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The Temple Premises

The Temple Premises

Gurusthan “In human life, the Guru’s place is prominent.
By keeping utmost faith in the Guru alone
everything is obtained.
A devotee’s entire strength is due to his Guru.
Devotion to the Guru is superior to
devotion to gods and goddesses.
The Guru is the Supreme Being. ”

Shri Sai Baba

Gurusthan means “place of the Guru”. It is both where Baba spent most of his time when he first came to Shirdi, and also where, according to Baba, the tomb of his own Guru is located by the neem tree. Gurusthan is therefore one of the most important places in Shirdi.. From underneath the NEEM tree there is an underground tunnel or passage leading to the place of Dwarkamai as told by an old lady.

Once when some villagers were digging the foundations for Sathe Wada just behind the neem tree, they came across some bricks in the soil and what looked like the opening of a tunnel. Uncertain whether to proceed or not, they asked Baba what they should do. He told them that this was the site of the tombs of his ancestors and that it would be better not to disturb them.

There are several references to Baba’s Guru recorded in the literature, but they are somewhat enigmatic, and it is not clear whether he was referring to a Guru in his present lifetime, or a previous one.

The first thing that catches the devotee’s eye at Gurusthan is the huge neem tree. This tree gave shelter to Baba for a few years when he stayed beneath it. Neem has many medicinal properties, though its leaves are notoriously bitter. However, some people once reported that the leaves of one of the branches tested sweet. For them it was a sign of Baba’s grace; others see it as evidence of the tree’s exceptional sanctity.

One incidence concerning the neem tree illustrates how practical and down-to-earth Baba could be. In the early 1900s, after Baba had moved to the mosque, construction work on Sathe Wada was hampered by a long branch of the tree. However, nobody wanted to remove it, as this tree had been sanctified by Baba’s stay under it. When Baba was approached for his advice he told the villagers, “Cut off however much is interfering with the construction. Even if it is our own foetus which is lying across the womb, we must cut it !”. But despite this clear instruction from Baba, none dared to meddle with the tree. Eventually Baba himself climbed up and lopped off the branch.

Another reason for the villagers’ reluctance to prune the tree may have been that some time previously a boy had climbed the tree to trim it, and had fallen to the ground and died. At that moment, Baba, who was in the mosque, sounded a note of distress, blowing shankha (the sound a conch shell makes when blown into) with his cupped hands. Baba sometimes did this when a person was in great danger, although he could not have “seen” from the mosque what was occurring at Gurusthan. Villagers linked the boy’s death with his attempt to cut the tree, and became afraid to do anything to it that might have been a sacrilege.

Today at Gurusthan, in addition to the neem tree, there is a pair of marble padukas on a pedestal, a ‘Shivalinga’ and a statue of Baba. The statue, carved by the grandson of the sculptor of the Samadhi Mandir statue, was donated by Y. D. Dave and installed in 1974; the other things were set up in Baba’s time. The unveiling ceremony was done by Saint Shri Parnerkar Maharaj.

The padukas were the initiative of a couple of devotees from Mumbai (Bombay). During their visit to Shirdi they became friendly with two local devotees, G. K. Dixit (not to be confused with H. S. “Kakasaheb” Dixit) and Sagun Meru Naik. As they were sitting talking one day, they all felt it would be good if there were some kind of memorial to Baba’s advent in Shirdi and his stay under the neem tree. They first thought of laying some padukas made of rough stone. Then one of them suggested that if he put the proposal to his employer, Dr. Ramrao Kothare, he would probably be willing to sponsor something more elegant – as indeed he was. Dr. Kothare gladly came to Shirdi from Bombay, drew up a plan for them and showed it to Upasani Baba. Sri Upasani made some improvements adding a conch, lotus, Mahavishnu wheel – and suggested that two of his Sanskrit slokas extolling the tree’s greatness and Baba’s powers be inscribed on the padukas’ pedestal. These translate as follows :

“ I bow to Lord Sainath, who by his constant stay at the
foot of the neem tree – which although bitter and
unpleasant, was yet oozing nectar – made it better than
the wish-fulfilling tree. I bow to Lord Sainath, who
always takes delight in resting under the neem tree and
bestowing material and spiritual prosperity upon his
devotees who lovingly attend on him.”

The padukas were made in Bombay and sent to Shirdi. When they arrived, Baba commented that they were “Allah’s padukas” and should be placed in Gurusthan on a particular day. The padukas were duly installed in a solemn ceremony on the August full moon day (15th) of 1912, having been carried in procession from Khandoba Temple (it was G. K. Dixit who bore them on His head).

At this time, arati was already being performed every day in Sathe Wada and Dixit Wada. With the installation of the padukas, a third arati was started, at Gurusthan and G. K. Dixit was employed to officiate.

Gurusthan A few months after their installation the padukas were damaged by a lunatic who also destroyed some of Shirdi’s temple idols. The devotees were very distressed, believing it augured ill. Baba, however, took the matter casually and told them simply to repair the crack with cement and undertake a poor-feeding. In fact, the broken padukas were later replaced and the originals are said to be in the pedestal underneath.

The shivaling was installed in Gurusthan the same year. It had previously belonged to Megha Sham, a zealous devotee of Shri Sai Baba, who had taken over officiating the arati in the mosque after the demise of Tatyasaheb Noolkar. How Megha acquired the shivaling is a beautiful example of Baba’s leela:

Megha was a simple, austere Gujarathi Brahmin, who worshipped Shiva but saw his chosen deity in Sai Baba. Characteristically, Baba encouraged his devotee to maintain his worship of Shiva. One day Baba blessed him with a vision, appearing to him early one morning telling him to draw a trident (emblem of Shiva) and leaving behind a few grains of rice (the kind that are used in puja). When Megha went to him in the mosque Baba emphatically confirmed the instruction, and Megha returned to his room to carry it out. The next day someone presented a shivaling to Baba. Baba called Megha over saying, “Look, Shiva has come for you!” and giving the shivaling to Megha, told him to use it for worship.

At that time, Megha was staying in Dixit Wada. He took the shivaling home with him and showed it to H. S. Dixit. Dixit then disclosed that he had just had a vision of the very same shivaling arriving at the wada! Megha worshipped this shivaling with great dedication until the end of his days. When the padukas were to be installed, the devotees wanted to take the opportunity to put a shivaling there too. If there was a tomb here as Baba had said, then according to Hindu custom, it required a shivaling. They therefore asked Baba’s permission, and he said they could use the shivaling that Megha had worshipped until his death at the beginning of that year. So the shivaling that we see there now is the same one that Baba lovingly handed over to Megha.

During Baba’s lifetime, Gurusthan was completely open and looked quite different from the fully paved and enclosed area it has now become. Shri Sai Baba said that whoever burns incense and cleans here on Thursdays and Fridays would be blessed by Allah (Thursday is sacred to Hindus, and Friday to Muslims). We assume that out of love and respect for his Guru, Baba wishes the place to be venerated and kept clean.

A small dhuni on a stand is kept in front of the shrine here. Until recently it was kindled every day by embers brought from the main dhuni at the mosque, but this is now done only on Thursdays and Fridays.

Finally, before we leave Gurusthan, let us return to the might neem tree. Since the 1980’s more and more devotees have started doing pradakshina around the tree (and thereby the tomb). Now, one can often see large numbers of people going around throughout the day and night. Others find that Gurusthan is a powerful place to sit quietly. Some people regard the tree as a symbol of the Guru’s grace under which humanity may take shelter and protection. Indeed, Sai Baba once commented that his devotees are simply resting in the shade of the neem tree while he bears the brunt of their deeds.


Just across from Gurusthan, to the east of Dixit Wada opposite the neem tree, near to where an open theatre has recently been built, there used to be a takia or small shed. A takia is a resting place for visiting fakirs and Baba also sometimes spent the night here when he first came to Shirdi.

Sai Baba had a great love of music and dance. In his early days he would often go by the takia and sing devotional songs, usually in Arabic or Persian, or the (Hindi) songs of Kabir. His voice is described as “very sweet and appealing”. Sometimes he would put on bells and anklets and dance around in ecstasy while singing, probably in the company of visiting fakirs who were putting up here for a night or two. Even though the takia is not there any more, one can easily imagine the scenes of ecstatic devotion that were creatively enacted here during the night hours.

Samadhi MandirBaba has promised, “I shall be active and vigorous even from the tomb,” and it is perhaps in the Mandir that we can most fully experience the phenomenon of Sai Baba and the remarkable way he has touched the hearts and lives of millions of people from all over the globe.Baba’s omniscient presence is felt when one has Baba’s glance, when one sits at Baba’s feet.

Ardent Devotion

At any given point, the shrine temple is full of devotees eagerly queuing up to have Baba’s darshan. People carry flowers, garlands, sweets, or fruit to offer Baba at his Samadhi. Some may have personal items- such as a shawl, book, key to new possession, etc, for which they want to get Baba’s blessing by offering it at his feet and having it touch his tomb.

