Shirdi Sai Baba is one of the most universally loved and revered saints of modern India. Images of him can be seen across the length and breadth of the entire sub-continent and hundreds of temples have been constructed in his name both in India and abroad. He has acquired the status of an adored deity in less than a century since his passing. This is due to the divine qualities of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence that countless people across the globe experience in him: their prayers are magnanimously answered.
Sai Baba lived at the turn of the twentieth century in the small village of Shirdi, in the state of Maharashtra in central India for around sixty years, although this was not his birthplace. He never revealed what that was, nor the time of his birth, or his religion, caste, original name, nor the names of his parents. “Sai” means “Saint” and “Baba” means “Father”. The name expresses the love and reverence devotees feel for him and was coined by one of his first followers. In appearance, Sai Baba was a fakir (Muslim ascetic). He followed a life of holy poverty and renunciation, living on alms in utmost simplicity yet showering grace on all who turned to him. He said that he was here to “give blessings”. This was seen in numerous miraculous events that took place around him – healings, protection from accidents, offspring born to barren couples, financial prosperity, disputes resolved, employment secured, and above all, spiritual evolution and transformation in those connected to him. Baba did not object to people coming to him for worldly benefits, as he said that by getting these fulfilled people would follow him and progress further. He also said, "I give my devotees what they want until they want what I want to give.” The miraculous experiences that devotees have around him are his response to their needs, an indication of his love and capacity to take care of them.
In spite of his great spiritual stature, Sai Baba never publicized himself through discoursing, touring or preaching, and he did not instruct in any generalized practice or ritual. Instead, he catered directly to the needs of each individual, whatever they were, while moulding him or her into something greater. His teaching was his own life and divine transforming presence; sometimes he talked symbolically or in parables. His spiritual perfection still draws innumerable devotees to him from all over the world. He himself said that his work would continue after he had left the physical body, and that he would be “active from his tomb”.
In Sai Baba, one finds the true essence of all religions; he is beyond distinctions of religion, caste or creed. Some worship him as a Hindu, others see him as Muslim. Sri Babuji comments, "Not identifying himself in totality with any religious community, by steering along an unbiased middle path of transcendence seems to be the constant leitmotif of Baba’s life-style." Baba did not institute any religious order, organization, ashram or lineage, nor did he leave a successor. He blessed and served all equally. He said that he was the slave of God, but to his devotees Baba is nothing less than God. As one of his contemporary devotees put it, he was “…the embodiment of the Supreme Spirit, lighting the path of his devotees by his every word and action."