Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Yatra Diary... Reflections 2010

By Gods grace, the year 2010 was full of travels...

I Travelled…
  • For the soul…
Rishikesh

The entire stretch of the Ram Jhula gives you a marvelous view of this 
exotic city. I longed the stretch to be a little longer cause 
the view from up there was amazing… to read more Click Here



The Magh Mela or the mini Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Allahabad
Magh Mela, Prayag-Allahabad

Each minute I spent in this captivating carnival was a prayer, every moment of it dipped in divinity; it was truly an expedition of spiritual enlightenment… to read more Click Here

  • To capture the essence of life…


 Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi


Early morning, people start gathering at the various ghats to perform these rituals revolving around the ghats of the holy river, The Ganga, and which continue throughout the day… to read more Click Here

…And Death in the oldest living city, Varanasi in the world…

The Manikarnika or the Burning Ghat in Varanasi 
 Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi

Funeral pyres continue to burn here night and day. Ashes are immersed and flown into the currents of the Ganges just as life flows into eternity... to read more Click Here

  • To discover the footprints left behind by great men of yore…
Kabirvad - The largest ond the oldest Banayan tree in India
A unique place, Kabirvad

The view was simply amazing and all I could see were the Banyan tree branches spread out far and wide, hanging aerial roots, monkeys playing on them and thousands of bats hanging upside down... to read more Click Here

A picture of composure - Gautam Buddha, Sarnath 
Gautam Buddha, Sarnath


I was surprised to notice that despite the steady stream of devotees trickling in, there was an air of stillness that enveloped this temple, something that we often associate with the Buddha himself… to read more Click Here
  • To savor the rich cultural heritage of India…
Rani Sati Dadi Temple in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan 
 Rani Sati Dadi Temple, Jhunjhunu-Rajasthan

The interiors, adorned with exquisite murals and fascinating rich glass mosaics depicting the entire history of the place, are eye-catching. I grabbed a seat in the middle of the room, trying to soak in every detail… to read more Click Here

Ranchhodrai Temple in Dakor, Gujarat 
Ranchhodrai Temple, Dakor

Like all ancient temples, this temple too has a captivating saga that unfurls when one delves in its history… to read more Click Here
  • For my Love – Food…
Lip smacking street food in Varanasi
Street food of Varanasi

You cannot turn in Varanasi without bumping into a thela (push-cart) of something tasty… to read more Click Here

And Shopping...


Surat Sarees

The textile capital of India – Surat is known all over the world for its beautiful and gorgeous Saris, the traditional dress of India. No wonder then, it is also a shopper’s paradise for every Indian woman… to read more Click Here

I travelled to be Happy… To be with YOU :)

One year has flown by… and as I flip through the 75 pages of My Diary, I realize that the biggest joy for me today is that I am not alone. I have never loved the idea of travelling alone and I am so grateful you all are here! A big Thank You to everyone reading this, for staying with me so long and true, for encouraging me with your kind words, for accompanying me in my journeys, for just being there for me! You are the reason I love my blog and I hope to have your company in my future journeys as well.
 
 
As we bid goodbye to the first decade of the 21st century and gear up to step in a new year 2011… I wish all of you loads of cheer, joy and a very Happy New Year.
See you all next year!
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Khandoba Temple - Shirdi

After spending the night in Shirdi, we proceeded towards our next destination, Nashik, in the morning. We stopped at the Khandoba Temple; one of the main temples in Shirdi which is situated on the main road.

Khandoba Temple entrance, Shirdi
[ Khandoba Mandir entrance, Shirdi ]

The place is very significant as it was here that the temple head priest Mhalsapati had first spotted Baba and said ‘Yaa Sai’ meaning ‘Welcome Sai’ in Marathi. The name stuck to Him and people started calling Him Sai Baba.

Idol of Shri Khandoba
[ Idol of Shri Khandoba, Shirdi ]

The temple is dedicated to Lord Khandoba (Shri Martand Bhairav), an incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is considered to be the patron deity of Maharashtra and is also worshipped in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This temple is among one of the 13 main temples of Khandoba, the main being at Jejuri near Pune.

Khandoba Mandir, Shirdi - Lord Khandoba's Horse
[ Lord Khandoba's Horse ]

Khandoba Mandir, Shirdi - Sai Baba's Padukas
[ Sai Baba's Padukas ]

In the temple room, there are idols of Lord Khandoba, Banai Devi and Mhalsai Devi. On the walls there are black and white photographs of Mhalsapati, his wife and their sons. Just outside the temple room, there are two small shrines, one housing the idol of Lord Khandoba’s Horse and the other Sai Baba and His Padukas. There is also a Banyan tree under which there is a small idol of Sai Baba.

