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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.
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