Paying Respects to Sai Baba at Shirdi

Sai Baba of Shirdi, God Incarnate, Qutub-e-Irshad until he retired from the Earth plane in 1915.

    (Note: As cameras are strictly forbidden at Shirdi, I've tried to create word pictures of my/our experience, below. There's a photo of the life-sized "throne" statue of Sai Baba, as well as some nice, atmospheric devotional music, at the Sai Baba website. I would imagine that many more photos of the Sai Baba Temple complex can be found through an extensive Google search.)

     I loved Shirdi, as well as Sakori, though Shirdi had an electric, rather than a quiet/eternal atmosphere. There were thousands of Indians there! It felt practically like Mecca might feel during the Haj.

We got VIP passes, which shortened our way once inside the main waiting area for the Shrine. But it took a long time for the passes to come through. Meanwhile, we stood around or walked in circles on the enormous grounds while Victor Seckler and our drivers were fenegling with the temple authorities. During this hour or more, one person was stricken with sunstroke. We then all repaired to a large rest room area with an electic fan, to rest and help her recover.

     Even in the VIP queue, when we finally got there, there were certain places where our group directly intersected the thousands of enthused Indians who were moving along in the much larger group of winding queues that were a bit like the Chicago Stockyards, I mean 40 or 50 of those aluminum-railing-sided pathways, turning again and again to keep the group orderly. Every so often a person started leading a "Sai Baba Ki JAI!" chant, and of course I and many others of our group of fifty or so joined in. Some Indian ladies just across a railing from me began singing an "Om Sai naramara (or something like that), Om Sadguru naramara" song, and I was able to pick that up. I had a lot of lovely eye contact with children in the main queue, and some adults too. The crowd was wild but, I felt, truly reverent.
      At one of the convergence points between our queue and the huge gathering of Indian pilgrims, several guys in our group made a human chain to hold back the pressure, mandali-like, while our ladies especially, and the rest of we men too, passed that weak point. It's not hard to imagine headlines like the ones that seem to come out of Mecca every year, "200 crushed to death in Haj crowd!"

      It was a trip, going through the turnstyle and being corralled by the aluminum queue railings, all the way in to the main Samadhi area, that room done completely in pure gold, and the stage with a life-sized or bigger statue of Sai Baba, and four Brahmins (I think), two or three of them shirtless, all in renunciate orange, taking people's donations or flower offerings, turning so quickly in whatever it was they were doing, that I'm not sure what it though they were stoking a divine furnace.

      The energy in that room was intense. We got pushed through very quickly. I had time to bow for just a second before the life-sized statue and the huge stage. Someone gave me a rose as I stood up again, and I saw a door ahead and thought, "Oh, well, we're going to the next room, where we'll have time for some devotion". But no...we were out the door, in some hallway on the way back outside. I left my rose on a Collection Box, and moved on quickly to keep up with the rest of our group.

      The experience was totally surreal, but there was also, for me, something very impressive about it. The thing is, it was the day before Christmas, and Indians apparently take holiday vacations and bring their families to Shirdi. We had no clue about any of this until just before leaving the vast Temple complex, when a guide found our group and spoke to us briefly. He said that today was busier than most, that 2 lakhs of people went through today. That's 200,000 people!

Group Photo at Shirdi
                                                                                                                                                   photo used with permission of Sufism Reoriented


     Another very high point of the day for me was stopping on the way from Sakori to the main Sai Baba shrine area, at the Khandoba Temple. As we waited in line to get into this small yellow building, set way back from the busy commercial road our vans had pulled up along, I realized this was the place where Sai had sent Upasni, and where Upasni had lived in solitude for a couple of years. As I remembered reading, the Temple had been infested with snakes and scorpions. That description had led me for decades to imagine that the temple was somewhere in the wilderness, and I was a bit surprised to find it nowadays along the busy commercial thoroughfare of Shirdi. I guess all of this grew up since Sai Baba passed away.

     After bowing down in the Temple reverently, only then did it hit me...this was where Upasni had met the approaching Merwan by hurling the stone! It was, and is, one of the main Birthing Places of the Avataric Age.

     It was stunningly anti-climactic to have that realization only when I was walking away, back toward the van. However, I was glad to have had a sense of some of the enormous spiritual significance of the Temple as I'd lain my head upon the little cement feet they had there for foreheads to touch. I had known even then that I was bowing at the place where Upasni Maharaj was sent by the Qutub-e-Irshad to be prepared for, and finally to gain, Realization. That had been enough to move me deeply, as my forehead hit the ground.

Interestingly, Upasni was not even featured at the Khandoba Temple, which has had other "history". There may have been a photo of him there, I don't even remember. I'm pretty sure there was one of Sai; and some other figure, who doesn't figure in the Avataric record.).