Sai Baba of Shirdi
Sai Baba of Shirdi was a crown jewel among Saints. He lived his entire life out in a small and obscure village in India. The villagers of Shirdi each claimed him as a member of their own religion, Muslim or Hindu, but really he came to make peace between them and he always encouraged each to stick to his own religious path. He drew devotees from all over the country though he never traveled and never cared for fame. Over and over his devotees found he knew their innermost thoughts and details of their lives. He effected cures, conferred health, happiness, and prosperity, and made childless couples conceive. His real purpose though was to awaken in them a longing for the spiritual life. Thousands thought of him as a wonderful saint with miraculous powers but his innermost circle knew him to be in incarnation of God himself. Some said of Datta, others of Shiva, still others saw ecstatic visions of their own beloved Guru or chosen Ishta (personalized icon of God) while gazing at Him. He himself said only that he was the humble servant of God and pleased and furthered all who came in contact with him. Just before leaving his body he told a disciple he would be reborn in a certain village 8 years hence and so it came to pass.
Sai Baba was first seen as a youth of sixteen sitting under a neem tree in Shirdi. None knew his origin or past. Even then he seemed to be full of the knowledge of Brahman. He had no desire for worldly objects, even in dream. He kicked out Maya (illusion) and Mukti (illumination) was serving at his feet. This young lad, fair, smart, and very handsome, was first seen under a Neem tree seated in an Asan (meditative posture). The people of the village were wonderstruck to see such a young lad practicing hard penance, not minding heat and cold. By day he associated with none. by night he was afraid of nobody. People were wondering whence that young chap turned up. His form and features were so handsome that a mere look endeared him to all. He went to nobody's door, always sat near the Neem tree. Outwardly he looked very young; but by his action He was really a great soul. He was the embodiment of dispassion and an enigma to all.
A saint name Gangagir who frequented Shirdi said of him on first setting eyes on him "Blessed is Shirdi, that it got this precious jewel". Another saint by name Anandanath said "This is a precious diamond in reality, though he looks like an ordinary man. You will realize this in the near future."
Peace or calm was his ornament and he was the repository of wisdom. He had no love for perishable things and was always engrossed in self-realization. He did not know or care for honor or dishonor. The name of Allah was always on his lips. His inside was as calm as the deep sea. Though he sat in one place, he knew all the transactions of the world. Though a Siddha (realized being), he acted like a sadhaka (disciple on the spiritual path). He was meek, humble, and pleased all.
Sacred Ash (Udi) of Sai Baba
One of Baba's special features was that he always kept a sacred fire (Dhuni) burning. The ash from this fire was called Udi and it was freely distributed to the devotees at the time of their departure from Shirdi. Baba taught by His Udi that all the visible phenomena in the universe are as transient as the ash. Our bodies composed of wood or matter of the five elements, will fall down, after all their enjoyments are over, and be reduced to ashes. In order to remind the devotees of the fact that their bodies will be reduced to ashes, Baba distributed Udi to them. Baba also taught by the Udi that the Brahman is the only Reality and the universe is ephemeral and that no one in this world, be he a son, father or wife, is really ours. We come here (in this world) alone and we have to go out alone. It was found out and is even now found out, that the Udi cured many physical and mental maladies, but Baba wanted to din into the devotee's ears the principles of discrimination between the Unreal and the Real.