SAI BABA, THE FAQIR OF ALLAH (One of Avatar Meher Baba’s Five Perfect Masters)
“Allah is the Protector of the poor. There is nothing besides Him.
The name of Allah is eternal: Allah is All-in-all!
These words were called out daily by a bearded man wearing a ragged robe in the small village of Shirdi. He would smoke a chillum (hookah) in a consecrated mosque while people would stream by to pay their respects to him. As his blessings to each, he would say, “Give me whatever money you have in your pockets.” Often he would not even allow them to keep enough to pay their return fare home. Yet by the end of the day, he had given it all away to the poor, and would wander the streets to beg for his own food. He would beg only for bhakri (unleavened millet bread) and lived on that alone.
Once a naked child stood before this fakir, who asked the mother, “Daughter, is it a boy or a girl?” Such was his innocence; he would often appear quite ignorant of such things.
This fakir’s behavior was not normal, to say the least. However, people who had faith in him gave him whatever he asked, and they considered themselves blessed to do so. He would say, “I only ask from those whom the Fakir points out. In exchange, I have to give them ten times what they give me.” The Fakir he spoke of was none other than Almighty God.
Was this ascetic a Hindu or a Muslim? People of every religion and caste in India would seek him out. This holy man belonged to no caste or religion or “ism.” He himself was the true fakir, the Emperor of Emperors. Why would people journey hundreds of miles to see him? Because his eyes shone brilliantly with a magnetism that drew them towards him. The light in his eyes attracted thousands to his feet.
Hidden in this extraordinary fakir was the Qutub-e-Irshad of the age — the head of the spiritual hierarchy and the leading Perfect Master of his time. He who held the key to all worlds and universes in his very hands appeared as a ragged beggar in a nondescript village in India. In his hands the conflicting forces of the world’s turmoil and the throes of the universes were kept balanced! It may be difficult for a worldly-minded materialist to believe this, but it is a spiritual fact.
If people were told this peculiar holy man was responsible for conducting World War I, they would say it was ridiculous. But in the inner realms of spiritual realities, the Qutubs or Sadgurus are the Masters of the universe and nothing ever happens without their divine ordinance. There could be no war without the five Perfect Masters’ will and guidance.
Age longs to learn more of this fakir and his austere life, but it is very difficult to “know” much about him. Only a true fakir can know a fakir, and to become one is impossible without crossing the boundary of illusion.
The simple life of this fakir was most deceiving. He was the mightiest king in existence, but he did not mind if people saw him merely as a beggar. However, now that the sun of his divinity has shed its light and he has done his duty, we must do ours and learn more of this true fakir. To research the life of any man-become-God is difficult, because when he is embodied, when his sun is brightly shining, all eyes are focused on it. It is only after the sun sets that our attention shifts to recording his story.
Without becoming a fakir, one can never fathom such a Master’s life. Whatever he reveals to the world is just a few rays of his light. And so the true story of every Perfect One cannot be known in detail. We do not even know this fakir’s childhood name, but Age calls him Sai, which means the Lord or the Holy One.
Nothing is definitely known about Sai Baba’s birth. Some believe that he was born into a Brahmin family, that his parents died and he was then raised by a Muslim ascetic. Others (including most of his biographers) believe that he was born in a Mohammedan family. Whatever the circumstances of his birth and childhood, Age is more concerned with Sai the Master, in whose eyes all are one.
It is said that Sai was born in 1838 in Sailu village in Jintur district of Maharashtra. But other, more recent evidence points to his birthplace as being in Pathri village in the Parbhani district. It is believed that his childhood was spent near Aurangabad and that his parents were very, very poor. After his father’s death when Sai was still a young child, his mother was forced by circumstances to resort to begging for their livelihood.
“What sort of drama was this?” Age wondered. “He who was destined to be the Lord of the universe had to spend his childhood among the destitute, begging on the streets. What an unfathomable design by God!”
