Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Glimpse through Historic Photos

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    This is the most iconic image of Shirdi Sai Baba, which is seen in millions of homes across India. This photograph was taken in 1918, by the famous photographer S.S Devare, who owned the famous Devare Photo Studio in Mumbai. What makes this photo even more unique, is that the idols of Sai Baba, worshipped in temples across India are based on this photograph. The trend started in 1952 when it was first used by the famous sculptor Balaji Vasantji Talim to sculpt the first idol of Sai Baba placed at the Samadhi Mandir in Shirdi. Sai Baba, a much-loved Indian saint was born in 1838 and passed away in 1918.

    Millions of devotees visit Shirdi each year to seek the blessings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. In fact, the main temple - the Samadhi Mandir at Shirdi gets one lakh visitors per day and is the third richest religious shrine in India after Tirupati Balaji and Padmanabhaswamy temple.

    What makes the Shirdi temple interesting is that the deity or saint within - Sai Baba lived till the early 20th century and so we actually have photographs of him. These historic photographs of Sai Baba were taken by his devotees from Mumbai, Pune and Ahmadnagar between the early 1900s and 1918. These photos give us a sense of his life.

    While the facts about the early years of Sai Baba’s life are not very well known, we do know that he stayed in Shirdi from 1858, just after the Revolt of 1857 had been put down. His real name is not known. The name ‘Sai’ was given to him by a local temple priest Mahalsapati according to legend, around 1858. Over the next sixty years, Sai Baba lived in Shirdi and through his teachings and miracles, his fame spread far and wide. He passed away in October 1918 and his remains were interred in the Buti Wada, which is now famous as the Samadhi Mandir. Here are some of the most interesting and historic photographs of Sai Baba -

    Photo 2 – Sai Baba seeking alms (year and photographer unknown):

    This is the only image showcasing Sai Baba asking for alms (Bhiksha). Everyday, Sai Baba would go from home to home seeking alms. He would collect rice and lentils in his Jholi (bag), and the liquid foods in a Tumbrel (tin mug), both of which can be seen in the image above. This photo was taken in Shirdi between the houses of his devotees Sankharam Patil Shelke and Vaman Rao Gondkar.

    The ‘Younger’ Baba (1903): Taken by a Pune-based photographer Kashinath Gode, this image showcases Sai Baba sitting in front of Dhuni Mai (sacred site).

    Sai Baba and His Followers (1903): An image showing Sai Baba along with his followers. This was captured by a man named Pupal, the owner of Pupal Photo Studio in Ahmednagar.

    Another Image Sai Baba With His Followers (1906): Taken by Kashinath Gode, this image showcases Sai Baba before leaving for Lendi Baug in Shirdi, where he would go daily to visit his followers. Here we see the saint standing with two of his devotees: Nanasaheb Nimonkar (on his right) and Gopalrao Mukundrao Buti (on his left).

    Sai Baba Sitting at Dwarakamayi (Year Unknown): This image was taken by one of Sai Baba’s devotees Vasudev Sadashiv Joshi. He and his friend Chidambar Rao K. Gadre often visited Shirdi whenever possible. The story goes that one day Joshi gave Rs 10 to Gadre for giving it to the saint as Dakshina and also take his photograph. Though Gadre visited Baba at Dwarakamai masjid, his residence, and gave him the Dakshina, due to lack of courage, he couldn’t ask him for the photograph. The saint sensed his hesitation and asked him to take his photograph, on the condition that it won’t be sold for commercial use. The photograph was taken and in return, Sai Baba gave the holy ash (udi) and Prashad to Gadre.

    Baba with his Close Devotees (1915): This picture shows Sai Baba sitting on the first step of Dwarakamai masjid’s central stairs, along with his close devotees Abdul, Tatya Kote Patil (with a book in his hand) and Nanavalli. Born to poor families, Abdul and Patil were given up to the care of Sai Baba and both remained his devotees till their death. While Nanavalli’s past is shrouded in mystery, he was popularly considered the ‘General’ of Sai Baba’s ‘army’ of devotees. The graves of these three can be seen outside the southern fence of Lendi Baug today.

    The small hamlet of Shirdi has changed beyond belief today, with an airport, railway stations and a plethora of fancy hotels. But the rustic simplicity of old Shirdi and the much loved Saint who lived here still lives on through these old photographs.

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