"My Bones Shall Speak from beyond the Tomb:" The Life and Legacy of Shirdi Sai Baba in History and Hagiography Open Access

Loar, Jonathan James (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/zs25x875t?locale=en


This dissertation builds the historiography of the hagiographic tradition attached to Shirdi Sai Baba (d. 1918) - a miracle-working, "neither Hindu nor Muslim" saint who lived in the village of Shirdi in what is today the state of Maharashtra, western India. In doing so, I chart the evolution of Sai Baba's life story over a century's worth of hagiographic works in Marathi, English and Hindi. Each chapter features close, critical analyses of various hagiographic sources, including G.R. Dabholkar's voluminous Marathi hagiography Shri Sai Satcarita (1929) alongside understudied texts such as Das Ganu Maharaj's Santakathamrt (1903) and B.V. Narasimhaswami's Life of Sai Baba (1955), as well as Hindi hagiographic films, or hagiopics, such as Ashok Bhushan's Shirdi ke Sai Baba (1977) and Deepak Balraj Vij's Sri Sai Baba (2001). I argue that an intensively historiographic approach to the Shirdi Sai Baba hagiographic tradition demonstrates how the memory of a saint is fluid, contextual, and occasionally contested. By building the historiography of the Shirdi Sai Baba hagiographic tradition, this work is a theoretical intervention in the study of Sai Baba hagiography, one that eschews the quest for the "real" Sai Baba in lieu of highlighting the multiple Sai Babas that have been imagined and constructed in text, film, and online. Concurrently, this dissertation examines how sainthood can function as an adaptive response to modernity, capturing the hagiographical transformations of Shirdi Sai Baba's life and legacy as the saint has been (re)shaped for new audiences and agendas across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Table of Contents


The Sai Baba of Shirdi... 1

Review of Academic Literature on Shirdi Sai Baba... 10

The First Wave (1972-1999)... 11

The Second Wave (1999-present)... 16

This Dissertation vis-à-vis Existing Scholarship on Shirdi Sai Baba... 24

Hagiography and Pothi... 27

"Hagiography" and "Hagiographic Tradition"... 31

Chapter Synopses... 42

Chapter 1

A Synopsis of the Life of Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918)... 48

The Young Sai Baba Arrives, Leaves, and Returns to Shirdi... 49

Sai Baba's Model of Religious Synthesis in Shirdi... 56

Miracles and the Growth of Shirdi Sai Baba's Popularity... 64

Shirdi Sai Baba's Death and Burial... 72

Chapter 2

Sai Baba Never Gave Philosophical Discourses (Except When He Did):

The "Philosophizing Sai Baba" in Chapter 57 of Das Ganu's Santakathamrt (1903)... 79

A Synopsis of Chapter 57 of the Santakathamrt... 87

Philosophy Wedded to Ethics in Shirdi Sai Baba's Didactic Style... 91

Shirdi Sai Baba's Interpretation of Bhagavad Gita 4:34... 97

The Transformation of G.D. Sahasrabuddhe into Das Ganu... 102

Conclusion... 115

Appendix A: Table of Contents in Das Ganu's Santakathamrt... 120

Appendix B: Das Ganu's 14-Verse Hymnody... 122

Chapter 3

From Neither/Nor to Both/And:

Reconfiguring Shirdi Sai Baba in Hagiography... 125

G.R. Dabholkar and the Shri Sai Satcarita (1929)... 131

The Author and His Text... 131

Sai Baba in the Satcarita: The Categorical Conundrum... 134

Sai Baba and Interreligious Conflict Resolution in the Satcarita... 140

N.V. Gunaji's English Adaptation of the Satcarita (1944)... 145

B.V. Narasimhaswami and Life of Sai Baba (1955)... 150

The Author and His Campaign of Sai Prachar... 150

Narasimhaswami's Brahmin-to-Muslim-to-Brahmin Narrative... 154

Shirdi Sai Baba: The "Living Emblem of Hindu-Muslim Unity"... 162

The Sai Baba "Remix"... 169

Sathya Sai Baba and the Revelations about Shirdi Sai Baba's Origin... 176

The Reincarnation and the Triple Sai Incarnation... 176

Sathya Sai Baba's Revelations... 182

Other Contemporary Approaches to Shirdi Sai Baba's Origin... 186

Conclusion... 193

Chapter 4

The Politics of Compositeness: Devotees and Detractors of Shirdi Sai Baba, a "Syncretistic" Saint in Modern India... 196