A Banyan tree in the Khandoba Temple premises
[ A Banyan tree in the Khandoba Temple premises ]

A small idol of Sai Baba just beneath the Banyan tree in the Khandoba Temple premises
[ A small idol of Sai Baba just beneath the Banyan tree ]
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Gift an Akshaya Patra - Food for life

In the Mahabharata, Yudhistira Maharaja had once inquired, “What gift will reward in this world and in the next?”
Bhisma Pitamaha answered, “There has never been, nor will there ever be, any gift equal to the gift of food…”

Remember that loud gong of bell when we all would eagerly reach out our hands for that tiffin box. Recess was something that we all looked forward to. After all, who can imagine school without a lunch break and who can learn on an empty stomach anyways!

But do you know that millions of poverty stuck children are actually living that reality each day. No food forces these hungry souls to quit schools for odd jobs so that they can fill their little bellies. This is a very sad scenario indeed but it’s true…

To tackle this intertwined problem of hunger, malnutrition and illiteracy, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) set up Akshaya Patra, a non profit charity for children, in 2001 which has since been working with a single aim that No child in India should miss out on education because they are too hungry to attend.


True to its name, an inexhaustible bowl of food, Akshaya Patra serves unlimited hot and fresh mid day meals to millions of under-privileged school children each and every day so that they can continue their education thereby helping India achieve its goals of eradication of hunger and encouragement of primary education.

You may be wondering what’s all this and why am I telling you all this? Well, Indiblogger, an Indian blogging community, in association with Akshaya Patra has started this campaign, “Blog and feed 50 children!” to champion the cause. I, being a member of ISKCON myself and knowing that they can be trusted that your money will be used for the right purposes, decided to join in as well.


We all blog for joy, isn’t it? And what can be a greater joy than the joy of giving? With Christmas just round the corner, it’s the perfect time to bring a little magic into the lives of those around us. So here’s your chance to gift hope, strength and joy to children… write a blog post or make a donation online… let’s join hands to raise awareness… let’s endeavor to be a Santa for somebody this year… Let’s gift an Akshaya Patra…

For more details, visit their website http://www.akshayapatra.org/ or email them at infodesk@akshayapatra.org
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Markets of Shirdi

After exploring most of the Temples of Shirdi, I took a stroll of the Shirdi Markets.

The Samadhi Temple is surrounded by markets that have everything from huge rose garlands, flowers, idols, laminated photos, sweets, books, CDs, souvenirs - everywhere there is Baba. Rightly so, since every activity of this town revolves around the vast temple complex dedicated to Sai Baba.

While my parents looked for some Cds and books, I roamed around and clicked these photos which I am putting up here.

Garlands for Sai Baba
Flowers for offering to the Baba

Idols of Sai Baba
Markets in Shirdi
Idols of Sai Baba

Books on the Sai Baba
Devotional Cds and songs of Sai Baba
Books and CD's on Sai Baba

Markets in Shirdi selling a range of items
Photos of Sai Baba - Shirdi
Laminated photos, keychains and other souvenirs

Markets in Shirdi
There's something for the kids too!

Sweets in the markets of Shirdi
Sweets for Baba

Guavas in the Shirdi Markets
And juicy Guavas are also available to 
satiate you after all the shopping!
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Temples in Shirdi

In the evening after visiting the Samadhi Temple, we decided to take a stroll around Shirdi and see some of the other places which were graced by Sai Baba.

Shri Dakshinmukhi Hanuman Mandir

First in line was the Hanuman Temple. This temple has a life size black idol of Lord Hanuman also known as Maruti. Sai Baba used to perform satsangs (religious discourse) here.

Dakshinmukhi Hanuman Mandir - Shirdi
[ Dakshinmukhi Hanuman Mandir ]

Idol of Dakshinmukhi Hanuman Mandir - Shirdi
[ Life size black idol of Lord Hanuman in the temple ]

Shri Chavadi

A few paces ahead is Shri Chavadi. On every alternate day Sai Baba used to proceed in procession from Dwarkamai to this place and halt at night here. Even today, every Thursday, a palanquin procession of his photo, padukas (foot prints) and satka (baton) is taken to this place. It has a large portrait of Baba which you can see in the photograph, a wooden bed and a chair belonging to him.

Shree Chavadi in Shirdi
[ Shree Chavadi ]

Haji Abdul Baba’s cottage

The small cottage is located directly opposite the Chavadi. Abdul Baba was an ardent devotee of Sai Baba. There are some photographs of the things handled by Sai Baba and Abdul Baba. He also looked after the Lendi Baug described below.

