Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba: The Wise Indian Saint

Sai Baba of Shirdi is believed to have been born between 1838 and 1842 CE in a place called Pathri in Marathwada in Central India. This Indian saint is known to have practised both Hinduism and Islam, but he made his mark by refusing to be identified with any particular religion.Shirdi Sai Baba dedicated his life to ascetic practice and to spreading the message of love, religious tolerance, and harmony. He did not hesitate to use his miraculous powers to benefit beings. His life was a perfect embodiment of his teachings, and his actions inspired faith among his devotees.Today, Shirdi Sai Baba’s images have become the object of worship for millions of devotees around the world. His wisdom teachings continue to inspire many onto the path of spirituality.

Early Life

Not much is known about Shirdi Sai Baba’s birth, parentage, or childhood. He is said to have given contradictory and vague responses on these matters and regarded .his early life as unimportant. Historical and genealogical research in Shirdi, a town in the state of Maharashtra in western India, indicated that he was born not far from the village and was given the name Haribhau Bhusari at birth.Shirdi Sai Baba himself mentioned to Mhalsapati Nagre, one of his close disciples, that he was born in Pathri Village to a Hindu Brahmin (priestly caste) family. Not long after his birth, his parents entrusted him to the care of a fakir (Sufi Muslim) couple and he spent his childhood in a mosque. On another occasion, he mentioned that his foster mother entrusted him to the care of Venkusa of Selu, a Hindu teacher. He studied under the guidance of Venkusa for 12 years.When he was 16 years old, Sai Baba went to Shirdi Village. Again, there is no exact information about the date of his arrival.However, most biographers agree that he stayed in Shirdi for three years before leaving and returning one year later in 1858 as a 20-year-old. Based on this information, it is widely believed that Shirdi Sai Baba’s year of birth was 1838.During his first stay in Shirdi, he adopted an ascetic lifestyle and engaged in prayer and meditation under a neem tree in the Babul forest. His austere lifestyle drew various reactions from the villagers. The children often mocked and threw stones at him while those who sought out spirituality, such as Appa Jogle, Mhalsapati, and Kashinatha, visited and treated him with reverence. They also supplied him with food and other basic necessities.After three years in Shirdi, Sai Baba left. No one knows for sure what happened to him during this period of absence. It is said that he worked as a weaver and met many fakirs and saints. He himself claimed that, during his absence from Shirdi in 1857, he fought in the Indian Rebellion with the army of Rani Lakshmibai.

Return to Shridi

Shirdi Sai Baba returned to Shirdi in 1858 with Chand Patil’s wedding procession. He went to Khandoba Mandir, a Hindu temple in Shirdi, and met Mhalsapati, a temple priest who would later become one of his closest disciples. Mhalsapati greeted him with the words “Aao, Sai!” or “Come, Sai!” “Sai” is a title that is usually given to a saint of the Sufi faith. From then on, he was known by the name of Sai Baba.Shirdi Sai Baba had long hair that flowed down to his hips. After his defeat in a wrestling match by Mohdin Tamboli, he adopted the Sufi style of clothing and began wearing a cloth cap and a knee-length kafni. He resumed his ascetic lifestyle in the nearby forest where he meditated under a neem tree and wandered through the woods. After about five years, he took up residence at a local mosque which he named “Dwarkamai” after Dwarka, the abode of Lord Krishna. When he first moved in, the mosque was in a state of disrepair.Despite his new dwelling place, Shirdi Sai Baba still went out every morning to beg for alms. He also received pilgrims of the Islamic and Hindu faiths who came to seek his advice. Dwarkamai was open to all visitors regardless of their background, faith, and caste.In Dwarkamai, Shirdi Sai Baba maintained a dhuni (a sacred fire). Udi, the ashes from the sacred fire, are said to have had the power of healing and the ability to avert evil influence. He used these sacred ashes to treat the sick and also gave them freely to whomever visited him. He also asked for donations from his visitors to distribute to the poor and other devotees, to help improve the karma of his disciples, and to teach them to let go of their attachments and greed.Shirdi Sai Baba also encouraged his disciples to do charity and share their possessions with others. Shirdi Sai Baba grew and nurtured the garden he called Lendi Baug,  named after a river that used to flow in that area. He would go to Lendi Baug every morning and rest under a neem tree. Under the neem tree,  he dug a two-feet-deep pit and kept an earthen fire lit continuously.Inside this garden, Shirdi Sai Baba and his disciples also dug a well (Lendi). Every day, he threw silver coins into the well; he liked to test his disciples to see if they were greedy for money and gold.

