You know you have entered Shirdi when the word ‘Sai’ begins to appear everywhere – that is first thing that meets the eye as soon as one gets into Shirdi. Quite apt too, considering Sai Baba considered this town his abode. This little town is full of ‘Sai’, from ice cream and paan parlours to saree shops and restaurants. ‘Sai’ is there in the sarees here, too.
I was amazed by the extent of facilities provided to visiting devotees at Shirdi by the Shri Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. From subsidized accodomation to discounted and free meals, the Trust makes Sai Baba easily accessible to the common visitor. You can book your darshan at the Sai Baba temple, as well as your accommodation in Shirdi, online, well in advance before you visit the place.
We stayed at one of the Trust-organised accomodations and found it very neat and clean and well-arranged for, though basic. The accomodations are huge, modern complexes, full of bright sunlight, and not the dingy, musty places that you come to expect of dharamshalas at all. There are also Trust-organised buses and smaller vehicles to transport devotees to and from the temple to their accomodations, plying through the day and well into the night.
We had booked an online darshan as well, and needed to reach the temple about an hour prior to our appointed time. Thankfully, the temple still seems to maintain its modicum, and hasn’t entirely fallen pray to commercialization. Yes, there is a VIP darshan queue here, like in many other temples, but there is a limited quota for the same. There are no special entrances for the VIPs, like most other temples have, and they need to go through the same proceedures for entering the temple as the other people standing in the VIP queue. I know, because we had booked a VIP darshan, and had some TV celebrities standing in queue right with us.
You have two options for darshan at the Sai Baba temple – the ordinary darshan or the aarti darshan. I would highly recommend the latter. The aarti darshan here is quite an uplifting, spiritual experience, one that I think every single person should experience at least once in their lifetime. The Sai Baba aarti is performed for close to an hour, in a very elaborate, old-fashioned way, and it takes you to another world altogether.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across the world visit Shirdi to offer their prayers at the altar of Sai Baba in Shirdi. Considering this, how can the town not develop enough to meet the needs of an increasing number of tourists every year? There are enough things in Shirdi to keep visiting devotees and their families engaged, as they wait for their darshan, from souvenir shops to horse carriage rides. We were surprised, initially, to see eateries ranging from Udupi to Sher-e-Punjab near the temple, but then thought – Of course!
If you aren’t up to visiting restaurants while you are in Shirdi, you can choose to eat at the temple’s Bhojanalaya, or at the Trust-related accommodations. The latter offers meals at subsidized rates to devotees, including fasting food on festival days.
Outside the temple and near about, we were met with a carnival-like atmosphere. People were enjoying chaat and shopping, haggling with shopkeepers, buying souvenirs and what not.
I got myself a sugarcane fabric saree from Sai Manas Textiles, a souvenir from Shirdi. This is, I learnt, something indigenous to Shirdi. Near the temple, you will find a whole lot of stalls selling little souvenirs that you can easily carry back home. Take your pick!
When you get to the temple, you will be bombarded by a host of vendors wanting to sell you this pooja ka saaman and that. Most common are guys selling beautiful bunches of roses and lilies that you can buy and lay at the feet of Sai Baba in the temple.
Enthusiastic processions of people carrying idols of Sai Baba and flower palanquins for Him are quite a common sight in Shirdi. We witnessed one such procession and were amazed by the fervour of the people!
We had a late-night time for darshan at the temple, and the Bhojanalayas had shut down by the time we finished our prayers and got out. We were wondering if we would have to go to bed hungry when we found a whole lot of restaurants open and doing super-brisk business – this was at 12 in the night! People were going about ordering paav bhaji and masala dosa and fried rice and what not, something I haven’t seen after I left Ahmedabad.
Just before we left Shirdi, we breakfasted in a restaurant near the temple, whose name I forget now. The fare was good, I must say. The husband decided to order Sheerai Upma, something listed on the menu but which we had no clue about, just because it sounded very interesting. What arrived on our table was a plate with half a dollop of sheera, topped with half a dollop of rava upma. Ha! Sheerai Upma, indeed! 🙂
Well, I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Shirdi!
Have you visited Shirdi? How was your experience there?