Sai Baba was the third child of Ganga Bhavadiya and Devagiriamma born on 28th September, 1835. Sai Baba left no authentic record of early life before coming to the village Shirdi, in the state of Maharashtra. Sai Baba’s simple yet spiritually enriched, way of life with its supreme detachment and renunciation, and his method of imparting spiritual instruction and guidance to the devotees through instances and experiences of their daily lives have an unfailing appeal. ‘ Sai ’ means savior, Master or saint and ‘ Baba ’ means father as an expression of reverence.
Shirdi Sai Baba was born in September 28, 1835, to a Hindu couple.
Sai Baba was the third child of a boatman, Ganga Bhavadiya who lived in “ Patri ”, a village near Manmad, on the banks of a river there. Mother’s name was Devagiriamma.
Torn between her husband and her children, Devagiriamma decided that it was her duty to follow in the footsteps of her husband, sent her two children to her mother’s house and accompanied her husband into the forest.
After they had covered some distance, Devagiriamma felt that she was soon going to be in child-bed. Birth pangs had set in. She implored her husband to wait for a while. But he went his way. As soon as she was delivered of the child, a son, beneath the shade of a banyan tree, she placed her child on the ground, covered it with banyan leaves and hastened after her husband, for her duty lay in that direction.
A person named Mr. Patil from a neighbouring village was fetching his wife from her mother’s hamlet, in a tonga. Srimati Patil alighted from the tonga and went to the very spot where the child had been made to lie by Devagiriamma. She heard the child’s cry, removed the banyanleaves and found that it was a new-born child. Excited, she called her husband to the spot and showed him the child. They were a childless couple. And it was their feeling that GOD had given them this child to look after and to play with. They took the child home. They brought it up as their own son.
The child grew up in the Patil household. Patil died when the child was growing into boyhood. The mother was unable to cope with his activities. The boy used to go into Hindu temples and recite the ‘ Quran ’ there. He installed a stone Lingam in a mosque and worshipped it there. Enraged Hindu and Muslim neighbours came to the foster-mother and complained bitterly about the boy. She was puzzled.
Unable to control the boy, Srimati Patil, the foster-mother, came to know of an ashram started some miles away by a sadhu named Venkusa. There were, in the ashram, some orphan boys and waifs. She decided to take Babu (Shirdi Sai Baba as boy) away and leave him there. Venkusa had a dream on the night previous to the coming of the foster-mother with Baby. Sreemati Patil went there at about 10 am, with Babu. She told Venkusa about the boy’s disturbing activities and prayed to Venkusa to take Babu as an inmate of the ashram. Venkusa did so with great delight and reverence.
Baba first came to Shirdi when he was a young lad of sixteen and stayed there for three years. Then, all of a sudden, he disappeared for some time. After some time, He reappeared in the Nizam State, near Aurangabad, and again came to Shirdi, with the marriage-party of Chand Patil, when he was about twenty years old.
Sai Baba came to Shirdi with the said marriage procession, which camped in a field near the Khandoba’s temple on the outskirts of the village. One Mhalsapati, a goldsmith by caste of Shirdi, was a devotee of Shri Khandoba and visited that temple daily. There, when this Mhalsapati first saw Sai Baba, the former spontaneously accosted him thus, “ Welcome Sai Baba ” and this is the name i.e. ‘ Sai Baba ’ by which thereafter this Saint of saints became known to the world.
After Sai Baba’s return to Shirdi in 1858, people observed a change in his old routine. Though by day he still spent a great deal of time under his favourite ‘ Neem ’ tree, and occasionally sat near a stream on the outskirts of the village, the nights were spent either in the village’s dilapidated mosque or in the chavadi.
Sometimes he walked to Neemgaon, two kilometers north of Shirdi, and sometimes to Rahata, five kilometers in the opposite direction.
Once from a visit to Rahata, he brought back with him saplings of marigold and jasmine. After clearing a small patch of land, Sai Baba planted the shrubs and tended them. At the end of three years, under his daily ministrations, a beautiful garden bloomed on what had once been barren land.
Sai Baba wore a piece of white cloth around his head which was knotted at the back and flowed down from behind his left ear. He was usually barefoot and a piece of sack-cloth served him as a cushion. He kept a fire burning perpetually in the mosque and when he sat next to it, he faced south.