Shirdi Sai Baba’s Teachings

Shirdi Sai Baba was familiar with both the Muslim and Hindu scriptures and advised his devotees to read them both. He was able to interpret and explain the texts of both faiths. He taught about the omnipresence of God and advised his disciples, “Why do you fear when I am always here. He has no beginning and no end.”He also emphasised the “Oneness of God” – a concept that is common to both the Hindu doctrine of Advaita Vedanta and the Islamic Tauhid (Oneness of God). Shirdi Sai Baba did not leave any notes or records of his teachings. However, he left behind many oral teachings and parables. He emphasised the importance of devotion and faith to one’s teacher and how the law of karma determines one’s faith. He also liked to dance with other fakirs and sing the songs of Kabir, a tradition that was prevalent in the Sufi faith.Throughout his life, it was apparent that Shirdi Sai Baba did not care about his reputation and fame, and he had developed compassion for those who sought him out for help, teachings, and advice. He also did not hesitate to show wrath to his disciples to shake their sense of ego. While the number of his followers and disciples grew, he continued to live simply and became the embodiment of selflessness and compassion. He worked for the liberation of human beings and always encouraged his followers to practise humility. On one occasion, he advised them, “Even the learned are confused. Then what of us? Listen and be silent.” Due to his many selfless qualities, he was revered and admired by a great many people.Save for a few exceptions, Shirdi Sai Baba did not like to perform regular rituals. He did encourage the chanting of the Al-Fatiha and the reading of the Quran during Muslim festivals. He also listened to qawwali and moulu, accompanied by the sarangi and the tabla, twice daily.According to the stories of his life, Shirdi Sai Baba always advised his disciples and devotees to practise generosity, forgiveness,inner peace, contentment, and love towards others. He detested attachment to earthly possessions. He also encouraged his followers to undergo spiritual training and to surrender to their teacher who had “trod the path to divine consciousness,” and “will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training.” [Source:] Shirdi Sai Baba’s other favourite quote was, “Allah rakhega vaiia rahena” or “Let us be content with what we have,  and submit our will to Allah.” [Source:] This verse was meant to encourage his disciples to practise contentment.

Inter-Faith Tolerance and Harmony

Shirdi Sai Baba taught his disciples to practise tolerance and not discriminate against others based on their background, caste, or religion. He said that all faiths led to the same goals and that “God is the Owner of us All.” [Source:] With his words and teachings, Shirdi Sai Baba encouraged harmony and unity among all religions, especially between the Hindu and Muslim faiths.Due to his position and non-discriminatory stand, Shirdi Sai Baba was able to skillfully avoid entanglement in inter-faith clashes and make a substantial contribution towards general harmony.Many visitors to Dwarkamai bore witness to the effects of Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings. They were pleasantly surprised at how Muslims, Hindus, and followers of other faiths could live together in harmony and peace. This obvious display of religious tolerance in action served as a powerful lesson that inter-faith harmony is indeed possible. Due to Shirdi Sai Baba’s and his disciples’ display of religious harmony, Christians and Parsis also came to Shirdi to experience his wisdom.

The Miracles of Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba was famous for his miracles. There are many tales of him displaying miraculous powers either to inspire faith or to help others, such as levitating, lighting lamps with water, healing the chronically ill, giving advice to his followers in their dreams, and removing and reattaching his limbs (Khandana Yoga). He often said that, “My Leela [miracle] is inscrutable.” [Source:]

Lighting Oil Lamps with Water

The lighting of oil lamps with water was one of the first miracles that Shirdi Sai Baba performed, which was made known to many people. He used to light oil lamps in the mosque where he lived and at other temples. The local merchants donated the oil that he used to light the lamps.One day, the merchants decided that they would not give any more oil to Shirdi Sai Baba, telling him that they had no fresh stock.Shirdi Sai Baba did not say anything and returned to his mosque. That night, he lit the lamps using water instead of oil and the lights burnt deep into the night. When they heard about the miracle, the merchants rushed to Shirdi Sai Baba with regret and apologies. Shirdi Sai Baba forgave them and advised them not to lie again. He said, “You could have refused to give me the oil, but did you have to say that you didn’t have fresh stocks?” [Source:]

Fire in the Field

On one sweltering summer day, during the harvest season, Shirdi Sai Baba told one of his disciples, Kondaji Sutar, that his field was on fire. Sutar immediately rushed to his field but saw no fire there. When he informed his teacher about what he saw, Shirdi Sai Baba told him to return to his field and to look again carefully. Sutar returned to his field and did what his teacher told him to do. Then, Sutar noticed that part of his corn was on fire.Smoke started to appear. The strong winds made it difficult to put the fire out. Sutar became very worried and anxiously appealed to Shirdi Sai Baba for help. Shirdi Sai Baba went to the field and sprinkled  water on the fire. The fire was immediately extinguished.

