1974. Mumbai.We were living in a small 1-room flat. I was 5 years old at that time. One of our neighbours came and gave us a small photograph of an elderly bearded gentleman dressed simply and seated cross-legged. She said she had been to Shirdi and this was the photograph of Shirdi Saibaba. That was my first encounter with Shirdi Saibaba.All that I remembered was Saibaba surrounded by a few puppies.As a 5-year old, when I saw the photograph, I conjured up images of the holy shrine at Shirdi.It had a calming influence on me.
In 1992, when I joined my first organisation in Mumbai, my dear friend Kishore Wagle mentioned to me that there was a gentleman in Mumbai in the Grant Road-Charni Road belt who was a kind of Saibaba reincarnate. He was a clairvoyant who was helping people in overcoming the miseries of life. My memory fails me when I try to recollect the name of this person – all that I remember is that he was a Maharashtrian.So, Kishore is one of my friends who rekindled in me the devotion for Shirdi Saibaba. To be frank, I am a simple devotee of Shirdi Saibaba and not like those zealots who claim that they will only pray to Shirdi Saibaba and no other God. By the way, Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala is our family deity and I have been a regular visitor to Tirumala since 1970 when I was a year old.
In 1995, I enrolled myself for a part-time MBA course in Mumbai .We had our first trimester exam in Nov-Dec 1995. Somehow I was plagued with a vague, unknown fear. I just couldn’t understand it. I have been a top ranker in school and college, but somehow my mind was numbed with fear as to whether I would be able to write the first exam on the subject – “Principles of Management”. I had a week to prepare for the exams and I had the option of taking only a day’s leave. Situated a few metres away from our residence was a jogger’s park, adjacent to which we had a small plot of land that was encroached by a ruffian affiliated to a local political party. The only good thing that came out of this was that he built a small Sai baba temple in that place. There was no proper roof in the temple, the walls were weak, and the only prominent thing in that place was the “hundi” or the donation box.
I began going to this temple everyday as I experienced some kind of pull towards the temple. After two days of visit, I was still not able to overcome my paranoia and so felt that I should give up the visits; however, my conscience wouldn’t permit me to do so. If I visited the temple, I was bound to have the negative feelings. Even if I did not visit, I was going to have a similar feeling. So, as well, continue to visit the temple....
They say that mental disease (depression) is one of the worst diseases to afflict mankind. Not all mind doctors will be patient to understand the basic root cause and offer an optimal solution. So, for most of us, God can only be the best doctor. Sometimes, if we are not occupied enough, then we tend to succumb to the negative influences (Idle mind is devil’s workshop). Mind is like a monkey that jumps from one place to another. Says Ms Shivashankari, well know Tamil writer and social activist – “At a given point of time, there will be 57000 thoughts occurring in our mind. A few positive thoughts will have the power to erase all the negative thoughts”. Mind has to be under our control, we cannot be controlled by our mind. According to popular Tamil writer Balakumaran, chanting of mantras is the panacea for all the ills that plague our mind.
Within 4 days after visiting the temple, I became so busy with my office work and studies that I had just the time left for visiting the Saibaba temple. My fears faded away soon, thanks to the grace of Shirdi Saibaba. A year later, when my mother was afflicted with a chest infection, I fervently prayed to Saibaba. It took a while for her to recover but Saibaba gave me the mental strength during those tough times.
A few yards away from the existing temple, a few fisherwomen had built a sprawling temple for Saibaba. This baba idol was so realistic that if you stared at him with devotion in your heart, it would appear as if he is smiling at you, reassuring you, comforting you. His benevolent grace has always been like an umbrella that we used to cover ourselves during a downpour. If rain can be compared to our problems, then the grace of Saibaba is like the umbrella that protects us from the rain.
On a winter night in 1996, before we visited the chest specialist Dr Prahald Prabhudesai for a check up, I prayed to Saibaba “ Hey baba, shirdi saibaba, let the doctor confirm that my mother’s infection is cured ; be whatever time, I will come and prostrate before you. Shirdi Saibaba, please help me; I have no one else to look forward to; please help me, Sai” – I fervently prayed.Baba resolutely stood by me and once Dr Prahlad confirmed that my mother was cured, I ran to the Saibaba temple. It was almost 9 pm.There was no one in the temple. I was all alone. I cried my heart out; thanking him for standing by me, offering him Rs.1.25.Because, I believe, that is what Baba seeks. I returned home safe in the thought that when Saibaba is besides me, what was the need to fear?