Definitions, Redefinitions, and Objections to "Syncretism"... 198

Pairing "Syncretism" with "Anti-Syncretism"... 203

Shirdi Sai Baba: A "Syncretistic" Saint on Film... 210

Manmohan Desai's Amar, Akbar, Anthony... 210

Ashok Bhushan's Shirdi ke Sai Baba... 219

Some Detractors of Shirdi Sai Baba... 228

Swami Swaroopananda's Anti-Sai Baba Campaign... 228

Anti-Sai Baba Rhetoric and Imagery on Facebook... 238

The Politics of Compositeness in a "Syncretistic" Saint... 254

Chapter 5

The Time Sai Baba Lit Lamps with Water:

Miracles in the Shirdi Sai Baba Hagiographic Tradition... 260

Lila and Chamatkar... 262

Finding the Meaning of Sai Baba's Miracles Hagiographically... 266

The Lamp Lighting Miracle across the Hagiographic Tradition... 272

Early Iterations of Sai Baba's Lamp Lighting Miracle... 274

More Recent Iterations of Sai Baba's Lamp Lighting Miracle... 279

The Miracle: A Contentious Category in Colonial and Postcolonial India... 288

Chapter 6

"Common Sense" and "Medical Opinion" or Faith and Forbearance: Considering the Epistemological Conflicts in Some Sai Baba Miracle Stories... 296

S.B. Dhumal Experiences Sai Baba's Miraculous Protection... 300

Some Accounts of Miraculous Healing in the Shri Sai Satcarita... 302

Bhimaji Patil... 303

Bala Ganapat... 303

Bapusaheb Buti... 304

Three other stories... 305

No Charms, No Spells: Shirdi Sai Baba Cures Madhavrao's Snakebite... 306

The Anthropology of Credibility: An Approach to the Academic Study of Shirdi Sai Baba's Miracles... 310

The Supra-Logical Quality of Sai Baba's Miracles... 319

Shirdi Sai Baba and the Middle Classes in Late Colonial India... 324

Postscript: A Confirmation of Faith in Mississauga, Canada in 2014... 329

The Miracle in Mississauga... 329

Is It Normal to See Sai Baba (or Jesus) on a Wall (or in Toast)?... 332

Chapter 7

Miracles and Caste Critique in Encounters between Shirdi Sai Baba and Brahmins in Hagiographic Text and Film... 336

Sai Baba and Brahmins in Dabholkar's Shri Sai Satcarita... 339

Shirdi Sai Baba Appears as Guru Gholap... 340

Shirdi Sai Baba Appears as Rama... 343

H.S. Dixit: The Doubly "Good" Brahmin... 348

G.D. Kelkar: Did Sai Baba Make a Brahmin Eat Meat?... 350

G.R. Dabholkar: Hagiographer and "Bad" Brahmin Made "Good"... 352

Dabholkar's Satcarita - A Brahmin's Response to Anti-Brahminism?... 355

Brahmin Villains in Bhushan's Shirdi ke Sai Baba... 366

Sai Baba Summons Khandoba and Redefines Untouchability... 370

Sai Baba Appears as Krishna to a Shaivite Ascetic... 373

Sai Baba Resurrects His Brahmin Antagonist... 375

Sai Baba and the Politics of Caste Critique in Bhushan's Hagiopic... 377

Conclusion... 382

The Many Sai Babas in the Shirdi Sai Baba Hagiographic Tradition... 383

Sainthood as an Adaptive Response to Modernity... 389

"Shirdi Sai Baba Studies" on the Eve of the Mahasamadhi's Centenary... 395

Bibliography... 399

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