“Sri Satchidananda Sadguru Sainath Maharaj ki Jai !” (Hail the great Sadguru, Lord Sai, who is being-consciousness-bliss!) is the chant on the lips of most of His devotees while most others may sing bhajan or whisper prayers.

At busy times, especially during festivals, the queue for darshan used to stretch for hundreds of meters along the village streets, though the recently constructed Queue Complex has changed this. People may wait up to eight hours just for the opportunity to pay brief homage to their Lord. The atmosphere of fervent and one-pointed devotion reaches its zenith here. “Attention one and all!” commands the noon arati psalm, “Come, come quickly and make obeisance to Sai Baba!” This is exactly what the devotees are hastening to do, and to be part of this torrent of emotion is a powerful experience.

In this form, thousands of people a day are able to take Baba’s darshan and pay their homage to Him.

Origins of the Samadhi Mandir

The shrine which houses Baba’s tomb was originally constructed as a wada (large private house) during Baba’s last years in his physical body. It is built on some land that Baba had tended as a garden. Sai Baba seemed to like growing plants and in his early days he cleared and levelled this land, which had been used as dumping ground. Using seeds that he had brought from Rahata, he planted it with jasmine and marigold. For about three years Baba would water the plants every day and distribute the flowers to the local temples. Now that his tomb is here and Baba is receiving so many devotees, it seems that he is nurturing plants of a different nature – and still sowing seeds.

The shrine was built by a wealthy devotee from Nagpur, Gopalrao Booty. The Sri Sai Satcharitra describes him as a “multimillionaire”. He was introduced to Baba by S. B. Dhumal about ten years before Baba’s Mahasamadhi.

The wada was originally intended as a rest house and mandir. The inspiration for the building came to Booty in a dream, when he was sleeping beside his friend and fellow devotee, Shama, Baba appeared and told him to build a house and temple.

Excited by his vision, Booty immediately woke up and pondered its significance. He noticed that Shama had tears in his eyes and asked him what the matter was. It transpired that Shama had just had the same dream and was deeply touched by it. He told Booty, Baba came near me and said distinctly, “Let there be a wada with a temple so that I can satisfy the desires of all.” Together then they drew up some rough sketches, showed them to Dixit for approval, then took them straightaway to Baba to ask his permission to go ahead with the plan. Baba responded warmly and gave his blessing to the project.

The work was begun around 1915. It was built in stone and was therefore known as dagadi (stone) wada. Shama supervised the construction of the basement, ground floor and well. Later, Bapusaheb took over job of supervising the work.

When Baba passed the site on his way to Lendi, he would sometimes offer suggestions. As the building progressed, Booty asked Baba if he could include a temple on the ground floor with an statue of Murlidhar (a form of Lord Krishna). Baba readily gave permission, and said, “When the temple is built, we shall inhabit it and ever afterwards live in joy.” Shama then asked Baba if that was an auspicious time to start the work and Baba replied that it was. Shama immediately fetched and broke a coconut as Mahurat (good omen) and the work was begun. The foundation was quickly laid, a pedestal prepared and an order placed for the idol. However, the significance of Baba’s comment was appreciated a few years later.

Baba’s unforeseen moving-in

It was around this time that Baba fell ill and his devotees feared the worst. Booty also felt dejected, wondering whether Baba would live to even see the completed wada, never mind grace it with his presence. The whole construction seemed pointless to him if Baba was not going to remain there in his body. However, Baba was to move into the wada in a way that had not been foreseen by others. His health rapidly deteriorated and on 15 October 1918 he lay with his body fading fast. His last words were ,”I am not feeling well in the masjid. Carry me to the dagadi wada”.

Baba was indeed carried to the wada, and was buried in the place where the image of Murlidhar was to have been placed: an edifice was later raised over the tomb.

Baba’s Mahasamadhi

The day that Baba took Mahasamadhi, Tuesday 15 October 1918, was a very auspicious one for Hindus ; it also happened to be the Muslim month of Ramzan. October 15 was the Hindu festival of holy Vijayadasami, a few minutes into ekadasi (a significant lunar cycle in the Hindu calendar). Two months previously Baba had sent a message to Banne Mia fakir, saying that “On the ninth day, of the ninth month, Allah is taking away the lamp he lit”. He also sent some offerings to the fakir Shamsuddin Mia and a request to do moulu, qawals (both are types of devotional singing) and nyas (poor –feeding). Thus right up until his final moments in the body, Baba was embracing both communities.

Samadhi MandirThe news of Baba’s passing spread quickly, and thousands came to Dwarkamai for a final darshan, queuing for five or six hours. The body was kept on the handcart all night, while preparations – digging a pit and building the platform – went on. Before the burial, Baba’s kafni was removed and he was given a final bath. It is reported that even at this stage, his body remained soft, as if he were merely sleeping, Earlier, while the body was in the wheel chair, his nose started to bleed (usually impossible for a corpse).

Thirty-six hours after he had left his body, Baba was finally interred. Certain personal articles were buried with him: the broken brick, now mended with gold and silver wire, one of his satkas, a chillim, needle and cotton (Baba would mend his clothes until they were a mass of repairs, a cause of affectionate amusement among close devotees), some spices to preserve the body, and an old cloth bag that Baba never allowed anyone to touch, but which devotees investigated after his mahasamadhi and found that it contained a green kafni and a cap.

The burial was completed by very early Thursday morning. A photograph of Sai Baba was placed on a throne on the platform of the tomb. It remained there until the statue was installed in 1954. That picture is now kept in the recess of the Samadhi Mandir where some other things of Baba’s are on display (see below).

The Mandir that we see now is about twice the size of the original building, having been later extended back from the stone arches. As the temple authorities try to find new ways of coping with the ever-increasing flow of visitors, various alternations are made. In 1998 a hall was added to the back of the mandir, so that it has again almost doubled in size.A big beautiful hall, connecting Masjid (Dwarkamai) has been built up. Sai Devotees waiting in a queue.

The statue and tomb of Sri Sai Baba

For pilgrims to Shirdi, darshan at Baba’s tomb is the climax of their visit and the statue of the tomb represents the living, breathing God. As such, it is the focus of all their longings, hopes and desires, and a concrete form to which they can express their love.

The statue is admired as an extraordinary and exquisite image, excluding grace and benevolence. Baba sits relaxed, natural and majestic, gazing beningly on the millions of diverse visitors who flock to him for succour. Many have commented on the lifelike quality of the eyes, as these are typically the most difficult feature to portray in a stone sculpture. In this statue, they really do seem to be looking at us and responding!

Baba repeatedly assured devotees that he would never cease to answer their call, and that his mission is “to give blessings”. The pull of the tomb above, which the idol sits, is powerful and intense and is drawing seekers to Shirdi in numbers that increase by the week. Here, devotees address their heartfelt prayers, beg for help, give thanks and offerings for prayers answered and wishes fulfilled, sign their devotion, and pay humble obeisance to their beloved deity. For them, the idol does not merely represent God, it is God; and the opportunity to prostrate before it and make oblations may be fulfillment of a lifetime’s ambition.

The statue, which has become such a famous and well-loved image of Baba, was not installed until 1954, thirty-six years after his mahasamadhi, and there is an intriguing story behind it. Some white marble arrived from Italy at the Bombay docks, but nobody seemed to know anything about it who it was for, or why it had come. In the absence of a claimant, the dockyard auctioned it and the purchaser offered it to the Shirdi Sansthan (temple authorities). Impressed by the quality of the marble, they wanted to use it for an idol of Baba and gave the commission to a sculpture from Bombay, Balaji Vasant Talim. However, the latter had only one black and white photo of Baba as his model, and was struggling to get the likeness. One night Baba came to him in a dream, remarked on his difficulties and then showed him his face from various angles, encouraging Talim to study it thoroughly and remember it well. This gave Talim the filip he needed and after that the work flowed easily and the result exceeded all expectations.

The statue was installed on 7 October 1954, on Vijayadasami day. As the main object of adoration in Shirdi, the idol is accorded all due honours. Out of their love for Baba Devotees wish to provide every comfort and respect they can. Accordingly, Baba is given a hot water bath in morning, offered breakfast, lunch and dinner, has his clothes changed four times a day before each arati and is adorned with a silver or gold crown for the arati worship. At night a mosquito net is hung and the tomb is spread with a special white cloth, of plain cotton, of the kind that Baba’s kafni was made. Each morning at four o’clock, Baba is woken up, the mosquitop net is removed, and incense is offered ( this ritual in known as bhupali ). A glass of water is kept by his side.

After the first arati of the day, an abhishek (ritual bathing of the idol with water, milk curd, ghee etc) is performed. Devotees may sponsor the abhishek by contacting the Sansthan. Visitors may also donate cloth for Baba, which will be wrapped around the statue. Later all the cloth that Baba has “worn” is put on sale in the Sansthan shop, a few minutes walk from the mandir. Many people like to buy cloth that has been sanctified in this way and use it for their altar or some other sacred purpose.

