08 June 2013

Visit to Shirdi Temple

Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi was a very small and insignificant village in Maharashtra, quite unknown to most people. It is in the district of Ahmednagar. One has to cross the Godavari river at a place called Kopergaon before reaching Shirdi. For some inexplicable reason known only to himself, this was the place chosen by the great saint, Shirdi Sai Baba to make His appearance. Today it has become a flourishing town attracting millions of devotees from all over the world because it was on this blessed spot that Sai Baba played his immortal “lilas”.

Myself and my husband have been wanting to go to Shirdi for many years and for some reason or the other, the visit could not materialize.  All of a sudden, to our astonishment, everything started to fall in its place and finally this month[April-2013], we could feel the call of Sri Shirdi Sai and knew that the time had come for us to be there to have His darshan!

It is said that no one can go to Shirdi without Baba’s permission so I prayed to him to grant my request. Hardly a week later a series of episodes took place which can only be termed as a “miracle”.  A set of people whom I had never met arranged the whole trip for us. The person who arranged the trip – is one Mr. Lokesh- an ardent Sai devotee.  He has been organizing tours for the past seven years now.  We came to know of this only a week back through a friend of ours and ever since that magical moment, everything started falling in place very rightly and at a quick pace.  We were quite overwhelmed as can be imagined but decided to play along with Baba’s lilas. The travel arrangements were done to perfection by Mr. Lokesh-[the Tour conductor] and in no time our trip was finalized and we were on our way.  We were more than twenty persons going on this trip and for many – it was the first time to Shirdi temple to have that magical feeling of exhilaration on seeing Sai Baba! 

I was very excited. …  I was going to Shirdi and going to see Baba at the Samadhi Mandir. That’s all I had in my mind.

Our visit to Shirdi was an exciting and spiritual experience, the memory of which will last a lifetime.  From the moment we got down at Daund Station[ the station before Pune], and took a the Luxury Coach which was hired for us by our friend and Guide-Mr. Lokesh, we were all consumed with anticipation and the feeling of exhilaration that one would very soon set foot on the sacred soil of Shirdi….and would be enveloped and awed by the aura of the great Guru God who charmed and ennobled the lives of thousands of devotees far and near for more than a decade and continues to do so even after his death 95 years ago[ 1838-1918].

To one who was familiar with Sai Baba’s life and the times in which he lived, Kopergaon was an important name with which was associated many incidents connected with Sai Baba and his devotees.  If one remembers Sai Baba, one has to remember Kopergaon too, for it was there that the devotees came first on their way to Shirdi.  It is said that this place has been the scene of some of Baba’s miracles. 

The Old Shirdi Village
The Old village of Shirdi with about 100 mud houses is gone and what is there of Shirdi is the vast temple complex ringed by hundreds of big and small shops and big and small hotels.  All that one could identify with the old Shirdi, I am told are three or four houses where some of Baba’s intimate devotees lived.  Those are the houses of Mahlsapathy, Baba’s oldest devotee, Lakshmi Bai and Shama [will narrate on our visit to these houses later in the posting of mine.
We left by Chennai Express on the 3rd of April morning.  Our train journey was very comfortable and we enjoyed every moment of it.  Lokesh- our Guide had clearly given us instructions that we were to board off the train at Daund Station [ the station before Pune] as he said that it would be easier and quicker  from there to reach Shirdi.
After the long journey from Chennai, we all were a bit relieved to be off the train and had a few minutes to stretch our legs and relax.  Once all of us had gathered, we were taken to our Luxury Traveling Coach which our Guide had hired for the next two days to take us to Shirdi temple and the temples nearby.  Our accommodation was also arranged at a very good hotel [Annaporna Hotel] in Shirdi- very close to the temple.  The food served by them was excellent and tasted like “Amrit” after having darshan of Baba! 

I should mention here that Sai Baba is vibrant, alive and responsive wherever we are and myself and my husband could feel it as soon as we landed in Shirdi.. 

On reaching Shirdi in the late afternoon at around 4pm, we quickly refreshed ourselves and Lokesh-our ever-cheerful friend and Guide- took us for the first Darshan of Baba. 

