SAI BABA MOVEMENT
The Sai Baba movement is perhaps the most popular modern South Asian religious movement. It owes its origin to Shirdi Sai Baba (d. 1918). Through one of the inheritors of his charisma, Sathya Sai Baba (b. 1926), the movement became a transnational phenomenon in the late twentieth century.
While most of the available literature is a giographical in nature, scholars have studied some aspects of the movement, including the figures of Shirdi Sai Baba, the middle-class constituency, and the movement’s pedagogical innovations. In addition, Shirdi Sai Baba has been identified with certain ufi orders in Maharashtra and Karnataka (Shepherd, 1985), the medieval figure of Kabir (Rigopoulos, 1993), and the protean Indian deity, Dattatreya (Rigopoulos, 1998). Rigopoulos points out that the “syncretistic quality of Kabir’s life and teachings” seems to have been Sai Baba’s model (1993, p. 305), and that on one occasion Shirdi Sai Baba stated that his “religion” was Kabir. Dattatreya’s “interreligious eclecticism” is found in the Sai Baba movement: Shirdi Sai Baba was believed by his devotees to be an incarnation of Dattatreya, and has presented himself as an incarnation of the same figure (Rigopoulos, 1998, p. 251). An early ethnographic study of the movement by Lawrence Babb (1986) focuses on miracles as central moments that make the world of the devotee seem like an enchanted place. While the miracles of both Shirdi Sai Baba (healing; appearing in dreams to foretell the future or provide guidance; producing substances, such as ash, that have sacred and salutary effects; etc.)
The authoritative account of Shirdi Sai Baba’s life, Shri Sai Satcharita, states that he arrived as a tall lad of about sixteen in Shirdi, a small village in Maharashtra, India (Gunaji, 1972, p. 20). The majority of the population there were Hindu peasants, and Muslims worked mainly as artisans or agricultural laborers. He stayed for three years in Shirdi, then disappeared, only to return in 1858 when he began to reside in a dilapidated mosque, his belongings limited to a pipe, tobacco, a tin pot, a long white robe, and a staff. He sat in front of a sacred fire (dhuni) to ward off the cold. He never used his own name but was referred to by others as “Sai Baba.” Rigopoulos suggests that Sai means “holy one” or “saint,” while Baba literally means “father” (1993, p. 3). Shirdi Sai Baba often used the term mendicant (fakir or faqir ) when referring to either himself or God.
History of sai baba movement
The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the 19th century, during Sai Baba’s life, while he was staying in Shirdi, India. A local Khandoba priest named Mahalsapathy is believed to have been his first devotee. However, in the nineteenth century Sai Baba’s followers were only a small group of Shirdi inhabitants and a few people from other parts of India. It started developing in the 20th century and even faster in 1910 with the Sankirtans of Das Ganu (one of Sai’s devotees) who spread Sai Baba’s fame to the whole of India. Since 1910 numerous Hindus and Muslims from all parts of India started coming to Shirdi. During Sai’s life Hindus worshipped him with Hindu rituals and Muslims revered him greatly, considering him to be a saint. Later (in the last years of Sai Baba’s life) Christians and Zoroastrian started joining the Shirdi Sai movement.
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Chandra Bhanu Satpathy, a devotee of Sai Baba, has been instrumental in creating more than one hundred and fifty temples of Shirdi Sai Baba in India and abroad. He has also had an important role in the development and propagation of the Shirdi Sai Baba movement.
The devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba have spread all over India. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Religion there is at least one Sai Baba mandir in nearly every Indian city. His image is quite popular in.