The feeling and experience that Baba is still alive and present pervades all the Sansthan facilities and activities of his devotees. As you move around Shirdi, you will see that this sentiment informs life, worship and pilgrimage here and contributes to the mystique and magic of what we call Shirdi.

The Display Of Baba’s Belongings

In the Museum some things associated with Baba are on display. These include three pairs of sandals (though Baba was almost always barefoot), his folded clothes in a glass fronted cupboard, several chillims, ornaments for Shyam Sunder the horse, cooking pots and a silver palanquin.

There is one other item here which, though insignificant looking, perhaps holds the greatest fascination for Sai devotees, and that is Baba’s leelas. It is not that Baba gave it so much importance (as he did, say, to the brick), but whenever someone or something was to be chastised or driven out, we usually find that the satka is there, being shaken, waved threateningly, or beaten on the ground. For example, when a sudden cyclone hit Shirdi, trapping the devotees in the mosque and causing them to fear for their lives, crops and livelihoods, Baba upon being appealed to, simply shook his satka and ordered it to stop. In a similar way, he once commanded the wildly leaping flames of the dhuni to be calm. The satka was also used to intimidate the group of Muslims waiting to attack Mahalsapati outside the mosque.

On another occasion, Baba used the satka for healing purposes. He had warned Mahalsapati that some misfortune would hit his family, but that Mahalsapati should not worry as he would take care of it. Soon after, several of Mahalsapati’s family fell seriously ill. Some devotees who were doctors offered Mahalsapati medicine, but Baba discouraged him from using it, saying simply that the sick should stay in bed. With that, he walked around the mosque waving the satka exclaiming,”Come on, show us your power ! Let’s see it, such as it is, and I will show you the power of my satka if you (dare to) come and face me.” This was the way Baba treated the disease and cured it without any other medicine.


Arati is a form of congregational worship with music and lights, which is celebrated with particular elan in Maharashtra and especially in Shirdi.

For many who come to Shirdi, attendance at arati is one of the highlights of their visit. It is perhaps during arati that we can most easily experience the essence of Shirdi and the power of Baba’s presence. Some people experienced a heightened state and speak of a dissolution of the sense of separation, the erosion of the boundary between self and God. Others say that this is the time when Baba comes “alive” for them and answers their questions and prayers.

The effect of the group and its stirring emotion – of faith, longing and devotion, - acts powerfully on the heart. The atmosphere becomes highly charged and there is a palpable sense of the numinous. In Baba’s time too, it seems that arati was an occasion when his grace was particularly felt and experienced by the devotees. G.S.Khaparde who, in his own phlegmatic style, speaks of a particular elation at such times records some of these instances in his book, ‘Shirdi Diary’.

The impact of the ceremony is intensified by dazzling sensual input: for the eyes there is a dynamic kaleidoscope of colourful images (the lovingly decorated statue and samadhi, the waving arati flame, the red and gold uniform of the mace-bearing chopdars); for the ears there are melodious and passionately rendered songs accompanied by harmonium and other instruments – not to mention the thrilling cry of praise at the end; and for fragrance there is the aroma of incense, rosewater and numerous flower offerings.

Of the thirty or so devotional songs sung in the aratis, about half were specially composed to Baba and the remainder are traditional arati songs by the medieval poet-saints of Maharashtra. Most of them are in Marathi with a couple of each in Hindi and Sanskrit.

Arati is held four times a day at Baba’s Samadhi: at 4.30 am, at noon, ,sunset (around 6.30) and at 10.30 p.m. A siren resounds throughout the village a few minutes before the noon and sunset aratis, and at four o’clock in the morning. The bell is also rung in Dwarkamai and the ceremony is broadcast by an amplified system throughout the village. To attend arati it s best to go early and join those waiting in the Queue Complex, where there will be a separate line from the regular darshan queue.

It was in Dwarkamai that arati was originally performed to Baba and devotees still flock here to frevently join in the arati wosrhip.

Dwarkamai Arriving at the mosque for the first time, you may be rather surprised. Was this simple, unadorned structure really the home of “God on earth?” Was this really the centre from which so many miraculous events sprang? Could such a modest building have been the scene of the highest spiritual instruction that flowed forth in almost as many different forms as the number of visitors seeking it?

With its corrugated iron roof and rough stone walls, the mosque could never be described as grand. Yet, in spite of this – or rather, because of this – it seems to have suited Baba very well. Describing himself as a simple fakir, Baba was a model of dispassion and holy poverty. His personal possessions amounted to little more than a few pieces of cloth, some chillim pipes, a stick, a begging bowl, and a change of kafni – and not even always that. Whenever his devotees wanted to refurnish the mosque, Baba resisted and said that it was not necessary, although basic repair work was gradually carried out.

To the devotees of Sai Baba, Dwarkamai is one of the treasures of Shirdi. The spirit of tolerance, acceptance and welcome for all is very much alive. Baba has said that merely going inside the mosque will confer blessings, and the experiences of devotees confirm this. Sai Baba respected all religions and creeds, and all had free access to the mosque. It is typically unique of Sai Baba that he regarded a place of worship – the mosque – as a mother. He once told a visitor, “Dwarkamai is this very mosque. She makes those who ascend her steps fearless. This masjidmai is very kind. Those who come here reach their goal !”

On entering the mosque one is struck by its powerful atmosphere and the intensity and absorption with which visitors are going about their worship. Another point we notice is the great diversity of devotional expression. Some people will be kneeling before Baba’s picture of making offerings, others will be praying before the dhuni (perpetually burning sacred fire), some may be doing japa or reading from sacred texts, and others will be sitting in contemplation. If we spend some time here we may become aware of a mysterious phenomenon.

The “mayi” aspect of the masjid reveals itself in a number of ways and we feel we are sitting in Baba’s drawing room. See that child over there happily crawling around with a toffee in its mouth, or her sister colouring a comic book ? And what about the old man complaining to Baba about his aches and pains, or that women sitting with her son on her lap telling him a story ? Opposite is a large family group. The granny has a tiffin tin, and having offered some to Baba, she walks around giving a handful of payasam (sweet rice) to everyone in the mosque. We feel we are receiving prasad almost from Baba himself, and perhaps we are then reminded of some of the stories in Baba’s life in which devotees brought offerings, or when he affectionately distributed fruit or sweets with his own hand. The atmosphere is so homely in the abode of Sai mavuli ! But what is perhaps more remarkable, is that his homeliness co-exists with a powerful experience of the sacred and transcendent. The spirit is profoundly moved by “something” – something indefinable, something great, something mysterious, something magnetically attractive. As we explore Sai Baba’s Shirdi, this aspect of Baba – at once the concerned mother and the Almighty – is shown again and again. Many devotees relate to Baba as a mother, and many as a God supreme. That these two are so perfectly synthesized in Baba – see his care for both the smallest domestic detail as well as the ultimate spiritual attainment – is perhaps the most beautiful and unique aspect of Shirdi Sai.

When Sai Baba moved into this mosque it was an abandoned and dilapidated mud structure, much smaller than the one we see today. In fact, it extended only as far as the steps and wrought iron dividers enclosing the upper section, with the rest of the area an outside courtyard. There were no iron bars around the mosque or the dhuni as there are today, and according to Hemadpant, there were “knee-deep holes and pits in the ground”! Part of the roof had collapsed and the rest was in imminent danger of following, so it was a rather hazardous place to live ! Once when Baba was sitting in the mosque, eating with a few devotees, there was a loud crack overhead. Baba immediately raised his hand and said, “Sabar, sabar,” (“Wait, wait”). The noise stopped and the group carried on with their meal, but when they got up and went out, a large piece of the roof came crashing down onto the exact spot where they had been sitting!

Renovation of the masjid

Baba’s devotees sometimes pestered him to allow them to renovate the mosque, but his initial response was always to refuse. For him there was no need for any alterations. Once, in the mid-1890's, a devotee had some building materials delivered to the mosque, with the intention that they should be used for repair work, but Baba had them redirected to a couple of local temples that were in need of restoration.

Later, Nana Chandorkar and Nana Nimonkar were determined that some reconstruction should go ahead, while Baba appeared to be equally adamant that it should not, although he eventually gave permission for it through the intervention of Mahalsapati. At first, whatever work was done, Baba would undo. It seems not an uncommon occurrence with Baba that whenever a new proposal was put forward, particularly with regard to renovation, he would first oppose it, often vehemently, even violently, before eventually acquiescing and allowing the work to go ahead. Eventually the construction team resorted to working at night, and then only on those alternate nights when Baba slept in Chavadi.