Years rolled by. My visits to the Saibaba temple became sporadic, but the faith remained. In 1999, I shifted base to Mulund and was a bit disconcerted that I was moving away from Shirdi Saibaba. But baba is omnipresent, is he not? A few days after we moved house, on a Wednesday night, I was awakened by bhajans in the nearby shanties, and lo! I realised that there was a small shrine of Saibaba in the backyard of my house and the Maharashtrian folks who lived there, unfailingly performed Bhajans on Wednesday nights that got extended to Thursday mornings. That was the kind of devotion those poor folks had for Shirdi Saibaba. What else can a poor devotee offer Saibaba other than songs that praise the glory of the Lord, songs that cry out for help, songs that seek Baba’s grace for giving enduring strength to overcome the obstacles in life....? What else but pure devotion can melt Shirdi Saibaba’s heart?
My life has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. So, five years later, I moved back to the place where I came from. But my regular trips to Saibaba shrine continued. In 2006, we visited the holy shrine of Shirdi.That was our first visit. It was a memorable one as we also visited Shani Shingnapur near Shirdi after an overnight stay. The sanctum sanctorum in Shirdi still resides in my memory. Yes, the crass commercialization of the place is irksome, but how can we blame the Lord for it?
Five years later, I was all set to move lock, stock and barrel to a new place.Bangalore. The garden city of India. The decision to move out of Mumbai was a painful one but move I had to as that seemed to be a sort of manna from heaven at that point of time. Barely a few days after I joined my new employer in Bangalore, I discovered that there was a Saibaba temple here in Ulsoor in a place called Cambridge Layout. The first time I went there, I was totally mesmerised. It appeared as if half of Bangalore had landed in the temple on that Thursday. This is the temple which has been visited by the South superstar Rajinikanth. The idol of Saibaba in this temple is not an idol.
For the first time in my life, I got a feeling that Saibaba was seated there. For me, this Saibaba was an extension of the Saibaba that I had met at the shrine erected by the koli women in Mumbai. I was impressed with the frenzy and energy at the place.
The temple built in 1942 is located a km from the ESIS Hospital in Indira Nagar.Everything about this temple is majestic – the marble flooring, the hall, the interiors. A guest house is being built bang opposite this temple. There are separate queues for darshan for males and females. The volunteers are cordial at all times and strict when the situation demands it. The people who man the shoe keeping counter are so courteous that one is amazed at their devotion to Saibaba.Perhaps this devotion has made them eschew their vanity. Mind you, they are not your roadside ragamuffins but respected people who are Sai-devotees and are manning the shoe keeping counter with courtesy and humility.
One is thrilled at the sea of people flocking to the temple, attracted by the positive vibes in the shrine and the effulgence around the idol of Saibaba. If you are fortunate to visit the temple in the mornings, then you can observe the rituals in which baba is bathed and clothed – oh, what a sight to watch....! Tender coconut water, milk, curd, rosewater are all used for bathing him....Finally, when baba is clothed and anointed with sandalwood paste, vermilion and holy ash.....it is a real visual treat for Sai devotees. Holy ash is kept at strategic points within the temple to enable the devotees to smear them.
After the darshan, you are led to a stairway downwards where we have a huge hall and a few portraits of Shirdi Saibaba.Evening bhajans are also held in this hall and as you come out, you are treated to the mahaprasad (offering made to Saibaba). You also have two water taps outside the shrine and also huge dustbins so that devotees do not litter the streets. Civic consciousness in and around this place by devotees of Shirdi Saibaba needs a special mention. Otherwise, Bangalore is notorious for incessant spitting by people (auto drivers, bus drivers included) - at all places, holy or otherwise.
To be frank, I have often wondered at the opulence in the temple and the milk abhishekhams.Is not Saibaba a simple man with simple wants? But then, to each his own. If devotees get satisfaction out of such rituals, why be a party pooper? The fact is that I have seen such magnificence in a Saibaba temple only in this city. Saibaba continues to influence me, inspire me, support me, and guide me. He has always lent me a helping hand whenever I needed it the most.Saibaba, please pardon me for my sins and show me the way forward.... I keep on praying... “Lead me out of darkness, into light, O Saibaba”.
So, the next time you happen to visit Bangalore, do not forget to make a quick visit to the holy shrine of Shirdi Saibaba in Ulsoor.