Located in 19°45' north latitude and 74°25' east longitude, Shirdi is a place where one of the biggest fairs in Maharashtra is held. It is situated in Kopargaon taluka and covers an area of 3.3 square miles and has a total population of 6,358 souls as per the Census of 1971. It is situated on the road connecting Ahmadnagar and Kopargaon, 52 miles from Ahmadnagar and 16 miles from Kopargaon, and State Transport buses ply regularly on this road. During the fair extra buses ply between Shirdi and various other places such as Ahmadnagar, Nasik, Manmad, Kopargaon, Pune, Bombay,
etc. The long-distance passengers generally come by rail up to Manmad, Kopargaon or Aurangabad, and then take a bus to reach Shirdi. The village has a post and telegraph office. Wells and a nalla form the main sources of water-supply to the village populace and those attending the fair.
The educational facilities to the village population are provided by the primary schools conducted by the Zilla Parishad and the high school known as the S. S. M. Vidyalaya. The medical facilities are provided by the private medical practitioners and a public dispensary. A weekly market is held at Shirdi on every Sunday.
The village has come to lime-light of late and has acquired religious importance due to its being the place of residence of the famous saint Shri Saibaba. The place of birth and early life of the saint are not known. It is also not known whether he was a Hindu or a Muslim. However, the people of all castes and religions adore him for guidance and benediction. He is said to have come to Shirdi in the year 1872 alongwith a marriage party when he was a handsome lad of sixteen years only. The marriage party had camped in a field near the Khandoba's temple. A person, Mhalsapati by name, from Shirdi who was a goldsmith was an ardent devotee of Khandoba and used to visit the temple every day. One day Mhalsapati, while on his routine visit to the temple, saw Shri Saibaba and spontaneously accosted him thus ' Welcome Sai Baba' and this is how the great saint came to be known as ' Sai Baba '. Mhalsapati brought Sai Baba in the village and introduced him to his friends and accommodated him in a masjid.
In the course of time members of the marriage party went back to their villages but Sai Baba chose to remain behind. During his stay at Shirdi the number of his followers gradually increased and they became his ardent devotees.
Shri Sai Baba had his routine programmes everyday. He always used to please himself by uttering ' Yade Haqq' (i.e., I always remember God) and avoided the expression ' Anal Haqq' (i.e., I am God). He never preached anything as such. Whatever he preached was through his actions and conversation. He wore a white or orange colour kafni and wound a white piece of cloth round his head. He smoked chillim (pipe). He never accepted any dakshina or offerings from his devotees.
Sai Baba used to sleep in the masjid (mosque), which later on came to be known as Dwarkamai, every alternate night and on every other night he slept in the village chavdi. Dhuni fire in Dwarkamai used to be kept burning all day and night.
The Sai Baba temple commands a vast area of four acres in which are situated the principal temple of Shri Sai Baba, office buildings, cloak-rooms, guest-house, dharmashala and refreshment houses. The
temple premises are well maintained and paved with stone lined floorings.
The temple has two doors facing the north and south; the door facing the north is used for entry into the temple and that in the south for exit. As one enters through the main gate there is an open hall which is used as a sabhamandap. This mandap is closed from all the sides, has no roof and admeasures about 28'X60'. To the right is seen a closed portico admeasuring about 43'x36' through which one enters into the sanctuary of the temple. The sanctuary admeasures about 33'x28' and its floor is of marble stone. In this sanctuary there is a platform (12'X28') and above the platform there is the saint's throne of marble lined with silver plates. On this throne there is a full-size image of the saint six feet in height and in a sitting posture. It is a perfect specimen of craftmanship in marble. On both the sides of the image, there are two silver-plated lions in a sitting position. Two lamp pillars are kept on both the sides of the image.
In front of the sabhamandap is a marble nandi mounted on a pedestal about 2½ feet in height. The sabhamandap is almost a square. The upper ceiling of the sabhamandap is decorated with ornamental designs in plaster. The upper portion of the sabhamandap is supported by four pillars built in stone masonry. They also bear designs in plaster. The sabhamandap has a gallery all around with parapet railings. In the gallery are placed the photographs of the ardent and deceased devotees of Shri Sai Baba. A chandelier is hung in the centre of the sabhamandap.
