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Shirdi Sai Baba a becon of hope By Praveen Chopra

Shirdi Sai Baba a becon of hope By Praveen Chopra

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Published by Sri Shirdi Sai Baba
Shirdi Sai Baba Abecon of hope By Praveen Chopra
Shirdi Sai Baba Abecon of hope By Praveen Chopra

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Published by: Sri Shirdi Sai Baba on Jul 17, 2008
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SHIRDI SAI BABA: THE BEACON OF HOPE
By Parveen Chopra
 Rising above religion, Shirdi Sai Baba, the Indiansage preached simple moral and spiritual laws. Whilehis message appeals to many in this age of complexity, others take refuge in him because of hispromise to help devotees in times of crisis
A fakir in a tattered
kafni 
(long robe) who begged for almstill his last day. Who founded no religion or sect, developedno trademark spiritual philosophy or system of practices,started no movement, initiated not a single disciple, leftbehind no apostles. Who breathed his last eight longdecades ago and about whom very few had heard till the1960s.The
Sai Baba
of Shirdi.Today, he has millions of devotees in India and other parts of the world.
Shirdi
, theobscure village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, in India, has become apilgrimage destination much as Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Varanasi. The number of pilgrims go there average 25,000 a day and can climb to over a hundred thousandon holidays and festival days. They belong to every strata of society and all religions,and include politicians, film stars and rich businessmen. By conservative estimates,there are over 2,000 major
Sai 
 
temples in different parts of India and 150 abroad inplaces as far-flung as Canada and Kenya, Singapore and England.Significantly, all these temples have been constructed and consecrated by localinitiative. Indeed, the growing
 
Sai 
 
phenomenon is not orchestrated by a centralorganization, though there is the
Sri Sai Baba Sansthan
, which manages the affairsat
Shirdi
.The
Shirdi 
 
phenomenon defies easy explanation. It perhaps owes itself to the will of Baba himself, who is considered an
avatar 
of no less than the Almighty.More specifically, he has been called an incarnation of Shiva andDattatreya(thetriune Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva deity worshipped in Maharashtra) and is said to appearto devotees as their deity:Jesus Christ, Rama or Krishna (Vitthala).Scholars and devotees verily associate him with the
Nath
tradition of great
yogi 
s aswell as poet-saints of the
Bhakti 
movement, particularlyKabir, who decried ritualismand preached the transcendence of caste and creed differences.In her Ph.D. thesis from the Toronto University, soon to be published as a book,Marianne Warren argues that
Shirdi Sai Baba
was an
aulia
, Sufi mystic and saint.Meher Baba,
Sai Baba's
contemporary based near Shirdi, had given him the Sufihonorific of Hazrat and placed him at the head of a spiritual hierarchy of five perfectmasters on a spiritual mission.
 
Practically speaking,
Sai Baba's
appeal lies in the experiences of innumerabledevotees that prayers to him yield tangible worldly results, as well as in the moreesoteric areas of transformation of character and spiritual benefits. Yet, most peopleapproached the
Baba
during his lifetime for material, not spiritual, gain. And ShubhaVerma, a Hindi journalist-turned-
Baba
devotee, says it remains the case till date.Baba's mission was, however, to restore belief in god. As he himself said: "I givepeople what they want in the hope that they will begin to want what I want to givethem (knowledge of the Ultimate)."
EVER-LIVING PRESENCE
 