Age heard the young boy cry, “Mother, walk slowly. I cannot go faster … I cannot go on.” And the mother lifted the child in her arms with tears in her eyes. “Mother, I am hungry … When will someone kind give us food?”
His mother whispered, “Son, have patience. God is merciful. There is a village not far away where we will find bread.”
Sensing his mother’s plight, the boy said, “Mother, I do not feel hungry any more. I feel like walking now.” He slipped from her grasp and, though tired and weak, slowly walked beside her.
In this manner, for five years mother and son wandered from door to door, from village to village. With his sweet conversation, the boy kept his mother cheerfully distracted. Never again did he ask his mother for food or comfort. Blisters tormented the soles of his feet until they toughened like leather, but they walked on without knowing where they were headed, begging simply to survive.
Mercy is always hidden in the apparent terribleness of God. Fate is a paradoxical mystery: the cruelty of God is in some way His mercy! No one can escape His compassion whatever the circumstances. God’s nature is mercy; He is mercy itself. In His eyes, no one is helpless and without hope. But only those who become God can fathom this mystery.
Although mother and son were suffering in the eyes of the world, one cannot imagine what the five-year-old boy was about to receive. After knocking on door after door in the village of Shelwadi and being turned away empty-handed, the mother and son reached the door of a blind man. This person was, in actuality, a renowned saint named Gopal Rao Deshmukh. Gopal Rao embraced the little boy ardently, as if two old friends were being reunited after years of separation. Indeed, the saint had been waiting for this woman and child, and, with great respect and love, prepared a room in his own house for them to stay with him.
The saint’s father was Keshav Pant of Jamb. Although a poor man, Keshav was very devout. There was nothing in his house — no furniture or decorations — except a large life-size statue of Vyankatesh — Lord Vishnu — which he would worship night and day.
Kindled by his father, the flame of spirituality burned deeply in Gopal’s heart from his childhood. When it became time for Gopal to earn his livelihood, he had failed to find a job in his birthplace of Jamb, and so he had moved to Shelwadi. After he had lived in Shelwadi for some years, the local townspeople looked upon him with reverence. Although still a poor man himself, he shared whatever he had with others more unfortunate, and nursed the afflicted. In recognition of his selfless service, the town officials granted him a piece of land on which to live.
Gopal Rao practiced severe penances. One day he gazed at a beautiful woman and began having unwelcome desires. He was so struck by the depravity of his thoughts that he immediately returned home and, while standing before the statue of Vyankatesh, poked out both his eyes with an iron spike! The external light of the world was shut out forever, but this act caused the inner light within him to flame!
The light within became a fire and his fame spread. Legend has it that Lord Vyankatesh himself prepared the arti tray for Gopal Rao. Only then did the blind saint sincerely perform the worship ceremony before the idol. Thus, because of Gopal Rao’s presence, Shelwadi turned from a farming village into a sacred place of pilgrimage.
In the humble house of this great saint, young Sai was brought up with great affection and loving care. Gopal’s love for the boy grew more and more pronounced while the mother served the saint with deep respect. He had made a home for her and her son, and for this she was always grateful. When the boy was twelve, his mother died. After the snapping of this parental connection, the boy and blind saint lived together for several more years. It was during this period that the boy had the spiritual world unveiled to him by the saint and became Gopal Rao’s chief disciple.
Observing their close association, the saint’s Brahmin disciples became resentful and envious of the boy, wondering why their Master was so fond of this Muslim lad. As a result, they tried various ways of harassing the youth, but he would tolerate their meanness out of love for Gopal Rao. The situation worsened. In their jealousy, some of them decided to murder the boy. They began plotting how to kill him, but:
He whom God wishes to protect, not a hair on his head can be touched.
Even if the whole world goes against him — he is safe!
