Gurusthan means "place of the guru". It is where Baba spent most of his time when
he first came to Shirdi, and also where, according to Baba, the tomb of his own
guru is located, by the neem tree. Gurusthan is therefore one of the most important
places in Shirdi. Once when some villagers were digging the foundations for Sathe
Wada just behind the neem tree, they came across some bricks in the soil and what
looked like the opening of a tunnel. Uncertain whether to proceed or not, they asked
Baba what they should do. He told them that this was the site of the tombs of his
ancestors and that it would be better not to disturb them.
There are several ref-erences to Baba's guru recorded in the literature, but they
are somewhat enigmatic, and it is not clear whether he was referring to a guru in
his present lifetime, or a previous one.
We have already seen (in the Foreword) the importance that mahatmas give to staying
at the place and tombs of saints. In accord-ance with this principle Baba made Shirdi
his base because it was the place of his guru. To really grasp the significance
of the gurusthan in this tradition, we should understand the importance of the guru.
Sai Baba has told us that learning and scriptural knowledge are not necessary, but
rather, "Trust in the guru fully. That is the only sadhana." A reading of his life
and teachings helps to inculcate this trust and shows us that Baba's life was itself
the epitome of this central truth. As B. V. Narasimhaswami has commented, "Baba's
biography is the practical illustration of what guru and sishya mean, and of the
principles that govern their mutual relation."
Perhaps the first thing that catches our eye at Gurusthan is the huge neem tree.
This tree gave shelter to Baba for a few years when he stayed beneath it. Neem has
many medicinal properties, though its leaves are notoriously bitter. However, some
people once reported that the leaves of one of the branches tasted sweet. For them
this was a sign of Baba's grace; others see it as evidence of the tree's exceptional
One anecdote concerning the neem tree illustrates how practical and down-to-earth
Baba could be. In the early 1900s, after Baba had moved to the mosque, construction
work on Sathe Wada was hampered by a long branch of the tree. However, nobody wanted
to remove it as this tree had been sanctified by Baba's stay under it. When Baba
was approached for his advice he told the villagers, "Cut off however much is interfering
with the construction. Even if it is our own foetus which is lying across the womb,
we must cut it!" But despite this clear instruction from Baba, none dared meddle
with the tree. Eventually Baba himself climbed up and lopped off the branch.
Another reason for the villagers' reluctance to prune the tree may have been that
some time previously a boy had climbed the tree to trim it, and had fallen to the
ground and died. At that moment Baba, who was in the mosque, sounded a note of distress,
blowing sanka (the sound a conch shell makes when blown into) with his cupped hands.
Baba sometimes did this when a person was in great danger, although he could not
have "seen" from the mosque what was occurring at Gurusthan. Villagers linked the
boy's death with his attempt to cut the tree, and became afraid to do anything that
might have been a sacrilege.
Today at Gurusthan, in addition to the neem tree, there is a pair of marble padukas
on a pedestal, a Shivalingam and a statue of Baba. The statue, carved by the grandson
of the sculptor of the Samadhi Mandir statue, was donated by Y. D. Dave and installed
in 1974; the other items were set up in Baba's time.