The Clock ticks on
For fifty six long years since 1858 devotees went on pouring in and out of Shirdi for the darshan of Sai Baba, “the diamond on the dunghill.” Everyday the devotees that flocked there numbered hundreds. What Baba said in the early days of his arrival at Shirdi came literally true. Long before 1908, when Shirdi was still a quiet, nameless village Baba said, “Mansions will rise up in this village. Bigwigs will come. Guns will be fired. Chariots, horses, elephants, all will come. Grand processions will be held.” People then laughed at his naive imagination. But around the year 1914 all these came to pass, and Sai Baba’s glory was steadily increasing like the glory of the sun towards noon tide. Why wonder if the then famous saint, Sri Madhavanath described Sai Baba as the Kohinoor among saints? The joy and zeal of Sai’s devotees seemed an unending spring season.
The day advances
In 1914,Sai Baba made a very casual remark to one of his devotees. He pointed out a piece of waste land of the village to Mrs. Bapusaheb Jog and said, “It is my site; a big mansion will rise up here and we shall live there. Big people would look after me.” Mrs. Jog took it as one of the very many inscrutable things he said and hoped that one day she might understand what it meant. Two years passed by and she forgot all about it.
It was the Hindu festival of Vijayadasami in 1916. Devotees flocked to Shirdi and the whole village looked like a big fair. All the people of the village went in a procession to attend the ceremonial seemollanghan, carrying worship-materials like incense, singing and playing instruments. They would cross the border line of the village and then return. (This ceremony was probably a relic of the custom of ancient kings proceeding on wars of conquest across the borders of their kingdoms on that auspicious day.) In the evening, when all the people were returning,Sai Baba suddenly flew into a wild rage. It was one of Baba’s characteristic ways to flare up on such auspicious occasions. He took off his head-dress, kufni, and his langota (underwear) publicly, tore them up and flung them in the sacred fire. Baba’s eyes burned like live coal and his whole body seemed to glow with an uncanny aura. He stood stark naked in the center of the mosque and shouted “You fellows, look at me and decide whether I am a Moslem or a Hindu!” (i.e. whether he was circumsized in the Moslem fashion or not.) None dared to pacify Baba. At last the leper devotee, Bhagoji made bold to approach Baba and succeeded in tying a new langota round Baba’s waist. Though Baba did not physically obstruct him, he shouted and cursed. Bhagoji gently said, “Baba, today is the holy seemollanghan. Why are you angry and why do you frighten people thus?” Striking the ground with his satka or staff, he said, “This day is my seemollanghan.”
The unfinished temple
Baba did not calm down and the people doubted whether the usual chavadi procession could be conducted that day. After an hour or so Baba cooled down, dressed himself up, and resumed his usual seat. A little later, he took part in the procession. What Baba meant when he said, “This day is my seemollanghan,” none could understand.
Sai Baba’s ways are in inscrutable. What he decided to accomplish, he never declared it publicly nor did he ask anyone to do so as a favour to him. For Allah is his Malik i.e., God is his Master and Lord. So Baba’s very will had a tremendous influence on the course of events and his spirit being omnipresent and omnipotent, the persons needed for the accomplishment of his project were drawn to him and they would, in course of time, do what Baba, or better perhaps, his Lord had ordained.
A farewell and cryptic message
Bapusahed Booty, a famous millionaire of Nagpur, was drawn to Baba and was so impressed with his spiritual power that he wished to have a building at Shirdi. One night he was sleeping in Dixit’s wada. Baba appeared in his dream and ordered him to build a wada of his own with a temple in it. Shama was also sleeping there. Booty woke up and found Shama shedding tears and asked him the cause of his grief. Shama said, “Baba appeared in my dream and ordered, distinctly, ‘Build the wada with the temple. I shall fulfill the wishes of all’. On hearing the words of Baba I was overpowered with emotion.”