As every one of us know, of late - Shirdi has become very crowded beyond imagination. After waiting for more than two to three hours in the queue for Samadhi Mandir Darshan, it is really sad to say that you are pushed and hassled by the Security persons, who are invariably rude- - similar to the Sri Balaji Darshan in Thirupathi.  This aspect could be avoided, as Sai Baba looked upon all his devotees with love and affection and I feel I should mention here one of His eleven assurances to all his devotees, which is:

” Show unto me he who has sought refuge and has been turned away”

Being Thursday [ the auspicious day for Sai Baba] and in spite of our long wait in the queue, our first darshan of Baba left us speechless with joy. He looked so beautiful. The statue is made of white marble and looks quite life like. He was seated in His classic pose on a granite stone with his right leg bent over the left and left hand resting on his right foot. It felt as though he was looking straight at us and smiling. The magnificent attire in Blue, worn by Baba, was spell-bounding!

Sai Baba
It looked as though HE had been waiting for us to come all these years. My eyes filled with tears and I just could not contain my emotions. I knew then that it was indeed true that he was still there calling his devotees to him, blessing them with the fulfilment of their desires, blessing them with enlightenment if that was what they desired. I should say that this feeling of being with Baba was simply marvellous  and over-whelming!

The Original  Samadhi Temple 

The Renovated Splendid Samadhi Temple
The most important building in the complex is the Sai Baba Samadhi Mandir.  We were told that it was built by a Nagpur millionaire, a devotee of Baba, Bapusaheb Buti, and was called Buti Wada.  Sai Baba’s body was interred in the site reserved by Buti to build a Krishna temple and Baba’s Samadhi has come up here.  The Samadhi has been built with white marble stone.  Around the Samadhi railing, one can see ornamental decoratin.  In front are two Padukas  of Baba and the brick which was broken ad led to Baba predicting his death, is kept near the Samadhi.  Just behind the Samadhi is Baba’s statue made of Italian marble.  It shows him seated on a throne which thousands of his devotees all over the country know and worship.  Overhanging the statue is a silver umbrella and the back of the statue is made of silver and with swastik signs depicted on the sides.  Above the statue on the wall is engraved this couplet:

“ Raghupati Raghava Rajaram
Patita Pawan Sainam “

One cannot miss reading the inscription on the high ceiling behind the statue:
“Sachidananda Sat Guru Sai Maharaj Ki Jai”

Inside of the Samadhi Mandir

View of the Samadhi of Sri Sai Baba
Samadhi Mandir 
It is in this big hall facing the Samadhi that thousands of devotees take part in the daily arati performed four times a day.  It is really delightful, even for the Gods, to hear when prayers go to Baba in a uniform crescendo, from thousand throats.  One can feel the atmosphere being surcharged with emotion and ecstacy!

Then you can find in the Samadhi Mandir in a separate enclosure are kept in view articles used by Baba and the various items of paraphernalia which formed part of the durbar held by Baba who was treated and feted as a maharaja like the royal umbrella, silver mace, whisks and othe symbols of royalty.

Another thing was the dogs. You could find dogs roaming inside the temple, they were well fed, clean and very social too.

We made it a point to go the very next day too and have darshan of Baba to our hearts’ content.  We could not resist the urge to be with Him and seek His Blessings.  The one and a half days we were in Shirdi was a truly wonderful experience.

Original Dwarakamai

Devotees seated in Dwarakamai

Dilapidated Shirdi Masjid [also known as the
Brahmin Mosque]

Renovated Dwarakamai-Long Queue
for Darshan
Not far from the mandir is Dwaraka Mai or the masjid where Baba stayed all his life after he came to Shirdi.  It was then said to be a dilapidated mosque which was not used by muslims and it was in such an awful condition that parts of it were crumbling all the time.  Baba’s devotees offered to build for him another residence but he would not agree to move from the place nor would he agree until the very last moment to repairs being made to make it habitable.  But today, one can see this place renovated and does not look like a mosque at all. It is a very small place hardly 30 ft by 15 ft and one wonders how Baba would have lived there with so many devotees and visitors occupying the limited space.  Baba called it Dwaraka Mayi [ he also called it once “ A Brahmin Mosque” to respect Hindu sentiment. 

Sai Baba sitting near "Dhuni"
As one enters Dwaraka Mai, one notices on the left the “ dhuni “ which Baba created from the moment he settled in the mosque and which still burns as it did throughout his lifetime.  It was by the side of the dhuni that Baba sat ad received devotees and visitors and to mark the spot- a portrait of Baba has been installed on the side of the wall.  In the front are two pillars where Baba used to stand in the evenings and greet passersby and talk to them.  In the corner on the right is a large stone on which Baba sat while taking a bath.  Further inside on the right at the extreme corner is the grinding stone which Baba used for grinding wheat into flour and by its side is kept a closed rack with stored wheat.  On the opposite side, on the left, is preserved the mud pot in which Baba kept the alms he got daily and placed it outside the mosque to enable crows, dogs and beggars to share the food with them.  A big open hut has been put up in front of Dwaraka Mayi to serve as a prayer hall and place of meditation.  Here opposite to Dwaraka Mai, there is another picture of Baba and below it is the famous stone on which Baba sat in contemplation.  The picture of Baba in this posture is the one seen in the homes of thousands of devotees.

