It is possible even now, 53 years later, to recapture vividly the wonderful leelas of this master artist. The dynamics of his personality, the versatility of his accomplishments, the works and miracles he wrought from day to day, the peculiar mysticism attached to his birth and death and deeds can be composed into a story that reads like a romance yet unsurpassed in the annals of biographical literature.

A visit to Shirdi is an experience in itself. An insignificant village lying almost on the banks of the sacred Godavari river, Shirdi has nothing much to commend it in the way natural scenic beauty or civilized amenities, save for the profusion of sugar cane plants, from which it has derived its name. The name is, however, symbolically appropriate, for the mystic who chose this spot as his abode did indeed fill it with the aroma of his sweet and gracious presence. The exterior of the Ashram is unimposing too, but as soon as one enters the precincts of the holy shrine where the mortal remains of the seer lie interred, an unspeakable thrill of ecstasy passes through one’s being, and there is almost an instant awareness of a living presence. This illusion -- or should we rather not term it a supreme truth -- that Sai Baba is alive and actually present in some part of the ashram is one which many a devotee has experienced. A strange expectancy hovers about the atmosphere, as if just there round the corner we would inadvertently come across the familiar and lovable figure. For the many descriptions of the Saint and the remarkable likenesses that the camera has reproduced of him in his many moods and poses, it is possible to create him anew! A tall loosely built physique, long and shapely limbs -- one can visualize him sitting in the masjid distributing Udi (ashes of the sacred fire that perpetually burnt before him) to all those who went to him. An arresting appearance, the olive complexion set off to advantage his handsome features. But the chief attraction lay in his deep eyes of a mystic half drunk with some secret nectar, and yet capable of reflecting the many changes in his moods. When his gaze fell upon a devotee the eyes seem to be probing into the devotee’s innermost recesses, and yet no one seemed to mind this for the expression in those eyes was one of habitual compassion. This was the mystic of Shirdi, as he is described by some of the veteran devotees who saw him, as his photographs and portraits reveal him to us.

So whether it is in the main hall of the Shrine, or in the Lendi Gardens where Baba meditated for 2 hours everyday, or in the Dwarka (Masjid) where he lived and assembled his durbar and where he manifested his loving protection over devotees far and near, the feeling of his dynamic presence and nearness persists, and there persists too an all-pervading peace despite the very voluble and frantic worship that is poured out by the pujaris and by the incessant chain of visitors who throng in the ashram from the early hours of the morning. In Shirdi there is not that atmosphere of dignified peace which one expects in ashrams; here there is a catholicity of worship untrammeled by any rules or restrictions where each man, woman and child just unburdens his or her heart in perfect spontaneity. The Master’s compassionate sanction is there, “Cast all your burdens on me, and I will bear them.” In spite of all the din and noise, the place is instinct with holiness, and the peace which belongs to it is of another world, and it seeps into one’s innermost self almost surreptitiously. It was the same when Baba was alive and resided in the ashram; It is the same now, three decades later -- a sudden discovery of the true silence within the heart amidst all the noise and liveliness without; a coming upon the quintessence of one’s being -- this is an experience which many devotees gratefully share. It is as if the Master were saying again, as he was wont to say then, that true solitude springs from the wells of the Atma and comes as the result of an inward purification. Not only any external or physical isolation, but by the difficult process of making the mind quiet does man’s consciousness open to the forces of Divine. As a matter of fact, Baba often decried the practice of renouncing the world and running away from it, for he feared that such an escape into isolation or solitude very often gave rise to a false sense of smugness in the sadhana. For, said Baba, so long as the six elemental passions of Kama, Krodh, Lobha, Moha, Mada and Matsar had not been sublimated, so long as the mind continued to chatter, so long would it be futile for the aspirant to seek solitude, for in the very act of alienating himself from the world he might miss a true perspective of his inner preparedness and progress. So Baba usually cautioned his devotees to be in the world and not of it.

This process of inward purification starts almost at the very instant in which contact with the Master is established. It is immaterial whether or not a person has actually had the sage’s darshan in the flesh. Baba has his own mysterious ways of selecting his disciples -- through a vision, through a dream, through a strange call like the fervid love whisper in the dusk, and a power like the pull of a master-mind -- and if by some rapport with his seen or unseen presence the contact is once assured, then the fate of the fortunate one is sealed. His destiny is thereafter in the custody of a Maha Yogi who makes it his business to pull the struggling soul out of the rut, and slowly but surely to set his tired feet on the path of spiritual rejuvenation. This is a characteristic that is eminently peculiar to the Saint of Shirdi. Rarely, if ever, has there been among the world’s realized souls one who has so consistently gone out of his way to bring the straying sheep into his compassionate fold. Shri Sai Baba labours, more actively now after his death, for has he not promised that he would be active and vigorous from the tomb also -- for the struggling humanity which he loved so much; and with the doggedness all his own Sai Baba goes on badgering the recalcitrant novice until all barriers are broken and the Light of spiritual awareness is enkindled in the seeker’s heart. Shri Sai Baba is a master artist, for, like a true creative genius in any phase of art, he does not surrender his medium until he fashions from it a thing of exquisite beauty. And if the purpose of art is the revelation of the beautiful, then Baba is an artist par excellence, in that his creations belong to the external verities of existence and surpass the transient achievements of the ordinary artist however great he may be. Contact with such a master gives a powerful impetus of richness to the thoughts and lives of those who are spiritually awakened.