What jealousy and spite can do! On one occasion when Gopal Rao was walking through a forest accompanied by Sai, some of the devotees secretly followed them. As the saint and boy were resting under the shade of a tall tree, the men crept toward them stealthily and one threw a large stone at Sai’s head. But instead of hitting Sai, the stone struck Gopal Rao.
Seeing his Master suffer because of him, Sai’s heart broke and wept tears of blood. He told Gopal Rao, “Master, after all our years together, my staying with you is no good any more. Let me leave this place.”
The saint replied, “You cannot leave. From today I have decided to make you my sole heir. One day you will inherit my treasure.”
The man who tried to kill Sai became ill and suffered much before he died shortly thereafter. The villagers were surprised at this man’s sudden demise and believed that Gopal Rao had punished him for his wicked intent. One of the man’s relatives went to the saint seeking forgiveness, and the rest of the devotees began praying in hope of reviving the dead man. Hearing his request, Gopal Rao told the relative, “Why do you ask me to bring him back to life? I am just an ordinary man like yourself. I have no such power. I cannot do such a thing.”
Then, pointing to Sai, Gopal Rao added, “Perhaps this Muslim lad can do it.”
At a sign from the saint, Sai rose and, picking up some dirt from Gopal Rao’s feet, rubbed it on the corpse, which had been brought to them. After a few minutes, the dead man came to life and sat up! All were astonished. From this act of divine power they realized that the boy’s relationship with Gopal Rao was unique. As the chief disciple of their Master, the boy was to be honored instead of hated. In celebration of this resurrection, the villagers formed a long procession with Gopal Rao and Sai seated in a palanquin. Hundreds worshiped them both, showering flowers as they were carried through the town.
Gopal Rao had been hinting for a few days that soon he would give up his body, but none took his words seriously.
One day he gathered all his close ones and told them, “My time has come.” The blind saint then allowed his disciples to bathe him. He had prayers read and a section of the Bhagavad Gita recited. He called the boy to him and lovingly gave him his own dhoti (a white loincloth-like garment worn around the waist to the ankles). Sai reverently accepted it. Gopal Rao imparted some final instructions to his disciples and, lying down, quietly severed his connection with his physical body. By handing over his garment to the youth, Gopal Rao transferred his spiritual charge with all its responsibilities and burdens to the boy. Sai thoroughly understood its significance. From the cloth of his Master’s dhoti, the young lad had a kafni made for himself which he always wore.
Soon after Gopal Rao’s death, Sai, then sixteen, left Shelwadi and sought seclusion in a forest. One day a man named Chand Patil was passing through the forest when he came upon the young fakir seated under a tree. Without any introduction, the young man asked Chand Patil, “Have you lost your horse?”
Startled, the man replied, “Yes and I have been unable to find it.”
“Go to a nearby stream,” said the young fakir, “and you will find it there.” Chand left and was happily surprised to find the horse exactly where the young ascetic had indicated.
When Chand returned to thank the fakir, he saw the youth filling a chillum with tobacco. Anxious to light the pipe for the fakir, Chand rushed forward, but then he realized he did not have any matches. The young man waved him away and, thrusting a stick in the ground, unearthed a piece of burning charcoal and held it to his pipe. This remarkable feat convinced Chand Patil that the young fakir was someone great and holy. He invited the young man to accompany him to the small village of Shirdi, where he and those with him were journeying to attend his nephew’s wedding, and the fakir agreed to join them.
The entire village turned out to welcome the visitors, little knowing what a distinguished guest they had among them. As the wedding procession passed by a Khandoba temple, a Hindu priest named Mhalsapati caught sight of the young fakir and called out in Marathi, “Ya, Sai, aao ! [Welcome, Holy One, come!]” From that day on, the young fakir came to be known as Sai Baba.
