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An Unlikely Pilgrimage: Christmas in Shirdi

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As they say, any time is a good time if you want to visit the holy and divine. Last Christmas Eve, while everybody was enjoying the winter festivities in Mumbai, I accompanied my parents to Shirdi. The abode of the holy saint Sai Baba, Shirdi is one pilgrimage destination which is thronged by devotees all year round. And every pilgrim and faithful, like my parents have their own reasons to visit the holy shrine.

Reaching Shirdi

Shirdi is situated in the town of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which is about 240 Km from Mumbai. We rented a car in Mumbai from a top-rated vendor so we could avoid the last-minute rush and price surges. It took us around 4.5 hours to reach. While winter in Mumbai is almost negligible, the countryside is an entirely different scenario. We started early in the morning and as we took the highway towards Igatpuri, the horizon appeared misty but green, adding to the freshness. Good weather on a pilgrimage is always a good omen and being my first ever trip to Shirdi, it gave me a sense of encouragement.

For those who might not be aware, Shirdi is one of the rare pilgrimage sites in the country, which is agnostic of cast, creed, and religion and invites followers and faithful from all walks of life. I only noticed this once we reached.

Temple tour

The temple of Sai Baba is the main attraction of the place. Spreading across an area of 200 square meters, this holy site was not only a heart-warming place but an equally delightful visual treat. I had heard and read about how Sai Baba lived the life of an ascetic and a ‘fakir’, but his temple, albeit built by his followers stood in stark contrast to his persona. The interiors, pillars, and ceilings are covered in gold, with a magnificent chandelier hanging right over the main shrine. In the middle of a small enclosure, which was off-limits to visitors, sat a stone statue of the godly saint.

Right in front of the idol, lied the Samadhi- the site where Sai Baba took his last breath and left for the heavenly abode. This is also regarded as a holy site and is equally revered as the shrine. The Samadhi was carved out of marble and covered in royal cloth.

One of the most divine aspects of this religious tour is the temple ‘aarti’ that are held four times a day. It is said that every ‘aarti’ session evokes a different feeling in the pilgrim. Unfortunately, we had missed the early morning aarti which is held at 4.30am. The next one was scheduled for noon at 12.00 pm for which my parents eagerly waited.

It was indeed an incredible experience. Despite the neck-deep crowd and the chaos, there was a sublime peace about the place.

After our first aarti experience, we went on to explore the temple premise. The Gurusthan is a marble enclosure under a Neem tree. Translated as ‘the seat of the teacher’ is where Sai Baba was first seen, sitting under the tree sharing his teachings and profound knowledge with his first set of followers. Right around the corner, we found the sacred fire called ‘Dhuni’. This miraculous fire is believed to have been there from the time of Sai Baba himself and the flame never dies.

By evening the crowd had doubled with every devotee wanting a glimpse of the evening aarti. Known as the DhupAarti, it started with a puja and chanting around 6.30, followed by prasad.

Awed, amazed, and moved by the stories, sights, and the overall ambiance, we decided to stay back in Shirdi for the night and leave the next morning after seeing the morning aarti.

Pro tip:

Book an economical taxi from Mumbai to Shirdi, especially if you are planning to visit during holidays or special occasions.

You can skip the long queue by filling up an online form and pay for attending aartis, prior to your travel.

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