On the left in the sabhamandap is a glass chamber that exhibits the articles of daily use of the saint. The articles in the exhibit comprise the bedding set of the saint, his books, his shoes, two tanpuras (a sort of a musical instrument), his life-like sketch, a gramophone, his chillim (the bowl of a hukka), a surai (an earthen water jar), his padukas, his umbrella and few other articles.
Three arches supported on pillars and the side walls lead to the inner sabhamandap where devotees gather for prayers and meditation. The door from the sabhamandap leads to a cellar below the sabhamandap. The costly articles in the temple are stored in the rooms to the south and north of this sabhamandap. This sabhamandap is paved with marble tiles and a chandelier is hung in the sabhamandap.
The samadhi of the saint constructed in black marble is mounted on a platform and contains the mortal remains of Shri Sai Baba with his head towards the north and feet towards the south. The samadhi is plated with silver; the raised platform also has silver plating on three sides. The platform has railings of marble. Towards the west of the samadhi adjacent to the wall at the centre is placed an image of the
saint facing the east. The image placed on the throne is made of Italian marble. On the rear side of the image is the prabhaval. The prabhaval is made of velvet and is placed in a
sliver frame bearing designs.
Above the image is hung, supported on brackets, a gold-plated silver canopy. Two nandadips, one on the left of the image and the other on the right of the image, are always kept burning. Both the arms of the throne have a lion engraved on them and are made of silver. The left-side image of the saint is in a sitting posture.
To the west of the samadhi is the Gurusthana, i.e., the place of the guru. There is the samadhi of the unknown person whom the saint Shri Sai Baba used to call as his (guru) preacher. At this place has grown a large tree of kadulimba (Melia azadirachta Lin), the odd feature of this particular tree being that the leaves of one branch of the tree taste bitter while those of the other branch taste sweet. In the gurusthana is placed a photograph of the saint in a devhara. The gurusthana also contains a pindi of Mahadeva and Nandi. It also contains padukas but whose padukas these are is not known. In front of the gurusthana incense is burnt by day and night.
To the east of the main temple is the mosque known as Dwarkamai. The masjid has two compartments, one the sabhamandap and the other, the inner shrine. The audience hall is fairly big and placed in it is a large-sized stone which the saint used to occupy. On this stone is placed a photo-frame of the saint. In the sabhamandap is a pillar about three to three and a half feet in height against which the saint used to relax.
On entering the inner shrine, to the right hand side is a stone platform for the people to sit on. On the stone platform is placed a photograph of the saint in a makhar (gaily dressed-up frame) facing the south. In front of the platform on the floor exactly in the centre are the silver padukas ascribed to the saint. A dhuni originally lit by the saint is kept still burning.
The saint used to stay for a few days in this mosque. Later the mosque was renovated at the instance of one Nanasaheb Chandorkar. The mosque was again repaired in the year 1951.
In what follows is given a brief description of the daily programme at the temple as also the festivals observed at the temple. [ Fairs and Festivals.]
The timings of different worships during the day are fixed by the Sansthan Committee. Every worship of the deity is on behalf of the Sansthan Committee and is performed by its employees.
The first worship starts at five in the morning. By 5-15 a.m. kakad arati is performed to awaken the deity. At about 6-00 a.m. the deity
is bathed. This ceremony lasts till 7-00 a.m. The deity is bathed with panchamrit and scented hot water. The music is played and hymns are sung while the deity is being bathed. Thereafter sandalwood paste is applied to the deity's chest, hands and feet; kumkum and rice too, are similarly applied. Flower garlands on behalf of the Sansthan and on behalf of the devotees present, are then put on the deity. A white piece of cloth is then wound round the deity's head and a long cloth round the body. The proceedings end with an arati and distribution of sweetmeats as gift from the saint to the persons present. After 7-30 a.m. starts abhisheks and pujas performed by the employees of the Sansthan on behalf of devotees for which the devotees have to pay a prescribed amount. The rates vary for different worships. All the abhisheks and worships etc. are performed in the presence of the devotees. This lasts till 12-00 in the noon. After that food offerings are made to the deity on behalf of the Sansthan Committee and the devotees. Again an arati is performed to the accompaniment of music and singing of hymns.