Sai Baba did not remain in Shirdi long, however, and began traveling from place to place in Maharashtra, begging along the way. Finally, he wandered among the hills surrounding the ancient Ellora Caves at Aurangabad, where he entered a small cave atop a hill in Khuldabad. At the bottom of this hill is the tomb of the Sufi Perfect Master Zarzari Zar Baksh. This Qutub’s tomb has been a favorite spot of Mohammedan pilgrims in the area for over 700 years. According to Meher Baba, Zarzari Zar Baksh was the Master of Sai Baba in a previous lifetime. It is said that Sai had done something that so pleased Zarzari Zar Baksh that he had given Sai Realization, though Sai was not destined to realize God in that incarnation.
Sai was inwardly drawn to be near this spot and entered a cave overlooking the tomb. He stayed in this cave for several years in the state of majzoobiyat, not even leaving for food or water. Meher Baba explained further that Zarzari Zar Baksh was responsible for the eventual Realization of Sai, which occurred during the four to five years that the youth stayed in the cave — although Zarzari Zar Baksh had dropped his body several centuries before.
During these years the strong, healthy physique of the young fakir turned into a virtual skeleton, but this skeleton had infinite Light within. The emaciated fakir lost his gross consciousness and became a God-realized majzoob, fully conscious of himself as God but completely oblivious of his own body and the world around him.
“Yet,” Age observed, “it was necessary for Sai to leave that cave. He needed to regain his gross awareness to be able to fulfill his destiny — to bring the Ancient One into form.”
When Sai finally left the cave after four long years, he was inwardly drawn by the power of another Perfect Master. He wandered south to meet the Swami of Akkalkot, and by this Hindu Sadguru’s grace, Sai regained normal human consciousness. In this village of Akkalkot, the fakir became a living Perfect Master — and his divine work on earth began. He was only 20 years old.
In 1858, Sai returned to Shirdi and stayed there, making this humble village his permanent headquarters. At first he kept aloof from the villagers, spending his nights under a neem tree in all seasons. His bodily needs were minimal; he begged for whatever food or tobacco he wanted.
The fakir preferred to be alone and he made this known to anyone who invaded his solitude.
After living for some months under the neem tree, Sai moved into a small tin shed which served as the local mosque in this poor village. Sai renamed the mosque Dwarkamai (Mother of Mercy)Masjid. Here two men began serving him faithfully: the Hindu priest, Mhalsapati, who had hailed him as Sai, and another man named Tatya Kote Patil. Many of the villagers would sarcastically refer to them as “the trio of the Masjid.” Later (in 1909), when the masjid started leaking during a heavy rainstorm, Sai Baba was taken to the nearby mud-walled village chavadi (a small two-room building used as a village office). From then on, he began sleeping on alternate days in the masjid and the chavadi.
At that time, Shirdi was a quiet village with very few visitors. Some years after Sai settled there, plague swept through the area and scores of persons died. The district officials tried everything to alleviate the epidemic, but nothing helped. Eventually some people approached Sai, narrating their tales of woe and pleading with him to help before the entire population of Shirdi was wiped out.
The fakir was moved by their stories and went to a nearby house, picked up a millstone, and then returned to the Dwarkamai Masjid and began grinding wheat. Collecting the flour, he gave it to a woman with instructions to sprinkle it along the boundaries of the village. The woman did as she was told and, within a short time, to everybody’s relief, the epidemic began to subside. Patients recovered and Shirdi was completely free from the fatal effects of the plague.
Invalids and the diseased from the surrounding villages would come to Sai, who treated them with medicinal herbs. Afterward, he would sit with those afflicted, listening to the devotional music they would sing. Each person was attracted to the light in his eyes! The eyes of this Perfect One were so luminous, with such power and deep penetration in his gaze, that no one could look into them for long. One felt that he was reading one through and through, that nothing could be kept secret from him. After seeing his face, people could only bow to him in worship, surrendering their lives at his feet.
One devotee, G. S. Khaparde, was a prominent lawyer and associate of the Indian freedom fighter, Lokmanya Tilak.
