Then the village “Shirdi” was not so developed and the prime occupation of the inhabitants there was agriculture alone. An agricultural area with scanty rainfalls was the main reason for the farmers here with tearful eyes. The villagers here were simple, sober & God fearing, so they had one temple of the local deity named LORD KHANDOBA (A form of Lord Shiva). The installation & architecture of the temple represented the factual reproduction of Maharashtra’s fine arts and was kept spic and span for seeking the blessings of the local God, by a family called NAGRE’S. Nagre family had been the housekeeper of this temple for generations and held the priesthood also for the said temple.
Those days a person named Mhalsapati who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva & was well read as well, had been holding the reign of this religious place. Mhalsapati as popularly called Bhagat ji by the villagers, was so popular and revered by the villagers that without his consent, just nothing would be initiated or done. Bhagat ji Mhalsapati also having risen much above the then social evils of caste-ism would bestow love, faith, & affection to all in equality and in such manners that he would witness his Lord Shiva in everyone.
On account of this pious feeling of sameness and socialism he had been empowered with status, respect, & reverence of everyone including the grace of Lord Shiva Himself. His powers had risen to the extent that he could read & forecast anyone’s past, present, & future.
Like everyday that morning also Bhagat ji Mhalsapati was dutifully offering his prayers to Lord Shiva Khandoba. There was a marriage party that had come to the village and a young Fakir was accompanying the marriage procession. The appearance of this young Fakir was quite like a Muslim Fakir. This young Fakir getting attracted by the prayer reverberation of Khandoba Temple just could not resist his feet from moving towards the temple. The locals by his appearance mistaking him to be a Muslim, tried to signal and prevent his entry into the temple. The youth Fakir ignoring all such unfriendly signals reached almost right on the main altar of the Deity Lord Khandoba. Unaware of Fakir’s presence so far Bhagat Mhalsapati, started getting positive signals of a divine presence, he felt as though he was bathing in the holy waters, he by now had started feeling the physical presence of the Lord and thus he stared realizing that his years of service to God was now taking materialized shape to witness the God Himself. Containing & keeping this excitement to himself, and thanking The God Khandoba for the fulfillment of his cherished dream that he had nurtured so far for years, he came out with the lit divine lamp to take a circumambulation around the Young Fakir, who by this time was smiling at Bhagat Mhalsapati, who loosing all his physical reflexes was busy only worshiping the young Fakir by now. Suddenly as though regaining the consciousness Bhagat ji Mhalsapati pronounced few words in exasperation “ Come SAI … (AAYO SAI) … the SAI who is eternal, the SAI who is ultimate truth, the SAI who rules over three Gunas i.e. SAT, RAJ, & TAM. The identification of Fakir was done by Bhagat ji Mhalsapati, due to his purity … however the villagers were yet aghast and were yet to recognize … as to who the Young Fakir was? The villagers even though had full faith in the dispensations and actions of Bhagat ji Mhalsapati but even then they were yet not able to give in for the fact that how could a Muslim looking Fakir be so important to Mhalsapati. As for Bhagat Mhalsapati from that day onwards, he surrendered himself day in & day out, completely to the divine FEET OF HIS SAI. On the other hand SAI too was for his destination and final seat at SHIRDI was happy to have discovered His first and the foremost devotee. Gradually, even villagers started identifying SAI & SHIVA as one and the same. Bhagat Mhalsapati’s SAI was now the same deity as even for villagers He was KHANDOBA’s Lord SHIVA. Soon few miracles in the hands of SAI followed, and the numbers of SAI devotees stared multiplying in geometric proportions. But, SAI’s trust was still the utmost in His first and foremost devotee i.e. Bhagat ji Mhalsapati. Bhagat Mhalsapati, SHAMA, & LAXMIBAI were the only three, who were privileged to step in anytime on to the footsteps of the DWARIKA MOSQUE, where SHIRDI SAI BABA stayed.
Bhagat Mhalsapati had recognized the very first day, on arrival of the Young Fakir, that he was none other than from the top most pinnacle of Universal & Ultimate Truth. Numerous elite of the neighborhood and elsewhere were getting more than impatient to witness the Fakir just once. Whereas, the Fakir had commanded and prevented them from coming into Shirdi so as not to let innocent SHIRDI villagers be misguided & bewildered by his status and popularity. But, for those elite also now to reach the Fakir had become unavoidable and a must. Hence, the Fakir internally started contemplating a tour of the Universe. Had he gone elsewhere enwrapped in the garment like his existing body, then he would obviously get surrounded by the swarm of accompanied masses, followers, & devotees. So he finally decided to undertake his tour to Universe in a cosmic form, for which he obviously wanted a dependable disciple, who while his Universal Voyage would guard his physical body. Who else except Bhagat Mhalsapati, could be more deserving for deployment to such responsible assignment? Same evening, Lord Sai Baba the, by resting his head on the lap of Bhagat Mhalsapati, went into deep state of sleep, by giving strict instructions to Mhalsapati that if his return into the body is not materialized in three days, he must consider the said body not more than the ordinary soil. Before even Bhagat ji Mhalsapati could respond to this order SAI left on his tour to eternal destinations. Villagers witnessing this first presumed that Sai Baba must be sleeping & relaxing on the lap of his devotee. But, when the day dawned upon and the posture remained unchanged, then the questions began to bother the villagers beyond the levels of human curiosity. Bhagat ji Mhalsapati was able to shoo away initial interrogative questioning but soon the matter started to take shape of a faux pas. Devotees were unnerved but Bhagat ji Mhalsapati’s position did not allow the matter to take worse shape than bad. Bhagat ji Mhalsapati sat still in that posture for “72” hours … and then came the time of SAI BABA’s return. His re-appearance back miraculously pleased all the present again.
Bhagat Mhalsapati’s tedious & sincerest devotion pleased the God to a great extent. One day SAI BABA gifted away his worn attire (KAFNI) to Bhagat ji Mhalsapati, who without uttering a word kept sitting with head hung downwards. On this SAI BABA queried whether the gift did not please him? Over this Bhagat Mhalsapati’s reply was most appropriate that for a disciple the order of respect lied in God’s shoes (PADUKA) and not the KAFANI. The God in SAI BABA got moved on this statement and by shifting his shoes towards Bhagat Mhalsapati’s, He also drew out three silver coins out of His pocket with a statement that the three coins symbolized Bhagat Mhalsapati’s purity and highest elevation of devotion in the name of getting blessings of the highest order i.e. deities identified as BHRAMHA, VISHNU, & MAHESH. SAI BABA added that even if He disappears from the bodily form the said three symbols in Bhagat Mhalsapati’s possession would remain and denote my presence amidst the devotees forever.
During the year 1918 A.D. when SAI BABA went to take to his Shrine leaving His bodily form then the whole world started congregating at Shirdi to submits their flowers & offer prayers. While people would cry and long for Baba’s physical absence, Bhagat Mhalsapati would then show SAI BABA’s KAFNI & PADUKA to all and console the lamenting masses by saying that these three coins and HIS belongings are like same situation when BABA went leaving His body in my lap, for His Universal Tour. He convinced the people with this conviction and people really started offering their prayers to the belongings, as if they would do it for SAI BABA in HIS physical form.
Even today at SHIRDI, and in the shrine residence of Bhagat Mhalsapati, the said belongings of SAI BABA are available safely and regularly worshipped by NAGRE FAMILY. Those who wish to seize divine sight of these and offer prayers could do so at prescribed timings.
(Courtesy: Extracts from the Book “SAI KE BHAKT” by: Vikas Kapoor)
English translation by: ROHIT MISRA