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Visit Shirdi and feel the divinity
Jan 16, 2001 03:52 PM 3559 Views

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Shirdi, situated in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, is where the saint Sai Baba lived in the latter half of the 18th century. Who was Sai Baba? Nobody quite knows, as his origins remain a secret. Sai Baba first appeared in Shirdi in 1854 in the garb of a fakir, then disappeared for three years before reappearing to live in Shirdi for 60 years. He scarcely spoke, dwelled under a neem tree (which is today known as Gurusthan), surviving on the food which he begged from the villagers. His final abode was on old, dilapidated mosque.


The 'Samadhi' Mandir of Baba stands on what was once a flower garden, which was planted and reared by Baba himself. Baba's personage was unimpressive, a white tunic wrapped in a headdress but he was an unyielding storehouse of surprises. Wanting to impede his growing popularity, vested interests would try to test his plausibility but were always left stupefied, like when Baba nullified the belief that he did not know Sanskrit by interpreting a verse from the Geeta or when he demonstrated his proficiency in yogic practices. His love for animals was well known, and they claimed an equal kinship with him. His words to devotees were precise and he often said: ''If a man utters my name with love, I shall fulfil all his wishes and increase his devotion. If anybody sings my leela, I will give him infinite joy and ever lasting contentment.'' A unique feature of Sai Baba was to test his devotees in various ways before fulfilling their wishes and his peculiarity was his unhesitatingly asking for money (dakshina) from certain devotees, and only the dakshina which had been asked for would be accepted, the rest would be returned. The devotee could be rich, poor, a woman, and the amount asked for could be anything, but consideration was given to the devotee's wish, devotion and convenience. Interestingly, from the stupendous amount of money, which soon started flowing in as dakshina, Baba spent only a paltry amount on himself, as his needs comprised only of a chillum (claypipe) and fuel for the dhuni (sacred fire), and the rest he distributed as charity to whomsoever he wished.Decades after Sai Baba's death, huge crowds throng his 'Samadhi' in Shirdi with offerings of fruits, nuts, shawls, flowers, etc., with the unyielding belief that their wishes will be fulfilled. Yearly, there are three special celebrations at Shirdi. On Baba's insistence, the annual urs is celebrated in March or April and this celebration indirectly cements Hindu-Muslim ties. The second takes place on Gurupurnima Day when devotees worship their spiritual preceptors, and the third celebration is on Gokul Ashtami, the day, which follows the birth of Lord Krishna. The mystique of Sai Baba has drawn me to Shirdi many a times. Shirdi is a heaven of divinity. Sai Baba died in 1918.


How to get to Shirdi: The best way to reach Shirdi from Mumbai is by a luxury bus or hiring a taxi. Taxis operate from Dada. The journey takes approximately 8 hours. The nearest railway station is Manmad and the nearest airport is near Nashik.


Where to stay: With plenty of hotels and lodges to suit varying budgets, accommodation generally does not pose a problem. But it would be more convenient to reserve beforehand, given the larger crowds in Shirdi on certain days (especially Thursdays) and certain seasons (October to February). If you intend to make a one-day trip, then it is inadvisable to go on Thursdays, the festival day, as you might take hours in the long queues just to enter the Sai temple.


Prayer timings: The Samadhi Mandir is opened at 5 am every day when the morning aarti is performed followed by the abhishek which is performed till 11 am and the noon aarti is performed at 12 on all days except Thursdays and Sundays. The evening aarti is performed at sunset. The night aarti is performed at 10 pm.


What to see: A very attractive image of Sai Baba has been housed in the main Mandir, which is the 'Samadhi' of Baba. The neem tree below, which Baba often sat, still stands, as does the mosque where he spent most of his time.


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