no want in the house of My devotee.
Early in December, a group of us… Pranashakty pilgrims led by Sri Pranaji and Master Raj will visit Shirdi, We will mix with thousands of other devotees all praying for Shirdi Sai Baba’s blessings for our families and ourselves.. It is a blessing to have been called to visit.