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. Many books have been written about Shirdi Sai Baba but the Shri Sai Satcharita, the story of Sai Baba's life and actions (quoted from below) was written in his own lifetime and is best known among Sai devotees. 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.
Experiences of Sai Baba's Various Devotees
Das Ganu was once performing his Kirtan (religious discourse) and singing the glory of Sai Baba, in the Koupineshwar temple in Thana. One Mr. Cholkar, a poor man serving as a candidate in the Civil Courts in Thana, was amongst the audience. He heard Dasganu's Kirtan most attentively and was much moved. He there and then mentally bowed and vowed to Baba saying - "Baba, I am a poor man, unable to support my family. If by your grace, I pass the departmental examination, and get a permanent post, I shall go to Shirdi, fall at Your Feet and distribute sugar-candy in Your name." As good luck would have it, Mr.Cholkar did pass the examination and did get the permanent post and now it remained for him to fulfill his vow, the sooner the better. Mr. Cholkar was a poor man with a large family to support; and he could not afford to pay for the expenses of a Shirdi trip. As Mr. Cholkar was anxious to fulfill his vow as early as possible, he resolved to economize, cut down his expenses and save money.
He determined not to use sugar in his diet and began to take his tea without it. After he was able to save some money in this way, he came to Shirdi, took Baba's darshan (sight of a holy person), fell at His Feet, offered a coconut, distributed it with a clean conscience along with sugar-candy as per his vow and said to Baba that he was much pleased with His darshan and that his desires were fulfilled that day. Mr. Cholkar was in the Masjid with his host Bapusaheb Jog. When the host and the guest both got up and were about to leave the Masjid, Baba spoke to Jog as follows:- "Give him (your guest) cups of tea, fully saturated with sugar."
Hearing these significant words, Mr. Cholkar was much moved, he was wonderstruck, his eyes were bedewed with tears, and he fell at Baba's Feet again. Mr. Jog was also curious about this direction, regarding the tea-cups to be given to his guest. Baba wanted by His words to create faith and devotion in Cholkar's mind. He hinted as it were, that He got the sugar-candy as per his vow and that He knew full well his secret determination not to use sugar in his diet. Baba meant to say, "If you spread your palms with devotion before Me, I am immediately with you, day and night. Though, I am here bodily, still I know what you do; beyond the seven seas. Go wherever you will, over the wide world, I am with you. My abode is in your heart and I am within you. Always worship Me, Who is seated in your heart, as well as in the hearts of all beings. Blessed and fortunate indeed, is he who knows Me thus."
Bread and Onion Story
Picture equivalent to Darshan
It was often the experience of Sai Baba's devotees that seeing Baba's picture earnestly is equivalent to seeing Him in person. The following story illustrates this statement.
A Saint of Bombay named Balabuva Sutar, who on account of his piety, devotion and bhajan (sacred singing), was called "Modern Tukaram", came to Shirdi for the first time in 1917. When be bowed before Baba, the latter said "I know this man since four years." Balabuva wondered and thought, how could that be, as that was his first trip to Shirdi. But thinking about it seriously he recollected that he had prostrated himself four years ago before Baba's portrait at Bombay and was convinced about the significance of Baba's words. He said to himself, "How omniscient and all-pervading are the Saints and how kind are they to their Bhaktas (devotional devotees)! I merely bowed to His photo, this fact was noticed by Baba and in due time He made me realize that seeing His photo is equivalent to seeing Him in person!"
Faith Secures Passing Grade
There lived in Bandra, a suburb of Bombay, one Tendulkar family, all the members of which were devoted to Shirdi Sai Baba. The son of the family was studying hard day and night and wanted to appear for the medical examination. He consulted some astrologers. Examining his horoscope they told him that the stars were not favourable that year and that he should appear for the examination next year, when he would be certainly successful. This cast a gloom over him and made him restless. A few days afterwards his mother went to Shirdi and saw Baba. Amongst other things she mentioned the gloomy and morose condition of her son, who was to appear for the examination in a few days. Hearing this Baba said to her,"Tell your son to believe in Me, to throw aside horoscopes and predictions of astrologers and palmists and go on with his studies. Let him appear for the examination with a calm mind, he is sure to pass this year.
Ask him to trust in Me and not to get disappointed". The mother returned home and communicated Baba's message to her son. Then he studied hard and in due course appeared for the examination. In the written papers he did well, but being overwhelmed by doubts he thought that he would not secure sufficient marks for passing. So he did not care to appear for the oral examination. But the examiner was after him. He sent word through a fellow- student, stating that he had passed in the written examination and that he should appear for the oral. The son being thus encouraged appeared for the oral examination and was successful in both. Thus he got through the examination that year successfully by Baba's grace, though the stars were against him. It is to be noted here that doubts and difficulties surround us just to move us and confirm our faith. We are tested as it were. If we only hold on steadily to Baba with full faith and continue our endeavours, our efforts will be ultimately crowned with success.
