Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sai Baba, Shirdi and another India

Sai Baba
On 3rd April I boarded the Amritsar-Dadar Express and set off for the journey to the place of Sai Baba- Shirdi. It was a last minute decision as my tickets for the return journey were through 'Tatkal' quota and could be booked only five days in advance of the journey. Tatkal is a system, which gives last minute travellers the chance to get a confirmed ticket. The journey to Manmad (one of the nearest stations near Shirdi) was not a comfortable ride as the weather was hot and my train was the dirtiest place I've ever stayed in for a day. My train as expected reached on time and I was comfortably sleeping in a hotel on the night of 4th April.

The morning of 5th had a journey hangover but the day proceeded fairly smoothly with my first Darshan of Sai Baba at around 9:15 PM after the Abhishek Pooja. The number of devotees for Pooja and Darshan were fairly large because of the weekend. After the Satyanarayana Pooja at 10:30, I along with my family went to Shingnapur.

Shingnapur is a two hour journey from Shirdi and has the temple of god Shani. After boarding a taxi and paying 80 rupees/head (up-down) a new world unseen and unknown to me gradually emerged. As our taxi entered the outskirts of Shingnapur we had to pay Rs 2 per person to visit the temple. The reason for this was that there are no doors in that area and hence they cannot put a ticket counter inside. If you might be wondering that it is just for show, you are mistaken. There are actually no doors outside any building in Shignapur and if any building has it, it does not survive for long. Then came the primitive sugarcane juice stalls on the highway where we had a brief pit stop. Finally after the long 2 hours of omni drive we reached Shingnapur. Then came the ritual of just wearing a cloth and not touching any woman after a bath before visiting the temple. Many others like me were preventing their dhoti from flying away in the afternoon wind. Day one concluded by finally shifting from the hotel to Bhakt Niwas.

Bhakt Niwas is a huge place (or palace) with 500 rooms, approximately 1 km away from the temple meant for lodging of devotees. The place is buzzing with Bhakti and the world's strongest atheists and agnostics would too find it hard to stay away from the power of Bhakti reinforced by the hundreds of devotees. Other good and reasonably cheap things about the place is the 1 rupee tea and 6 rupee meal available 24 X 7.

Kopargaon railway stationMy Day 2 of the trip had the invisible forces of Bhakti and purity strongly vibrated by the surroundings. The second day had me walking thrice up and down along the kilometer long stretch between Bhakti Niwas and temple for three more Darshans of Sai Baba. The last darshan was the shej aarti just in the hall where the samadhi of Sai Baba rests. The chants and the bhakti was a hair raising experience. The trip ended as I boarded Goa express from one of the cleanest railway stations I've ever seen in India - Kopargaon. The rain and thunder showers throughout the journey made it a pleasant ride back to Delhi.

Looking back at my trip the only disturbing trend was the over indulgence of devotees to look at the shrine one more time that resulted in chaos and pushing during the Darshan. I believe it is that practical angle that we lack that sometimes gives us a few hiccups. Overall the place was extremely well managed and well kept. The walking and standing in queue was strenuous but on the whole it was an amazing experience.