Original Chavadi
Renovated Chavadi of today
A short distance from Dwaraka Mai is the Chavadi, another landmark of Shirdi. Baba slept in the chavadi on alternate nights.  He is taken in procession there and there is always an elaborate ceremony before Baba retires for the night.  The Chavadi has also been renovated and it looks neat and clean.  It is a very small building, with a partition which served as Baba’s bedroom.  In the bedroom, there is a picture of Baba and a notice which warns women from entering it.  In the hall on one side, there is a cot on which Baba’s body was placed for a sacred bath after his passing away.  On the other side is a chair mounted with sheels, An inscription says that it has been there since Baba’s time but it is not known if Baba every used it.  The Chavadi we were told,  was the village guest house and it is said that Baba had taken part in entertainments there in the early years of his arrival to Shirdi and he had been seen singing and dancing.  

Gurusthan Mandir

Sai Baba first came to Shirdi in the form of Bal Yogi - a child ascetic.  He was first spotted seated under a neem tree.  THis place came to be known as Gurusthan.  The Gurusthan was renovated on 30th September, 1941.  After this the present temple was built.  There is a small shrine in Gurusthan.  On an elevated platform of this shrine a big portrait of Lord Sai Baba is placed.  On the side is a marble statue of Baba.  In front of the portrait is a Shiva lingam and the Nandi.  Photos of twelve Jyotirlingas are also kept in the temple.  Here burning of incense is done to get rid of problems in once life.

Another landmark which our Guide pointed out, is the Neem Tree, which has been preserved.  It was under this tree which Baba sat when he first came to Shirdi in the latter half of the 19th century, some say, as a young boy of 16.  A mantap has been built round the tree and it is called Gurusthan.  To protect the tree from the bark being peeled off by devotees., a trunk has been covered by a shield.  There is always a long queue of devotees during pradakshina of the tree and its sacredness is exemplified in this prayer”

The Sacred Neem Tree
…..I bow down to the Lord Sad Guru Sainath who by his constant abode at the foot of the margosa tree, whose juice though by nature is bitter and distasteful has turned it nectar-like-sweet because he has exalted the tree above the legendary Kalpavrish[wish-fulfilling tree]”.  The reference to the juice of the Neem tree in the prayer is attested by devotees who say that some of the leaves of the tree taste bitter which is its natural quality while some others  taste sweet which is unnatural…..

It is also said and believed that there are 5 lamps still burning under the tree in which Baba came to rest – the Gurusthan. 

Truly amazing experience!

We also went to the Donation office to pay a small donation towards “AnnaDhaan”.  We did not miss out on the Book-stall though and made it a point to buy the Sai Charithra”.
I should mention here that Baba’s presence was always with us – in every move and every thought !  A fantastic experience and very, very blissful indeed. 

We again had a quick “Mukh Darshan of Sai Baba from outside.  Though reluctant to leave,  since time was running out on us as we had to cover many other famous pilgrim spots in and around Shirdi, associated with Baba we made our exit from the Shirdi Temple, carrying with us fond memories of having been with Baba and for having given us a good darshan..

Lendi Garden
At some distance from the Gurusthan is Lendi, the garden which Baba laid with his own hands, digging and plating trees and watering them. 

Khandoba Temple
God Khandoba 
On the other side of the national highway to Agra is the Khandoba Temple where Baba was refused shelter by Mahlsapathy, its priest, on the grounds that he was a muslim.  It was then that Baba decided to make the dilapidated mosque his home.  It is said that Mahlsapathy later realised his mistake and became an ardent devotee of Baba.  When Baba left his body for a short while, in the early years if his stay in Shirdi, it was to Mahlsapathy that he entrusted ot.  Mahlsapathy guarded the body and refused to surrender it for burial in spite of pressure from the officials and the local people.  Baba came back to life after three days.  Khandoba temple is very small and Khandoba himself, engraved in granite stone, looks like a way-side god we see in the country side.