So it happens that all sorts of people are attracted to this master Yogi. The ignorant and the erudite, the meek and the well placed, the weak and the sinning, as well as the strong and the pure are drawn to him. People from all walks of life flock to Shirdi even today and find solace and fulfillment through this pilgrimage. And, what is more, all kinds of prayers are addressed to the master. Devotees pray to him for wealth, health, progeny and even to the recovery of lost possessions among other material benefits! And Shri Sai Baba who himself has attained the highest state of samadhi, known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi, does not disdain to hearken to the cries of the ordinary man to whom the eradication of worldly misfortune is more real than the conquest of some remote spiritual light. With a compassion that is all embracing and an acute understanding of the reality of human miseries and cravings, Baba invites his dependents even now to go to him for all their needs. We are reminded go the gracious Nazarene who centuries ago walked the earth healing the sick, casting out error and setting at liberty those that were bruised; and through the passage of centuries we hear again that intimate and powerful assurance “Ask and it shall be given unto you!” The saint of Shirdi too gives today the same blessed assurance to his ever increasing number of disciples, though he is not present in the flesh. No cravings is too insignificant, no problem of the human heart too trifling to be brushed aside. To this master Yogi even in his supreme state of consciousness all wants are real, for do they not partake of the hidden and merciful divine? It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that in answer to the remonstrations of a certain devotee who objected to people going to Baba for temporal benefits, Baba should have given this characteristic reply -- “Do not do that. My men first come to me on account of that only. They get their hearts’ desires fulfilled, and, comfortably placed in life, they follow me and progress further.”

In the last line of the Charter quoted above, however, lies also the clue to the better understanding of Baba’s methods. It is true that the name of Shri Sai Baba has become famous throughout the length and breadth of the country for the countless blessings that he has poured on his devotees out of boundless love for them. But behind all this concession to the ordinary mortal’s lowly needs are hidden deep and far reaching effects. It is, as it were, Baba was launching on purpose a strategic campaign to win over his adversaries to his side. Once a man goes to Sai Baba, he keeps on going irrevocably until the surrender is complete, for, with each approach to the master, there is a corresponding process of purification in the seeker’s heart; at first it is barely perceptible, then it is conscious and deliberate. This is the secret behind Baba’s wonderful leelas, this is the purpose for which he encourages people to ask for the good things of life. No to acquiesce in the shortcomings of the earth-bound man, but on the contrary to draw him gradually away from the world’s maya is his ultimate purpose. Unlike most Yogis, therefore, Baba actively encourages the practice of going to him for material favours. Indeed he even chides those who refrain from doing this. His attitude is that of the Universal Mother whose business it is to tend and fulfill all the wants of her children. But Baba knows too that a time will soon come when the person himself will cease asking and will crave only for a Union with the beloved Guru. In his incarnate person Baba embodies the conception of divine motherhood.

It is because of this ideal that Baba called the masjid where he was wont to sit and preach by the name of DWARKA MAYI. “Highly merciful is this DWARKA MAYI”, he said, “She is the mother of those who place their entire faith in her.” This spot too in Shirdi has become a holy landmark. Perhaps it is the light of Shirdi that glimmers in its precincts waiting for its hour to reveal itself to those who can assimilate it that gives to this durbar an atmosphere of intense sanctity. This sanctity is not only acquired but somehow innate in the place itself. Baba often emphasized the importance of the DWARKA MAYI and spoke of its purity as if the hall were something apart from his usual spiritual kingship. But it is in this spot that the great Master lived and passed away, it is here that he preached his deathless gospel and performed his wonderful miracles. No wonder that the atmosphere has absorbed all the glory of those sixty years of peerless guruship when he inspired thousands to rise up in their own strength and freedom, to conquer and to create. This durbar has remained intact, the same simple construction it was in the days of the Master, a priceless legacy from him to us who revere him. In the center of the hall where Baba used to sit, is built a small wooden throne-like seat on which there is a life-size portrait of the Guru done in oils by one Mr. Jaykar of Bombay. A brief reference to this beautiful picture of Sai Baba is unavoidable. Mr. Jaykar is not an artist of any great recognized international fame, but in this portrait of the Saint of Shirdi he has produced a masterpiece, not however in any strict academical sense, for it is quite possible that from a technical point of view the painting is full of flaws, and the art critic may find in it many short-comings of line and perspective and color tones, but, nevertheless, the painting is a masterpiece, for in it somehow the subject has come alive! The picture assumes almost a three dimensional reality, a vivid and insistent presentation of the Soul, not a mere thing of canvas and oils, but a creation that manifests the supramental touch. The eyes have the lustrous brightness and compassionate moisture which is seen only in life, and the smile curiously resembling the smile of Mona Lisa in Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece is no less vivid. “It is not a painted smile”, was the outburst of a devotee, “It is not static, but alive and real, a thing of flesh and blood.” That could be said of the whole picture. It is not some static likeness of the Saint that has been reproduced on canvas, it is as if the Master had himself descended into the picture and made it alive and immortal! It is very interesting to record that the painting was done when Baba was actually present in Shirdi, and when the inspired artist showed his work to him, Baba hugged the portrait to his heart and is reported to have said, “This picture will live after me”. This prophecy has come true. In Dwarka Mayi, with this great portrait at one end, and the sacred fire which has not been extinguished sine well nigh a hundred years, at the other end, one can find anew the infinite splendors of Baba’s spiritual magnitude.

Shirdi has become immortal today, as Brindaban in the days of yore. And in the all-embracing panorama of historical truths, posterity will deem in an abode of the Divine.