Sai Baba of Shirdi holds a unique place in the rich tradition of saints in India. Baba, an embodiment of self-realization and perfection, did not come solely to preach but to awaken mankind through his messages of love and righteousness.
The early life of Sai Baba is still cloaked in mystery as there isn't any reliable record of the Baba's birth and parentage. It is believed that Baba was born somewhere between 1838 and 1842 AD in a place called Pathri in Marathwada in Central India.
Sai Baba arrived at Shirdi as a nameless entity at a young age tempered by the discipline of penance and austerity. At Shirdi, Baba stayed on the outskirts of the village in Babul forest and used to mediate under a neem tree for long hours. Some villagers revered the saintly figure and gave him the food for sustenance.
After wandering in the thorny woods for a long time, Baba moved to a dilapidated mosque, which he referred to as "Dwarkarmai" (named after the abode of Krishna, Dwarka).This mosque became the abode of Sai Baba till his last day.
Sai Baba would go out for alms every morning and shared what he got with his devotees who sought his help. The abode of Sai Baba, Dwarkamai, was open to all, irrespective of religion, caste and creed.
Sai Baba was at ease with both Hindu and Muslim scriptures. He used to sing the songs of Kabir and dance with ‘fakirs’. Baba was the lord of the common man and through his simple life, he worked for the spiritual metamorphosis and liberation of human beings.
Sai Baba's spiritual powers, simplicity and compassion created an aura of reverence in the villagers around him. He preached righteousness living in simple terms: "Even the learned are confused. Then what of us? Listen and be silent."
Initially, Baba dissuaded people to worship him, but gradually Baba’s divine energy touched the chord of common people far and wide. The congregational worship of Sai Baba began in 1909, and by 1910 the number of devotees grew manifold. The ‘shej arati’ (night worship) of Sai Baba began in February, 1910 and the following year the construction of Dikshitwada temple was completed.
Sai Baba attained ‘mahasamadhi’ on October 15, 1918. Before his death, he said, "Do not think I am dead and gone. You will hear me from my Samadhi and I shall guide you." The millions of devotees who keep his image in their homes, and the thousands who throng to Shridi every year, is a testimony to the greatness and continuing popularity of Sai Baba of Shirdi.