by Candice Stein
108 Names of Shirdi Baba
I invoke you. I call out to you from the misfortune of my present disposition, Baba. From this sea of worldly and mundane existence. From within what I have known until now to be real and true, I am calling out to you, Baba, for an ultimate solution to all my problems. May my ignorance from within this vast illusion be dissolved by chanting your name.
"Baba is the soul doctor to make your life happy, healthy and glorious."
~ Sri Kaleshwar
In the third chapter of the Sai Satcharita, the story of Shirdi Sai Baba’s life, Baba himself describes the benefit of chanting his name and listening to stories about his life.
"If a man utters my name with love, I shall fulfill all his wishes, and increase his devotion. And if he sings earnestly of my life and my deeds, I shall surround him on all sides. Believe me that if anybody sings my leelas and surrenders to me, I will give infinite joy and everlasting contentment." ~ Sai Satcharita
For me, something tremendous happened the first time I heard the 108 names of Shirdi Sai Baba sung in pure devotion. It was my first night in the Baba temple at Sri Kaleshwar's ashram in Penukonda, India. I sat in front of the Baba statue for the first time in that way, listening to this long chanting of what at the time felt like an impossibly long twister. As I listened I felt a deep silence and peace descending over my mind. As my mind became quiet it felt like my soul started to listen, it was a similar feeling to drinking cool sweet water after going a very long time without anything to drink on a very hot day.
For me it was this initial experience that gave birth to my desire to learn Telugu, only to read Baba’s names, all 108 glorious names. At that time, the transliteration was a big challenge. Baba's Stotram sometimes referred to as Saibaba Ashithram, is a truly transformative practice. The Baba Stotram is its own channel to our beloved Guru Parampara, as it creates a divine connection between our souls and the infinite formless expression that has taken human form, in this case, in Baba.
Our Baba Stotram is made up of 108 names. All Baba’s names open with "Om" and are offered with the utterance of "Namaha". I once heard the description that "Om" is the growing of a beautiful flower in the heart chakra and that the name is the blooming of that vibration and "Namaha" is the plucking and offering of that pure devotional flower to the feet of the divine form you are worshiping. There are maybe infinite devotional ways to describe this very traditional practice in Hinduism, but we all know there is nothing quite the same as our own experience of the Divine.
The process of chanting "Om" without any mantra or name proceeding it has tremendous power:
“"Om" is one of the most important spiritual symbols. Om refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, the entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge). The syllable is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Hindu texts is a sacred spiritual incantation made before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in ceremonies of rites of passages (sanskara) such as weddings, and sometimes during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga. The syllable is also referred to as Omkara, Aumkara, (auṃkāra), and Pranava, praṇava.” - Wikipedia
‘Namaha’ is often translated or explained as ‘I praise’ or obeisance to you, I remember wondering, what does that even mean? "Respectfully, loyally, genuinely, I bow to you", is maybe as close as I could get to an understanding. However, if we stop there we could truly miss out on the beauty and depth of this powerful word.
“All of us know "Namaha" is used in Mantras and Slokas. People try to translate this into a Single word and the results are disappointing if one understands the importance of the word "Namaha”. Mantras are the Sound energies captured by the Rishis from Ether and as such, they are not meant to be translated for Sound cannot be translated. How does one translate Laughter or the cry of a Child? Misplaced enthusiasm results in bizarre translations. In Tamil, Namaha is translated as ‘Potri’. Translated into English this means "I Praise!”. Maha-mantras are to be used and chanted in the Language in which they have been presented by ancient Seers. They are not words but mystically locked Sounds by the Devata, Adhi Devatha and the Rishi of the Mantra. To prevent elements from disturbing the concentration one performs Anganyaasa, Karanyaasa and Dikh Bandhana. Now, what does the word "Namaha" mean? It means ‘It is not Mine’.
If you observe in any Puja or Homa, after you perform Ahuti, you say ‘Ithanna mama’ - this is not mine. The whole Universe is His. Whatever we do is His and because of Him. So, in the real sense we do not have anything. So, after oblations, we declare whatever we have done is “Not Mine’.”
I have heard many people talk about their relationship to the Baba Stotram, I think it’s always a funny discussion because as westerners we have such a different relationship to bhakti, (devotion). Let’s just say it’s not so natural for us, I think in many ways our cultural discourages reverence of a spiritual kind, maybe it has something to do with our cultural relationship to consumerism? Regardless the Baba Stotram is a powerful bhakti process that has the power to take us deep into our personal relationship to Baba. And because Baba is "సర్వాంతర్యామిణే sar-vaan-taryaa-mi-nee", the one who dwells within the hearts of all of us as the witness, we might discover something truly profound within this simple practice of singing and listening to the glorious names of Shirdi Sai Baba.