It was the year 1917. Devotees kept coming to Shirdi in very large numbers like ants. A good number were drawn to Shirdi by Baba in the same manner as a thread is tied to the leg of a sparrow and drawn. The following is the story of one such devotee.
Appa Saheb Kulkarni
One day a fakir resembling Baba came to Kulkarni’s house at about noon. Kulkarni was not in the house. His wife and children asked the fakir whether he was Shirdi Sai Baba. The fakir replied that he was a servant of God and on his orders only he came to enquire about the welfare of Kulkarni’s family. He asked for dakshina. Kulkarni’s wife gave him a rupee. The fakir gave her some udi and asked her to keep it in her puja for worship. That evening when Kulkarni returned home and heard of the fakir’s visit, he felt sorry for not being present at then. He told his family that he would have given ten rupees dakshina. Though he was hungry, he went out in search of the fakir. As he could not find him anywhere, he returned home, had his meal and again started along with a friend in search of the fakir. All of a sudden, the fakir came from behind and extending his hand asked for the dakshina. Kulkarni gave him a rupee. Again the fakir asked dakshina and he gave him one more rupee. When the fakir asked again he took three rupees from his friend and gave it to the fakir. As he found the fakir not fully satisfied, he took him home and gave him another four rupees. When the fakir asked again, he gave him a ten-rupee note. The fakir gave him back nine rupees and went away. Since Kulkarni wanted to give ten rupees as dakshina, the fakir was not satisfied till he got the ten rupees. Kulkarni kept the nine rupees consecrated given back to him by the fakir in his puja room and worshipped them. When once Kulkarni visited Shirdi, he got a strand of Baba’s hair . He put it in a small silver container and tied to his hand. After those two incidents, he got a lot of money and also progressed much spiritually.
It was the talk of those days that Sai Baba’s hand was without bones and he would never send away anyone who approached him empty-handed. Because of this, many people like singers, astrologers and street circus performers came to Baba and exhibited their talents and received presents. When close devotees of Baba visited him along with their family members, Baba gave them clothes. Other than accepting dakshina, Baba never associated himself with any other financial matters. If someone came to Baba with any such proposals, he told them frankly that he did not want to involve himself in such affairs. Baba not only never yielded to the lure of the lucre but also followed the same principle in respect of ladies. He was an Askalika Brahmachari throughout.
Sai Appearing as a Snake
Raghu Patil, a resident of Shirdi village, would start any work, only after visiting Baba and saluting him. Once, he went to Nevasa village to see his brother-in-law. He went by horse up to Srirampur and from there by tonga to Nevasa. He woke up the next morning and remembered Baba, praying to him with closed eyes. He heard the following words in Baba’s voice, "If I give darshan, do not be frightened." In the meanwhile, a servant working in the cowshed cried, "Snake!Snake!" . All ran there. Raghu Patil thought that Sai had come in that form and put a bowl containing milk in front of the snake, and it drank the milk. The frightened people ran away. While Raghu Patil was watching, the snake crawled for some distance and disappeared. He felt very happy that Sai had given him darshan in the form of a snake.
Among the women devotees who served Baba with utmost devotion were Baija Bai, Radhakrishna Mai and Lakshmi Bai Shinde. After the demise of Radhakrishna Mai, Lakshmi Bai Shinde attended personally to the needs of Sai Baba, like a daughter serving her father. In those days she was the richest women in Shirdi village having an exemplary character and serving Baba day and night. In the nights, only Mhalsapathi, Tatya and Lakshmi Bai were permitted into the mosque.
One evening, in 1917, when Baba and Tatya were conversing in the mosque, Lakshmi Bai came and saluted Baba. Baba told her that he was hungry. She told him that she would go home and bring food for him. After a short while, she brought roti (leavened bread) and curry. Baba took the food and threw it to the dog which was there. The dog ate the food completely and it wagged its tail out of joy. Then Lakshmi Bai asked Baba why he had given her the trouble to prepare the food, when he did not eat it, but gave it to the dog. Baba replied, "Please do not feel for it. To satisfy the hunger of the dog is the same as satisfying my hunger. Animals also have Atma. Lives may be different but hunger is the same. Humans can speak but animals cannot. Whoever satisfies the hungry will be giving me complete satisfaction. Know this as a great truth." From what Sai said we learn that he is present in all living beings, Omnipresent and Immortal. Let us all recollect what Baba said in such matters, "You need not go to distant places in search of me. If you cast aside your name and body form, Atma remains. This is there in all living beings. I am the Atma. If you can carefully realise this truth, you will know my true form and merge in me."
Bapu Saheb Jog’s Sanyas
After retirement from service in 1909, Bapu Saheb Jog came to Shirdi along with his wife and settled there permanently. They had no children and therefore no family responsibilities. Both of them were completely immersed in the service of Baba. After the death of Megha, Jog gave arathis in the mosque and Chavadi. He did this only till Baba’s Samadhi. He was also called Pujari Jog. In the evenings, he would recite sacred books like Jnaneshwari and Eknath Baghavata and explain them to the devotees who assembled there. But he did not enjoy peace of mind in spite of doing all these.
