A Search for the Birth Place of Shri Sai Baba
[Intrigued by the mystery shrouding the birth, birth place and family background of Shri Sai :Baba, the writer, Shri Kher, paid a personal visit to Pathri along with his wife, picked up clues that were casually dropped in the conversation, pursued them with zeal, patiently culled the evidence and pieced it together with detachment. All evidence, he avers, points to Pathri as the birth place of Shri Sai Baba and the Yajurvedi Deshastha Brahmin family of the Bhusaris as the one in which Baba chose to take his birth. He makes a plea incidentally for the construction of a memorial on the spot consecrated by Baba’s birth. – Editor]
“Sai Baba was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim but above both“. Thus spoke Shri S. B. Dhumal an ardent devotee of Sai Baba and a leading lawyer of Nasik in reply to a question of a District Magistrate. This reply is undoubtedly wise and replete with meaning. A man of God, whatever be his caste or color, is worthy of our respect. A popular Marathi saying discourages the search for the origin of a river and the birth of a sage, for the fear, that the researcher may be disappointed with their humble beginnings. Whatever might have been the truth of this adage, the dictum is no longer valid. In this age of fast advancing technology, when all values are in a melting pot, even “every formula of every religion has to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent”. The extended truth is applicable also to holy personages who have left their foot-prints on the sands of time. Those who have read Prof. Erik H Erikson’s “Gandhi’s Truth” which describes” ‘a westerner’s and’ a psychoanalyst’s search for the historical presence of Mahatma Gandhi and for the meaning of what he called Truth, will grasp the full implication of this statement. Researching into the questions as to the place of Sai Baba’s birth, the family in which he was born etc. may give us a historical hindsight into the later events in Sai Baba’s life. In this belief my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the “birth place” of Sai Baba in Marathwada in June, 1975 and the outcome of our search is stated in this article.
Before I do so let me record briefly the information available about the appearance of Sai Baba, his dress, his food habits, his surroundings, in Shirdi and the theories put forward about his place of birth and his family.
Sai Baba was well-built and had arms which reached upto his knees. He was of medium height and had a fair yellowish complexion. But “one’s first impression about him was derived from his eyes“. There was such power and penetration in them that none could continue to look at him without feeling that Sai Baba was reading him through and through. His ears were pierced and he was not circumcised indicating that he must have been a Hindu. But he dressed like a Fakir and lived in an old tumble down mosque which was strangely called by him as Dwarkamai. A sacred fire was constantly burning in the mosque and devotees were allowed to worship him with fanfare including blowing of conches and ringing of bells.
In the courtyard outside the mosque was a Tulsi Brindaban. Ramanavami was celebrated by His Hindu devotees in the courtyard, in which Sai Baba joyfully participated. At the same time, he had no objection to the local Muslims taking out a Sandal procession on the same day. He was catholic in his food habits, and is said he have partaken meat and fish in the company of fellow-fakirs. The name of “Allah Malik” was constantly on the tip of his tongue.
Yet, he appeared in the garb of Rama, Krishna, Ganesh, Shiva, Hanuman, or the guru of the devotee concerned. He had intimate knowledge of Bhagwad Gita as his exposition to Shri Nanasaheb Chandorkar demonstrated. But he also recited the first chapter of Koran in the company of Muslims. He was known to be fluent in many languages, but none knew how and when he acquired such mastery. All in all, he was a phenomenon, and all that one can truly say of him was that he was cast in the mould of renowned yogis of yore, with deep influence of Sufism on him. It is significant to note in this connection, that in examination on commission issued by a Court Sai Baba stated in reply to one of the questions that his “‘creed” or religion” was Kabir.
Mr. H S. Dikshit, Solicitor and the most selfless devotee of Sai Baba, who sacrificed his all in the cause of his Sadguru, says in his foreword to Shri Sai Satcharita as follows: There is no reliable information as to where he was born and who his parents were. But it can be stated authoritatively that he must have had links with the Nizam’s State later called Hyderabad State which under the Scheme of Reorganization of States in 1956 was divided on linguistic lines and merged with Andhra Pradesh, Karnatak and Maharashtra). In his conversation there were often references to places like Sailu, Jalna, Manavat, Pathri, Parbhani, Aurangabad, Bhir and Bedar. Once a visitor from Pathri came to Shirdi for Sai Baba’s darshan. Sai Baba gathering information about conditions in Pathri, enquired with him about many leading citizens of Pathri. This suggests that he had special knowledge of Pathri but it cannot be stated with certainty that he was born in Pathri. It cannot be said also definitely whether Sai Baba was a Brahmin or Muslim by birth.