Khaparde kept a Marathi diary and recorded on 17 January 1912: “Sayin [sic] Baba showed his face and smiled most benignly. It is worthwhile spending years here to see it even once. I was overjoyed and stood gazing like mad [intently].”
Advanced souls “passing through” Shirdi recognized the Master and told the inhabitants, “Blessed is Shirdi, that it got this precious Jewel! … He is not an ordinary fellow. Because this place [Shirdi] was lucky and meritorious, it secured this Jewel.”
Another saint saw Sai Baba and exclaimed, “This is a precious Diamond! Though he looks like an ordinary man, he is not a gar [ordinary stone] but a Diamond. You will realize this in the near future.”
Each day, Sai Baba begged for his food (usually only bhakri) at the same five houses in Shirdi. At each doorstep he would call out, “Mother, give me bhakri,” or “Mother, give me roti [chapati].” He continued begging up to his last days, eating only one or two pieces of the bread himself and distributing the rest to the poor. Thus, his majesty, the King, would eat only what was given in alms.
According to Meher Baba, there was a secret behind Sai Baba’s begging: The five houses represented the five Perfect Masters who are always living in the world, and at whose feet the whole universe begs for spiritual and material progress.
Sai Baba had several strange personal habits in addition to being a heavy smoker. While begging, he would often stop along the way — in secluded places or amidst a teeming bazaar — and unabashedly lift his dhoti to urinate. After finishing, he would shake his penis seven times before he would continue with his begging. Seeing him behave in this manner, some of the villagers at first took him to be mad. But every outward act of the Perfect Masters, although sometimes enigmatic, is inwardly significant, because their every action is for the benefit of the world.
For instance, Sai Baba would take hours to relieve his bowels. As the number of devotees increased, this act of attending to nature’s call was transformed into a ceremony of pomp and adoration, which Sai would call lendi. He would go to defecate in a nearby field every day at a fixed time (usually late morning), followed by a parade of devotees, some playing musical instruments, and one person holding an umbrella over the Master as he walked.
Yet this lendi ceremony held a spiritual mystery. Sai Baba once explained, “While I pass my stool, I direct my abdals [spiritual agents on the inner planes] about their duties. I call them through the sound of the music during the parade.”
Sai Baba was a person of great humor. He would often joke with his devotees and poke fun at their weaknesses. However, until he died, he retained the austere ascetic life of a simple fakir. He would note, “God too is a poor Fakir. Since God is poor, I am poor also.”
Sai wore the same kafni until it was so torn and tattered that one of his disciples had to forcibly remove it from him and give him a new one to wear. Even after that, Sai often sat with a needle and thread, patiently repairing it. This was the same garment given to him in his youth by Gopal Rao. Later, when it was completely in shreds, he sewed the pieces together and fashioned a scarf turban which he wore around his head.
Sai Baba blended his unique personality of Hindu and Mohammedan characteristics, and had followers of both faiths. He never forbade any Muslim from eating meat, and sometimes even ordered orthodox Brahmin priests to eat certain non-vegetarian food against their wish. On occasion, he himself would cook meat dishes and distribute the food to those gathered.
Although his eyes were always intense and lustrous, his nature was cordial. His wit and charm put all at ease as soon as they came in his presence. His personal habits were austere, but his ashram was informal and lively. Arti was held several times of day, along with the singing of bhajans, and group readings and discussions on the Ramayana and other spiritual texts and scriptures.
Sai Baba’s personality was sweet-tempered and tolerant, although at times he was jalali, or fiery, and would become enraged at someone’s failures. An aspect of Sai’s jalali side was portrayed by a pet he had — a tiger. For some years the tiger lived with Sai Baba at Shirdi and would accompany him on his walks as if it were a dog.
As mentioned, when people came for Sai Baba’s darshan, it was common for him to demand that they empty their purse or pockets of their money and give it to him as dakshina — a monetary gift to the Master.