Other notable things which are not to be missed in the temple complex are the samadhis of Shyamkarna, the horse which was in the vanguard of the procession to the chavadi and back and for the unknown and unidentified tiger which, brought before Baba by its keeper to cure it from its sickness, breathed its last at his feet.  Tiny memorials have been erected over these samadhis enclosed with a small horse and tiger statuettes.

The daily rituals at the Sai Samadhi Mandir consists of four Aratis [worship], namely:

  • The Kakad Arati [Morning Arati] before sunrise at 5 a.m – Prayers are intended to wake Him up and seek His darshan.
  • The Noon Arati [ Madyan Arati] Prayers are offered in His name to remove the wordly sufferings of all  and show the path to the unfortunate ones.
  • The Evening Arati [ Dhoop Arati] at sunset – Prayers are offered surrendering to Him in full faith.
  • The Night Arati [ Shej Arati] at 10 p.m – Prayers are offered when Baba is put to bed.
The Kakad Arati
Arati in Progress

Large Gathering at the Arati
The devotees participate in these aratis, joining in the prayers and singing in unison.  
Every Thursday night before the arati, Baba is symbolically taken in a procession from Dwaraka Mayi to the Chavadi where he used to sleep every alternate night.  His padukas and portrait are placed in a palanquin after worship and the procession wends its way to the chavadi which Is quiet nearby.  The procession has all the marks of royalty and other aspects associated with it.  At the chavadi, there is an elaborate ceremony before Baba is symbolically put to bed.  He is fed and his clay pipe put to His mouth for him to have a puff or two, everything symbolically of course.

Sanstan officials told us that there were three official festivals every year and they are:
  • Sri Rama Navami
  • Guru Poorima  and
  • Dasara or Punya Tithi.

Rama Navami Festival

Each of these festivals is celebrated for three days with cultural and religious functions. 
An interesting fact about our visit to Shirdi is that the devotee has not to pay anything at any time.  Darshan of Baba is free and so are visits to Dwaraka Mayi and chavadi and other important places associated with Baba.  Hundi boxes called Dashina Bo sae kept in the Sai Samadhi Mandrir where devotees can make their contributions as part of their homage to Baba but there is no compulsion.  Close circuit TV sets outside the mandir and at Dwaraka Mayi enable the devotees to watch the arati ceremony.  We were told that at the conclusion of the morning arati, Vishnu Sahasranama, a favourite of Baba, recorded by Srimathi M.S. Subbalakshmi on a cassette is broadcast.

Nearby,  is the house of Mahlsapathy who passed away four years after the Samadhi of Baba.  Now his grand-daughter lives in the house sanctified by Mahlsapathy who was the first to fall Baba “Sai Baba”—which has now become a mantra in millions of homes throughout the country.  We were indeed very fortunate to have seen his grand-daughter there during our visit and were very happy to have exchanged a few plasanteries with her.

The House of Mahlsathy
It is here that Baba’s Padukas presented to Mahlsapathy by Baba were shown to all the visitors.  These padukas are lent to various Sai shrines in different parts of the country for devotees to pay homage.

I had been repeatedly asking the people who were escorting me, whether there was anyone left in Shirdi who had seen Baba but they said that they had never met anyone. I had the feeling of joy when we realized that Baba had led us to the person very close to him – Mahalsapati’s grand-duaghter--Babas grace is really inexplicable.

We could not believe our luck as we were very fortunate to have exchanged a few words with her and also bought some articles/soveneirs sold there in fond memory of Sai Baba.  This was a great feeling indeed.

The House of Laxmi Bai Shinde
Not far away is Lakshmi Bai’s house.  Lakshmi Bai was a ardent devotee of Baba and she was one of the priviledged persons before whose house Baba stopped and asked for alms. 
We came to know from our Guide and also the Sansthan officials that a few days before Baba passed away, Baba called her and gave her nine coins to preserve and worship.  These coins are imbedded in the heart of a statue of Lakshmi Bai kept in the centre of the house.
Abdul Baba's Cottage

Other landmarks in the temple complex which remind one of the times of Baba are the samadhis of Tatya Patil, a favourite child and devotee of Baba, whose mother Bayyaji Bai used to chase Baba in the forest and hills to feed him and who Baba claimed was his sister in a previous birth, and that of Abdul the personal attendant of Baba who served Baba faithfully till the last and became a yogi himself, ministering to the needs of Baba’s devotees.