By about 1912 the renovation work was complete and all that remained to be done was the metal roofing for the courtyard. For this, one of Baba’s most intimate devotees, Tatya Kote Patil, and some others, arranged for materials to be brought from Bombay. They then set about the work, including digging a trench for the erection of some iron poles, without asking Baba’s permission.

When Baba returned from Chavadi to the mosque and saw what was happening he appeared to be furious, demanding, “What is going on ? Who had done this ?” He promptly ripped out the poles with his own two hands (though it had taken several people to carry them), and threw stones at the labourers to drive them away. Then he grabbed Tatya by the scruff of his neck until he was unable to speak and almost choking, and violently berated him.

Most of the labourers fled in terror and Tatya was left with Baba. Despite his precarious predicament and Baba’s vehement objection to the project, Tatya insisted that the work should be done. Baba threw him to the ground snatched off the turban that Tatya always wore, flung it into the trench and set fire to it. Still Tatya insisted on the need to make repairs and vowed that he would never wear a turban again until the work was complete. Baba finally relented and by evening had cooled down sufficiently to call Tatya and tell him to again put on a turban. Tatya, however, refused. Eventually, in his loving concern, Baba gave money to someone to bring new cloth and himself tied a new turban on his steadfast devotee.

Some time after this event, Kakasaheb Dixit replaced the original mud floor with tiles and the work was complete.

When Sri Sai Baba moved into the mosque permanently, he had already been in Shirdi for a number of years, staying mostly under the neem tree, with an occasional night at the mosque or in the near vicinity. It could be said that Baba’s settling in the mosque marked a turning point in his life, or rather, in that of the village itself, as the shift brought him into closer contact with the local people.

Baba’s fondness for lamps - Lamp is the symbol of holy light- light of knowledge in darkness of ignorance.

Although Baba had been healing people since his early days in Shirdi and was sometimes called “Hakim” (“doctor”), it was a specific and dramatic event which brought him to the attention of the local people, and it took place in the mosque. Throughout his life Baba displayed a fondness for lights and lamps and would regularly light panatis (small earthenware pots with cotton wicks and oil) in the mosque and certain local temples, in accordance with the Hindu and Muslim view that places of worship should be illuminated at night. For this he depended on the generosity of a few local shop-keepers from whom he used to beg oil. One day, however, both suppliers brusquely refused to give him any oil, claiming that they were out of stock. Baba took this calmly and returned to the mosque empty-handed. The shopkeepers followed him in the gathering gloom, curious to see what he would do. What they witnessed brought them to their knees in awe and wonder. Baba took some water from the pot kept in mosque, and put it in the jar he used for collecting oil. Shaking it up he drank the oily water, then took another jar of water and filled the four lamps with it. Next he lit the lamps, and – to the shopkeepers’ astonishment – they not only burned, but remained alight all night. Afraid of being cursed by a man of such powers, the shopkeepers begged Baba’s forgiveness. This was freely given, but Baba pointed out the importance of speaking the truth – if they did not want to give, they should simply say so directly and not lie about it.

The wondrous nature of this event, which is said to have taken place in 1892, and the many such leelas which followed, precipitated an influx of visitors to the Shirdi mosque that has never stopped growing. To this day, lamps are burnt continually in Dwarkamai, providing us with an unbroken link to Baba and the lamps that he himself started and lovingly kept alight.

Association with Dwarka

During Baba’s time Dwarkamai was always referred to simply as “the masjid” or mosque. The name “Dwarkamai” came into popular vogue only after Baba passed away but was first coined when a devotee once expressed a wish to make a pilgrimage to Dwarka, a town in Gujarat sacred to Krishna. Baba replied that there was no need as that very mosque was Dwarka. “Dwarka” also means “many-gated”, and “mai” means mother, hence “the many-gated mother” (and Baba did often call it the “masjid ayi”). The author of Sri Sai Satcharitra, identified another definition of Dwarka given in the Skanda Purana – a place open to all four castes of people (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras) for the realization of the four corresponding aims of human existence (i.e. moksha or liberation, dharma or righteousness, artha or wealth and kama or sensual pleasure). In fact, Baba’s mosque was open not only to all castes, but also to untouchables and those without caste.

Yadnya - The Dhuni

The Dhuni is a sacrificial rite (Yadnya) on a pyre – a pious devotional act of worship to Agni (fire)

For many visitors, the dhuni is the most significant part of Dwarkamai, as it is so intimately associated with Baba. The dhuni is the sacred, perpetually burning fire that Baba built and which has been maintained ever since, though today the fire is much bigger and is enclosed behind a wire cage. Yadnya produces ash which the purest substance on earth and has the power to destroy whatever evil and impure. Baba very generously distributed Udi to His devotees for protecting them from maladies.

The maintenance of a dhuni is important in several traditions, including Zoroastrianism, Sufism and Hinduism (especially the Nath sect). Fire was also important to Baba, as wherever he stayed – whether under the neem tree, in the forest, or in the mosque – he always kept a dhuni. Baba, however, was not bound by any convention or set rules, nor did he worship the fire. He simply maintained it, using it for his own particular and mysterious purposes. There were no classic restrictions around Baba’s dhuni. Baba did not prevent others from touching it – indeed, villagers would sometimes come to take embers with which to kindle their own household fires, and whenever Radhakrishnayi used to thoroughly clean and whitewash the mosque at festival times, she would move the dhuni into the street outside. Baba did not confine himself to burning only wood on the dhuni, but would throw his old clothes on it once they were worn out, and he would adjust the fire with his foot (in Indian culture it is considered disrespectful to touch or point to anything with the foot). One day, the fire in the mosque got wildly out of control, with flames leaping up to the roof. None of those present with Baba dared say anything to him but they were nervous. Baba responded to their uneasiness, not by prayer or supplication, but by magisterially rapping his satka (stick) against a pillar and ordering the flames to come down and be calm. At each stroke the flames diminished and the fire was soon restored to normal.

When Baba returned from his morning begging-rounds with a cloth bag of food and a tin pot of liquids, he would first offer some of it at the dhuni before taking any himself. We may not be able to discern exactly why or how Baba used the dhuni, but it is evident that despite the apparent informality around it, the fire was an important part of his routine. According to the Sri Sai Satcharitra, the fire symbolized and facilitated purification and was the focus of oblations, where Baba would intercede on behalf of his devotees. Once when Baba was asked why he had a fire, he replied that it was for burning our sins, or karma. It is reported that Baba would spend hours sitting in contemplation by the dhuni, facing south, especially early in the morning after getting up and again at sunset. Mrs. Tarkhad, who had Baba’s darshan regularly, says that at these times “He would wave his arms and fingers about, making gestures which conveyed no meaning to the onlookers and saying “Haq” which means God.”

The spot where Baba used to sit is marked by a small pair of silver padukas. Look carefully – on the floor just in front and to the right of the dhuni – for they are easy to miss. We feel awed when we see the padukas and reflect on what issued form here – this was the spot where Baba stood and sat, his finger on the pulse of the universe, controlling, effecting, giving, protecting, never resting but constantly seeing to the needs of his devotees, for as he said, “If I don’t take care of my children night and day, what will become of them ?”

Today the dhuni is maintained in a carefully designed structure lined with special fire-bricks, in the same place that Baba used to have it. Baba made an intriguing comment about this spot, saying that it was the burial place of one Muzafar Shah, a well-to-do landowner, with whom he once lived and for whom he had cooked. This is recorded in Charter & Sayings of Sri Sai Baba, but as so frequently when Baba speaks about his personal history, we do not know to which life he was referring.

In 1998 the Sansthan undertook the rebuilding of the dhuni pit and re-designed the chimney to its distinctive shape.


From the earliest days, Baba would give udi – holy ash from the dhuni – to his visitors. The healing power of Baba’s udi is well documented and there are numerous cases of people being healed of pain or sickness by taking Baba’s udi both before and since his mahasamadhi.

Baba would sometimes apply udi to his devotees when they arrived, or when they were taking leave of him, and he often gave out handfuls of it which he scooped up from the dhuni. The Sri Sai Satcharitra tells us that “when Baba was in a good mood” he sometimes used to sing about udi “in a tuneful voice and with great joy” : “Sri Ram has come, Oh he has come during his wanderings and he has brought bags full of udi.” Udi is still collected from the fire for distribution. Since this is a continuation of Baba’s own practice, and the udi comes from the very fire that Baba himself lit and tended, it is considered extremely sacred. Today a small tray of udi is kept for visitors near the steps.

For devotees of Sai Baba there is an emotional attachment to udi as a tangible form of Baba’s blessings, a vehicle for Baba’s grace and a link to Baba himself. People usually put it on the forehead and/or in the mouth.

Udi is available in small packets from a small booth outside the Samadhi Mandir.