Terminating the Rain

One day, a devotee named Rao Bahadur Moreshwar Pradhan and his wife visited Shirdi Sai Baba to behold the holy person (darshan).Just as the couple were about to leave, rain started to pour down heavily. Shirdi Sai Baba asked God to stop the rain. The rain immediately stopped,and the couple were able to leave and safely reach their destination.

Increasing the Water Level in a Well

In Shirdi, there was a well with no water because there was no natural spring nearby. The villagers had to walk a long distance to fetch water, which created difficulties for them.On Ramnavami, the celebration of the god Rama’s birthday, the villagers experienced a water crisis. In an effort to help the villagers, Shirdi Sai Baba threw some leaves into the well, and the water level started to increase. Since then, the well has become a functioning source of water that fulfilled the basic needs of the villagers.

Saving a Girl from Drowning

There was a man named Babu Kirwandikar whose three-year-old daughter fell into a well. The villagers immediately rushed to the well to save the girl. To their astonishment, they saw the girl floating in the air as if invisible hands were holding her up. This miracle was attributed to Shirdi Sai Baba.

The Flow of the Godhavari River from Shirdi Sai Baba’s Feet

One day, Das Ganu, one of Shirdi Sai Baba’s disciples, requested his teacher’s permission to go to the Godhavari River to bathe in the holy water. Shirdi Sai Baba told Das Ganu that he did not need to go to Godhavari because the river was under his feet.Das Ganu approached and held Shirdi Sai Baba’s feet with the hollow of his palm. Water then flowed and filled up the hollow of Das Ganu’s palm. With a deep sense of joy and devotion, Das Ganu immediately sprinkled the water on his head and his body, and shared it with the other devotees present.

The Birth of the Sai Baba Movement

At first, Shirdi Sai Baba discouraged any worship of his being. However, the stories of his wisdom, compassion, and miracles reached far and wide, and people came flocking to him. The Hindu priest, Mhalsapati, is regarded as his first disciple.In the 19th Century, Shirdi Sai Baba’s devotees comprised of only a small group of disciples. However, by 1910, he had become a well-known figure in Mumbai and his devotees grew exponentially, especially among those from the Muslim and Hindu faiths. They regarded him as a saint. In February 1910, his devotees began the practise of Sai Baba night worship (shej arati). Their numbers continued to grow as Das Ganu worked tirelessly to spread his teacher’s name throughout India.In 1911, Shirdi Sai Baba’s devotees completed the construction of Dikshitwada, a rest-house for devotees in Shirdi. His temple in Kudal, Sindhudurg, was established in 1922. According to legend, Shirdi Sai Baba gave Dada Madye Ji, one of his disciples, one rupee to build this temple. In the later part of  Shirdi Sai Baba’s life, people of the Zoroastrian and Christian faiths started to join the Sai Baba movement. His devotees also established a religious organisation named Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust in Shirdi. Today, approximately 20,000 pilgrims visit  his temple in Shirdi on an average day. The number of visitors can reach up to 100,000 a day during religious festivals. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Religion, “there is at least one Sai Baba mandir [or temple] in nearly every Indian city.” [Source:] The worship of Shirdi Sai Baba has also reached other countries including the United States, Malaysia, France, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and Singapore

Notable Disciples

Some of Shirdi Sai Baba’s disciples grew to become famous spiritual figures and saints in their own right.

Mhalsapati Nagre

Mhalsapati Nagre is often regarded as Shirdi Sai Baba’s first disciple and a saint. He was the priest of Khandoba Temple and Upasni Maharaj Temple in Shirdi.