Bapusaheb was surprised at the precise correspondence between their dreams. He immediately drew up a plan for the wada with the co-operation of Shama and Kakasaheb Dixit, and placed it before Baba who blessed it. Work was commenced soon and, under the supervision of Shama, the ground floor, the cellar and the well were completed. Off and on Baba visited the site on his way to or from Lendi and suggested certain improvements. Further work was entrusted to Bapusaheb Jog and, in the course of it, it occurred to Bapusaheb Booty that there should be an open platform in the center of which the idol of Murlidhar (Lord Krishna playing on his flute) could be installed. As usual, when Baba passed by, Shama spoke about it to him. Baba readily gave his consent, but added, “After the temple is complete, I will come and stay there.” Staring at the wada, he further added,“We shall live, move and play there, embrace each other and be happy.”
Then Shama asked Baba whether that was the auspicious moment to commence the work, that being the moment of Baba’s consent. Baba affirmed it. Shama immediately fetched a coconut and broke it. Order was placed with sculptors for an idol of Muralidhar. Booty was happy that the work was progressing satisfactorily and that too with the blessings of Sai Baba.
Days passed briskly as though they enjoyed the rising glory of Shirdi. The year 1918 commenced as inconspicuously as any other and a few months passed. Uddhavesa Bua, a great devotee, usually visited Sai Baba every fortnight. One day, when he arrived, Baba told him not to take the trouble of visiting him so often thereafter. He said the same to another Mrs. Chandrabai also in July 1918.
The Brick Breaks
Not long after this, one day Sai Baba gave some poli with boiled foul to Kasim (the son of Bade Baba) and told him, “Go to Aurangabad and see fakir Shamsuddin Mia, give him this money, Rs.250/-, let him do moulu, kowali and nyas.” ( Moulu is the singing of devotional songs about prophet Mohammad; kowalis are devotional songs about saints, sung to the accompaniment of tabla or drum; nyas is feeding the poor people).
Baba then told Kasim to go to another fakir, Banne Mia, decorate him first with the garland which Baba had given him. Thereafter Kasim was to tell Banne Mia, “On the ninth day of ninth month, Allah himself takes away the lamp which He had lit. Such is Allah’s mercy" Then Sai Baba gave him Rs.250/- and a garland of javandi (chrysanthemum) flowers. But Kasim pleaded that he was a stranger to Aurangabad and that he may not easily contact the said fakirs. So Baba asked one Chote Khan to accompany him.
Both Kasim and Chote Khan then started along with a servant by name Ameer. When they arrived at Aurangabad, fakir Shamsuddin himself had come to the station. He was enquiring of the passengers, “Who are the guests that have come from fakir Sai?” Chote Khan and Kasim were surprised at his precognition and bowed to him in reverence. Then Shamsuddin himself repeated the message of Sai Baba, word by word! Then he led the three guests home and fed them. With the money sent by Sai Baba, he fed a large number of people. He also performed kowali and moulu. By night all this was completed.
Next day Kasim, Chote Khan and Ameer visited Banne Mia’s house. They saw him standing still, with one hand raised and the other held down, evidently in a trance. A few Arabs at the place warned the visitors not to approach the fakir when he was in that state as he would be furious with them. So the visitors waited for one long hour but Banne Mia showed no sign of regaining normal awareness. Then Chote Khan mustered all his courage, took the garland which Baba had given them in his hand and put it round the fakir’s neck. Banne Mia returned to his senses and lowered his raised arm. Chote Khan repeated to him the words of Sai Baba. “ Ninth day of the ninth month, Allah Himself takes away the lamp which He had lit.” On hearing the words, Banne Mia gazed at the sky and tears rolled down his cheek. The party of three left Aurangabad quite thrilled by the happenings. But they could not understand what it was all about.