The kolamba and the waterpot

In the southwest corner of the mosque by the dhuni is a waterpot on a stand, and below it, an earthenware dish known as a kolamba. Baba used to beg for his food at least twice a day. He generally visited only five houses – those of Vaman Gondkar, Vaman Sakharam Shelke, Bayajabai and Ganapat Kote Patil (Tatya’s parents), Bayaji Appa Kote Patil and Nandaram Marwadi – and stand outside them calling for alms. Baba would collect the solid food in a cloth bag and any liquid offerings in a small tin pot. When he returned to the mosque he would offer some at the dhuni, the empty it all into a kolamba and leave it available for any person or creature to take from, before eating a small quantity himself. In continuance of this tradition, a kolamba is still kept here beside the water pot. People leave naivedya (food offerings) here as a gesture of offering bhiksha to Baba, and take it as his prasad. As Baba used to keep one or two water pots by the dhuni (for drinking and performing ablutions), this tradition is also maintained. Devotees like to take the water a symbol of Baba’s teerth (holy water).

The nimbar

On the western wall of the mosque – in the direction of Mecca – is a nimbar or niche, with a set of lamps in front of it. The nimbar is a standard feature of all mosques, but the lamps were put there by Baba. In Dwarkamai this spot, which is near where Baba used to sit, is decorated with a garland of flowers.

The Sri Sai Satcharitra relates that it was here that Baba used to have his midday meal, sitting behind a curtain with his back to the nimbar, and a row of devotees on either side of him. This is also the place where Baba would sleep with his head pointing towards the nimbar, with Mahalsapati on one side of him and Tatya Kote Patil on the other.

The grinding stone and bag of wheat

A grinding stone – a common household item in rural India – is kept in the north corner of the western wall. Baba apparently had two or three such stones (another is on display in the Samadhi Mandir), which he occasionally used for grinding wheat. The most famous of these became the inspiration for Hemadpant’s celebrated Sri Sai Satcharitra. It is described as follows :

“One morning, some time after the year 1910, while I was in Shirdi, I went to see Sai Baba at his mosque. I was surprised to find him making preparations for grinding an extraordinary quantity of wheat. After arranging a gunny sack on the floor he placed a hand-operated flour mill on it and, rolling up the sleeves of his obe, he started grinding the wheat. I wondered at this, as I knew that Baba owned nothing, stored nothing and lived on alms. Others who had come to see him wondered about this too, but nobody had the temerity to ask any questions.

As the news spread through the village, more and more men and women collected at the mosque to find out what was going on. Four of the women in the watching crowd forced their way through and, pushing Baba aside, grabbed the handle of the flour mill. Baba was enraged by such officiousness, but as the women raised their voices in devotional songs, their love and regard for him became so evident that Baba forgot his anger and smiled.

As the women worked, they too wondered what Baba intended doing with such an enormous quantity of flour... They concluded that Baba, being the kind of man he was, would probably distribute the flour between the four of them… When their work was done, they divided the flour into four portions, and each of them started to take away what she considered her share.

“Ladies, have you gone mad!” Baba shouted. “Whose property are you looting? Your father’s? Have I borrowed any wheat from you ? What gives you the right to take this flour away ?”

“Now listen to me,” he continued in a calmer tone, as the women stood dumbfounded before him. “Take this flour and sprinkle it along the village boundaries.”

The four women, who were feeling thoroughly embarrassed by this time, whispered among themselves for a few moments, and then set out in different directions to carry out Baba’s instructions.

Since I was witness to this incident, I was naturally curious as to what it signified, and I questioned several people in Shirdi about it. I was told that there was a cholera epidemic in the village, and this was Baba’s antidote to it ? It was not the grains of wheat which had been put through the mill but cholera itself which had been crushed by Sai Baba, and cast out from the village of Shirdi.

To this day, a grinding stone is kept in the mosque with a sack of wheat beside it, as it was in Baba’s time. This tradition goes back many years to the time when two devotees – a farmer (Balaji Patil Nevaskar) and his landowner – came to Baba for arbitration. Although Nevaskar had been cultivating the land for decades, the owner wanted it back. Baba advised him to comply with the owner’s wishes, but instead of giving the crop to the owner he sent the whole of it to Baba, keeping none for himself ? Baba took a small portion of it, which he kept beside him all year, and returned the rest. In this way the custom was born and the ritual was repeated every year. These days a bag of wheat is kept in a glass case by the grinding stone throughout the year, and is replaced annually on the festival of Ramnavami.

The Chillims

In the corner by the grinding stone you will see a cupboard. It was in this niche that Baba used to keep his chillims. He was fond of smoking tobacco through these clay pipes and used to pass the pipe around to this close devotees. At such times he might tell stories and the atmosphere was one of good humour and friendliness.

As with many of the apparently ordinary things around Baba, there was more to the chillim as a means of bestowing grace. G. S. Khaparde observes in his Shirdi Diary that one day Baba “was very gracious and repeatedly gave me smoke out of his pipe. It solved many of my doubts and I felt delighted.” There are also reports of Baba using the pipe for healing purposes. Hari Bhau, for example, suffered from asthma. He had never smoked before Baba offered him the pipe one day. Because it was given by Baba, he took it and smoked. From then on, his asthma was cured and never bothered him again.

None of the pipes can be seen in Dwarkamai now, but a few are on display in the Samadhi Mandir. Baba received many pipes in his lifetime and would often give them away.

Baba’s portrait

Baba would spend much of his time in the mosque sitting in front of the dhuni, often with his arm leaning on a little wooden balustrade. A large portrait of Baba, sitting in the same posture, is now to be found here. The picture is kept on a throne-like platform and is the focus of worship, just as Baba himself was when he sat here. Baba sits relaxed and calm, looking out at us with a warm, welcoming, almost amused expression; at the same time the gaze is both penetrating and searching. On seeing the finished work, Baba is reported to have said, “This picture will live after me.”

Something of that freshness is evident when we look at the portrait here. No matter how many times we take its darshan, we feel that Baba is greeting us a new. For that, we are indebted to the artist, S. R. Jaikar, from Bombay. The original picture was painted under commission from a close devotee (M. W. Pradhan). At first, Baba did not give permission for the work, claiming that he was just a simple beggar and fakir and what was the point of painting such a person. It would be better for Shama (who relayed the request to Baba) to get his own portrait done, suggested Baba. Luckily for future generations though, Baba later relented and Jaikar actually painted four pictures, one of which was touched by Baba.

The picture was installed in Dwarkamai after Baba’s mahasamadhi. The painting that we see now is a recent copy of Jaikar’s original, which has been moved to a Sansthan office to preserve it from the drying effects of the dhuni.

In front of the portrait is a pair of silver padukas which was installed later. Here it may be worth adding a note about the significance of padukas. They are used throughout India, but particularly in the Datta cult in Maharashtra. Padukas may be a pair of carved “footprints” or a pair of shoes used by the saint. It is the former which we mostly see in Shirdi. Padukas signify the presence of the saint – wherever the feet are, the rest of the body will be ! – and thus they are revered.

In Dwarkamai alone, there are five sets of padukas, symbolizing Baba’s presence and giving us the opportunity for remembrance and worship. Taking the lowest part of the saint’s body, we touch it with the highest part of our own (the head) as a gesture of obeisance and respect, in an act of namaskar. When we bow down we are adoring our Beloved, affirming our hallowed connection, and in this way, asking for continued blessings.

Baba has told his devotees, “I am a slave of those who always remember me in their thoughts and actions and do not eat anything before offering it to me.” If you are in Dwarkamai around midday, you may see people offering food to the portrait. After being offered, the food is then taken back to the person’s house and shared as prasad or distributed among those in the mosque. The Sansthan also offers food to Baba here (as well as at Gurusthan and the Samadhi Mandir). Afternoon arati, it is given out to all those present in Dwarkamai.

In the context of offering food to Baba’s portrait, we may recall the story in the Sri Sai Satcharitra of the Tarkhad family. Mrs. Tarkhad and her son were planning to visit Shirdi, but the son was reluctant to go, as he was afraid his father would not properly carry out the daily worship to the large picture of Baba he lovingly kept at their house in Bandra. His father assured him that he would, and mother and son left for Shirdi. For three days all went well, but on the fourth day, although Mr. Tarkhad performed the puja, he forgot to offer the customary few pieces of lump sugar. As soon as he remembered his omission, he postrated before the shrine, asked for forgiveness and wrote a letter to Shirdi. Meanwhile, around the same time in Shirdi, Baba turned to Mrs. Tarkhad and said, “Mother, I went to your house in Bandra to get something to eat, but the door was locked. I managed to get in somehow, but found that Bhau [Mr. Tarkhad] had left nothing for me to eat so I have returned unsatisfied.” Mrs. Tarkhad did not understand what Baba was talking about, but the son immediately realized and asked Baba if he could go home, Baba refused, but let him do his puja in the mosque. The son wrote to his father imploring him not to neglect the puja and the two letters crossed in the post and were delivered the next day. This shows that in a mysterious and inexplicable way, when we offer something to a picture of Baba, it is not merely symbolic, but we are offering it to Baba himself.

