Sai Baba of Shirdi (c. 1838? – 15 October 1918) also known as Shirdi Sai Baba, was an Indian spiritual master and fakir, considered to be a saint, revered by both Hindu and Muslim devotees during and after his lifetime.
According to accounts from his life, Sai Baba preached the importance of "realization of the Self" and criticized "love towards perishable things". His teachings concentrated on a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and Guru.
Sai Baba condemned discrimination based on religion or caste. He had both Hindu and Muslim followers, but when pressed on his own religious affiliations, he refused to identify himself with one to the exclusion of the other. His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque in which he lived, practiced both Hindu and Muslim rituals, and taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions. According to the Shri Sai Satcharita, a hagiography written shortly after his death, his Hindu devotees believed him to be an incarnation of the Hindu deity Dattatreya.
Among his favorite sayings to devotees were: "Look to me, and I shall look to you", and Allah tera bhala karega (translation: God will bless you). Sai Baba’s early years are a mystery. Most accounts mention his birth as a Hindu Brahman and his subsequent adoption by a Sufi fakir, or mendicant. Sai Baba came to village Shirdi in Maharastra at age of 16 for the first time. People wondered looking at him that a boy at a very tender age doing deep meditation sitting in asana under a Neem tree, without food and even water for several days. This made to grew lots of curiosity on young baba. Bayajabai, wife of village chief occasionally enquired about the welfare of the sai Baba in his childhood. Gradually she started bringing food to Baba. As the days passed baba started treating her as his mother. Mhalspati, the village chief and a priest, once possessed by lord khandoba, uttered that there is a holy spirit here pointing towards the Sai Baba. Baba was an unique personality who earned a huge attention towards him, in the day time he was not associated with any one and not afraid of any one. Some people thought that he was mad and even hurt him physically by throwing stones at him. Initially Baba spent about 3 years at Shirdi. After this, for a period of one year Baba left Shirdi and very little was known about Sai Baba during that period. He met many saints, fakirs and even worked as weaver as history says. In the year of 1858, Baba returned to Shirdi permanently. For about five years of time Baba took his accommodation under the neem tree and very often Baba used to wander in the jungle near Shirdi was very uncommunicative as Baba spent lot of his time in meditation. Gradually Baba shifted his accommodation to a nearby mosque. Many Hindus and Muslims were visiting Baba. In the mosque Baba maintained sacred fire which was called dhuni. Baba gave sacred ash to the entire visitor. People believe that ash is the best medicine to heal for all health issues. Baba was god for all and used to participate in all religious festival. Baba had a habit of cooking and the same was distributed among all devotees as "Prasad" at the time of their visit. Baba best pass time was singing (religious) and dancing. Many believed that baba was a saint and even as god. As the time passed on the volume of visitors to Shirdi gradually increased. Sai Baba encouraged his devotees to pray, chant God's name, and read holy scriptures. He advised Muslims to study the Qur'an and Hindus to study texts such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Vasistha. He instructed his devotees and followers to lead a moral life, help others, love every living being without any discrimination, and develop two important features of character: faith (Shraddha) and patience (Saburi). He criticized atheism. In his teachings, Sai Baba emphasized the importance of performing one's duties without attachment to earthly matters and of being content regardless of the situation. In his personal practice, he observed worship procedures belonging to Islam; although he did not engage in regular rituals, he allowed the practice of Salah, chanting of Al-Fatiha, and Qur'an readings at Muslim festival times. Sai Baba interpreted the religious texts of both Islam and Hinduism. He explained the meaning of the Hindu scriptures in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta, with a strong emphasis on the path of bhakti (devotion). All three of the main Hindu spiritual paths — Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga — influenced his teachings. His notion of the unity of all mankind was congruous with both Advaitism and Sufism. "God being one and the master of all also meant that all his creatures were part of one big family," writes Sikand. "This belief was entirely in keeping with both the Bhakti philosophy as well as the teachings of the Sufis, who believed that the light of God exists in every creature, indeed in every particle of His creation."
For Sai Baba, all paths were equally valid, "Ishwar" (the Hindu God) and "Allah" being synonymous. People coming to his abode were so taken aback to see Hindus, Muslims, and others living together so peacefully that in many instances it changed their entire lives and belief systems.
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