Sai Baba did not mix with the local people and he was scarcely ever seen speaking to any one. He was often heard muttering sacred Urdu phrases to himself but his manner at such times made it clear to those in the vicinity that he did not wish to be overheard.
His favourite expression however was of Muslim origin - “ Allah Malik ” meaning “ God is the Master. ”
Apart from a handful of food and some small quantities of tobacco for which he begged, the only thing he really seemed to need was oil for his lamps. The people of Shirdi ignored him as a young man who was slightly touched in the head and indulged in religious practices which were not in keeping with the precepts of either Hinduism or Islam.
In those early years of his life he used to go to ‘ Takia ’ , the public night shelter for moslem visitors to the village. There in the company of sojourning devotees and fakirs, he used to dance and sing in divine bliss, with small trinkets tied around his ankles. The songs he sang were mostly in Persian or Arabic. Sometimes he sang some popular verses of Kabir.
The split between the two communities .. Hindus and Mohammedans .. widened up and Sai Baba came to bridge that gulf. His constant advice to all was to this effect.
“ Ram and Rahim are one and the same; there is not the slightest difference between them then, why should their devotees fall out and quarrel among themselves ? Join hands and bring both the communities together, act sanely and thus, you will gain your object of national unity.
“ Yoga, sacrifice, penance and knowledge are the means to attain God. If you do not succeed in this by any means, in vain is your birth. If anyone does any evil unto you, do not retaliate. If you can do anything, do some good unto others.”
This, in short, was Sai Baba’s advice to all, and this will stand in good stead both in material and spiritual matters.
Sai Baba himself actively discouraged speculation amongst his devotees as to his identity and back-ground. Despite extensive enquiries, nobody was ever able to prove conclusively whether Sai Baba was a Hindu or a Muslim.
When asked for his name, he replied, “ They call me Sai Baba ”
“ Creed or religion ? ”
“ Kabir ”
“ Caste or community ? ”
“ Parvardigar ! ”
Not a single answer was of the least help in establishing his true identity !
Though he lived in a mosque, he always had a fire going in it. He not only had oil lamps burning night and day, he even permitted the blowing of conches and ringing of bells inside his mosque. On the other hand, it was the name of Allah which was always on his lips. Sai Baba disapproved of extremes of religious orthodoxy.
His Hindi was as fluent as his Urdu. Nobody believed that Baba knew Sanskrit. One day He surprised all by giving an interpretation of a verse from the Gita to Nanasaheb Chandorkar.
Nanasaheb Chandorkar was a good student of Vedanta. He had read Gita with commentaries. He fancied that Baba knew nothing of Sanskrit texts. So, Baba one day pricked the bubble.
Nana, then, recited Bhagavad Gita
(IV-34), which is as follows :
“ Tadviddhi Pranipaatena
Upadekshyanti Te Gnyanam
Baba began to explain :
“ It is not enough merely to prostrate before the Gnyanis. We must make Sarvasya Sharanagati (complete surrender) to the Sadguru.
“ Mere questioning is not enough. The question must not be made with any improper motive or attitude or to trap the Guru and catch mistakes in the answer, or out of idle curiosity.It must be earnest with a view to achieve spiritual progress or liberation.
“ Seva is not rendering service, with the feeling that one is free to offer or refuse service. One must feel that, he is not the master of the body, that the body is Guru’s and exists merely to render service to him.
“ If this is done, the Sadguru then will show you, what the Knowledge referred to in the previous stanza is. ”
Nana was humiliated, His pride was knocked down.
It seems Baba did not like that any of His able bodied devotees should remain idle and be a burden on society or his kith and kin. He always preached, “ A man should always be doing something.” He himself never sat idle but was always busy doing something. In the noon, when no work was at hand, he would just take a needle and repair his torn out dhoti or his robe etc. and if at such a time somebody would turn up and question Baba, “ Why should you take this trouble when we all are ready and willing to do this for you ? ” He would at once reply :
“ One has to be always busy doing something and so far as possible he should avoid troubling others for his own piece of work. ”
‘ Fasting ’ and ‘ onion ’ were two of the things which Baba often used as the subject .. matter for displaying his wit and humour and, at the same time, for showing his wonderful knowledge of men and matters and also for showing his divine powers.
Baba never fasted and never believed in fasting and always discouraged fasting as a means of getting any spiritual good.