Mhalsapati, one of the earliest devotees of Sai Baba, has stated that Sai Baba had told him that he (Sai Baba) was born in a Brahmin family at Pathri and his parents had handed him over to a Fakir in his childhood. Soon after Sai Baba had given him this information, a person from Pathri who had come on business to a nearby village called Korhala had visited Shirdi, when Sai Baba, had asked him about several residents of Pathri by their names. Mhalsapati Bhagat was a man of a truth and integrity and was held in high esteem even by Sai Baba because of his vairagya. His testimony is therefore, important and can be said to be indisputable.
Sai Baba discouraged any questions about his parentage and said that Purush was his father and Maya was his mother. A lifelong researcher and biographer observes’ that Sai Baba’s birth remains a mystery and he had not met any individual who had direct knowledge about it.
Another person whose testimony is weighty is Shri Vaman Prangovind Patel, Solicitor, who since he donned the robes of a Sanyasi in 1953, is known as Swami Saisharananand. The new name itself indicates the extent of his reverence for and devotion to Sai Baba. We must examine his credentials further in detail if we are to accept what he says on the subject matter, in his biography of Sai Baba written in Gujarati.
Shri V. P. Patel was born in 1889 and is still living. He graduated in philosophy from Elphinstone College, Bombay in 1910 and passed his LL B. in 1912. Like Swami Vivekanand, he wanted to see God face to face. He met many Sadhus but none could satisfy his desire. Finally, his father suggested that he should visit Sai Baba. So once in 1911, he travelled from Bombay to Kopargaon by train and reached Shirdi by a tonga. When he reached Shirdi, Sai Baba was standing under the famous Neem tree near Sathewada. The tongawala pointed out Sai Baba to Shri Patel. Young Patel alighted and prostrated himself before Sai Baba. Imagine his wonder, when Sai Baba exclaimed to him. “God is there, why do you say He is not?” Swamiji (Shri Patel) personally narrated to the writer an account of his first encounter with Sai Baba, under the Neem tree in the fateful year 1911, which was to change the whole life of young Patel. All his doubts were silenced and he felt that he was in the presence of a Master whom he could accept as his Sadguru and surrender to him his all. In 1913, when Patel visited Shirdi during the summer vacation, Sai Baba detained him at Shirdi for eleven months, and one day without being asked, was given permission to leave Shirdi. During his long stay, Patel was sent on begging rounds by Sai Baba, and he came into close and intimate contact with Baba. Sai Baba affectionately nick-named him “Babu”. In course of time, Shri Patel became a solicitor and practiced, but his real Interest lay in matters of moral and spiritual. Patel is a Savant and has written extensively for Sastu Sahitya-Vardhak Karyalaya. He has also rendered Shri Sai Satcharita into Chaste but simple Gujarati verse. His biography of Sai Baba in Gujarati is a must for every serious student of Sai Baba and his tenets.
With these preparatory remarks about Swami Sai-Sharanananda, let us now turn to his narration of Sai Baba. He says that it is indisputable that Sai Baba considered himself a Brahmin and he got annoyed with anyone who suggested that he was not a Brahmin. In 1912, Patel’s father was suffering from dropsy and there was no hope of a cure. In December of that year, Patel visited Shirdi. Reading his thoughts, Sai Baba asked him to get his father to Shirdi. But the thought crossed his mind, would his orthodox father come to one who looked like a Muslim?
Immediately; Baba intercepted with the remark, “Am I not a Brahmin?” Swamiji also records that the oldest devotee of Sai Baba, Mhalsapati, had been told by Baba himself that he was born in a Yajurvedi Deshastha Brahmin family at Pathri and he was handed over to a Fakir as a child.
The tale of Sai Baba’s birth is also described in article by Sunamra Sundar as said to have been narrated to him by the noted Saint Madhavnath, a summary of which appears on page 16 of Swami Sai-Sharanananda’s biography of Sai Baba. The story goes that there was a Yajurvedi Deshastha Brahmin in Pathri who had three sons. Sai Baba was the eldest. When Sai Baba was five years old, a Fakir came to the Brahmin and said “Give me my own”. The Brahmin replied, “Everything I have is yours”. There upon, the Fakir asked for the eldest son and took him away.