Mr. Gopal Narayan Ambadekar of Poona was a devotee of Baba. He served for ten years in the Abkari department, from where he had to retire. He tried to get some other job, but he did not succeed. He was overtaken by other calamities and his condition grew from bad to worse. He passed 7 years in this condition, visiting Shirdi every year and placing his grievance before Baba. In 1916 his plight became worst and be decided to commit suicide in Shirdi. So he came there with his wife and stayed for two months. One night while sitting in a bullock cart he resolved to end his life by throwing himself into a well close by. He proposed to do one way but Baba wished to do something else. A few paces from this place, there was a hotel and its proprietor Mr. Sagun, a devotee of Baba, came out and accosted him thus, "Did you ever read this Akkalkotkar Maharaja's life?" Ambadekar took that book from Sagun and began to read it.
Casually, or we may say providentially he came across a story which was to this effect. - During the life time of Akkalkotkar Maharaj a certain devotee suffered very much from an incurable disease and when he could endure the agony and pain no longer, be became desperate and to end his miseries threw himself one night into a well. Immediately the Maharaj came there and took him out with his own hands and advised him thus, "You must enjoy the fruit - good or bad - of your past actions; if the enjoyment be incomplete, suicide won't help you. You have to take another birth and suffer again; so instead of killing yourself, why not suffer for some time and finish up your store of the fruit of your past deeds and be done with it once and for all?"
Reading this appropriate and timely story, Ambadekar was much surprised, and moved. Had he not got Baba's hint through the story, he would have been no more. Seeing Baba's all-pervasiveness and benevolence, his faith in Him was confirmed, and he became a staunch devotee. His father was a devotee of Akkalkotkar Maharaj and Sai Baba wanted him to walk into his father's footsteps and continue his devotion to Him. He then got Sai Baba's blessings and his prospects began to improve. He studied astrology and gained proficiency in it and thereby improved his lot. He was able to earn sufficient money and passed his after-life in ease and comfort.
Baba's Mission Continues after Death
Bhakta Narayanrao had the good fortune to see Baba twice during the Latter's lifetime. Three years after the passing away of Baba in 1918, he wanted to come to Shirdi, but he could not come. Within a year of Baba's Mahasamadhi (leaving the body) he fell sick and suffered much. All ordinary remedies gave him no relief. So he meditated on Baba day and night. One night he had a vision in his dream. Baba coming to him through a cellar, comforted him saying, "Don't be anxious, you will be improving from tomorrow, and within a week you will be on your legs." Narayanrao got perfectly well within the time mentioned in the vision. Now the point for consideration is this:- Was Baba living because he had the body, and was He dead because He left it? No, Baba is ever alive, for He transcends both life and death. He who loved Him once whole-heartedly gets response from Him at any time and at any place. He is always by our side and will take any form and appear before the devout Bhakta (devotee) and satisfy him.
Role of Pain and Suffering
One Dr. Pillay was an intimate Bhakta of Baba. He was much liked by Baba, who always called him Bhau (brother). Baba talked with him off and on and consulted him in all matters and wanted him always at His side. This Pillay suffered once very badly from guinea-worms. He said to Kakasaheb Dixit, "The pain is most excruciating and unbearable. I prefer death to it. This pain, I know, is for repaying past Karma, but go to Baba and tell Him to stop the pain and transfer the working of my past Karma to ten future births of mine." Mr. Dixit went to Baba and told Him his request. Then Baba, being moved by his request, said to Dixit, "Tell him to be fearless. Why should he suffer for ten births? In ten days he can work out the sufferings and consequences of his past Karma. While I am here to give him temporal and spiritual welfare, why should he pray for death? Bring him here on somebody's back and let us work and finish his sufferings once for all".
The doctor was brought in that condition and was seated on Baba's right. Baba gave him His bolster and said, "Lie calmly here and be at ease. The true remedy is, that the result of past actions has to be suffered and got over. Our Karma is the cause of our happiness and sorrow; therefore put up with whatever comes to you. Allah (God) is the sole Dispenser and Protector, always think of Him. He will take care of you. Surrender to His feet with body, mind, wealth and speech, i.e. completely and then see what He does." Dr. Pillay said in return that Nanasaheb had put a bandage over the leg, but he found no relief. "Nana is a fool" replied Baba. "Take off that bandage or else you will die. Now a crow will come and peck you, and then you will recover."
