Without experiencing any kind of difficulties, the marriage party reached Shirdi safely. None of them felt tired or exhausted. Chand Bai Patil believed that because they had the fakir in the first cart, their journey was without any obstacles and ended happily. The bullock carts stopped by a big banyan grove by the side of Khandoba temple. The members of the marriage party alighted there and went to the houses provided for them by the bride’s parents. But the young fakir got down slowly from the cart after all others left and started walking with divine light. On seeing the young fakir, Mhalsapathi recognised him as God incarnation. He used to mostly read the poems (dohe) of Kabir. In his poems Kabir used to address God as ‘Sai’. Mhalsapathi, who was the ‘Pujari’ of ‘Khandoba’ temple, on seeing the young fakir, came out of the temple and with folded hands addressed him as ‘Welcome Sai’. In this way, the fakir got the name as ‘Sai’ from Mhalaspathi. Afterwards he became famous as ‘Sai Baba’. Baba means father.
Baba went to the neem tree where he used to sit and meditate on previous occasions. The divine powers of Gurudhan, Dwarakamai and Venkusa which were in the underground structure in the form of jyotis conversed with him. Ordinary persons would not see or hear them. In this way Sai Baba reached Shirdi for the second time, in the year 1858. For nearly two years, he used to beg for food from five houses daily and he lived under the neem tree. During daytime he used to go to the nearby forest and remain alone. Sometimes, he used to remain in the forest for four or five days without food or water. There were two other saintly persons at Shirdi, named Devidas and Janakidas. They recognised Baba as a person with extraordinary divine powers and used to converse with him frequently. Mhalaspathi also used to visit Baba under the neem tree, now and then. Some people of Shirdi recognised Baba as the same person who had sat under this neem tree a few years back, and cured the villagers of their ailments. So they started visiting Baba again for getting their ailments cured. Baba soon got the name of a doctor or vaidya, with extraordinary divine powers. They shifted the residence of Baba from the neem tree to a dilapidated mosque nearby, which they repaired making it fit for residence. Sometimes in the year 1860, Baba used to visit the following five houses daily, begging for food (1) Ganapathi Rao’s son Tatya Patil (2) Vaman Sakharam (3) Nandu Savai Rama Vani (4) Madhava Rao Deshpande (Shama) and (5) Appaji Patil.
There was an elementary school adjoining the mosque. Shama was working there as teacher. He used to be nearer to Sai Baba. Mhalsapathi also used to visit Sai frequently and used to spend time with him till late in the nights, discussing several matters. Shama also used to join their discussions. Ganapathi Rao’s wife Baija Bai and his son Tatya developed immense love and respect for Sai Baba. They used to take their food only after Sai had visited their house and taken alms. But the village munsif "Bhate" had a different opinion about Sai. He used to talk evil of Sai, saying that he was a cheat and wasting others’ time by his lectures.
In the year 1861, during the rainy season, there was a severe cyclone. The small hut in which a leper named Bhagoji Shinde lived was swept away by the cyclone. A shivering Bhagoji approached some unknown persons for shelter, but none gave him shelter in their house fearing that they may contact leprosy. Not knowing what to do, he proceeded towards the mosque where Sai was, with the hope that Sai would come to his rescue. But on the way , due to severe cold and rain he fell down crying "Sai". Sai immediately ran towards him, lifted him and carried him on his shoulders to the mosque. A fire was required immediately to keep Bhagoji warm. But no fire could be lit in that severe cyclone. So Baba called Mother Dwarakamai who was in the underground structure near the neem tree, in the form of a jyoti. Immediately Dwarakamai,in an invisible form , came and lighted the firewood in the mosque. Bhagoji regained consciousness after getting warmth from the fire in the mosque.
Bhagoji’s leprosy disappeared completely after Sai Baba touched his body, followed by the warmth given by Dwarakamai. Within minutes the news about Bhagoji’s cure of his leprosy spread in the village. The villagers of Shirdi who recognised ‘Sai’ till then as a doctor and a great person, started to worship him as God. From that day Baba named the mosque as Dwarakamai. Gurudhan and Venkusa were there in the underground structure near the neem tree in the form of jyotis. Hence, Sai Baba named that place as Gurusthan. From that day, the fire which was started in Dwarakamai(mosque) continues to burn and is called Dhuni. The ash (vibhuti or udi) from the Dhuni had the power to cure ailments and Sai Baba used to give it to the patients instead of medicines. One day, Nanavali came to Shirdi, and because of his old acquaintance with Baba, addressed him as Uncle, (Mama,Kaka). Baba asked him to keep quiet,saying there was no place for old acquaintances or connections, the only connection being spiritul. Nanavali understood Baba’s advice well and lived separately in Shirdi. He used to love Baba more than his life, and if anyone talked ill of Baba, he used to condem them. Though he was younger in age to Baba, he was an Avadhuta. Slowly all the villagers of Shirdi started coming closer to Baba. They used to start any work only after informing Baba. Though Baba was an adult, he used to play with the children sometimes. Sometimes, he used to roam about in the forest. Baija Bai used to bring food for Baba daily and only after Baba ate, she took her food. Sometimes, when Baba went into the forest, she used to go in search of him and only after giving him food, would she return to her house and take her food. Her son Tatya used to accompany her. He used to play on the shoulders of Baba, calling him Uncle.