He reappeared after four years, and with the consent of the Brahmin, again took away the boy for three more years. From the age of twelve to eighteen, Sai Baba remained incognito and was seen at Shirdi under the neem tree when he was nineteen.
Yet another version is contained in the biography of Satya Sai Baba, who claims to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Swami Sai-Sharananand refers to this story at pages 13 and 27-28 in his biography of Sai Baba of Shirdi. It appears that Sai Baba’s parents were residents of Pathri. His father was Gangabhava and Devagiriamma was his mother.
They were a pious couple and were devotees of the Lord Shankar. As they had no issue they were sad. However, through the practice of penance they obtained a boon from Shankar-Parvati and as a result, Shankar took birth in their family as Sai Baba. Gradually, Gangabhava became more and more absorbed in his tapas, and he decided to renounce the world. Devagiriamma insisted on accompanying him. So, both of them retired to a forest, abandoning Sai Baba under a tree. A Fakir and his spouse were passing by. They saw the child, and regarding it as a gift of Allah adopted it and brought it up until Sai was 12. Later the Fakir was pressurized by local Muslims to turn him out as he was fond of playing with a Shiva Linga which he won in a game he played with the son of the local Zamindar. So began his wandering along the banks of Godavari, in the course of which, he came to Aurangabad. There he encountered Chand Patil of Dhupkhed, who recovered his lost mare through the grace of Sai. The later part of his life story is known to all.
And so Pathri, was our destination! Yet we knew so little about Pathri, when we planned to visit it. The history of Pathri which is recorded hereinafter was collected only after our return; from discussions with a learned friend who is a noted authority on the mediaeval history of the Deccan.
Pathri which was in early mediaeval times known as Parthapur, is situated 80 to 85 miles south-east of Devagiri (Doulatabad) and about 2 miles south-west, from the confluence of Vjdarbha (Mangale) and Godavari rivers. It was a part of Vidarbha Kingdom which was ruled by the Yadavas of Deogiri and was a seat of mathematical learning. As Pathri was a part of the Yadava Kingdom, its history is a part of the history of Devagiri or Daulatabad. It was the village, the Kulkarni Vatan of which was held by a family which rose to great eminence in the days of the Bahamanis. Bahira or Bhairav Kulkarni (chaudhari) of this family who probably had migrated to Vijayanagar and entered the service of that Kingdom was in about 1440, captured by Bahamani troops and brought to Bidar. Here the Sultan appreciative of the intelligence and general behaviour of Bahira enrolled him in royal service after converting him to Islam. Bhairav now became Malik Hasan and in course of time rising to eminence, he was given the title of Nizam-uI-Mulk and was made governor of a Bahmani province. His son Ahmed founded the Nizamshni dynasty of Ahmednagar (1489) when the Bahmani Kingdom broke into five fragments. Finally, the Subhedar of Moguls in the Deccan, the Nizam established his domain over the territory of Daulatabad including Pathri and Pathri has since been a Taluka place.
Pathri is about 10 to 12 miles from Manwat Road Railway Station on the Manmad-Secunderabad Line. When we decided in 1975 Summer, to camp at Pathri for a few days, to get authentic information about Sai Baba’s early life, Manwat had come into prominence because of a series of Murders which showed diabolical pre-planning. By June, we had established links with a family at Pathri who were to be our hosts. Our host was none other than Shri Dinkarrao Vasudeo Chaudhari, a scion of the famous Chaudhari family at Pathri, with a long history behind them. Shri Dinkarrao Chaudhari is a progressive farmer and a lawyer. He was a perfect host. He regarded us and our mission as his own and rendered us all assistance.
There are a number of branches of Chaudhari family at Pathri, but most of them live in the fortress which dates back to about fourteenth century. Shri Dinkarrao Chaudhari has now constructed a house just outside the fortress, where he lives. It was our abode during our halt in Pathri, on 21st June evening, when we sat in the verandah overlooking the fortress, in an informal conversation, Dinkarrao made a point which caught my attention. He said, that years ago, his late father Vasudeorao had pointed to one Bhau Bhusari in Pathri, and remarked at the sad plight of the family descendant of Sai Baba! The next day, some Muslim clients of Dinkarrao who had come for consultation stated that according to their information Sai Baba was born in a Brahmin family of Pathri, but was taken away by a Wali when a child and what happened later was not known. This also furnished another clue. So, we promptly commenced with the task of making a complete list of all Brahmin families of Pathri. Brahmins in Pathri are all Deshastha Brahmins, either Rigvedi or Yajurvedi. There are no Brahmins of any other sect or sub-caste. This list was made while we made the rounds of Pathri going from door to door, interviewing all old residents. Brahmins or otherwise. In discussions, it came to light that the family deity of most of the Brahmin families in Pathri is either Goddess Renuka of Mahur or Yogeshwari of Ambe-jogai. There was only one exception. That is Bhusari family.