It was the month of October. One day Baba left the mosque on his daily rounds. The boy Madhav False was sweeping the mosque. He found the brick which was so dear to Baba on the floor. It was, Baba often said, a token of his guru’s love and his life’s companion. To prevent the dust from falling on the holy brick, the boy took it up but suddenly it slipped, fell down and broke into two. The boy was terrified that he might incur Baba’s wrath. Instead, when later Baba saw it, he was very much depressed and, said, “It is not the brick that is broken; it is my destiny. It has been my life’s companion and I meditated on the Self with its help; It is my very life. It has left me today. I shall not survive it for long.”
Shadows of Death
On the 3rd of October 1918, Raghuvir Purandhare and H.S. Dixit were at Shirdi but Baba sent them away to Bombay. He said to them, “I will go ahead and you will follow me.” He gave them permission to go away saying, “My turbat (tomb) will speak, my mutti (dust) will give you replies; my name will speak”.
Baba’s health was alright and, “He had spoken these words previously and we did not understand their import”, says Dixit.
About the same time Ramachandra Patil, a devotee of Sai Baba, became seriously ill, and medical aid proved ineffective. He was, counting his days. Inwardly he went on pleading for his recovery to his last refuge,Sai Baba. One midnight Sai Baba appeared physically before him. Patil held his feet firmly and asked Baba to tell him the exact time of his death. Baba was moved and said, “Don’t be anxious; your death-warrant has been withdrawn and you will soon be alright; but I am worried about Tatya Patil’s life. He will pass away on the Vijayadasami day. Do not divulge this to anyone, not certainly to Tatya; for he’ll be frightened.” Indeed, Ramachandra Patil quickly recovered, but he was afraid of Tatya’s safety. He shared his secret with Bala Shimpe, the tailor.
As the terrible day neared, Tatya fell ill and was bed-ridden. He could not go to Dwarakamai for Baba’s darshan. Though Baba was also down with fever, Tatya had full faith in Baba that he would save his life. Baba’s condition too was fast worsening. Bupusaheb Booty was afraid that if Baba passed away, his wada would not be consecrated by the touch of Baba’s feet and all his money, lakhs of rupees, would go a waste. At one stage Tatya felt his end was certain. He was getting udi regularly from Baba. One day Baba summoned Tatya to the mosque for lunch. As Tatya could not walk, he was carried thither by a fellow devotee. Then Baba gave him a little rice boiled in milk, which he ate with great difficulty. Baba looked enquiringly at Tatya, and the latter burst into tears. Though he himself was ailing, Baba applied udi to Tatya’s forehead and said, “Tatya, at first I got two swings ready for both of us. But now I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to take you now. I am going alone. Go home!” Then Baba gave him udi and Tatya was taken home.
During this period of his illness, Baba made one Mr.Vaghe read out to him the sacred book, ‘Ramavijaya’ once in a week, second time, in three days and the third round was also finished. When the man was very much exhausted Baba let him go and observed silence for most of the day.
Seven days before Vijayadasami, a band of fakirs arrived at the mosque. They brought with them a tiger chained to a cart. It was ill and was very furious with pain and suffering. They purchased it from a circus company and were collecting money by exhibiting it in villages. They hoped that Baba would rid the creature of its suffering so that they could sell it at a higher price back to the circus men. ‘I shall at once rid it of its suffering; bring it here’ said Baba. The fakirs untied it and led it into the front yard of the mosque. The creature climbed up the steps, and stared at Baba as though struck by his radiant face, struck the ground thrice with its tail and fell dead. Indeed, it was released from bondage.
It was still four days for the holy Vijayadasami, the day which Sai Baba described as the day of his ‘seemolanghan’. Mrs. Andu Marwadi, one of the local devotees of Sai Baba, was sitting in front of him.Sai Baba said, “Bai, I am tired of being in Dwarakamai and chavadi. I’ll go over to the (Booty’s) wada where big people will look after me”. At that time Baba’s health was far from satisfactory. He stopped his morning trips to Lendi and his begging rounds and only sat in the mosque. His closer devotees like Kakasaheb Dixit and Booty remained with Baba all the time and were dining daily in the musjid itself.