Haji AbdulBabas cottage - Shirdi
[ Haji AbdulBabas cottage ]

Lendi Baug

In the adjoining lane is situated Lendi Baug, a garden which Sai Baba had Himself made and came here to water the plants everyday. There is a Neem tree here, under which He used to take rest every morning and afternoon. There is also a Dutta Temple in the garden and a Samadhi of the horse which belonged to Baba. It also has a well dug up by Baba and His devotees. At the entrance of the Lendi Baug there are Samadhi's of devoted Sai bhaktas Tatya Kote Patil, Bhau Maharaj Kumbhar, Nanavalli and Abdul Baba. I could not visit the place due to lack of time.

Dwarkamai

Spanning almost half a decade, Sai Baba spent His entire life in Shirdi in a mosque which He had named Dwarkamai. From here, He showered His love and care on not only the village of Shirdi but on all the devotees coming from far and wide. It contains a beautiful portrait of Him on a large stone on which He used to sit. There is also a dhuni (sacred flame) which keeps burning continuously and is never extinguished. It is the second most visited place in Shirdi after the Samadhi Temple.

Long Queue for Dwarkamai Temple darshan in Shirdi, the golden spire of the Samadhi Temple in the background
[ Long Queue for Dwarkamai darshan,
the golden spire of the Samadhi Temple in the background ]

Mahalaxmi Temple

It is not a well known temple but I visited it as it was situated just outside my hotel. Besides the life size idol of Goddess Laxmi – the Goddess of wealth, it also houses Navgraha idols and a Shivling.

Mahalaxmi Temple besides the Pilgrims Inn Hotel in Shirdi
[ Mahalaxmi Temple besides the Pilgrims Inn Hotel ]

Idol of Goddess Laxmi in the sanctum
[ Idol of Goddess Devi Laxmi in the sanctum ]
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Samadhi Temple of Sai Baba in Shirdi


    After checking into my hotel room, I ventured out to visit the Samadhi (tomb) Temple. The way to the temple is through a bazaar, full of shops selling flowers, sweets, incense sticks and other offerings for Baba, which lead you to the main darshan queue. Before proceeding towards the queue, one needs to deposit one’s footwear, leather bags, cameras and other electronic items at the counters outside.

Markets selling sweet smelling roses to offer to Sai Baba - Shirdi
[ Markets selling sweet smelling roses to offer to Sai Baba ]

    It has taken me even up to 6 hrs in the queue sometimes, but this time I got lucky as there was less crowd (probably due to the monsoons) and reached the Samadhi room in just about an hour. If you want to evade the heavy rush then avoid visiting the place on Thursdays (Baba’s day), weekends, and festivals of Guru Poornima, Ram Navami, Dusshera.

Entrance to the Samadhi Mandir - Shirdi
[ Entrance to the Samadhi Temple - Shirdi ]

    While standing in the queue, you have T.V. monitors showing live darshan of Sai Baba’s Samadhi inside. The Sai Sanathan Trust of Shirdi which looks after the maintenance of the temple has done a pretty good job of managing a large number of people and also in keeping the temple premises clean.

The Golden spire of the Samadhi Temple in Shirdi
[ The Golden spire of the Samadhi Temple in Shirdi ]

    Amid chants of Shri Sacchidanand Sadguru Sai Nath Maharaj ki Jai, I entered the main room which houses the Samadhi and felt a breath of fresh air. The Samadhi hall is huge and spacious and the focal point of the room is the life-size marble statue of Sai Baba sitting on a throne. He was wearing a silky red robe, golden ornaments and decorated with flower garlands.


 
[ Life size idol of Sai Baba and His Samadhi 
photo courtesy shrishirdisaimandir ]

    The sidewalls are adorned with portraits of people who had the pleasure of spending their entire lives in His presence by serving Him. The devotion of these people was such that when Baba’s end was near, they refused to let Him go. Then He had said
“Shirdi is my own place of work where I had come 64 years ago. How can I go anywhere leaving this place? All of you keep your belief in me and be always sure that if I give up my body, my bones will always be inspiring new hopes and faiths among my devotees. Thus not only I, but my tomb too will speak with my devotees and will give them liberation from their sufferings. Those who will innocently come to my tomb and will worship and remember me at any place will have all their works done. Thus, they will get to liberation”.

    It’s faith in these eternal words He spoke at the time of Samadhi that has kept Him alive till date and continues to draw innumerable pilgrims from far and wide to receive His blessings.

    In front of His idol lies His final resting place, a marble platform - His Samadhi covered all over in huge garlands and sweet smelling flowers. After taking the darshan, I spent a few minutes in the room and fixed my gaze on His final resting place. He had padukas (slippers), chattar (umbrella), throne, mukut (crown) all in pure gold donated by His devotees from all around the world.