Incidentally, Bhusaris are Yajurvedi Deshastha Brahmins. Their family deity is Hanuman of Kumbharbavdi on the outskirts of Pathri. So our minds began working frantically. We recalled the great devotion and respect Sai Baba had for Rama and Hanuman Temple and mused, “Could it out skirts of Pathri be that our search had at last borne fruit”. With alacrity, we made our way to Vaishnav Galli, where we examined with reverence the ruins of Bhusari House (House No 4-438-61) for it is no longer standing, and proceeded silently to pay our respects to Hanuman of Panchbavadi. There is also a “Lendi” River skirting Pathri and we were reminded of “Lendi Baug*’ at Shirdi. The association between the two is obvious. Similarity between the Marathi spoken by Sai Baba and the language spoken in Marath-wada, generally, was also noticeable. We were most impressed by the fact that the language spoken by all the strata of the Society, from the lowest to the highest, is uniform and there is no different even in the speech of the elite.
The population of Pathri is about 10,000. In its appearance, Pathri is as it must have been Ancestral house of Bhusaries at Pathri centuries back. Progress has hardly touched it. Only during the last few years, electricity has been brought to its door-step, and link established with the other parts through the State Transport Service Otherwise life is placid, as it must have been, in the olden days. My mind was carried back to the time when Sai Baba was born. No exact date or year of his birth is known. For that matter, there is also difference of opinion about the time of his arrival in Shirdi. According to Shri Sai Satcharita, he first came to Shirdi in 1854, vanished and reappeared in 1858, and settled down.
According to Shri Narsimhaswami, who, is supported by M.W. Pradhan, Sai Baba first arrived in Shirdi in 1872. All that we know is that Sai Baba breathed his last on 15th October, 1918. And one can only guess how old he must have been from his photographs that are available.
Can we then say with reasonable certainty that Sai Baba was born in Bhusari family?
Excepting the information given by a prominent citizen of Pathri to his son on the subject, is there any circumstantial evidence? To collect this, if possible. I decided to pursue the matter further. I opened correspondence with Prof Raghunath Maharudra Bhusari who owns the house of Bhusaris at Pathri. He was professor of Marathi in Osmania University and later Principal of a Government College, from which post, he retired sixteen years ago, and settled down in Hyderabad. He was born in Pathri and had his early education there. When he was eight, he lost his father. At the age of twelve, he left Pathri and went to Parabhani, a district town, for further education. After matriculating he moved to Hyderabad from where he graduated in Arts, standing third in the University. This won him a scholarship for M A. at the Calcutta University, which he completed successfully. Prof, Bhusari states that Koner-dada was their first known ancestor. No information is available about the next two generations, but the family- tree of three later generations is known which is reproduced below :-
Prof. Bhusari further states that he had learnt from his grand mother, when he was a child, that Haribhau, Ambadas and Balwant had all left Pathri for good. While Haribhau might have gone in search of God, the latter two had gone to seek their fortune. In the next generation, Parshurambapu had also taken Sannyas at Manjartha (In Bhir District), which is situated at the confluence of Godavari and Sindhufena. His son Bhau who was not much educated, and died in poverty, was the person about whose condition Shri Vasudeorao Chaudhari had ,an occasion to speak to his son Dinkarrao. This is sufficient evidence to confirm that the Bhusari family of Pathri has produced persons of higher urges and impulses. Could it not be that Shri Haribhau Bhusari was Sai Baba? I wonder!
The theory advanced above is probable. I discussed it jointly with an experienced lawyer and a reputed historian and both of them agreed that it could be so. I do not wish to add anything either. I leave the matter to the readers to judge for them. Since I decided to pen this article, I have learnt that the residents of Pathri are keen to acquire Bhusari House property at Pathri and to erect on it a memorial to the sacred memory of Sai Baba. May their efforts be crowned with success?
- B. Kher, Bombay from magazines SAI LEELA Jan 1976.