Dakshina box / hundi

The principle of dakshina {monetary sacrifice performed by giving money by way of donation to Baba: Baba used to accept or not accept according to HIS wish money as dakshina from devotees for retrieving them from their the evil effect of sins. Life becomes pure and rich by sacrifice. This is the preaching from upanishada (religious scripture about knowledge) – which means learning by sitting at the feet or in the company of SatGuru(the Supreme Teacher)}

Until around 1909, Baba almost never asked for dakshina (donations) and rarely accepted monetary offerings, except occasionally a few small coins which he used for buying fuel. Then, for some reason, Baba did start asking, although he had no personal need or desire for money, and by the end of each day he had always given away whatever he had received that day, remaining true to his principles of non-attachment and poverty. A few devotees (such as Bade Baba and Tatya Kote Patil) were even given a fixed amount every day.

Baba’s purpose in asking for dakshina was always to benefit a particular individual by, for example, driving a (frequently moral) point home, balancing a forgotten debt or conferring a special blessing. “I do not ask from everyone,” he said, “but emblem of Muslim-Hindu unity. The provision of the tulsi in a Muslim place of worship is an example of the many ways in which Baba fused Muslim and Hindu elements and resisted being identified exclusively with one religion, while persistently challenging sectarian divisions and prejudices.

Baba’s photograph and the stone

Baba always wore “white” Kurta (not ‘saffron’) as a symbol of light. His posture is ‘Niralambasan’ – Nir – without alamba – dependence. This means that Baba as a supreme eternal power does not require any physical matter to rest upon. Another significant thing about Baba’s posture is that Baba never raised his hand to give HIS blessing. However HIS right foot is parallel to ground so that devotees’ can have charan darshan (vision of HIS right foot and bare left foot on ground)

On the eastern wall opposite the steps leading up to the dhuni, hangs a large framed picture of what is probably the most famous image of Baba. It is a painting of an original black-and-white-photograph.

He is seated on a large stone with his right leg crossed over the left thigh, his left hand resting on the crossed foot. Baba is wearing a torn kafni, a headscarf knotted over his left shoulder, and he sits relaxed yet alert, leaning forward slightly. His expression is at once intense, all-knowing and compassionate, but above all, unfathomable. To Sai devotees, this is probably the most familiar image of Baba. Consequently, many believe that this posture was a common one of Baba’s. Some suggest that Baba adopted this pose deliberately, as in Indian iconography it represents sovereignty, and is associated with gods and maharajahs (and some draw parallels with Dakshinamurti, who also sits cross-legged facing south). Others say that it has no special significance and that it was not Baba’s typical posture. Whatever the facts, the picture is treasured by Sai devotees as one of only six or seven photos that we have of Baba.

Until Baba sat on it, the stone was used by devotees for washing their clothes (remember that in those days, the mosque consisted of only the raised area around the dhuni, so the stone was outside). One day Baba happened to sit down on it and someone took the opportunity to photograph him. Once he had sat on it, the stone was considered sacred and no longer used for washing. It is that stone, set with a pair of marble padukas, which is now under Baba’s photo. The owner of the original painting of this photo, D. D. Neroy from Bombay, gave the painting to his guru, Kammu Baba, who later gave it to the Sansthan. It is likely that this was the picture that the Sansthan gave as a model to the sculptor who carved Baba’s statue for the Samadhi Mandir.

Devotees meditate on and worship this picture. Baba has said that there is no difference between his physical self and his image. Indeed, he even proved this on a number of occasions. When Balabua Sutar came to see Baba for the first time in 1917, Baba said that he had known him for four years. This puzzled Sri. Sutar, but then he remembered that he had prostrated to a picture of Baba in Bombay four years previously, and it was to that which Baba was alluding. Even more dramatically, Baba once came to Hemadpant in a vision and told him he would be coming for lunch that full moon festival day. In an extraordinary chain of events, a picture of Baba was unexpectedly delivered to Hemadpant’s house just as the midday meal was about to be served !

The animal statues

On each side of the photo is a statue of an animal – to the right a tiger and to the left a horse – Tiger is the carrier (vahaan) of original cosmic energy which takes female form of Devi – AadiMata – (Mother) Horse is the symbol of complete masculinity (Purushat) Nandi in front of Baba is the carrier of Shiva (cosmic purity). There is a remarkable history behind each of these.

Just one week before Baba’s mahasamadhi, a band of traveling dervishes brought a tiger to him which they were exhibiting and thereby earning money. The animal had fallen sick and is described as “very ferocious”. After trying various remedies in vain, the dervishes brought him to see the renowned saint of Shirdi hoping he would be cured by darshan of a mahatma.

The group paid obeisance to Baba and told him about the tiger’s condition. “I shall relieve him of his suffering,” said Baba. “Bring him here !” The dervishes wheeled the cage into the courtyard of the mosque. The tiger, which was tied up tightly with chains, was taken out for Baba to see.

People watched the unfolding drama first in great apprehension and then in utter astonishment. The tiger approached the steps and stared at Baba, who returned his gaze. It then thrashed its tail on the ground three times, gave out a terrific roar and fell down dead “

The dervishes were dismayed at losing their means of livelihood, but later they were reconciled to it and recognized the tiger’s exceptionally good fortune in dying in the presence of a saint (in India, this is commonly thought to confer moksha or liberation). Baba consoled them saying that the tiger was “meritorious” and that it had been destined to die there on that day and had achieved permanent bliss by doing so. “The tiger’s debt incurred to you in a former birth is now cleared,” said Baba. He also helped the dervishes financially by giving them 150 rupees.

Baba told the dervishes to bury the tiger in front of the nearby Mahadev Temple (one of the three small temples that now lies between the Samadhi Mandir and the Queue Complex) and you can see its samadhi by the Nandi. The statue of the tiger was erected much later (on 12 November 1969) by Sri. Tryambaka Rao of Ojar village in commemoration of this blessed incident.

Dwarkamai The story of the horse is equally remarkable, though somewhat milder ! The horse was given to Baba in fulfillment of a vow by a horse dealer named Kasam, in about 1909. Kasam’s mare had not produced a foal for a long time and so he resolved to give the first-born to Baba if she foaled. This came to pass and Shyam Karni (meaning “black ears”, Baba’s name for him) became a great favourite with Baba who lavished much love on him. Shyam Karn (also known as Shyam Sunder, “Black Beauty”) was an integral part of the Chavadi procession. Extravagantly decorated, he would lead the procession each time. He was present at puja and is also said to have been trained to do namaskar to Baba. Nana Chandorkar hired a man to look after him. One day, when Baba was in the mosque, he suddenly exclaimed in pain, “Oh they’re killing that horse ! Go quickly and fetch him !” It turned out that the trainer had been beating him severely, but perhaps what is more extraordinary is that when Baba revealed his back, the livid marks of a whipping could be seen on his own skin.

Shyam Sundar outlived Baba; his samadhi is in Lendi Gardens.

The tortoise tile - Tortoise is regarded as one of the God incarnations in Hindu religious philosophy.

On the floor of the mosque, about two-thirds back from the steps, you will notice a white marble tile with a tortoise carved in relief. The tile is said to mark two things : the place where Shyam Sunder used to bow down to Baba, and the original location of the stone on which Baba sat, which was moved when the mosque was extended after Baba’s mahasamadhi. According to Hindu mythology, it is a tortoise which bears the weight of the world on its back. As it is already underfoot, it cannot be defiled by being trodden on, so is an appropriate symbol to use here.

The cooking hearth and the wooden post

To the left of the courtyard area of the mosque is the small hearth where Baba sometimes used to cook. Like most things here, it is now enclosed in a wire cage but in Baba’s time and until recently, it was, of course, open.

Here Baba would occasionally prepare large quantities of sweet milk-rice, pulav and other food for distribution among visitors. He would supervise the whole process himself, including shopping, grinding spices, and chopping the ingredients. The food was cooked in huge copper pots – enough for 50-200 people – which are now on display in the Samadhi Mandir.

An outstanding aspect of Baba’s cooking style was that rather than use a ladle or a spoon, he would stir the scalding food with his bare hand, without causing himself any injury. The Sri Sai Satcharitra describes tenderly and in great detail how and what Baba would cook, “then with his own hands, serve very lovingly to all, with great respect. And those desirous of eating would happily partake of the food till quite full, even as Baba pressed them to have more, saying lovingly, ‘Take, take some more !’ Oh, how great must have been the merit of those who partook of this most satisfying meal ! Blessed, blessed were those to whom Baba served, himself.” The author adds that once the number of visitors became very large and the quantity of food offerings also huge, Baba cooked less often. Baba never gave up the custome of begging for his food throughout his long life.

Beside the stove is a three-foot tall wooden post, which Baba would lean against while cooking. Though it is unremarkable looking, it is thought to be invested with healing properties, since Baba once advised a close devotee (Sai Saranananda), who was then suffering from severe knee pain, to touch the post with his knee and then do pradakshina around it. After doing this the pain disappeared. To this day, people with bodily aches and pains also like to lean against the post as a means of receiving Baba’s blessing for their healing.

