Last week we undertook a Pilgrimage to religious places in deference to my wife’s wish to visit Shani and Sai Baba Temple both located in Maharashtra state of India. Since the distance involved from our house at Chandigarh was about 2000 Kms, we decided to travel by air up to Pune and there after by road. Fortunately for us we got a Pilgrimage tour from Indian Railway Catering and Travel Corporation (IRCTC) of two days duration. After the air journey, we found our group of ten people consisting of five ladies and five gents. The next two days were full of activity to include travel by road in a SUV, frequent road side halts for refreshment, spicy conversation, visiting temples en-route and the group indulging in Small joyful activities.
The road journey from Pune to Shirdi was comfortable except some bad patches ahead of Ahmadnagar. We reached Shingnapur ( Site of Shani Temple) around 3 PM. Shani temple is based after Shani planet (Saturn); the planet being 80 million away from Earth and having gravitational pull of 95 times more than our planet. Saturn planet is the seventh planet in our solar system with 22 satellites and is considered unlucky in conventional astrology. It is much bigger in size than earth and completes one revolution around Sun in 19 years. Legend says that a black rock of around six ft of height was found stuck at the base of a tree during intense floods at village Shingnapur about 350 years ago and some villagers dreamt that it was the form of Lord Shani (Saturn). This piece of black rock was then installed in an open area near the village on a platform with no canopy over it as the form of Lord Shani. Perhaps it is indicating the presence of planet Shani (Saturn) on our earth in some form. It is believed that Lord Shani punishes those who are wicked and mean but blesses those who are good and honest. The village where Lord Shani’s temple is existing does not have any doors in their houses as no theft has ever taken place in the last 300 years. Once a thief tried to steal some one’s animals but he became blind and had to abandon his mission. It is stated that Lord Shani protects the entire area. We actually saw houses without any doors and shops without any shutters and locks, in fact a branch of a bank located there had no doors. Our group purchased the prayer material from a shopkeeper who told us to pay for the articles on return from the temple, such is the honesty and its belief there. Wish a Lord Shani is present in every village and town of India to guard against theft and corruption.
After paying obeisance to Lord Shani, the group proceeded towards Shirdisai where temple of Sai Baba is located. En-route to Shirdisai, the group had two halts as ladies wanted to have sugarcane juice and eat Marathi dish Bada-Paav ( a spicy potato cutlet with piece of bread, a budget dish costing INR 15 ( one cent ). Three of the lady members of the group were probably teachers and this trip was like a picnic cum pilgrimage for them, they were very jovial and full of life. One of them wanted to sit on top of a sugarcane cart and get photographed, these were indeed the small joys of life. In the evening we reached Shirdisai and were lodged in a good hotel.
At night I along with my wife went to visit Sai Temple. The temple had a large crowd and the serpentine queue of devotees was very long. Someone suggested that there is a provision for getting special priority passes for Senior Government officials serving as well as retired. This would have reduced time to reach the temple to just about 15 minutes and I being retired two star General would have easily got the pass from their management. I decided against it and wanted to pay my respects to the Saint as an ordinary person. It was some experience and after struggle of two hours we did reach the sanctum sanctorum and paid our obeisance .
Saint Sai Baba was a very humble and pious person who was born in 1835 and lived on this planet till 1918. His origin/roots whether he was Hindu or Muslim is not known, he believed in both the religions. Lived a life of fakir and begged alms. He helped all the needy persons and it is believed that he cured many with his spiritual powers. He could recite verses both from Quran as well as Bhagwad Gita. Today a great temple has been built in his memory and lacs of devotees from all religions from India and the world throng to Shirdisai. The town of Shirdi has become a hub of religious tourism with good earning potential for its inhabitants , thanks to the grace of Saint Sai.
Next day, we all headed back to Pune by road. The group was fully relaxed having spent a comfortable night at the hotel. At Ranjangaon ( 40 Kms short of Pune ) we visited Lord Ganesha’s temple where Lord Shiva had prayed to fight a demon known as Tripurasera.
While most of the group returned to our SUV, the group of three ladies was missing. We were worried about getting late in reaching Pune and missing our flight to Delhi, so we started looking for them. We finally found them coming out of dinning hall of the Temple, they had enjoyed themselves free Langar ( Meal).
We just about reached Pune Airport to catch our flight to Delhi. The flight itself was very nice except for a little disorder. One of the relief air crew ( air hostess ) who was obviously not on duty kept her mobile phone on even after announcement for switching off these devices made. I did muster courage to tell her to obey the rules and advice that ” Charity begins at home ” which did lead to bit of altercation, but in the end the message did reach home loud and clear. We had a representative of IRCTC accompanying us all along and did a very good job of looking after us and ensuring that the group was comfortable.
Thus the entire trip was very exciting and a combination of Faith, Fun and Little Joys.