As far as I could gather, I feel too much emphasis is laid on ritual worship of Baba and too little on the moral and spiritual values inculcated by Baba. One finds everywhere inside the temple, notices warning the devotees to protect themselves against being pick-pocketed or robbed.   It saddens me to think that with such anti-social elements could dare enter the sacred portals of the living God, shows to reveal that much work remains to be done to develop character and moral values which are so dear to Baba’s heart.  Ritual worship and spreading the message of good character, love and compassion must go hand in hand and we would be nearer to achieving the task set before his devotees by the immortal Sai Baba.

Sai Darshan
We could gather from the Sansthan officials that an average of 15 to 20 thousand pilgrims visit Shirdi daily and it touches an amazing figure of 1 lakh on Sundays and holidays!
I should say that the bliss of getting the darshan of Sai Baba is so soothing and unique in its own way and I wish everyone should have the feel at least once in their life time. 

As we came to end of the pilgrim spots, we could snatch some precious time for some shopping.  We managed to buy a few articles associated with Baba’s life in Shidi as soveneirs and also for distribution to our friends and relatives out there in Chennai. 
It was already nearing noon as we were getting ready to pack-off from Shirdi.  We had a long journey planned on the way back.  Lokesh- our friend and GuidE, had arranged for darshan of some good temples in Nasik – namely the Triambakeshwar Temple [one of the 12 Jyotir Lingams], Panchavati.  We had also been to Shani Shingnapur, before reaching Shirdi – presiding deity being Shani Bhagwan and had good darshan.
My Posting on Shirdi visit is quite a long one and hence I shall explain in detail of our experiences on these above mentioned additional temples which we visited en-route from Shirdi in my next Posting. 

Our dear Friend and Guide- Mr. Lokesh [ also known as Loganathan], made each and every moment of our trip enjoyable and a memorable one.   I should mention here that he is definitely one of the most accommodative persons I have ever met.  If not for him, I am sure our trip to Shirdi would not have materialized!!  He is available on +91- 80157 58577. 

Oh Supreme Sai....
Our Shirdi visit was indeed a very pleasant one and very, very dear to us. 
I wish to say……

“Oh Supreme SAI. I cannot  thank You enough. I can only pray to You to keep me and every one under Your wings always, and accept us as Your children. …”

We prayed for all the fellow devotees, who long to have a Darshan of Baba, should have a BLISSFUL one. May BABA shower His blessing always on every devotee.

At the end of it all, I must say that me and my husband and the rest of us in troupe, felt fortunate enough to have visited Shirdi.

I would say -------“It was Gods’ will”.  JAI SAI RAM.

Temples in and around Shirdi/Ahmednagar/Nasik:

This Posting of mine is in continuation of our Shirdi trip and here I tend to cover all the other temples visited by us en-route to Shirdi and en-route Nasik and nearby places.

Our friend and Guide – Lokesh- had well in advance drawn out a chart listing out the temples we could find time to visit on our way to Shirdi and Nisik/Ahmednagar.  Out of this, the first temple in the list was of course “Shani Shingnapur” which is we covered en-route to Shirdi temple.

On reaching the temple, we were astonished to see a large crowd inside the temple.    We made a quick pradakshan of the temple.  We also made a small token of Donation for “ Annadhaan” at this temple.  Shani Bhagwan is unique here- standing in the open – with no cover on to protect Him. 
Shani Shingnapur
Here is a small note on our impressions on our first visit to this temple:
Shani Dham, Shingnapur is located in Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra. It is said to be a Divine place and the land of Lord Shani.

It was very interesting to hear from our Guide that:
Shingnapur is also famous for the fact that no house in the village has doors--only door frames. Despite this, no theft is reported in the village. Villagers never keep their valuables under lock and key. Villagers believe that the temple is a "jagrut devasthan" [lit. "alive temple"], meaning that the God here is very powerful. They believe that God Shani punishes anyone attempting theft. Few of them have only a curtain at the main entrances of the house.

Another interesting fact is:
In January 2011, the United Commercial [UCO] Bank opened a 'lockless' branch in the village, the first of its kind in the country, taking note of the near-zero crime rate in the region. The local police were reported to be unhappy over this development and that it amounted to a breach of conditions, because the Central government of India has made it mandatory for all banks to have high security. The bank has doors, but they will always remain open. However, it was reported by the local legislator and the bank officials that adequate precautions were being taken for the safety of lockers and important documents
The temple gives you inner calm and sense of peace. The Idol of Lord Shani is kept on an elevated platform and continuously being poured of mustard oil from top.
It is a must visit place if you are in and around Ahmednagar or can take an easy detour while going or returning from Shirdi Sai Baba temple.

The Swayambhu Idol
Those who believe in planets and astrology, Shani Shingnapur is definitely not a destination to be missed.