Padukas (God’s feet) are feet pairs of Vishnu (Parvar Digar) in which are combined the riches of matter (Goddess Laxmi) and riches of Knowledge – Goddess (Saraswati).

Just behind the cooking area is the place where Baba would stand every day leaning against the mud wall, usually before he went to Lendi. He would watch the villagers passing by and call out to them in a friendly way, “How are you ?” “How’s the crop coming along ?” “How are your children doing ?” Following Baba’s mahasamadhi, a pair of padukas was installed in this spot and a small shrine placed over them. In the wall above is a smaller set of padukas placed where he is said to have leaned his hand.

The storage rooms

On each side of the lower section of the mosque is a small shed. One contains the palanquin used for processions and the other, until recently, used to house the rath, or cart, used at festival times.

Chavadi Though apparently and formally Baba used to go to the Chavadi. In his super conscious state he was never asleep and used to tell his devotees that in his everlasting awareness (consciousness) he will always protect his devotees who were asleep at night.

Chavadi means “village office”, and was the place where taxes were collected, village records kept and visiting officials put up. After Baba’s mahasamadhi the Sansthan acquired Chavadi, and until the late 1930s, used it for storing books and accommodating pilgrims. The village offices have long been relocated and Chavadi is kept as a shrine to Baba and is open to all.

Sai Baba is intimately connected with this place, as he used to sleep here on alternate nights, during the last decade of his life. The routine was started on one wild and stormy night, around 1909. It was raining heavily, and water was coming through the leaky walls of the mosque. The devotees tried their best to persuade Baba to move out, if only until the water had subsided, but Baba did not want to go. Eventually, they virtually forced him to leave, by picking him up and half-carrying him to Chavadi. From that day onwards, Baba would spend alternate nights here.

Chavadi is also very significant to Sai devotees as it played a major role in the inception of formal worship of Baba. Once Baba started sleeping at Chavadi, the custom arose of offering regular arati to him on his arrival from the mosque. This was Sej (night) Arati. Later, Kakad (morning) Arati was offered when he woke up there. The performance of Midday and Evening aratis at the mosque probably developed subsequently.

Around the time that Dwarkamai was renovated, Chavadi was also upgraded. The mud walls were neatly plastered, huge mirrors were hung, glazed tiles replaced the mud floor and glass chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling. The funding for the renovations was provided by Anna Chinchanikar, who was deeply devoted to Baba. He had been involved in a land dispute and after a protracted struggle, during which he repeatedly asked Baba about the outcome, he was elated when the court ruled in his favour. Feeling that the triumph was purely due to Baba’s grace, he very much wanted to give Baba the full sum awarded. Baba, however, refused it and Dixit suggested that the money be spent on Chavadi and named after Chinchanikar and his wife. Consequently, their names are inscribed (in Marathi) on a plaque above the doorway. The sitting platform along the outside of the front wall is a later addition.

Inside Chavadi is a large portrait of Baba which was painted by Ambaram from Nausari in Gujarat after Baba had given him darshan in a dream in 1953. At the time, Ambaram was only eighteen years old. The Nausari villagers were touched by Baba and Ambaram’s painting of him, so they collected donations in order to buy it and bring it to Shirdi.

On the left of the painting is a plain, wooden bed on which Baba was given his last bath after he passed away in Dwarkamai. These days, the bed is taken out each thursday and the palanquin is placed on it. In the same corner next to the bed is a wheelchair which was presented to Baba when he was suffering from asthma, but which he never used.

The right portion of the building contains the framed photo of the cross-legged Baba kept in grand attire (hence it is known as the raj upachar photo) and this is the picture that is taken out on procession on festivals on each thursday. The silver throne where it is kept is where Baba used to sleep. Women were not allowed in this section and this tradition is maintained today; only men and children are allowed in this area.

Chavadi is open from 3.45 a.m. to 9.00 p.m.

The Chavadi Procession (Utsav): This procession (palkhi) is the only ‘authentic’ and traditional procession of Baba’s padukas and photograph – from Masjeed (Dwarkamai) to chavadi.

Over time, the moving from Dwarkamai to Chavadi took on the form of a grand affair. This was thanks largely to the efforts of Radhakrishnayi, who wanted Baba to be honoured as a Maharajah, and supplied all sorts of ceremonial regalia. With the bedecked horse Shyam Sunder leading the way, Baba followed with Tatya on one side and Mahalsapati on the other, walking on carpets laid on the path. A crowd of people accompanied them, singing bhajan and dancing, playing musical instruments, shouting Baba’s name, letting off fireworks, holding a silver umbrella over Baba, waving flags and fans, and chanting hari-nama. The distance of a few metres took up to three hours to cover. Years earlier, Baba had predicted such scenes when talking to a few devotees, “In Shirdi there will be huge storied buildings, grand processions will be held, and big men will come. Chariots, horses, elephants will come, guns will be fired…”

One cannot help marveling at Baba. We know that he did not like such pomp and paraphernalia and we have seen the importance to him of holy poverty (“faqiri”) and his reluctance to allow devotees to worship him, yet here he was allowing himself to be lead to Chavadi in an extravagant display of adoration. In describing the scene a few moments before the procession Hemadpant hints at Baba’s response. People were singing bhajan, some were decorating the palanquin, rows of oil lamps were burning, Shyam Sunder stood waiting fully decorated, “then Tatya Patil came to Baba with a party of men and asked him to get ready. Baba sat quiet in his place till Tatya came and helped him to get up by putting his arm under Baba’s armpit” (page 198, my italic). Clearly, Baba was not eagerly waiting to begin – in fact, we may sense a certain resignation – yet he went ahead with it not just once, but hundreds of times ! Again and again this scene was reenacted, and it is one replete with poignancy and poetic tension. A great saint, adored as a living deity, but to whom any personal worship was distasteful, yet allowing it out of love for his devotees and a sympathy for their human longings.

The Sri Sai Satcharitra gives a moving account of the procession. It tells us that when Baba arrived at Chavadi and stood in front of it, his face shone with a “peculiar luster”. He “beamed with steady and added radiance and beauty, and all the people viewed this luster to their heart’s content ….. What a beautiful procession and what an expression of devotion ! With joy pervading the whole atmosphere of the place … That scene and those days are gone now. Nobody can see them now or in the future.”

Chavadi However, we are fortunate that those days are not completely gone. We can experience something of that splendour and fervid devotion even today, as each Thursday evening, a similar procession takes place with Baba’s photo in honour of that tradition. It is a passionate, understrained – yet exalted – celebration of Sai Baba. If you have a chance, be sure to see the procession – it is an exhilarating experience!

In the evening, Baba’s satka and padukas are displayed in front of his sacred tomb from 7.30, until they are carried out at the beginning of the procession at nine O’ clock. The Samadhi Mandir is even more crowded, as people are eager to touch and pay their respects to these sacred objects, which are accessible only at this time. The sense of occasion is enhanced by the hearty singing of melodious bhajan by some villagers, while outside a group of young men from a local youth organization move rhythmically to a rapid drumbeat.

At about 9.15 the procession moves out of the Samadhi Mandir, to a flurry of horns, cries and waving fans. At the centre is the garlanded portrait of Baba (the one from Chavadi) carried reverently by the great-grandson of one of Baba’s dearest devotees, Tatya Kote Patil, and another of his relatives. They are preceded by one of the mandir staff carrying the padukas and satka. Other staff follow, dressed in Maharashtrain-style festive red tunics and turbans. The procession wends its way through the street lined with eagerly waiting crowds, and the music and excitement crescendo as people strain for a glimpse of the photo and padukas. Many throw flowers, and guns fire marigolds, petals and confetti into the air.

The procession enters Dwarkamai about ten minutes later, where again there is an assembled crowd waiting for its arrival and jostling for a view. Here the photo is placed on the decorated silver palanquin to the accompaniment of more exuberant bhajan. This takes about fifteen minutes. Mandir staff and locals then carry the palanquin to Chavadi, where people are waiting inside and out.

As the palanquin approaches Chavadi, we come to the climax of the evening. The palanquin is parked outside, and the picture, draped in gold embroidered red velvet, is carried inside Chavadi and greeted as if Baba himself were entering. People may prostrate (if they have the space !), shout his name, say a silent prayer, or gaze longingly on his face. Baba’s picture is then settled into place on a silver throne and arati is performed. Finally, the whole group returns to the Samadhi Mandir. Here, a local person receives the satka and padukas, and the Kote brothers hand back the picture and collect a coconut as prasad. The prasad is kept beside Baba’s statue until the final night arati is over (around 10.30 p.m.) The picture is returned to Chavadi after morning arati the next day.