Sai Baba
had the reputation of being clairvoyant, healingthe sick, restoring eyesight, affecting events at a distance,appearing in devotees' dreams, and exercising control overthe elements. Biographies of 
Baba
are replete with storiesof how he helped his devotees out of problems and crisis.He continues to do so.Govind G. Dabholkar, deputy manager, Indian Airlines,based in Mumbai, is a grandson of Hemadpant who wrote
Sri Sai Satcharita
, the Marathi biography consideredauthentic because Baba had blessed the project. Once, onthe day of an important
Sai 
function, Dabholkar's wife'prayed for a respite from the unceasing rain, which was,causing leakage in their house. From the moment she prayed till the time the lastdevotee left the house, the rain indeed stopped, though it continued to rain heavilyon both the adjacent suburbs.Umesh Badwally, a retired insurance officer of Mumbai, felt a palpable divinity inShirdi during his early trips there. "After that, I always prayed to him in moments of crisis, and have always been helped. Once, my sister-in-law was diagnosed withcancer, and advised an operation. I had no money, and no one to turn to. Soon after,a friend came home, and offered not just to loan the money, but also to stay with mein the hospital. Ultimately, it turned out that she didn't have cancer. Four years later,she was again advised surgery. This time, she was lying on the operation table whena biopsy proved that she didn't have cancer."M.V. Kamath, former editor of the
Illustrated Weekly of India
and co-author of 
Sai Baba of Shirdi, A Unique Saint 
, and former head of the Shirdi trust, reports: "Everythree months, work takes me to Udipi, Mangalore. To catch the early morning flight,I have to leave home by 5.30 a.m. when taxis are seldom around. Once, I half  jokingly asked Baba why don't you help me find a taxi? Soon, an, autorickshawappeared from nowhere, a passenger alighted and the driver willingly took me to theairport, at no extra cost."Next, time, with a little more faith I petitioned his help; and the same thinghappened. An autorickshaw came from nowhere, dropped a passenger, picked meup, and asked me for nothing extra. After that, however, I never asked for his helpagain for such trivial things are not meant to be his problem."My book on
Sai Baba
has done quite well. Without advertising, it is in its l0thedition." Incidentally, the publisher of some of the more important books on
Shirdi
 
Sai Baba
, S.K. Ghai, head of Sterling Paperbacks, recalls that when he returnedfrom his first visit to Shirdi, he found the manuscript of a book on Baba lying on histable. He now regularly does
 japa
of 
Baba's
 
mantra
'
Om Sai Shri Sai Jai Jai Sat 
' andhas turned vegetarian.
A DIVINE LIFE
 Though the last decades of his life are well documented, the little that is knownabout the early life of 
Sai Baba
is disputed. He was born to Brahmin parents in 1838in a place called Pathri in Marathwada. He was abandoned soon after and adopted bya childless
Sufi fakir 
and his wife. Later he was put in the care of a
guru
(VenkuShah) where he remained for 12 years. According to another version he studied witha Sufi master Roshan Shah Miyah, in the Aurangabad area where Sufism flourished.He was first seen in Shirdi around 1858, but had disappeared after a while. Initially,he was discarded as a mad
fakir 
. After staying for a while on the outskirts of thevillage, under a
neem
(margosa) tree (where he said his master was buried), hefinally made a dilapidated mosque his abode. When people began approaching himwith health problems, he gave them some herbal remedies and later
udi 
(sacred ash)from his continuously burning
dhuni 
. In a few years, priest of the Khandoba villagetemple and others had accepted him.In 1886
Baba
went into
samadhi 
for three days, had a direct experience of unionwith God, after which his spiritual powers became evident and he started acting as a
 pir 
to wandering
fakirs
.The first miracle performed at Shirdi was lighting oil lamps in the mosque with water.He also saved the village from a cholera epidemic. As his fame spread, governmentofficials, high-ranking Britishers, politicians including
Lokmanya
Balgangadhar Tilak,and the wealthy started calling on him. One day, a millionaire came to
Sai Baba
andsaid he was going to start a building in Shirdi in his name. But before its completion,Baba fell ill and attained
mahasamadhi 
on October 15, 1918.The building now contains a silver idol of 
Baba
and is part of what is now called the
Samadhi Mandir 
.
SIMPLE TEACHINGS
 What
Baba
preached was actually quite simple. Accordingto him, real sorrow is the cycle of birth and death and thereal happiness is liberation. He suggested:
Accept your lot cheerfully. If you acquire wealth, becomehumble the way a tree laden with fruit bows down. Moneyis a necessity but don't get obsessed with it. Yet, don't bea miser, be generous.
Perform your duty conscientiously and with detachment,not regarding yourself as the doer.
Surrender the fruit of action to god so that action doesnot bind you. It is ties of indebtedness from previousbirths, which bring humans and other beings together.
Satisfy your sexual desire, albeit only with your spouse. Don't drown in lust. Rein it

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