There is only a simple platform on which stands the Swayambhu idol, in black stone and seeing the idol itself is an overwhelming experience.

The majestic black stone standing as the mighty Shani here looks a simple and merciful idol. The devotees from far and wide come here with all the devotion and offer their prayers to pacify Shani Maharaj. There is no fee charged and no rituals to be performed as such but offering oil to the idol is the most common thing devotees do to please Shani Bhagwan.  Unlike other pilgrimage centres, devotees here can perform puja or abhishek or other religious rituals themselves.

The Majestic Black Stone - Shani Bhagwan
Saturdays and Amavasyas here are very busy with thousands of people coming for the Darshan. On any other week day, one can easily have a good darshan as long as one wants to stand.

Shri Dattatraya Temple and the Tomb of Sant Shri Udasi Baba are the nearby attractions. 
From Shirdi Sai Baba Temple it is about 90 Kilometers [approx.] -- total journey takes about 1 to 1 ½  hours by road [car/van].
The management of the Temple is Excellent.

Our next destination was to the Triambakeshwar Jyotirlinga.
It is situated in the eastern spur of the Sahyadri and is 30 Kms. away from the pilgrimage centre, Nashik. It is also a place of origin of the Godavari.
Through our friend and Guide-Lokesh- we were given an introduction to the holy place called Shri Trimbakeshwar

Triambakeshwar Temple
Trimbakeshwar temple is a religious pilgrimage spot,  having one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The extraordinary feature of the Jyotirlinga located here is its three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra. Due to excessive use of water, the Linga has started to erode. It is said that this erosion symbolizes the eroding nature of human society. The Lingas at Trimbakeshwar are covered by a jewelled crown which is placed over the Gold Mask of Tridev [Brahma Vishnu Mahesh]. The crown is said to be from the age of Pandavs and consists of diamonds, emeralds, and many precious stones. The crown is displayed every Monday from 4-5 pm [Shiva]. All other Jyotirlingas have Shiva as the main deity. The entire black stone temple is known for its appealing architecture and sculpture and is at the foothills of a mountain called Brahmagiri. Three sources of the Godavari originate from the brahmagiri mountain.

500 years back from now there was built a city which later on became famous as Trimbakeshwar. In the period of the Peshwas regime Nana Saheb Peshwa had instructed to construct the Trimbakeshwar temple and developed and beautified the city of Trimbakeshwar.

There is a mountain named the Brihmagiri Mountain 18 K.M. from the city of Nasik in the Nasik district. This is one of the parts of the Sahayadri Vallies. The city of Trimbakeshwar is located in the bottom of this mountain. This is a beautiful natural place with the cold weather as it is situated 3000 ft. above from the sea. There are two different routes to get to here. From Nasik to Trimbakeshwar, it is only 18 K.M. This route was built by the help of Shri Kashi Nath Dhate in A.D. 871. One can easily get transport facility from here, almost every hour.

Superb Architecture of the temple
On reaching the temple we were awe-struck by the superb structure of this ancient temple.  A–sight- to- be-hold no doubt!  As expected, the crowd inside the temple was very large and the queue system was very long too.  Since we were pressed for time, our Guide –Lokesh, together with my husband’s presence of mind, used their influence in getting inside the temple, to view the Jyotir lingam. 

It was a marvellous sight inside the temple.  The architecture of this ancient temple was so marvellous that we were spell-bound! 

There were thousands of people inside the temple wanting to have a glimpse of the Jyotir lingam.  Finally after a short wait in the queue, there was the Jyotir lingam in front of us- in all its splendour.  We were all very excited and stood for a few minutes inside the sanctum and prayed for the well-being of one and all.

After having had a good darshan of the Jyotir Lingam, we made our way round the temple to the exit after having got Prasadam from the counter inside the temple. 
On the whole, the visit was a memorable one – memories etched in our minds for a long time to come.

It was very very hot and sultry outside as it was well past Noon time.  As all of us were feeling hungry, we were taken to a good hotel some distance away. 

The afternoon meal was good and in no time, we were on our way to the next temple visit – The Akkal Court Maharaj Temple. This temple stands on an elevated place and we had to climb up the steep pathway for about ½ hr.  This temple is a newly built one and is under further renovation.  The structure is very huge and all the idols like Krishna, Saraswathy, etc are truly beautiful to see.  On the whole, it was a cool, pleasant trip up the hill. 

