History and Mysteries of Shirdi Sai Baba
The famous Shirdi Sai Baba also presents several mysteries for his biographers. But if we regard his known history alone, his life comes out as highly fascinating enough. His birth year, month and date are not known but his death was on 15th Oct 1918. He was born at Pathri (District Parbhani) under Nizam’s Dominion and moved over to Shirdi as a grown up. Details of almost all his youthful years till arrival in Shirdi are unknown like the 18 dark and unknown years of Jesus Christ. It seems that Sai Baba has mentioned that he was a soldier for Rani of Jhansi (1857) and so his year of birth would have been perhaps between 1835 to 1840.
However, biographer Narasimhaswamiji, Founder-President of All India Sai Samaj, has stated that his parents were Brahmins who handed him over at a tender age to a fakir. What follows merely in outline is said to be as per Baba's own accounts. The fakir died after five years and the child went to the care of one Gopal Rao Deshmukh (called ‘Gurudeva’), a great devotee of Tirupati Balaji. After spending nearly ten years in pious learning from Gurudeva, Sai went westward from native Pathri and arrived in Shirdi. But he did not at once settle down at Shirdi. He went on some wanderings and then returned there.
His initial years in Shirdi were spent as an ascetic living under a neem (margosa) tree. Later he shifted to a mosque and lived there all his life, for nearly 50 years. He called the mosque “Dwarkamayi” (The place in Dwarka where Krishna was born). This is just one instance of his puzzling identity-dichotomy, whether a Muslim or Hindu. He preached ways to attain god. He spoke of love and brotherhood. Celibacy, truth and austerity marked his life. He wore a single piece kufni, distributed vibhuti and would tell the devotees “Allah Malik” and “Allah bala karenge”. He would do ‘japa’ and ‘dhikr’, the utterance of god’s name. He would do namaz and chant Al-Fatiha . He did not however indulge in or perform any detailed rituals of worship.
Sai was how he was referred to after his fakir-like life began in Shirdi, and his real name was not known. He preached from the Hindu texts such as Ramayana, Bhagwat Gita etc and from Kuran. As per the accounts of his contemporaries, he was very familiar with these scriptures. He recommended worship, prayers, patience, faith and love. He preached Hindu-Muslim unity. All his preaching was oral and he did not leave any writings.
It seems that he would tell the Hindus, "Continue your Rama worship, and worship the stones which your forefathers worshipped". He presented to the Hindu followers, things like lingams, padukas, pictures and coins with Hindu gods etc. To Muslims, he would only advise the following of the tenets of the Kuran. To those Hindus who thought he was a Muslim, it seems he would say, "I am a Muslim, don't come to me". Several Hindu devotees regarded him as a Satguru Samartha. A Guru is an ordinary teacher, a Satguru tries to show the pathway to god and a Satguru Samartha is a guru with siddhi attainments leading you to god. It is said that Baba told the Hindus who came to him as followers, "I am a brahmin. Give me dakshina. This place where I am sitting is not a mosque; it is a brahmin's mosque. It is Dwaraka Mayee".
He himself is said to have come out of a three day Samadhi (death) in 1886. He was a clairvoyant. It seems that the elements like fire, air and water obeyed his orders. He could order storms to cease and cold breeze to blow, to save people or comfort them. He blessed childless couples and they had children. He is credited with being physically present at more than one place. He could cure the incurably sick. He could restore the eyesight to the blind. He could light lamps with just water. Many of those who witnessed the miracles or benefitted from them, have left accounts of them. His miracles were meant to help the distressed and not to demonstrate his divine nature. All these entailed his being regarded as a living god by some of his close admirers/disciples.
At the age of nearly 80, Sai Baba passed away at 3 pm on 15th Oct 1918. His body lays interred in what is called a Samadhi Mandir now. There are huge bundles of writings about Sai Baba from those who lived during his times or subsequently.
There are nearly 2000 Sai Temples around the world. The Shirdi Sai Sansthan is perhaps the richest temple-sansthan in India after Tirupati.