While this conversation was going on, one Abdul who always cleaned the Masjid and trimmed the lamps, turned up. While he was attending to his work of trimming, his foot accidentally fell upon the stretched leg of Dr. Pillay. The leg was already badly swollen and when Abdul's foot fell upon it and pressed it, all the seven guinea-worms were squeezed out at once. The pain was unbearable and Dr. Pillay bawled out loudly. After some time, he calmed down and began to sing and cry alternately. Then Baba remarked, "See, our Bhau is all right now and singing." Then Pillay enquired when the crow was coming and pecking at him. Baba said, "Did you not see the crow? He won't come again. Abdul was the crow. Now go and rest yourself in the Wada and you will be soon all right."
By application of the Udi and by taking it in the stomach with water, and without taking any other treatment or medicine, the disease was completely cured in ten days as predicted by Baba.
Summoned by Dream
It is said that a dream, which we get in the small hours of the morning, generally comes out true in the walking state. This may be so, but regarding Baba's dreams there is no restriction of time. To quote an instance:- Baba told Kakasaheb Dixit one afternoon to go to Rahata and fetch Khushalchand to Shirdi, as He had not seen him since long. Kakasaheb accordingly took a tanga (cart) and went to Rahata. He saw Khushalchand and gave him Baba's message. Hearing it, Khushalchand was surprised and said that he was taking a noon nap after meals when Baba appeared in his dream and asked him to come to Shirdi immediately and that he was anxious to go. As he had no horse of his nearby, he had sent his son to inform Baba; when his son was just out of the village-border, Dixit's tanga turned up. Dixit then said that he was sent specially to bring him. Then they both went in the tanga back to Shirdi. Khushalchand saw Baba and all were pleased. Seeing this Leela of Baba, Khushalchand was much moved.
Baba Fed Sumtuously, How?
Once, Mrs. Tarkhad was staying in a certain house in Shirdi. At noon, meals were ready and dishes were being served, when a hungry dog turned up there and began to cry. Mrs. Tarkhad got up at once and threw a piece of bread, which the dog gulped with great relish. In the afternoon, when she went to the Masjid and sat at some distance, Sai Baba said to her, "Mother, you have fed Me sumptuously up to my throat, My afflicted pranas (life-forces) have been satisfied. Always act like this, and this will stand you in good stead. Sitting in this Masjid I shall never, never speak untruth. Take pity on Me like this. First give bread to the hungry, and then eat yourself. Note this well."
She could not at first understand the meaning of what Baba said. So she replied, "Baba, how could I feed You? I am myself dependent on others and take my food from them on payment." Then Baba replied -- "Eating that lovely bread I am heartily contended and I am still belching. The dog which you saw before meals and to which you gave the piece of bread is one with me, so also other creatures (cats, pigs, flies, cows etc.) are one with me. I am roaming in their forms. He, who sees Me in all these creatures is my beloved. So abandon the sense of duality and distinction and serve Me, as you did today." Drinking these nectar-like words, she was moved, her eyes were filled with tears, her throat was choked and her joy knew no bounds.
Maid Servant demonstrates meaning of Upanishad
Das Ganu once started to write a commentary on the Ishavasya Upanishad. He translated it verse by verse into the Marathi language, but did not comprehend the gist of it and so was not satisfied with his performance. He therefore consulted some learned men regarding his doubts and difficulties and discussed with them at great length. They did not solve them nor did they give him any rational and satisfactory explanation. So Das Ganu was a little restless over this matter.
This Upanishad is the quintessence of the Vedas. It is the science of self-realization, it is the scythe or weapon which can rend asunder the bondage of life and death, and make us free. Therefore, he thought, that he who has himself attained self-realization, can only give him the true or correct interpretation of the Upanishad. When nobody could satisfy Das Ganu, he resolved to consult Sai Baba about this. When he got an opportunity to go to Shirdi, he saw Sai Baba, prostrated himself before Him, and mentioned his difficulties about the Ishavasya Upanishad and requested Him to give the correct solution. Sai Baba, blessed him and said- "You need not be anxious, there is no difficulty about the matter, the maid-servant of Kaka (Kakasaheb Dixit) will solve your doubts at Vile Parle, on your way home". The people who were present then and heard this, thought that Baba was joking and said, "How could an illiterate maid-servant solve the difficulties of this nature", but Das Ganu thought otherwise. He was sure, that whatever Baba spoke, must come true, Baba's word was the decree of the Brahma (Almighty).
Fully believing in Baba's words, he left Shirdi and stayed with Kakasaheb Dixit. There the next day, when Das Ganu was performing his morning worship, he heard a poor girl singing a beautiful song in clear and melodious tones. The subject matter of the song was a crimson coloured Sari (Indian dress), how nice it was, how fine was its embroidery, how beautiful were its ends and borders etc. He liked the song so much that he came out, and saw that it was being sung by a young girl, the sister of Namya, who was a servant of Kakasaheb. The girl was cleaning vessels, and had only a torn rag on her person. On seeing her impoverished condition, and her jovial temperament, Das Ganu felt pity for her and when Rao Bahadur M.V.Pradhan next day gave him a pair of dhotars, he requested him to give a sari to the poor little girl also. Rao Bahadur bought a good Chirdi (small Sari) and presented it to her. Like a starving person getting luckily good dishes to eat, her joy knew no bounds.