Just before Mahasamadhi, Swami Samrath advised one of his disciples to worship Shri Sai at Shirdi saying that he [the Swami Samarth] would stay atShirdi in future. Many published writings on both these Saints by different writers authenticate about the interaction between these two Sadgurus both in the gross, and the subtle planes. 

Our next temple to visit was the Panchavati.
Panchavati is a place of religious significane and a pilgrim spot, near the city of Nasik in Maharashtra, India.  In Hindu theology and epic Ramayana, Panchvati was the place in the forest of Dandakaranya [Danda Kingdom], where Rama built his home along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman during their exile period.  

Nasik is one of the most holiest places in India and is sacred as it is in this place Lord Rama along with Devi Sita and brother Laxman spent their part of the exile period and has witnessed several mythological events. It is one of the four cities which hosts Kumbha Mela which occurs every after 12 years [next is on 2015]. Legend has that during Sagar Manthan the Demigods while they tried to hide the Nector of Immortality from the demons, four drops fell onto the four location on the earth [other location are Prayag,Haridwar and Ujjain]. Thus these four places are believed to have acquired mystic power and hosts the Meha Kumbha Mela every after 12 years ["Kumbha" means "Pot of Nector" and "Mela" means festival] where dates are calculated depending upon the certain planetary positions. In the medieval era several temples where built by devotees along the bank of river Godavari.
The name Panchavati it got is from the five banyan tree present in the vicinity where Lord Ram and Sita spent their exile period. The name Nasik also has a legend, during exile period Laxman (brother of Shri Ram) cut off Surparnakha's Nose [In Sanskrit Nose means "Nasik"] and throws it on other side of the river Godavari [Ganga] which then christened as "Nasik" or "Nashik". Thus on one side of the sacred river is known as Nasik while other side where five banyan tree is known as Panchavati. Various legends are associated with each of the places here and it is to be noted that Lord Rama has not consecrated any of the Idols during his exile period here though some of the priests here falsely claims that some Shivlingams are consecrated by Lord Rama himself. Most of the temples falls in Panchavati province where only one or two resides other side of the river Godavari i.e. in Nasik.


Ram Kund
Ram Kund
As the names says it is a Kund [pond] on the river Godavari in Panchavati where Lord Ram is said to have taken bath. It is the place where one immerse the mortal remains [Arth] and is said to be absorbed in the river quickly. It is also the place where according to Hindu rituals one performs Shraddham forf their ancestors.   At the very place is the sangam of three rivers Aruna, Varuna and the Godavari. Aruna/Varuna is said to be coming from underneath whereas Godavari flows on top of them. It is here where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed and to commomarate the same Gandhi Memorial [the tall tower in the pic] was built along side the bank, underneath is where Idols of Shri Ram is installed. Just adjacent to Ram Kund is temple of Devi Ganga and Sai Baba.

Kapaleshwar Temple 
Our Guide took us to the first temple namely, the Kapaleshwar Temple.  This temple is Just in front of Ram Kund is the Shiva Temple called "Kapaleshwar", Its around 250 years old and probably the only temple in the world where Nandi Idol is not placed in front of the Shiv lingam. The very reason is, it is at this place where Lord Shiva considered Nandi as his master. Legend behind this is, Lord Shiva incurred a sin [Brahma Hatya] by cutting off one of the Lord Brahma's head [fifth hea]). Shiva wandered the whole universe and tried every possible penance to get rid of this sin but all went into vain.
Kapaleshwar Temple-Nasik
ShivLingam inside of the Kapaleswar
The story behind this is that Lord Shiva by mistake killed a cow[Gohatya].  To clean His sin, Nandi advised Him to go to Nasik and take a holy dip in the Godavari [Ram Kund] , which he followed and was purified. 
One can notice in this temple that there is no Nandi  because Lord Shiva accepted Nandi as his master/Guru due to his advice, which is why we do not see Nandi Idol at its position [i.e. in front of Shivlingam].

The 5 Banyan Trees-Panchvati
The area of five Banyan trees is situated on the banks of River Godavari in Nasik, Maharashtra, India.

Here are the places related to Ramayana, showing Panchavati in Rama’s journey from Ayodhya to Lanka.

It has been proposed to identify it with the modern Nasik, because Lakshmana cut- off  Surpanakha's nose [nasika] at Panchavati.