Baba taught that the search for God on an empty stomach is not desirable, as it’d not achieve its avowed goal and the story of how he met his Master in the forests only after he ate. The food offered with love by an unknown tribesman and the advice he gave to Radhabai Deshmukh, when she went on a fast unto death in Shirdi village for getting his blessings.
Baba much liked onion and his daily meal was not complete unless he ate a couple of them, raw and dry, with relish and often he had a dig at the orthodoxy of several brahmins who refused even to touch it, on grounds of sex and dirty smell. And, his only purpose of making fun of fasting and onion was to instruct his devotees and to show up his omniscience.
Nanasaheb Bengle brought for Sai Baba, a wooden plank, about four arms in length and only a span in breadth, for sleeping upon. Instead of keeping the plank on the floor and then sleeping on it, Baba tied it like a swing to the rafters of the Masjid with old shreds of rags and commenced to sleep upon it. The rags were so thin and worn out than it was a wonder, how they could bear or support weight of the plank itself, let alone the weight of Baba. But, somehow or other it was Baba’s sheer Leela that the worn out rags did sustain the plank, along with the weight of Baba on it !
On the four corners of this plank, Baba lighted Panatis (earthen lamps), one at each corner and kept them burning the whole night.
It was a sight for the Gods to see Baba sitting or sleeping on this plank ! It was a wonder to all, how Baba got up and down the plank. Out of curiosity, many curious observers kept watching the process of mounting and dismounting, but none succeeded.
As crowds began to swell, so as to detect this wonderful feat, Baba one day broke the plank into pieces and threw it away. Baba had all the eight Maha Siddhis (powers) at his command. He neither practised nor craved for them. They came to him naturally, as a result of his spiritual perfection.
Sai Baba himself ate very little ; and the little he required was obtained by begging from a few families in Shirdi who had come to consider it a privilege to render this services.
But many were the times when Sai Baba himself distributed food ! What was unique about these occasions was that everything from the shopping to the actual cooking was done by Baba himself without any assistance from anyone. And, as if that was not enough, he personally served the food to all who were present in his mosque.
“ See God in all living creatures ! ”
Sai Baba’s mosque which he had named ‘ the Dwarkamai ’ was open to all.
Dogs, cats, crows and lizards were as welcome as the lame, the blind and the leprous. Poor man, rich man, the able-bodied and the handicapped, all were treated with the same graciousness and courtesy.
One day, as he sat as usual before his sacred fire in the mosque, a lizard on the wall made a constant ‘ tic-tic ’ sound. A devotee asked whether the sound produced by the lizard was of any particular significance.
“ The lizard is happy because her sister from Aurangabad is coming to see her ”, Baba told him !
This explanation perplexed the devotee but he kept quiet. Minutes later, a gentleman from Aurangabad stopped at the mosque to see Sai Baba. He had come on horseback and had broken journey at Shirdi as the horse was hungry.
As the man unslung a cloth bag (containing feed for the horse) and thumped it lightly on the floor, to rid it of dust, a lizard emerged from it and swiftly made its way up the wall to the other one, and the two went scuttling along the rafters !
Though, Sai Baba looked like a man, three cubits and a half in length, still he dwelt in the hearts of all. Inwardly, he was unattached and indifferent but outwardly, he longed for mass welfare.
Though, inwardly, an abode of peace, he looked outwardly restless. Inwardly, he had the state of Brahma, outwardly he seemed engrossed in the world.
Sometimes, he looked on all with affection and at times he threw stones at them; sometimes he scolded them, while at times he embraced them and was calm, composed, tolerant and well-disposed towards his bhaktas.
He always sat on one Asan and never travelled. His ‘satka’ was a small stick, which he always carried in his hand. He was calm and thought-free. He never cared for wealth and fame, and lived on begging. Such a life he led. He always uttered “ Allah Malik ” .. “ God is the real owner ”.
He was the store-house for selfknowledge and full of divine bliss.
Sai Baba had complete knowledge of events and occurrences even at long distances. Though he never physically left Shirdi, he was known to materialise himself in other bodies in far distant places.
But, in order to do so, he never went into trance, nor did he ever interrupt his normal routine in Shirdi itself !
Curiously enough, to those who had seen him, he invariably appeared in a form, different from his own, while for the benefit of those who had never even heard of him, he materialized as the well-known figure in the white robe and head cloth.