At last the fatal day of Vijayadasami(15th of October, 1918) dawned. Ramachandra Patil and Bala Shimpe knew what was in store for Tatya. News came that his pulse was getting weaker. Baba too was also very ill and weak. He sat up in the morning and called Mrs. Lakshmi Bai Shinde near him, gave her Rs.5/- at first and then Rs.4/- and told her to preserve them. Then, after the morning arti, Baba asked all the devotees to go for lunch. Just a few of the devotees like Mrs. Lakshmi Bai Shinde, Bhagoji, Bayyaji, Bala Shimpe and Nanasaheb Nimonkar stayed with Baba.
He told them that he did not feel well there in the mosque and asked them to take him to the dagdi(stone )wada of Booty where he would be alright. Saying these last words, he leaned on Bayyaji’s (Bayyaji Apaji Patel) body and breathed his last. Bhagoji noticed it and told Nanasaheb Nimonkar. Nanasaheb then brought a little water and poured it in Baba’s mouth but it all came out. Then Nanasaheb burst out weeping.
It was a terrible blow to the countless devotees and the whole village of Shirdi felt like a corpse with its spirit gone. The news spread fast and the whole village rushed to the mosque weeping and crying.
Strangely, Tatya recovered very rapidly and could sit up by noon. Devotees felt that Sai made the supreme sacrifice of his life to save Tatya from certain death. For did not Sai say that he would even give his own head to save his devotee?
Soon the matter of the last rites of Baba became the subject of a great controversy. One section of devotees which included Kushalchand said that the body must be buried in an open plot according to the moslem custom, and the expenses be borne by those who had been benefiting by his daily bounties. The other group could think of no other way than enshrining his body in Booty’s wada as per Baba’s wish.
Samadhi or death?
The mamlatdar of Kopergaon who was there decided to gather the signatures of either sections. Those who wanted Baba’s wish to be carried out were in the majority and so it was finally decided that the body should be enshrined in an under-ground cellar beneath the elevated platform in Booty’s wada. In the place of the idol of Muralidhar, the photograph of Sai Baba was placed which was later replaced by the present marble statue in 1956. The last rites were conducted by Balasaheb Bhate and Upasani Maharaj.
One question has remained unexplained. Baba indicated that the proposed shrine of Muralidhar would be his final resting place and said that big people would take care of him there. How did it come to pass?
By ‘big people’ Baba can hardly be taken to have meant ‘big’ in a worldly, monetary sense. For he was a fakir to the core who cared two pins for rupees. Even if he did, Booty is not a small man by any standard. A building worth a few lakhs in those times, when Indian money had much greater value than today, was no small matter. Besides, it was not just a matter of rupees. A mansion that was to be a temple of Muralidhar was made the temple of Sadguru Sainath and no greater honour can be conceived for a saint or guru.
Taking the word ‘big’ to mean ‘of great spiritual stature’, Upasani Baba was a ‘Maharaj’ even as Sai Baba was a ‘king’ (in the sense in which the Christ was called the ‘King’). As will be seen in a later section,Sai Baba himself personally alchemised Upasani Sastry into Upasani Baba Maharaj and openly announced that there was no difference between himself and Upasani Baba. Some people, of course brush aside even the statement of Sai Baba and look upon Upasani Baba as an inferior one - yet they believe that they are devotees of Sai Baba as though the fact of one of the two being a sadguru precludes the other of it! To have a sadguru of his own stature honour his mortal remains – what greater honour can anyone have and from what greater soul? In fact, in the annals of spiritual history we hardly have a parallel. The Buddha, Jesus, not even Lord Krishna and Rama had it. The nearest parallel we have is in Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s mortal remains being honoured by his devotee Swami Vivekananda.
As if this were not enough, we have already noted how great fakirs like Shamsuddin Mia honoured the proclamation of the date of Baba’s samadhi with moulu, kawali and nyas; we also noted how a fakir like Banne Mia shed tears on hearing Baba’s message.