During the procession, lalkari is performed at prescribed places along the route. There is no direct translation for “lalkari”, but it means the shouting of slogans or words of praise, such as “Long live Sai Baba!” There are three specific places where this is done during the utsav, just as there were when Baba made the trip by foot, nearly a hundred years ago.

Lendi Gardens (Baba’s place of penance and paradise)

At the end of 1999, Lendi Gardens was radically relandscaped, and the previously paved and tree-lined area turned into a lawn with waterfall and flower beds. Lendi is significant as a place which Baba used to visit every day. It contains some tombs, a shrine, and most importantly the perpetually burning lamp lit by Baba and placed between the two trees he planted. A few months before Baba’s mahasamadhi the land was bought by a Bombay devotee, M. W. Pradhan, and later presented to the Sansthan.

In Baba’s time, Lendi was an area of wasteland between two small streams, the Lendi and the Sira (now dried up). Baba used this area for toilet purposes. He would leave the mosque for Lendi around nine o’ clock in the morning accompanied by some devotees. However, none was allowed inside with him except Abdul Baba.

Apart from answering the calls of nature here, Baba seemed to enjoy going to Lendi and sometimes went several times a day. This was the place where he spent time in solitude.

It was a particular characteristic of Baba’s the once he had started something, it became a strict and lifelong routine. For example, though initially devotees forced him out of the mosque into Chavadi because of severe rain, he continued the routine of sleeping there every other night as long as he was alive. Similarly, after his arm had got burnt in the dhuni, it was dressed and tended by Bhagoji Shinde. The wound healed and Baba lived for a further eight years, but the practice of Bhagoji changing the bandage every day continued until the end.

Showing a similar regard for routine, Baba always took the same route whenever we went to Lendi from Dwarkamai. A fakir will sometimes take up non-deviation from routine as a practice, as it is supposed to reduce the opportunity for personal preference, and hence development of the ego. Baba had no need for any practice, but he seemed to maintain the routine anyway. His route to Lendi was not the most direct or obvious, yet he stuck to it unswervingly. Perhaps we will never know what is reasons were, but just as Baba used to go along with a few devotees, lets us also walk with him and take a short stroll to Lendi.

We begin by turning right out of Dwarkamai, then left down a narrow lane opposite the entrance to Gurusthan. Halfway along this path, the route kinks right and immediately left. Baba would often pause at this corner (which was where his devotee Balaji Pilaji Gurav lived) and, taking up the posture of Vittal, stand facing the small Vittal temple opposite. A small shrine enclosing a pair of padukas now marks the spot where he would stand. At that time, the temple was private, but now it is publicly owned and has been reconstructed a little further down the lane on the left.

At the bottom of the lane we turn right, and within a few metres, come to a small temple on the left opposite the post office. This is one of the oldest temples in Shirdi. It is dedicated to Sri Kanifnath, one of the nine leaders of the Nath cult, whose distinguishing feature is the maintenance of a dhuni. Baba used to sometimes linger here. Perhaps he had some connection with the place and therefore incorporated it into his routine? From here we turn right along the main road and make our way to Lendi, again on the right. Now the area is peppered with small stalls selling trinkets and snacks, but in Baba’s time it would have been virtually empty. Arriving at Lendi we may pause for a moment and remember that this was where Baba asked his devotees to also wait, since he preferred to enter Lendi alone.

Nanda Deep

This is the main feature of Lendi : the perpetually-burning lamp between the two trees that Baba planted side by side, a neem and a bodhi. It is said that these trees at first remained spindly and would not grow until one day Baba shook them, and that from then on they flourished. They were touched by Baba and planted close to where he sat, serve as a focus for pradakshina along with the lamp.

Nanda Deep (“lamp of bliss”, also known as Akhanda Deep – “perpetually burning lamp”) is placed between the trees and was originally lit by Baba. Later, he instructed Abdul Baba to see that it was kept burning.

The lamp as we see it now was built by the Sansthan and the area has been paved. In Baba’s time the lamp was sunk into a small pit and protected from the wind by some zinc sheets and later some pieces of cloth, making a kind of tent with the lamp in the centre.

Nanda Deep was a place where Baba liked to sit in contemplation. Abdul Baba says that Baba would sit on the ground close to the lamp, but not in a place from where he could actually see the lamp. It seems, therefore, that Baba was not using this lamp for its light or flame (since it was covered). Just as the lamp itself was concealed, exactly what Baba was doing here is also veiled from us.

One of Abdul’s duties was to keep two buckets of water by the lamp. After sitting, Baba would apparently take these, and in a ritualistic and rather mysterious way, throw the water in all four directions around the lamp. Narasimhaswami observes, “He seemed to be blessing devotees in each direction and warding off evils that may be threatening them.” This, however, is conjecture, and again we cannot be sure why Baba did this.

Other Temples Hanuman (Maruti) Mandir – (Hanuman represents power of cosmic wind)

On the lane that runs between Dwarkamai and Chavadi is the Hanuman Mandir, one of the oldest temples in Shirdi. marked by a pair of trees enclosed by a circular railing, It is also known as the Maruti Mandir. Unusually, the temple faces south and there were two Hanuman statues here, side by side.

Baba seems to have had some connection with this temple, sometimes he would stand in front of it and remain there for a while, occasionally slowly moving his arm up and down. Once during the procession to Chavadi, when he came to the lane facing the mandir, he was suddenly seized as if by a spirit and some devotees had to hold him until he reached Chavadi, where the spirit left him. Shama asked him about the incident, "Baba, this Maruti is our Swami, Why do you worship and adore our Swami “? Baba replied, "Arre, shama, in my childhood my parents dedicated me to Maruti, and so I make signs at him to remind him ,"I am his brother."

The Mandir was a place where sadhus used to stay, including the ascetic Devidas, whom Baba would occassionally visit in his early days, When Baba went to Rahata (a village about five kilometers from Shirdi) with the fakir Javhar Ali in the early l890s, his devotees were deeply unhappy at his absence from them. After about eight weeks they succeeded in persuading Javhar Ali to let Baba return to Shirdi, though he insisted on coming too. A few days later, a debate was held in this mandir between Javhar Ali and Devidas. The fakir was roundly defeated, causing him to flee area, after which Baba remained among his devotees in Shirdi until the end of his days.

This temple is renovated recently by Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trsut,ShirdiThe construction is made modern using marble and a large statue of Hanuman is founded in the temple in place of previous statues (previous statues are preserved by Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust,Shirdi)another small statue is in front of the big statue.this is small statue give the facility of applying vermillion (red lead).it is a custom. A circular railing is also constructed.

The Three Temples

Just behind the new outdoor theatre is a row of three small temples. They are dedicated to Ganesh,Shani (i.e. Saturn) and Mahadev (i.e. Shiva). Baba's local devotee, Tatya Kote Patil, was fond of offering lamps here. The shrines were rebuilt and enlarged in l999 as part of the re-modelling of the Temple complex.

The small samadhi of the tiger, commemorated by a statue in Dwarkamai and said to have received mukti from Baba, is a few feet from the Mahadev shrine.

Mahalaxmi Temple – (Devi – Temple symbol of cosmic power - energy)

This temple is just by the side Pilgrims Inn (MTDC) by Pimpalwadi Road, about five minutes walk from Dwarkamai Baba occassionally visited it on his begging rounds and the temple is mentioned in the Sri Sai Satcharitra as Baba once sent his devotee there on an unusal mission Bala Ganpat Shimpi had tried all sorts of medicine to cure his malaria, but nothing worked and he had a raging fever. Baba gave him a curious prescription " Give a black dog some rice mixed with curd in front of the Laxmi temple” Shimpi wondered how he could carry out this instruction, but he found the necessary ingredients and took them to the temple. There he saw a black dog wagging its tail. The dog ate the proffered food and Shimpi quickly recovered. The temple has recently been restructured.

Narasimha Temple – (One of the God incarnations)

This is near Chavadi next to where Sakharam Shelke's house used to be (one of those from which Baba took bhiksha), and was built by his descendants in the mid l960's Its compound houses the samadhis of Sakharam's son and daughter in law and that of Ramgiri Bua ("Babugir" of the Jamner leela).

Jain Temple

There are two Jain temples within close proximity of each other. The first is on the main Nagar-Manmad Road opposite to the gate no. 1. It was built by Sri Jain Swethambara Theertha Trust and is noted for the absence of any iron-not even one nail- in its construction, as metal is held to be unconducive to meditation. The main idol is of Adeshwar Bhagavan.

The other temple is the Shish Mahal which, as its name (shish) implies, has its inside walls and ceiling covered with mosaic mirror pieces. The idol here is Sri Shantiniwas Maharaj l6th Teerthanka. The temple was built by the Shri Shantniwas Digambar temple Committee. To get there, continue along the main road in the direction of Nagar/Pune. and turn off down an unpaved track on the right, by the Municipal 0ffice. The temple is a few hundred metres down here on the right.