    Amid all this gold and grandeur, what was most striking though was Faith… faith of the hundreds around me who were coming in from different quarters belonging as they do to different castes, but speaking one universal language of love and peace. A God for some, a Guru (teacher) for others, Sai Baba was a living idol of knowledge, peace and mercy. One thing that particularly draws me towards Him is His message of ‘Sabka Malik Ek’ or ‘God is One’ and that He didn’t care what caste you are. Instead He just used to say one thing - Have ‘Shraddha and Saburi’ that is Faith and Patience in God.

Sai Baba's two virtues - Faith and Patience
[ The Gate showing His two teachings Faith and Patience ]

    This gospel of pure unconditioned love which He expressed through selfless service has today been embraced by all religions, castes and age groups creating one big human family, sans any cultural boundaries. This is I believe the biggest miracle He performs, the miracle of unison.

    We then moved out of the temple towards the Neem tree in the premises where Sai Baba was first spotted in Shirdi as a young lad of 16. He often meditated here and referred to this place as His Gurusthan (mentor’s place). Devotees light incense sticks here on Thursday and Friday with a belief that this will cure them of their ailments.

    Besides this, there are 3 other temples in the premises belonging to Lords Ganesha, Shiva and Shanidev and also a museum. It was very fascinating to take a tour of the museum and look at the Baba’s personal items like robe, sandals, gramophone, paintings, cooking cauldrons, etc accompanied with little snippets of His life.

Shirdi Temple timings:

    The temple opens at 4:30 am with morning Kakad aarti and closes down at 10:30 pm with Shejarti. On the occasions of Gurupoornima, Dusshera, and Ramnavmi, the temple is kept open overnight. On Thursdays and the above mentioned festivals, a Palakhi (chariot) with Baba's photo is taken out from the temple.
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Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Weekend Getaway to Shirdi and Nashik


Hi Everyone… I am back and I so missed all of You just as I missed publishing posts in my own diary... I will be popping over soon to your wonderful places to check out what you guys are up to!

17th-19th July 2010

    During the monsoons, in the month of July, we had planned a 3 day weekend getaway from my place Mumbai to Shirdi and Nashik. Situated 255 kms from Mumbai, it takes around 4 hrs to reach the place. As we left Mumbai at around 5 am to avoid the traffic on the highway, there was a nip in the air and monsoon clouds hovered in the sky. Soon, a slight drizzle brushed against the windows of my car.

The light rains which soon turned into a downpour - Mumbai Nashik highway
[ Enroute to Shirdi... The light rains which soon turned into a downpour ]

    Shirdi is a town which was blessed by the appearance of a modern day saint, Sai Baba, some 100 years ago. Through His blessings, He liberated people of their sufferings and sorrows and also performed numerous miracles.

After spending 64 years in the service of mankind, Sai Baba took Samadhi in Shirdi itself, where a huge temple stands today - The Samadhi temple - from where the Baba continues to inspire new hopes and happiness amongst His believers.

Three hours had passed by and I had started to feel hungry. With Shirdi still some distance away, we decided to stop at a restaurant Bhagatchand Tarachand on the Mumbai-Nashik highway for some refreshments.

Hotel Bhagatchand Tarachand on the Mumbai Nashik highway
[ Hotel Bhagatchand Tarachand on the Mumbai Nashik highway ]


During our drive, along the highway, we saw large groups of people, not sages mind you, just normal people walking, many of them barefoot. Our driver informed us that they were pilgrims on a ‘padyatra’, a walking pilgrimage to Shirdi, coming from nearby towns like Nashik or even as far as Mumbai.

We finally reached Shirdi at 10 am which meant that we practically had an entire day to spend in Shirdi. 

Where to Stay, Eat in Shirdi

There is no shortage of accommodation in Shirdi. But it is advisable to book your rooms in advance if you are planning to visit on thursdays, weekends, festivals and holidays. We checked in into our pre booked room at MTDC’s hotel Pilgrims Inn which is situated at a walking distance of 2 min from the Samadhi temple. The rooms are quite spacious and clean, the service good.

MTDC's Pilgrims Inn Hotel in Shirdi
[ MTDC's Pilgrims Inn Hotel in Shirdi ]

My room at the MTDC's Pilgrims Inn hotel - Shirdi
[ My room at the Pilgrims Inn - Shirdi ]

It also has its restaurant The Neem which serves fresh and tasty pure vegetarian food. Besides this, Woodlands restaurant located nearby is also fine.

Woodlands Restaurant in Shirdi
[ Woodlands Restaurant in Shirdi ]

Contact Details:

MTDC’s The Pilgrims Inn, Shirdi
(02423) 255194, 95, 96, 97

How to reach Shirdi

Shirdi is well connected by roads to most cities in Maharashtra. It is situated at a distance of 255 km from Mumbai, 190 km from Pune and about 100 km from Nashik.
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