But if anyone approached him with material desires, Sai would say, “Allah malik hai [God is the owner, meaning God is the only giver]. What God gives is never finished; what man gives never lasts. Nobody who has firm faith in God wants for anything.”
Sai Baba kept a pile of small stones near his own large stone seat, and he would pick up a stone and throw it at whoever came for his darshan. Those who were hit by the stones were considered by him to be fortunate and to have received his blessing.
In 1886, Sai Baba suffered from a severe asthma attack and told his disciple Mhalsapati, “Protect my body for three days. If I return it will be all right … If my body does not return to life, bury it [rather than cremate it according to Hindu tradition] and plant two flags over the grave.” Sai then closed his eyes and entered a state of samadhi, appearing to be dead. His breathing and pulse stopped completely and his body remained lifeless for three days and nights.
Some of the Master’s devotees were grief-stricken, believing their Master had died. They wanted to perform the last rites immediately (fearing cholera), but the faithful Mhalsapati prevented them by cradling Sai Baba’s body in his lap and locking the door. Exactly as Sai had foretold, after 72 hours his eyes slowly reopened as he reentered his body. He did not speak of the work he had done while in that state, or why he had entered this samadhi.
A close disciple, a Muslim fakir, who was always seated in Sai Baba’s court was nicknamed Bade (Big) Baba. He was a large, rotund man. Sai Baba would give Bade Baba Rs.100 per day for his food and the man would eat a lot, dining for several hours. Sai Baba would eat only the bhakris and raw onion that he had begged for, while Bade Baba would eat plateful after plateful of the finest food available. Why was Sai Baba so particular that this disciple be given a huge sum of money for an enormous amount of food, while he himself lived like a pauper? Bade Baba was a storehouse for the sanskaras of all those who had handed over their money to Sai Baba when they came for darshan. These sanskaras (of others) were wiped out by Sai when Bade Baba died.
Once the police caught a known thief with a bag full of jewels. The thief told the police that he had gotten the gems from Sai Baba. An inspector came to Shirdi to investigate the matter and interrogated the fakir at length. The policeman filled out his report as he questioned the Master:
“What is your name?” he inquired.
“They call me Sai Baba.”
“What was your father’s name?”
“Also Sai Baba.”
“What was your guru’s name?”
“What is your creed or religion?”
“What is your caste?”
“How old are you?”
“Lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of years.”
“Will you solemnly affirm that what you are going to say is the truth?”
“I am the Truth.”
“Do you know the accused?”
“Yes, I know him. I know everyone.”
“The man says he is your devotee and has stayed with you. Is that so?”
“Yes, I live with everyone. All are mine.”
“Did you give the accused some jewels as alleged by him?”
“Yes, I gave them to him. Who gives what and to whom?”
“If you gave him the jewels, how did you get them?”
“Everything is mine! Everything has been given to me.”
The police inspector left perplexed.
Each night, Sai Baba would keep a dhuni (fire) burning in the Dwarkamai mosque. He would also keep a small oil lamp burning there and would obtain kerosene by begging from different shopkeepers in Shirdi. On one particular day, however, not one shopkeeper would give him any oil. Sai returned to the mosque and, filling the lamp with water, lit it! The lamp thus burned without fuel, and when early the next morning the villagers came to know of this “miracle,” their faith in Sai was kindled.
A Perfect Master sees all who are closely connected with him. One day in 1910, Sai Baba was sitting near the dhuni when suddenly, instead of putting wood on the fire, the Master pushed his arm into the flames. A devotee rushed toward him and pulled his arm out, but it was seriously burned. When asked why he had done this, Sai explained, “One of my followers is a potter not far from here. His wife was just then working at the kiln with her daughter on her lap. Hearing her husband call her, she got up and the child accidentally slipped into the furnace.
At that moment, I thrust my arm into this fire. I do not mind these burns; the child was saved. Had I not done this the little girl would have died.”
