The last time I had been to Shirdi was as a 9 year old. I don’t remember much about that place and when my friend Pranav mentioned that he had plans to go there, I decided to join him. This was last Sunday. The plan was to leave on Friday night, reach there on Saturday morning, have an audience at Shirdi with Sai Baba and then head to Shani Shingnapur and then return back to Mumbai on Saturday night.
Pranav and I met at the private bus hub near Diamond Garden, Chembur to board the bus. The Dolphin Volvo bus arrived and boarded the bus and we departed at 10.45 pm. At 1.30 pm we arrived at our first stop and I woke up after trying to sleep. There were seat bugs (for want of a better name). My elbows were swollen with seat bug bite and it seemed that it was a general experience among passengers and not a particular experience with me. After a general patting down, I had a bite-less night.
We reached Shirdi at 5.55 am and we got a room that allowed us to bathe and change for Rs. 60. It was the top of someone’s home which was being lent for a daily or for bathing purposes. Since Shirdi is a holy place, it is general practice to be bathed and fresh. The room and bathroom were clean and also had a provision for hot water. The hot water was flowing through a plastic pipe generally used for electric purposes – which concerned me a bit but I used cold water.
Pranav led the way to the samadhi. There is as usual a very long line. The early hour and some smart maneuvering meant that we could make some time and only had to wait for about an hour and a half. The serpentine line went through a hall, down a flight of steps, up another flight of steps and suddenly we were inside the samadhi. When you reach in, the first thing that strikes you is how Hindu the place is for someone who had practised both Hinduism and Islam. Second was the amount of gold the place had for the man who believed in simplicity. We then went to some adjoining centers which were places where Sai Baba stayed, prayed, cooked etc. We then went to the shrine of a person who worked with Sai Baba and began the search for a jeep that would take us to Shani Shingnapur.
It is an interesting experience to discuss travel plans sitting inside a temple. We planned here on whether to go to Shani Shingnapur after breakfast or not. The decision was to head to Shani Shingnapur, a temple dedicated to Shani, the god Saturn, without breakfast. Pranav had been going on about this temple since the day we decided to head to Shirdi. He told me about the idea behind wearing orange clothes and a wet body while entering the temple and had even suggested I carry my orange clothes with me. He then helpfully pointed out that the orange clothes were available there on rent.
Pranav described the experience in the jeep best by comparing it with NASCAR. We joked that the drivers were more of an expert in reminding people about God than a priest in the temple. Pranav got the jolt of his life when the jeep passed in front of the temple. People wearing ordinary clothes were walking into the temple. A passenger in the front seat seemed equally jolted and asked about it to the driver. The driver explained that the Government thought it was a waste of time for devotees to be following rituals and decided to do away with it. So it was that we visited the temple without Pranav’s “orange clothes and wet body”.
The temple here is much simpler. The God is represented by a black rock on which devotees offer mustard oil which is poured on the rock. Some brought small plastic packets of oil, some small plastic bottles of oil and some even brought a cannister of oil! At the exit, we found a medical camp being conducted by the doctors from Ahmednagar Govt. Civil Hospital. This was my first round of blood donation. After a round of weight checks and jotting down personal details I was asked to press a “Squeeze-me” ball for about 5 mins to drive out a packet of blood. For my squeezing, I got a certificate, a unique identification number and a medal.
I felt a bit tired on the way back where I and Pranav had to be squeezed in with an older gentleman from Kolkata. On return to Shirdi, we had lunch (a much needed one) and took our bus back to Mumbai. This bus too suffered with lack of passengers. Efforts to revive passenger count by waiting for a hour and a half at Nashik failed and so the bus left following an internal revolt by passengers. We reached Mumbai an hour later than we would have.