These manifestations, whatever the form they took, were always for a reason.
Sai Baba himself spoke frequently of his travels over great distances. Sitting besides his fire in the Dwarkamai, he often regaled his devotees with tales of where he had been and whom he had visited during the night.
Diwali day, Baba was seated as usual in his mosque feeding wood to his sacred fire when he thrust his arm into the flames. Two devotees who were present at the time caught him by the waist and pulled him back.
When asked why he had done such a thing, Sai Baba explained :
“ The wife of a blacksmith was working the bellows of a furnace when her husband called out to her. Forgetting that she had a child tied around her waist, she ran to her husband and the child fell into the furnace. So I thrust my hand into it and pulled the child out ! I don’t mind my arm being burnt .. I’am glad that the child’s life was saved. ”
Sai Baba, of course, refused to have his burns treated. The doctor who was sent for all the way from Mumbai by some of Sai Baba’s wealthier devotees was not even permitted to examine the arm, let alone treat it.
The only person who was allowed to dress the burns was a leper devotee called Bhagoji Shinde. The ‘ treatment ’ consisted of the burnt area being massaged with ghee, covered with a leaf and wound tight with bandages. It was typical of Sai Baba that he accepted this personal service from one who was an advanced case of leprosy.
Though enormous sums of money flowed into Shirdi after Sai Baba’s fame had spread, he never kept any of it nor did his life-style undergo the slightest change.
He owned no property, he built no ashrams and costly gifts were returned to the donors. The money collected daily was distributed by him each evening amongst the poor and the needy. Except for a few coins which he set aside to purchase oil for his lamps, wood for his fire and tobacco for his pipes, he kept nothing for himself ..
At the time of his death, in 1918, Sai Baba’s worldly possessions were exactly what they had been when he came to Shirdi in 1858. a white cotton robe, a piece of headcloth, a tin can, a wooden stick and some clay pipes.
Thirty-two years before Samadhi, i.e. in 1886, Baba made an attempt to cross the border line. On a Margashirsha Pournima (Full moon) day, Baba suffered from a severe attack of Asthma. To get rid of it, Baba decided to take his Pran high up and go into Samadhi. He said to Bhagat Mhalsapati :
“ Protect my body for three days ! If I return, it will be all right, if I do not, bury my body in that open land .. pointing to it .. and fix two flags there as a mark ! ”
After saying this, Baba fell down at about 10 p.m. His breathing stopped as well as his pulse. It seemed as if his prana left the body. All the people, including the villagers came there and wanted to hold an inquest and bury the body in the place, pointed by Baba. But, Mhalsapati prevented this. With Baba’s body on his lap, he sat full three days guarding it. After three days passed, Baba showed signs of life at 3 a.m. His breathing commenced, the abdomen began to move. His eyes opened and stretching his limbs, Baba returned to consciousness again.
Some days before Baba’s departure, there occured an ominous sign foreboding the event. There was, in the Masjid, an old brick on which Baba rested his hand and sat. At night time he leaned against it and had his Asan. This went on for many years. One day, during Baba’s absence a boy who was sweeping the floor, took it up in his hand, and unfortunately it slipped and fell down and got broken into two pieces.
When Baba came to know about this, he bemoaned its loss, saying :
“ It is not the brick, but my fate, that has been broken into pieces. It was as dear to me as my life, it has left me today ! ”
When Sai Baba knew that he was to pass away soon, he asked Mr. Vaze to read ‘ Ramvijay ’ to him.
Mr. Vaze read the book once in the week. Then, Baba asked him to read the same again day and night, and he finished the second reading in three days.
Thus eleven days passed. Then again he read for three days and was exhausted. So, Baba let him go and kept himself quiet. He abided in his Self and was waiting for the last moment.
Two or three days earlier, Baba had stopped his morning peregrinations and begging rounds, and sat quietly in the Masjid.
Baba got a slight fever on 28th September, 1918. The fever lasted for two or three days, but afterwards Baba gave up his food, and thereby grew weaker and weaker.
On the 17th day, i.e., tuesday, 15th October, 1918, on Vijayadasami. Baba left his mortal coil at about 2-30 pm.
Source : “ Shri Sai Satcharita ” by Govind Raghunath Dabholkar