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Let me clarify at the outset that I am not a devotee of Sai Baba of Shirdi (District Ahmednagar,
MaharashtraState). More than 35 years ago, I was District Collector of Ahmednagar and have
witnessed his legacy. I might say that I am in great awe of him and I find his life fascinating.
Millions of Hindus and Muslims form the main plank of his devotees, not without reason. And
even Christians and Parsis are part of the worshipping ranks.

Each of our lives is marked by known history and unknown mysteries. Often, one even tries to
understand ones own mind, own self, and not always successfully. Sometimes, each of us is a
stranger to himself. No wonder, Socrates went about the Agora in Athens asking each one he
met, Do you know yourself? and ended up irritating most of them! That public irritation was
one of the serious factors causing his trial and death by being forced to imbibe poisonous

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 Nizams 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.

As we study him, you might want an answer to the following questions: (1) What was his
education? (2) What did he preach? (3) Was he a scholar and was he well acquainted with
scriptures? (4) Did he perform miracles? (5) Did he worship and do pujas? (6) How did he die?
(7) Are there photos of Shirdi Sai Baba? You may have some more questions too in your mind.

Indeed there are photos of the Baba. Here are some of them:

(pics from the Net)

Was Sai born a Hindu or a Muslim? Most accounts have no clear answer to this. 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 gods name. He would do namaz and

chant Al-Fatiha (The first chapter of Holy Kuran, with the seven lines starting with Bismillahir
Rahmanir Rahim). 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".

How are we supposed to take his alleged miracles? 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. Two great and authoritative sources are
available as follows: (1) Shirdi Diary (containing day by day happenings) written and maintained
by Ganesh Shrikrishna Khaparkhede (2) Shri Sai Sat Charitra an authorized biography in
Marathi, written by Hemadpanth.


There are nearly 2000 Sai Temples around the world. The Shirdi Sai Sansthan is perhaps the
richest temple-sansthan in India after Tirupati. I remember often walking in front of a Sai temple
in North Mada Street in Mylaore, Chennai, as a ten-year old or so. His idol image and photo in
the seated posture were unmissable. His exhortation, Naan Irukka Bayam Aen? as translated
into Tamil, firmly got imprinted in my mind. It meant, Why be afraid when I am there? His
present devotees say that Sai Baba has often come to their rescue in their bad times whenever his
help was sought.

It was a saddening thought for me when I read in the newspaper two days ago that six Sai
devotees proceeding to Shirdi from Mumbai met their tragic end when their car crashed against a
truck. How is this to be explained? Does god pick up his devotees for punishment? I am sure
there are vedantic interpretations for such things. Could so many peoples karmas have been such
that they brought coincidental death at one stroke at one time?

Disreputable deeds as were witnessed recently in the case of Swami Nityananda (of Bengaluru),
can tend to tarnish the image of the whole brotherhood of the Swamijis and Babas. But it would
be wrong to use a single brush to paint everybody. If there are some bad apples in a basket, it
may not be correct to condemn all the apples. I would like to reproduce here what the famous
writer Khushwant Singh, an atheist and agnostic, said in his editorial preface to the book Gurus,
Godmen and Good People (Orient Longman):

I have seen people on the verge of nervous breakdown restored to mental health; epileptics
cured of epilepsy; drug addicts rid of drug addiction; diabetics being able to produce their own
insulin; even serious physical injury which had stubbornly refused to yield to medical
treatment respond to the healing touch of a guru. When it comes to the relationship of a Guru
and his disciples, the age of miracles can by no means be considered to have passed.