Rama's Journey from Ayodhya to Lanka
Lakshmana cuts-off  Surpanakha's nose [nasika]
in Panchavati.
Sita Gumpha
Adjoining the Goraram temple is the Sita Gumpha, the cave which is believed to be where Devi Sita had stayed to hide herself from Demons, during the 14 years of exile. It was very unclear that how much the original cave differs from the today's structure. One has to literally crawl to reach the bottom of the cave [it is not big though] where the three Idols of Lord Ram, Laxman and Devi Sita is shrined [ definitely not possible for obese people]. Cave (though very small, is approximately 4 ft in height you enter from one side and get off the other]. In the bottom which is enough for 6-8 peoples to stand is well illuminated by mini tube light. Passing this Idol while coming up from other side is Shivlingam. History say's that its the same lingam which Devi Sita used to worship and is visited by number of devotees.

Devottees waiting to go inside the Sita Gumpha
Entrance to the Sita Gumpha
Inside the Sita Gumpha
Outside the cave is a large grove of 5 very old Banyan trees, after which the area is named, Panchvati. Out of the five trees, one is the Ashoka Tree.  

One of the five trees after which the place
 is called Panchvati
The place has an uncanny similarity to KabirVad in Gujarat  which is also named after a Banyan tree.

According to Hindu legends and Ramayana Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, stayed in Panchavati during their Vanvasa period. The Laxman Rekha is located in Panchavati about a kilometre away from Sita Gupha. It was from here that Ravana abducted Goddess Sita. Today this area is a major pilgrimage and tourist attraction.

Panchavati has many temples like Kalaram Temple, Goraram Temple, Sita Gupha . There are also many temples in Tapovan which is very close to Panchavati.
Panchavati is spread across 500 acres of land.

Shri Kalaram Temple
Situated in the Panchvati area of Nashik near the banks of Godavari River, the Kalaram temple is dedicated to Lord Ram and is among one of the largest, prominent and the most captivating temples in the city. Spread in a sprawling campus, the most amazing feature of the temple is that it is totally black.

Entrance to the Kalaram Temple-Nasik

Magnificinet Temple made of Black stone
Its people are proud of its culture and it’s 5000 year old tradition. Festivals such as Ganesh Utsav, Gokul Ashtami and Rangpanchami are celebrated with full enthusiasm by the people. Previously it was under the rule of Ashish Padhye.

Beautifully carved Kalaram Temple
Built in 1790 by Sardar Odhekar of Peshwa, the entire temple is constructed in black stones which were especially brought from the Ramshej Mountains. It took 12 years, 23 lakhs of rupees and 2000 workers to build this beautiful temple. The only hint of any other color is provided by the gleaming spire of the temple which is capped with 32 tonnes of gold.The main sanctum houses black stoned idols of Lord Rama, His wife Sita and His brother Laxman. Since the image of the Lord is in black color, the temple has come to be known as ‘Kala Ram’ meaning ‘black Ram’.

Right across the sanctum is the idol of Lord Hanuman which is similarly black in color and enshrined in such a way that He faces His beloved Master, Lord Rama.

The porch of the temple is decorated with pillars and arches. Idols of Lord Vithala and Lord Ganesha can be spotted in the surrounding courtyard.

Large Courtyard inside the Kalaram Temple-Nasik
On auspicious occasions like Mahashivratri, Rangapanchami, Makar Sankranti people take baths in river Godavari at Ramkund which is considered to be one of the most important places in Indian theology. According to Hindu theology, it is believed to be the place where a few drops of 'amrut' fell while the kalash was carried to the devatas.

Ram,Laxman,Sita inside the Kalaram Temple

Lord Ganesha Idol in the Courtyars of
Kalaram Temple
Goraram Temple
This temple is situated in the Kalaram temple lane. Unlike Kalaram, Goraram is a much smaller temple and has idols of Lord Ram, Laxman and Sita in fair hue; which is how the temple gets its name.

Entrance to the Goraram Temple-Panchvati
Idols of Ram, Laxman,Sita in the Goraram Temple
It makes one feel proud that we are surrounded by so many ancient Puranaas  and this definitely makes us come alive experiencing  the ancient heritage temples of India.  How fortunate we are – to witness such marvels associated with Ramayana etc. 

It was nearing 7pm as we headed back from Panchavati.  It was a long stay at Panchavati and by the time we were through , we were all very tired and hungry.  We headed straight to the best Hotel in the vicinity and had good tiffin to start with, After which, we left for Pune to catch our Train to Chennai. 

A journey to be remembered!
We reached Pune at around 1.30am on the 6th morning and our train was due to arrive at 3.30 am. We boarded the train back to Chennai [by Chennai Mail].  Since all of us were dead tired, we relaxed the whole way back – reminiscing about our wonderful trip to Shirdi and back.  

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