The next day she wore the new Sari, and out of great joy and merriment, whirled, danced round and played `Fugadi' with other girls and excelled them all. The day following, she kept the new Sari in her box at home and came with the old and torn rags, but she looked as merry as she did the previous day. Seeing this, Das Ganu's pity was transferred into admiration. He thought that the girl being poor had to wear a torn rag, but now she had a new Sari which she kept in reserve and putting on the old rag, strutted herself, showing no trace of sorrow or dejection.
Thus he realized that all our feelings of pain and pleasure depend upon the attitude of our mind. Thinking deeply over this incident, he realized that a man ought to enjoy whatever God has bestowed on him in the firm conviction that He besets every thing, from behind and before, and on all sides and that whatever is bestowed on him by God must be for his good. In this particular case, the impoverished condition of the poor girl, her torn rag and the new Sari, the donor, the donee and the acceptance were all parts of the Lord and pervaded by Him. Here Das Ganu got a practical demonstration of the lesson of the Upanishad - the lesson of contentment with one's own lot in the belief that whatever happens is ordained by God and is ultimately good for us.
Sacred Ash (Udi) of Sai Baba
Narayan Motiram Jani of Nasik was a devotee of Baba. He was serving under another devotee of Baba, by name Ramachandra Vaman Modak. Once he went to Shirdi with his mother and saw Baba. Then Baba Himself told her that he (her son) should serve no more, but start independent business. Some days after, this prophecy turned true. Narayan Jani left service and started a boarding house, 'Anandashram' which thrived well. Once a friend of this Narayanrao was stung by a scorpion and the pain caused by it, was severe and unbearable. Baba's Udi (sacred ash) is most efficacious in such cases; it is to be applied on the seat of pain, and so Narayanrao searched for it, but found none. Then he stood before Baba's picture and invoked Baba's aid, chanted Baba's name and taking out a pinch of the ashes of the joss-stick burning in front of Baba's picture and thinking it to be Baba's Udi, applied it on the seat of pain and the sting. As soon as he took out his fingers, the pain vanished and both the person were moved and felt delighted.
Udi used to facilitate childbirth
About 1904-05 Nanasaheb Chandorkar was Mamlatdar (revenue collector) at Jamner, in the Khandesh District, which is more that 100 miles distant from Shirdi. His daughter Mainatai was pregnant and was about to deliver. The case was very serious and she was suffering from labour-pains for the two or three days. Nanasaheb tried all remedies but they proved in vain; he then remembered Baba and invoked His aid. There in Shirdi, one Ramgirbuva, whom Baba called Bapugirbuva, wanted at this time to go to his native place in Khandesh. Baba called him and told him to take a little rest and stop at Jamner on his way home and give the Udi and Arati (spiritual ceremony) to Nanasaheb. Ramgirbuva said that he had only two rupees with him and that amount was barely sufficient for the railway fare up to Jalgaon and it was not possible for him to go from jalgaon to Jamner, a distance of about 30 miles. Baba assured him that he need not worry, as everything would be provided for him.
Then Baba asked Shama to write the well-known Arati composed by Madhav Adkar and give a copy of it with Udi to Ramgirbuva to be delivered to Nanasaheb. Then relying on Baba's words, Ramgirbuva left Shirdi and reached Jalgaon at about 2:45 a.m. He had only two annas left with him and was in a hard plight. To his great relief he heard somebody calling out "Who is Bapugirbuva of Shirdi?" He went to him and told him that he was the person Bapugirbuva. Then the peon, professing to be sent by Nanasaheb, took him out to an excellent tanga with a good pair of horses. They both drove in it. The tanga ran fast and early in the morning they came to a brooklet. The driver took the horses for watering them and the peon asked Ramgirbuva to partake of some eatables. Then both of them took the refreshments and started again. They reached Jamner at dawn. Ramgirbuva alighted to attend a call of nature and returned within a few minutes, but found that there was no tanga, no driver and no peon.
He was dumbfounded. Then he went to the neighbouring Katcheri and making enquiries, learnt that the Mamlatdar was at home. He went to Nanasaheb's house and announced himself and gave Nanasaheb Baba's Udi and Arati. At this time, Mainatai's case was most serious and all were in deep anxiety about her. Nanasaheb called out his wife and asked her to give the Udi, mixed with water, to their daughter to drink, and sing Baba's Arati. He thought that Baba's help was most opportune. In a few minutes came the news that the delivery was safe and that the crisis had passed away. When Ramgirbuva thanked Nanasaheb for the peon, tanga and the refreshments etc. the latter was greatly surprised as he had sent none to the station, and was not aware of any person coming from Shirdi.