Shirdi village became famous because of Sai Baba. He was highly intellectual and good-natured. He had no love for material things, but was always thinking of Atma. His heart was as clear as a mirror. He never bowed to desires. He never differentiated between the rich and the poor. Though he was living at Shirdi, he knew what was happening at distant places. Though he had all the powers (siddhis) at his feet, he never used them.
The mere touch of Sai’s feet will detach us from worldly attachments and help us in getting Atma Sakshatkara (self-realisation). His Pada Tirth (water with which his feet are washed ) has the power of destroying the evil forces. His udi (vibhuti) will cure all types of ailments. His order or command is like one from the Vedas. He never appeared tired. He never exhibited displeasure or overjoy. He was always in a happy mood. Everyone realised this true state of Sai Baba soon.
In the earlier days, Gowli Buva, who was a staunch devotee of Vittal, had expressed about Sai Baba as follows: "Baba has come into this world for the sake of orphans and the downtrodden." At one time Baba had a bout of wrestling with Mohiuddin Tamboli and pretended to lose. But from that day the egoism in Mohiuddin was removed and he stopped wrestling bouts, slowly working towards self-realisation (Atma Sakshatkara). A false Guru named Jowahar Ali from Ahmednagar came to Shirdi and told everyone that Sai Baba was his pupil (shishya) and took him along with him to Rahata, a nearby village. Without any protest, Baba followed Jowahar Ali and served him as his pupil for about six months. Even though several defects were found in the false Guru, Baba, without complaining served him sincerely, thus showing to the world how a pupil should behave towards his Guru. Afterwards, the villagers of Shirdi exposed the false Guru and brought Baba back to Shirdi.
After experiencing Baba’s love towards them while he was at Shirdi, and missing it while he was away at Rahata, the villagers realised the greatness of him. They realised that Sai Baba was just like a mother to them and his words were full of nectar. Some devotees shed tears out of joy at Baba’s return to Shirdi from Rahata. Sai Baba gave them the following message. "You should never think I am nearer to you or at a distant place. I will be knowing from any distance your actions. I am the ruler of your hearts. I am in every atom of all matter and living beings in this world . I am the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of this world. Whoever concentrates his thought on me will have nothing to fear . But Maya will punish those who forget me.
On hearing authentically about Sai Baba’s true state and his words which were like nectar, the devotees prostrated before him. Irrespective of age and sex, they started visiting him before attending to their works. Baba gave udi as prasad to all the devotees who visited him. Baba, with his huge personality used to wear a long shirt (kafni) from top to bottom and tie the piece of cloth given to him by his Guru Venkusa, around his head . He used to carry a big bag (jholi) on his left shoulder. He rarely changed is clothes. Sometimes he used to give the clothes for washing, whenever his devotees insisted. He used to give some of the food he got from the five houses, to the domestic animals and birds, some he used to put in the Dhuni for his mother and used to eat only the remaining. Sometimes, the animals and birds used to put their mouths and beaks inside the pot in which the food was put, but Baba never objected.
Sometimes Baba used to tie small bells around his legs and sing divine songs and dance near a placed called Takiya. His voice was very pleasing. Sometimes when he sang with full fervour, not only the devotees, but also the animals used to watch him and enjoy his music. In those days there used to be Hindu-Muslim religious differences in most parts of the country. The English who ruled the country, wantonly used to create such differences. In view of the then prevailing conditions, Baba never disclosed anything about his parents or the details of his birth. He dressed like a Muslim fakir. He used to have firewood continuously burning in the Dhuni (a Hindu custom) in the mosque. He grew a tulasi (basil) plant in the left front side of the mosque. In this way, he used to follow both Hindu and Muslim customs. He thus drew devotees from both the religions and used to teach them religious tolerance and co-existence.
In due course Sai Baba’s name reached far-off places like Bombay. Ailments which could not be cured with medicines, got cured with the udi given by Sai Baba. His pada tirtha acted like sanjeevani (the herb that cured Lakshmana in the war with Ravana). Problems which could not be solved earlier got solved, before the devotees reached their respective places after praying to Baba personally. Not only Hindus and Muslims but also Sikhs, Parsis and Christians came to Sai.
Mhalsapati used to perform Puja to Baba personally every day. Shama used to look after the needs of devotees. Baba used to ask some devotees for dakshina (alms). He declined it from some devotees who voluntarily offered. He used to distribute the amount collected by way of dakshina to poor people who depended on him.