It was a part of Sai Baba’s spiritual work to unite the Hindus and the Muslims spiritually. The village of Shirdi had a Maruti (Hanuman) Temple near the Dwarkamai Masjid. In fact, Sai Baba used to refer to his mosque as a “Brahmin mosque.” Sometimes Sai Baba would have the Koran read to him by his Mohammedan followers, and sometimes he would have the Gita and Ramayana read by his Hindu followers. Sai was an unusual Perfect Master, a unique blend of Hindu and Mohammedan spiritual characteristics. His work with both religions signified that there is no real difference between the two, for each worships the same One.
Whether Sai Baba was born a Hindu or a Muslim, it is certain that his spiritual upbringing was directly connected to both, because he had both Hindu and Muslim Masters. Sai dressed like a Muslim, but bore the caste marks on his forehead of a Hindu. He celebrated the holy days and festivals of both religions with equal fervor. He quoted the Koran to the delight of the Muslims, but was equally well versed in the Hindu Vedas or Shastras (scriptures).
To someone like Sai Baba, his own human identity and religious differences were nothing into nothing. When someone once asked him where he was born, he replied, “I have no residence. I am the Attributeless One — the Absolute! The universe is my abode. Brahma is my father and Maya is my mother. By their interlocking, I got this body. Those who think I reside at Shirdi do not know the real Sai, for I am formless and everywhere!”
Over the years, hundreds flocked to Sai Baba — many with material gain on their minds. The Master once remarked about those who sought his blessing:
It is I who seek them out and bring them to me; they do not come by their own volition. Even though some may be hundreds of miles away, I draw them to me like a sparrow with a string tied to its feet.
He would often repeat to his devotees:
I give you what you want so that you will begin to want what I want to give you. My Master told me to give bounteously to all who beseech me, but none of you beseeches me with wisdom.
My treasury is open. But none of you brings a cart to haul away the real treasure. I say, Dig deep and take what is rightfully yours! But none of you wants to take the trouble.
I tell you, all who come to me, this opportunity will not return! I am God! I am Mahalaxmi, I am Vithoba … Ganesha … Dattatrey … Laxmi and Narayan … Why go to the Ganges [river] in Benares? Hold your palm at my feet — here flows the Ganga!
One day, in speaking about the “ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu” as Avatars, Sai Baba revealed that the Avatar would appear in the current Kali Yuga.
Meher Baba would recall Sai Baba with the utmost affection as “Grandfather” and described Sai’s greatness as “Perfection personified.” He once revealed, “It was Sai Baba who controlled the whole First World War.”
When Sai Baba walked slowly from the masjid past the Maruti Temple to the “lendi bagh [garden]” or the chavadi, his arti would be sung. At that time, his face would illuminate. It was also noticed that he would make strange signs in the air with his fingers. This behavior continued daily for four years, from the start of World War I to its conclusion.
During the war years, Sai Baba would often say:
I am formless and I am everywhere. I am not this body you call Sai. I am the Supreme Soul — the entire creation. I am everything and I am in everyone. I am in saints, criminals, animals and everything else. I pervade the whole universe. It is I who have created God. Nothing happens without my wish.
My light is of God; my religion is Kabiri [Perfect Mastery] and my wealth lies in the blessings I alone can give.
Sai Baba was a ghous type of spiritual personality. One who is a ghous has the occult power to dismember his physical body and later reconnect his limbs. At times, for their inner work, Perfect Ones enter the ghous state and parts of their physical body separate. When that particular phase of work is finished, their body automatically joins together again.
Once a man went to the mosque where Sai Baba slept and found the physical limbs of the Master’s body lying separated on the floor. In one corner was the Master’s hands and arms, in another his legs and feet, and in another his head!