Abdul Baba

In 1890, Abdul Baba came to Shirdi on the advice of a fakir. It is said that Shirdi Sai Baba appeared to the fakir in a dream and told him to bring Abdul Baba to Shirdi. When Abdul Baba arrived, Shirdi Sai Baba greeted him by saying, “My crow has come.” Abdul Baba took care of Shirdi Sai Baba’s residence and lit the lamps in Lendi. In return, Shirdi Sai Baba took care of his welfare and treated him with affection. Shirdi Sai Baba often asked Abdul Baba to read passages from the Quran out loud.

Bayajabai Kote Patil

To Shirdi Sai Baba, Bayajabai Kote Patil was his sister. She took a vow not to eat until her teacher had eaten. She was known to carry a basket of food with her as she looked for Shirdi Sai Baba so that she could feed him.

Das Ganu Maharaj

Das Ganu was a police officer in India. Another devotee named Chandorkar introduced Das Ganu to Shirdi Sai Baba. Later in life, Das Ganu composed devotional songs (kirtans) and wrote about the lives of saints.

Annasaheb Dabholkar

Shirdi Sai Baba often referred to Annasaheb Dabholkar as Hemadpant, a 13th Century writer and politician. Dabholkar wrote a book,titled “Sri Sai Satcharitra”, that provided insights into the philosophy and life of Shirdi Sai Baba.

Hari Sitaram Dixit

Hari Sitaram Dixit, also known as Kakasaheb Dixit, was one of Shirdi Sai Baba’s most devoted disciples. A solicitor by profession, Shirdi Sai Baba helped him to eliminate fear from his mind.

Laxmibai Shinde

Laxmibai Shinde was a wealthy woman who spent her free time working day and night at the mosque where Shirdi Sai Baba lived.Only a few students were given permission to enter the mosque by night. Her access gave her extraordinary privilege and distinction.

Later Life and Death

On 15th October 1918, Sai Baba entered mahasamadhi, where his consciousness departed his earthly form, while lying on his disciple’s lap in Dwarkamai. Before he passed away, he is known to have said the following to his disciples: “Do not think I am dead and gone. You will hear me from my Samadhi and I shall guide you.” Shirdi Sai Baba’s remains were buried in Buty Wadha, Shirdi, which is now known as Shree Samadhi Mandir. The temple at the site is a testament of the devotion of his disciples. Inside, there is a statue of Shirdi Sai Baba made from Italian marble and covered in royal cloth.Carved by the famous sculptor Balaji Vasant Talim, this image of Shirdi Sai Baba is adorned with a gold crown and a garland of flowers. The interior and exterior of the temple are gilded with gold.Many of Shirdi Sai Baba’s devotees have testified that, although their teacher has passed, he continues to advise them either in their dreams, visions, or in bodily form.


Shirdi Sai Baba did not appoint a spiritual heir or give any sort of initiation. Because he had lived, given teachings, and performed miracles in Shirdi, it is regarded as an important Hindu place of pilgrimage. Today, Shirdi Sai Baba is still considered one of the most popular spiritual figures in India. His images are worshipped both in India and across the world by both Sufi and Hindu religious leaders. Some devotees of the Hindu faith believe that Shirdi Sai Baba was the incarnation of Dattatreya or Shiva. He is also regarded as the reincarnation of Kabir. Today, Shirdi Sai Baba’s life story continues to inspire many. The monuments to commemorate his life grace many places around the world. He is also the subject of many movies and television series in India. In 2008, the India Postal Service issued a postage stamp in honor of Shirdi Sai Baba. In Shirdi, there is a Sai Museum in the Dwarkamai complex that holds many items closely associated with him such as his grinding mill, footwear, and utensils.

Shirdi Sai Baba in Various Religions

Hinduism : Many Hindu masters and saints revere Shirdi Sai Baba and refer to him as a “spiritual diamond”, a “jewel”, a “Jagad guru”, and a saint. He is also regarded as an emanation of Hindu gods such as Shiva and Dattatreya.

Zoroastrianism : Well-known Zoroastrians such as Homi Bhabha, Farhaad Panthaky, and Nanabhoy held Shirdi Sai Baba in high regard. Meher Baba, who came from a Zoroastrian family, met Shirdi Sai Baba in December 1915. The meeting left such a deep impression on him that his own biography contained many references to Shirdi Sai Baba. Shirdi Sai Baba is also regarded as the “most popular non-Zoroastrian religious figure attracting the attention of Zoroastrians.” [Source:]

Sufism : In Sufism, Shirdi Sai Baba is regarded as a “Pir of a very high order.”