By Aarti Natarajan Sharma
Sai Baba of Shirdi is a spiritual saint, revered, and worshipped throughout India. The word Sai in Persian means ‘holy’ while Baba in Hindi means ‘father’. It is said that he appeared in Shirdi when he was a young boy of 16, around 1858. He was apparently first seen meditating under a neem tree. No one knew where he came from or who his parents were. He stayed in Shirdi till his death in 1918.
It is believed that Sai Baba is an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya and he manifested himself in a human form for the upliftment of his devotees as well as for the unification between the two religious’ communities of Hindus and Muslims. Sai Baba’s teaching are simple and easy to understand. He detested the rigid demarcations between religions and always said that there is no difference between any religious communities. No one knew whether He was a Hindu or a Muslim. He stated his purpose was to provide blessings and teachings without any discrimination. Some people also believe him to be an avatar of Lord Shiva.
His favourite phrases were Sabka Maalik Ek (there is only one God), Allah Maalik (God is the sole proprietor or owner) and Shraddha-Saburi (faith and patience).
Initially he was considered to be an ordinary, crazy person who lived on the outskirts of Shirdi but gradually He started performing such miracles that people’s faith in him grew to extraordinary proportions. Shirdi became a holy place on account of Sai Baba’s presence. Even today, thousands of devotees from all across the world, flock to Shirdi to seek Sai Baba’s blessings.
Sai Baba kept a Dhuni or sacred fire burning 24x7. The ash from this was distributed as Udi to all his devotees. Baba’s lesson from this was that all external phenomenon was as transient as ash and a truly enlightened person moved away from worldly attachments. In the present day, along with prasad, Udi packets are distributed to all devotees. It is also believed that the Udi has the power to cure many ailments. People either mix a bit of it in water and drink it or apply it to the ailing part of the body.
Sai Baba collected dakshina or donation randomly from his devotees. Sometimes, he would ask for it for very specific reasons and at other times, the devotees would offer some dakshina themselves. From this amount, he purchased fuel through which the dhuni was kept alive all the time. The remaining was distributed daily among his devotees. Through the concept of dakshina, Baba wanted to teach his devotees the idea of detachment and charity. He believed that until one had the heart to give freely, one could not attain enlightenment. It is interesting to note that irrespective of how much dakshina Baba received during the day, he distributed all of it and by nightfall was back to being a poor fakir (ascetic).
Sai Baba’s Worship
Thursday is considered to be a sacred day to worship Sai Baba. Yellow is the colour which symbolises this day. Baba is worshipped by anyone, across all religions and faiths. Devotees light a lamp in front of his picture or idol, offer yellow flowers, and chant prayers. Sai Baba was an advocate of feeding the poor and devotes often distribute food to poor people on Thursdays. In Shirdi, there is a bhojanalaya (a place where meals are offered for free or at subsidized rates), which offers a food service to the thousands of people who flock there on a daily basis.
One of the easiest ways to worship Sai Baba is through the Sai Chalisa. This is a prayer in praise of Sai Baba, requesting them to bestow the devotee with his blessings. Unlike all other chalisas, the Sai Chalisa has not 40 but over 100 verses.
It is believed that daily chanting of the Sai Chalisa removes all sorrows and afflictions and gives the devotee a sense of peace. The Sai Chalisa is believed to have the power to cure mental and physical ailments. It also makes for an excellent gift to give Sai devotees.
Some verses from the chalisa which give insights on his teachings are
Swayam dhukhi Baba ho jaate, deen-dukhijan ka lakh haal, Anteh: karan shree Sai ka, sagar jaisa raha vishal.
(Witnessing the sorrow of the oppressed, Baba would himself become sad,
For the mind of Baba is as broad as an ocean.)
Tan-man se jo bhaje usi ka jug main hota hai uddhar, Sanch ko aanch nahi haiy Koyee, sada jooth ki hoti haar.
(If one prays to Baba with mind and body, his world will prosper,
There is no danger in truth and lies will always be defeated.)
Ab bhi aur jahan bhi koyee, bhakta pade sankat main, Uski raksha karne Baba jate hai palbhar main.
(When any other devotee gets in to trouble,
Baba immediately goes to rescue him.)
Bhedh bhaav se pare pujari manavta ke the Sai, Jitne pyare Hindu-Muslim uutne hi Sikh isai.
(Sai was above all differences and a priest of humanity,
To him Sikhs were as dear as Hindus and Muslims.)
Jaane kya adhbut, shakti, uss vibhuti main hoti thi, Jo dharan karke mastak par, dukh saara har leti thi.
(We do not know what power was there in his sacred ash,
By wearing it on the forehead, all sorrows used to get destroyed.)
Shirdi Sai Baba is one of the most popularly worshipped saints in India and even among devotees overseas. There are numerous Sai Baba temples, with the one in Shirdi being the main one and a place where Sai Baba’s body has been laid to rest, called the samadhi mandir.
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