Sai Baba is one of the most loved and revered indian saints. His teaching of love, service, equality and tolerance reached the hearts of millions; he is especially popular among the poor. He is worshipped by followers of different religions, since he always preached the essential oneness of all faiths and even his disciples could never find out whether he is a hindu or a muslim.
Nobody knows where and when Sai Baba was born, his real name is also unknown. He used to give vague and contradictory answers to this questions, often simply saying this is unimportant. As a young man he arrived to a village of Shirdi, where the local priest gave him a nickname Sai, which signifies a religious poor man. He spent his days sitting still under a tree, getting up only to beg for food. He was dressed like a muslim and initially he was met with indifference and hostility, since the majority of the population of the village was hindu. For a few years Sai Baba lived under a tree and often wandered for days in the forests around Shirdi. After a few years people persuaded him to move to an old mosque, where he continued living alone. Sai Baba became known locally as a religious person, and hindu and muslim visitors were coming to pay respect to him. In his mosque he was maintaining the sacred fire, and used the ashes for healing people. He also created a garden, which he was watering daily. For the most of his life his followers were the locals of Shirdi. By the end of his life his fame started spreading, partly because of the rumors of numerous miracles he performed. Though he himself said that miracles have no use as such and he is only doing it to fulfill the desires of his devotees an turn them to the search of truth. Many rich visitors were coming from Bombay, these people made Sai Baba famous internationally and ensured the fast spreading of his movement.
Like Ramakrishna, Sai Baba of Shirdi was teaching in personal communication and often spoke in parables, symbols and allegories. His own religious background is unknown, but he was famous for uniting the practices and teachings of islam and hinduism in his own life. He lived in a mosque, which he gave a hindu name, maintained a sacred fire there as a hindu and performed certain prayers as a muslim. He commented on both hindu and muslim scriptures, and used to teach his followers according to their religion. That was the main message of Sai Baba – that essentially there is no difference between different religions, what matters is one’s sincerity. For the 19th century India, divided into rigid religious and social groups, this teaching was revolutionary. He encouraged his followers to pray, chant god’s name and read scriptures. Sai Baba emphasized the importance of living life without worldly attachments and being content regardless of the situation, these were the two main qualities of spiritual life – faith (or sincerity) and patience. He taught that God’s light is present in every living being, and preached love and sharing without any discrimination (he used to share his food with animals and birds, which repulsed many of his puristic visitors).
Sai Baba was not well-known during his lifetime, but after his death due to the efforts of his disciples his fame started spreading. Nowadays dozens of thousands of pilgrims visit Shirdi every day. His message is simple and appeals to everybody. Another reason for his popularity is the common believe that he helps his devotees and fulfills their wishes, expressed in his famous statement “Look at me, and I shall look at you.” Sai Baba himself didn’t make much effort to spread his message, he remained a local phenomenon, and the world came to know about him just by chance. For his times and his surroundings his message was appropriate, but since then the world has become mush more complex, and the teaching of faith and patience seems to be way not enough.