There is still one more instance to be mentioned.
Gurugobind Maharaj of Khandesh was a very great saint of that time. He was even thought of being a gurubandhu (literally a spiritual relation through the guru, i.e., a co-disciple) of Sainath Maharaj. This great saint was laid up with high fever on the Vijayadasami day, the day of Sai Baba’s mahasamadhi. His disciples even feared that his end was near. On that day Sri Gurugobind told his disciples and devotees, “The jyothi (light) of a great mahatma will soon merge in the Moon. Hanuman says ‘You be’ ”. When his devotees thought that their Guru was referring to his own impending death, he corrected them saying that he was referring to Sri Sainath of Shirdi.
One of these devotees of Sri Gurugobind, Madan Patil, immediately wrote letters to as many devotees of Sai Baba as he knew to rush to Shirdi to have a final glimpse of the body that was Sai. And he wrote simply out of his faith in the infallibility of Sri Gurugobind’s words. On the third day after this, he received a wire from Shirdi that Sai Baba took samadhi precisely on the day pointed out by Sri Gurugobind. Then Gurugobind made all his disciples take bath and then told them that the jyothi (divine flame) had merged in the Moon. One Kesav Datt Maharaj was specially sent by Sri Gurugobind with the instruction, “Go and visit the place of the Moon".
Mrs. M.W.Pradhan records her experience:- “The night after Baba’s departure, I saw his body in a dying condition in my dream and said, ‘Baba is dying’. Baba replied, ‘People do not talk of saints as dying, but as taking samadhi’. His body was still. People were mourning. I felt sad. I woke up at 12.30 midnight. In the morning, we got from Anna Chinchinikar, a post-card that Baba passed away at 3.00 p.m., on holy Dassera, 15.10.1918”.
True. In the spiritual lore of Hindus (and of Moslems) saints are not spoken of as dead, but are said to take samadhi. But what is the difference? “Did not Baba die?” you may ask. Did not Jesus Christ die? Yes, but he again rose from the dead, and thereby his ‘death’ was in fact a triumph over death. And that is real taking of samadhi and so did Baba take it.
The most prominent feature of Baba’s spiritual perfection is that even when he was in his body he was not really in his body, nor was he his body in the sense in which we are our bodies. “He who thinks that Baba is at Shirdi has totally failed to see Baba”, “Iam with you wherever you be.” “ I am not at Shirdi only but in all creatures.” Thus again and again Baba declared and proved how he was the black dog, sudra, the bhil, the photograph, the various sadhus, fakirs, saints, and the various deities. When visitors came from distant places, Baba would recount their whole history to the minutest details of their mental states, feelings and thoughts as though they were his own. Thus, if the separation of body and soul alone be the essence of death, we have to admit that Baba never lived, even when he moved amidst us and acted! If we also add that absence of awareness and the power to speak, act, appear and move about are the real attributes of death, then Sai Baba was alive but in a quite different way from us. And he is so even now, as is amply proved by the experiences of innumerable devotees.
If death was not real death for him, what was birth to Him? That is the crux of the problem. For as the Bhagavadgita rightly points out, everything that has a beginning, a birth, must have an end, a death; and that which is without death is also without birth. The former is the body; the latter is the Self (as distinguished from the ego which is the false identification of the two). Common mortals identify themselves with their bodies. He who has extricated himself from the former condition and attained the latter is the perfect saint. That is Christhood; that is the kingdom of Heaven; the release from ‘sin’ the wages of which is ‘death’.
The full implication of this logically implies that the Spirit not merely transcends the body but thereby the saints can resurrect, appear (and disappear) physically in any place, or in more places and forms than one at the same time. Then where arises the question of the loss or death of either the spirit or of the body? Yes, saints, are rightly said to take samadhi and not die.