One day he asked Baba, "Baba, I am fully immersed in your service since so long. But there is no peace of mind for me. Why? When are you going to take pity on me?" Baba replied, "Wait for some more time. The sufferings for your past actions will be over. Your merits and de-merits will be burnt down to ashes. When you renounce all your attachments, conquer your lust and sense of tastes, and overcome all other obstacles, then your life will be a blessed one." After sometime his wife died. As there was no other attachment for him, he took sanyas. We must carefully observe Baba’s message in the above story. After overcoming our weakness like jealousy, selfishness and hatred, the other small enemies like, attachment, lust and tastes will remain and unless we win over these also, there will not be complete peace. The Sadguru teaches such things to his disciples according to their levels, and takes them on the Jnana Marga. But some Gurus who take the status and wealth of the disciples into consideration, cannot understand the level of the disciples. Even suppose such a Guru understands the level of his disciples to a certain extent, he will not teach them the main things for fear that they may leave him. This is the difference between Shirdi Sai Baba and the numerous Gurus that exist nowadays.
Arrival of Bal Gangadhar Tilak at Shirdi
Khaparde came along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, to Shirdi on 19 May 1917. Khaparde who had come earlier also to Shirdi, had seen the greatness of Baba personally. Hence, he brought Tilak who was the extremist leader in the Indian National Congress and a freedom fighter, to have darshan of Baba and take his advice in the matter of freedom movement. There were proofs that Baba gve Tilak certain advices secretly. According to the then prevailing conditions under British rule, these matters were kept secret. After Tilak left Shirdi, then District Collector of Ahmednagar sent a CID Officer to Shirdi to keep an eye on the activities of Sai Baba and send a confidential report. There were several proofs to show that Baba predicted that India would certainly become an independent nation, through a non-violent revolution only and not through extremist violent acts. He gave advice to Tilak along the above lines and there were indications that from that day the extremist actions were toned down.
In those days, to attain independence for our country was the main issue. This was a political problem. The main social problem in the country was religious differences between Hindus and Muslims. The British Government did not try wholeheartedly to remove these differences. They thought that the minds of the people could be diverted from the movement for independence, if the religious differences were encouraged. Religious clashes occurred in the predominantly Muslim populated areas of Aurangabad and nearby places causing much hardship to the ordinary citizen. Unrest, disputes, loss of lives and properties were plauging the society. Baba found that communal harmony could bring peace and happiness to the people rather than rituals. He also found that in both the religions and religious leaders, the qualities of equality, cooperation and love were completely absent. There was none then to bring peace to the common man in the fields of religion and politics. That was why Sai Baba dedicated himself to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity and reminded all, that God is one. Sab ka Malik ek hai. The truths in both the religions were same. The gist of the two religions was the same. But the trouble lay with the heads of these two religions and their blind beliefs. The movement started by Baba for Hindu-Muslim unity was found to be necessary for the country’s political future and hence Mahatma Gandhi gave the slogan "Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai". The main aim in Sai’s philosophy was to unite all religions. That was why he resided in a mosque where he started the Dhuni which was sacred to the Hindus. In the front side of the mosque, he planted a tulasi plant. The slogans given at the end of arthis Sai Nath Maharaj Ki Jai etc., resemble those recited at the end of the ‘namaz’ by the Muslims, and were prescribed by Sai Baba. In this manner, Shirdi Sai Baba made sincere efforts to unite both the religions.
Before trying to understand Baba’s conception of communal harmony, let us try to know what is religion and how it came into being. Religion was only a set of norms prescribed for the people living in different parts of the world, for their ways of living in relation to their societies. The humans established a society for smooth living, different fron non-humans like animals, etc. When different kinds of people lived together in a society, there would naturally be a clash of behaviours resulting in suffering to some. The living methods were decided keeping in view the climatic conditions of that place and the avaiability of natural resources. Taking into consideration all these aspects, certain experienced people had indicated certain norms to be followed. Some meant for the self and some for his behaviour in a society without causing difficulties to others. In this manner, the social regulations and taboos came into existence and developed into religions. So, religion means the regulated behaviour and actions of the people in a society. The aim was to see that all sections of people in a society were happy.
As time passed, such religions developed hatred among societies, leading to bloodshed. The causes for this were not religions or the philosophies, but the religious leaders. We had seen in the story of the ‘Two Goats’ in Chapter 18 that two brothers born to the same mother and belonging to the same religion killed each other. Same blood and same religion could not prevent this. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with religion and if at all there is something, it is only in the people. We should put an end to the hatred towards other religions. Our hearts should be filled with tolerance and love for other religions and equal treatment meted out to people of different religions. This is the philosophy of Sai Baba towards religious harmony. If we look at our country today, with a name like Hindustan, it has a number of people belonging to other religions - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Jains. Now and then, in the name of religions, atrocities are being committed. The cause for this is not religion but religious leaders. Because of so many religions, India has been declared as a secular country.
If so many religions are there in a country, differences between the religions are bound to be there. Hence, some intellectuals are of the opinion that it would be good to have only one religion in a country. This appears to be a good proposal but it is important to know the methods by which it can be achieved. Violent methods should not be used. We must proceed only in the path shown by Sai Baba-Prema Marga. Marriages between persons belonging to two different religions should be encouraged. In this ways all religions can be intermixed to establish a Sai Religion by which we can forget all religious differences. The politicians and religious heads may take an initiative in this matter, so that there will not be any opposition from others.
Let us pray to Sai Baba that in this Sai Yuga the Sai Religion spreads not only in our country but throughout this world.