In the evening simple offerings comprising mostly jowar bread are made to the deity followed by an arati. In this worship the foot-prints of the deity are washed. From 8-30 to 10-00 in the night the programme of kirtan takes place. By 10-00 in the night the ' shejarati' is performed. After this is over, the temple is closed to outsiders.
This is one of the richest temple trusts in Maharashtra. There are many ornaments of the deity out of which the principal are a crown and a garland made of gold. All the vessels used in daily worship are of silver.
The saint has thousands of devotees belonging to different castes and religions spread all over India. They come for darshan and worship of the deity and make offerings according to their means. The devotees believe that the deity is capable of fulfilling their desires and promise various things to the deity with different motives in their minds such as getting a son, prosperity in service and business, getting mental and bodily relief from pain, etc. The offerings generally comprise ' abhishek', distribution of sweet-meats, offering of costly clothes, garments, etc. Cash offerings too are made to the deity. The Sansthan Committee office is everyday flooded with Money Orders sent by the devotees from all over India. Prasad of the saint is sent in return by post.
The main fair of Sai Baba is held in the bright half of Chaitra every year and is popularly known as ' Ramnavami Utsav '. The fair is held on Chaitra Shud. 8 and 9 every year. Chaitra Shud. 9 happens to be the birth-day of God Rama, the seventh incarnation of God Vishnu as per Hindu mythology.
The people attending this fair mostly come from Bombay and the neighbouring districts. The total number of people attending the fair is estimated to be fifty to sixty thousand.
On Chaitra Shud. 8 a palanquin, in which the foot-prints of Shri Sai Baba are kept, is taken out in procession. On Chaitra Shud. 9 the image of Sai Baba is bathed with water of the river Ganga which is specially brought for the purpose. On 9th also a palanquin in which the saint's foot-prints are kept is taken out which is attended by all.
In addition to this main fair there are other minor fairs during the year as follows:—
(1) Guru Pournima.—The utsav is celebrated on Ashadha Shud. 15 or full-moon day every year.
(2) Gokul Ashtami.—This is celebrated on Shravan Vad. 8 every year. This happens to be the birth-day of God Krishna.
All these utsavs (ceremonies) were first started during the days of Shri Sai Baba and they still continue.
After the passing away of Shri Sai Baba one more utsav was added to the above, viz., Punyatithi or death anniversary of the saint which is observed on Ashvina Shud. 10 every year.
The devotees of Shri Sai Baba have constructed various buildings and the same have now been donated to the Sansthan. The buildings contain about 175 rooms which are let out by the Sansthan to visitors., charging nominal rent. During the days of the fair the school buildings also accommodate the pilgrims.
The Sansthan looks after all the arrangements regarding the fair. They have built a number of bath-rooms, latrines, etc., for the use of visitors. In the bath-rooms the visitors are provided with hot as well as cold water for bathing purposes. There is a boarding house which is known as ' Pakshala' managed by the Sansthan where the visitors are provided with meals at a reasonable rate.
Entertainment to the people attending the fair is in the form of cinema, dramas, cradles, music programmes etc. In addition to this a number of stalls are also arranged on the occasion. The important things sold in the fair are clothing, stationery, household utensils, etc. The major number of stalls are those of flowers, bukka and sweetmeats which are purchased by the visitors for offering to Shri Sai Baba. A number of stalls selling various books on the saint's life, his photographs, images, etc., are also opened at the fair.
The arrangements for supplying potable water to the visitors and requisite sanitary measures are made by the Gram Panchayat of the village, which works in collaboration with the Sansthan Committee, local residents and Government officials. Adequate and proper sanitary measures such as anti-cholera inoculations, etc., are taken.
During Ramanavami fair a pilgrim tax at the rate of 25 paise per adult and 12 paise per child is collected by the Panchayat Committee. In addition to this, a fee from stall-holders is also collected which is in proportion to the area occupied by them."