Every limb was separated from the torso. The poor man was aghast. Terrified, he thought of notifying the village police that the fakir had been hacked to death. But he feared that the police might implicate him in the crime, and so he went home and kept silent. The next morning the man anxiously went back to the mosque. To his shocked surprise he found Sai Baba alive, giving a discourse to some of his devotees. The man did not know about this rare characteristic of the fakir, and he wondered if what he had seen the previous evening had been a nightmarish dream.
It is said that Sai slept on a bed about six feet off the ground, but there was no ladder. Once when he had gone to retire to his room, a man quietly crept to the window to see Sai levitate to his bed. But he was aghast to see a body without arms, without legs and without a head! Instantly the man was blinded, and his blindness served as a source of repentance for the rest of his life.
One day while the war was raging on, Sai Baba returned from the lendi procession when, amidst the music, his eyes fell upon a particular young man and he uttered one single, glorious word. “PARVARDIGAR [Almighty God]!” the Master declared, with the force of oceanic sound, as the young man fell at the old fakir’s feet.
Who was Sai Baba addressing? The eyes that transfixed Sai Baba’s belonged to that young dazed Zoroastrian who had been kissed by Hazrat Babajan, enthroned by Narayan Maharaj and garlanded by Tajuddin Baba.
The eyes of the young man and the eyes of the old fakir gazed at each other steadily, and the great word again came forth from the old fakir’s mouth, “Parvardigar!”
Then, for the third time, the holy word sounded from the depths of the Master’s Godhood as he proclaimed, “Parvardigar!” and, in his heart, he bowed before the young man.
The crowd of devotees was astonished to witness this extraordinarily significant event. Deep is its meaning, though it took place on a dusty dirt road in a poor, remote village of Maharashtra, India, in December 1915. As the crowd surrounded Sai Baba, the young man was pushed aside. Sai Baba returned to his seat while the youth picked himself up and continued wandering along the road.
Age sang out to the world, but no one heard: “Don’t you recognize who it is that Sai cried out to? You too will proclaim him! You too will bow to him! He is the Ancient One!”
Three years later, as World War I was approaching its end, on 28 September 1918, Sai Baba, was stricken with a fever which lasted for two days. Afterward, the Master began fasting, well aware of his impending death.
Sai Baba had an old brick which he had used as his pillow for years. One day the boy who cleaned the mosque dropped the brick and it broke in two. When Sai entered the mosque, upon seeing the broken brick he exclaimed, “It is not the brick but my fate that has been broken. The brick was my lifelong companion and assisted me in my work. It was as dear to me as my life. Now that it is broken, the earthen pot of my life will also soon break.”
After seventeen days with no food, Sai Baba collapsed at 2:30 in the afternoon and cried, “Ah, Deva ! [O, God!]” His head leaned on the shoulder of a close disciple and he breathed his last at the age of 80. It was 15 October 1918, on the Hindu holy day of Dassera, which celebrates Lord Ram’s victory over Ravana.
Even in the end there was a bitter dispute between Sai’s different devotees. The Hindus wanted his body to be cremated, while the Muslims wanted it to be buried. After heated argument, the body was buried on the 17th evening in a large Krishna temple, whose construction Sai himself had approved. The broken brick was broken into smaller pieces and placed in the six-foot grave before Sai Baba’s body was lowered into it. As the body of Sai Baba was lowered into the grave, it looked as fresh as when it was alive. The poor fakir’s body had contained the Uncontainable God!
Sai Baba once said, “I shall be active and vigorous even from my tomb. Even after my mahasamadhi. I shall be with you the moment you think of me.” Sai Baba’s words proved true, since his shrine at Shirdi has become the most popular place of pilgrimage of any contemporary Spiritual Master in India thus far.
O Sai! How can we repay you for what you have done for us?
You brought formless Parvardigar into form!”
Revised Lord Meher, pp. 43-58 by Bhau Kalchuri, edited and expanded by David Fenster
photo: Sadguru Sai Baba
photo: Meher Baba in 1915