This is not a vain philosphy to Baba as it is to us. For Baba himself said that even at his ‘birth’ he knew that he was the eternal spirit which does not come into being i.e., which is not subject to birth. Then how could he have death as we understand it? That his perfection far preceded the birth of his present physical frame is also witnessed by his innumerable references to his protection of several persons in their previous lives in the capacity of an all powerful Godman.
But how did Baba realize his Self, unfettered by his body? By his guru’s grace. For, he once said that his murshad freed him from the limitation of his body and made him realize that he was not his body. But when did he learn it? Again, in the light of his statement quoted earlier, it could only have happened in some earlier birth, so that even by the time of his assuming the present physical body, he conquered both birth and death. Though he was ‘born’, his birth is not anything like our birth. So his death cannot be death as we understand it. How complete his mastery over birth and death is can be seen from the following incident:
Thirty two years before his mahasamadhi, i.e., in 1886, on a full moon day, Baba was suffering from a severe attack of asthma. On that day at about 10 p.m., he called Mahalsapathy to him and said, “I am going to see Allah mia. Protect my body for three days. If I return to it, it’s alright; if I do not, bury my body in that open land and fix two flags there to mark out the place”. So saying, Baba fell down unconscious. His breath stopped and also his pulse. All the people that got the news of Baba’s sudden death gathered there and wanted to hold an inquest and bury the body in the place chosen by Baba. But Mahalsapathy prevented this and held on to Baba’s directions. With Baba’s body on his lap he sat for full three days, guarding it. On the third day, at about 3 p.m. Baba showed signs of life. His breathing commenced; the abdomen began to sway to his inhalations and exhalations. He opened his eyes, stretched his limbs and sat up. (It is interesting to see that Jesus too rose up from the dead on the third day.) What is death to such a one?
Even years after his final samadhi there are innumerable instances of Baba exercising his power, even as he did when he was in his fleshly tabernacle i.e., to appear physically in the form of fakirs and sadhus and disappear as suddenly and mysteriously.
Besides, when he was ‘alive’ at will he could appear before his devotees in a dream or vision as he did to Booty and Shama simultaneously. The same he did after his samadhi too. These latter instances we shall note here, leaving the former to a later chapter.
First is the case we have quoted at the very beginning of this chapter. Again the day next to holy Vijayadasami (on which Baba laid down his body), i.e., on Wednesday morning, Baba appeared to Laxman Mama Joshi in his dream and, drawing him aside by his hand said, “Get up soon; Bapusaheb thinks that I am dead and so he won’t come. You do the worship and the kakad (morning) arti.”
Laxman daily worshipped Baba before worshipping the other village deities. With much faith in Baba he came up with the puja materials and, not minding the protests of moulvis, did the puja and offered the kakad arti to the body and went away. Then, at noon Bapusaheb Jog came with all others and went through the noon-arti as usual.
On the day following his mahasamadhi i.e., on 16th October, Baba appeared to Das Ganu is his dream at Pandharpur and said, “The musjid has collapsed; all the oil men and grocers of Shirdi have teased me a lot; so I left the place. I therefore came to inform you here; go there quickly and cover me with bhakkal flowers.” The information that Das Ganu got through a letter from Shirdi only testified the truth of Baba’s statement. So he came to Shirdi with all his disciples and started bhajan and kirtan and went on singing throughout the day before Baba’s samadhi which he garlanded. Later he fed a large number of people in Baba’s name.
A little later, Baba appeared in the dream of another lady and told her to send the pitamber (light yellow silk dhoti) in her trunk to cover his samadhi. So she did. When the thirtieth day after the samadhi neared, he appeared in the dream of yet another devotee and told him to celebrate the day. So the latter did feed many people on that day. Thus Baba rightly declared, “I shall be alive and vigorous from the tomb also.” “Even after my mahasamadhi, I shall be with you the moment you think of me, at any place.”
And he stands by his word even today. And that is taking samadhi.
“It is Death that’s dead, not He!”