The village munsif Bhate did not like what Baba was doing, thinking that he was practising black magic and mesmerism. Bhate tried to find some drawbacks or defects in Baba so that he could be proved to be a cheat in the eyes of his devotees. Sai Baba liked lighting the lamps very much. He used to request the village oil merchants to donate oil with which he used to light the lamps in the mosque. Bhate persuaded the oil merchants not to donate oil to Baba, for then Baba would not be able to light the lamps in the mosque and everyone would come to know of his incapacity.
Sai Baba, without worrying over it, asked Bhagoji to bring some water. He drank the water and later vomitted it in a vessel. This water turned into oil with which Bhagoji lighted the lamps and they burned the whole night. The oil merchants, who had declined to donate oil, and were watching this, seeing the lights burning with water, ran up to Baba and fell at his feet, pleading for forgiveness.
Devotees out of love for Baba used to do pada puja ( offer prayers at his feet) daily. They also put sandalpaste on the hands and gave arathi and camphor. Though Baba had no desire for all this, he never objected to their actions. A Muslim devotee of Baba, Rohilla, out of religious fanaticism, wanted to kill Baba, because he was allowing ringing of bells, giving arathi, etc. in the mosque which went against Islamic doctrine. So, one night he waited for an opportune time to hit Baba with a big stick. When Baba came out of the mosque for a stroll, Rohilla tried to hit him. Immediately Baba turned around and with his eyes wide open focussed them on Rohilla. Two light rays came out of Baba’s eyes and fell on the hands of Rohilla. Immediately, the stick dropped to the ground from his hands. Baba lifted his own hands and showed Rohilla his palms. Rohilla saw Mecca Medina and the sacred Quran in the palms of Sai Baba. Saying "Ya Allah", he fell at the feet of Baba.
Sai Baba tried his best to establish friendship between the Hindus and the Muslims. The gist of Baba’s teachings are as follows: "Rama who is worshipped by the Hindus and Rahim by the Muslims, are one and the same. There is no difference between them. When it is so, why do the respective devotees quarrel among themselves ? All religions and communities should become united as brothers and work towards national integration. No benefits come from disputes,clashes etc. Do not compete with others. You take care of your own advancement. Yoga, thyaga, tapas and jnana are the four ways for attaining moksha. One can choose one out of the four to attain moksha. Do not harm anyone because he has harmed you. Whatever good is possible, you go on doing for others."
Sai Baba never exhibited his superiority. He did not have any attachment for his body. He had endless love for his devotees. He used to tell the past, present, and future of his devotees! Friends and foes were equal for him. Though the villagers of Shirdi did not have the required jnana, they had endless love and devotion for him. Baba had all the six natural qualities found in God. They are fame, wealth, detachment, jnana, super power and magnanimity. The assurances given by Baba to the devotees are as follows: "I am slave among slaves. I am indebted to you. I am contented with your darshan. I am gratified with your pada darshan. I am like a worm in your excretion." From these words of Baba one can decide how much love and affection he had for his devotees.
Though he appeared in the human form, he is God Incarnation. He resides in the hearts of all. He never had any attachment for anything or anyone in his heart. But outwardly, he appeared like a man of many desires. He was always peaceful. But sometimes, he used to abuse and talk aloud like a mentally deranged person. Always he used to think about Atma. He used to say "Allah Malik". He used to lean about the wall of the mosque and distribute udi as prasad to devotees. In the beginning, Mhalsapathi also thought that Baba was a Muslim fakir. But as the acquaintance with him grew, and when Baba lighted the lamps with water,then he blieved that he was God incarnated and worshipped him in the same manner as he worshipped God. He used to give arathi. Immersed in devotion, he used to sing devotional songs. This was the daily routine of Mhalsapathi. Muslim devotees like Rohilla and Rangari adjusted themselves to the way Baba was worshipped by the Hindus. But some Muslim fanatics, acting on the advice of their religious leader Sangammer, gather about ten strong men with sticks and surrounded Baba’s mosque. They warned that anyone who tried to enter the mosque to worship Baba in the Hindu way, would be beaten to death. Mhalsapathi, who was very timid by nature, worshipped Baba from a distance.
Having noticed the situation, Baba called Mhalsapathi and asked him to come inside the mosque and do puja as usual: "I will see who will harm you," So saying Baba struck the floor with his sataka . On hearing Baba’s roaring voice, all the Muslims who were near the mosque carrying sticks, ran away in fear. But Mhalsapathi could not get over the fear that gripped him. He began to fear that they might harm him on his way home and told Baba about his fear. Then Baba, pitying him, gave him the following assurance. "Either these persons or any other person, here or elsewhere, either in your present birth or future births, cannot do any harm to you. I will be guarding you with a thousand eyes. I will continue to protect you. You can go home without any fear." Such assurances have not been given by any other god till now. May the assurance given to Mhalsapathi by Baba apply even now to those devotees who read this Life History of Sai Baba. Let foes become friends. Let the devotees have peace and happiness in the name of Sai.