Home to the shrine of the great 19th-century saint, Sai Baba, Shirdi is one of the most prominent pilgrimage sites in India. The town attracts an average of 60,000 tourists from all faiths every day. The aspect of pilgrimage in Shirdi not only makes it an important tourist attraction but also runs its economy. The long queues outside the temple hardly ever discourage devotees who wait for hours to catch a glimpse of the divine deity.
Travelling to Shirdi during Ram Navami
I, both a devotee of Sai Baba and an ardent traveller, decided to visit the lovely town to witness the Ram Navami celebration. As per the Hindu calendar, Ram Navami falls on the ninth day of the Chaitra month. Sai Baba had initiated the three-day Ram Janmotsav festival back in the year 1911.
To stick to my schedule, I booked a top rated Mumbai to Shirdi taxi a day before the festival. I made reservations in a hotel well in advance to avoid any last-minute hassles.
The festival began with much gaiety as countless palkis and padyatris (pilgrims arriving on foot) reached Shirdi from various parts of the country. To me, it was overwhelming to see so many devotees gather in the holy town. The sheer devotion and excitement on their faces were enamouring. As most tourists were walking from Mumbai, the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust arranged for water and first aid at five spots on the Mumbai-Shirdi road. Moreover, the trust also provided free lunch to all pilgrims, including those hailing from Mumbai, Pune, Kopargaon, and Surat. I enjoyed the satvik lunch wholeheartedly.
On the same day, a ritualistic recitation of the book on Sai Baba’s life, the Sai Satcharitra, was held. At about 4 am on the next day, the Kakadaarti was performed. After the aarti ended, a procession carried the Sai Satcharitra and the padukas of Sai Baba on a palki from Dwarkamai to the main Shirdi Temple. As a part of the festival, the devotees sang kirtans and bhajans.
The Kawadidharak ceremony then started with people carrying pots of water to Shirdi on foot. The trustees welcomed about 4000 people who arrived with water from various rivers to perform a puja at the samadhi.
Following the tradition, a bag of wheat in Dwarkamai first worshipped at the temple was replaced with a new one.
Later, the trustees of Shri Sai Baba Sansthan provided prasad to about 80,000 devotees. After a day full of activity and celebration, I enjoyed the wholesome prasad with fervour. In the evening, an enthralling chariot procession captured the attention of the devotees. Interestingly, the trustees kept the temple open throughout the night to allow devotees to catch a final glimpse of Sai Baba. With this, the surreal three-day festival came to an end.
A trip to cherish
While Shirdi is a worthwhile place of worship all year round, I discovered that Ram Navami is one of the best times to visit the holy town. Not only does the festival attract lakhs of devotees, but the special rituals are also captivating to all the senses. During this time, you realize the unity in diversity in India, with devotees from all faiths arriving to worship the great saint.
That being said, hiring a car rental in Mumbai with an experienced driver was a smart decision on my part. Not only did it make the trip easy, but it also saved me the hassle of booking an arduous bus or train ride.