Religious places attract huge number of tourists who usually seek peace of mind or the blessings of a particular deity. At one time, temples were built by kings to turn into major sources of income. Temple-towns were fastest to rise in power and esteem. People gathered rapidly around them to take up jobs such as sweet-sellers, sculptors, artists, garland-makers and so on. Even today, a good number of such towns are doing well economically.
Shirdi, a town in Ahmednagar district, of Central Maharashtra is one such example. It is also known as Sainagar, after the eponymous Sai Baba. The famed 19th century religious leader, Sai Baba, left his home town and arrived here sometime in the 1850s. He gave spiritual advice, and purportedly performed some miracles to win the respect of the people.
In the course of his lifespan, Sai Baba gathered a large number of followers – both Hindus and Muslims. People of both communities loved him. He is believed to have regularly performed Namaaz -the prayers offered to Allah by Muslims. Sai Baba gathered great fame during his own life that supposedly spanned eight decades. Several temples were built in his honour. Even a community of Indian Zoroastrians believed in his divinity.
On the resting place of the dead body of Sai Baba the Samadhi mandir was built. It is a great tourist attraction. According to the temple trust’s website, it attracts 25000 tourists on a normal day. During some religious occasions, it claims to get upto 100000 tourists. Given that the population of Shirdi is around 40000, its economy is dependent on the tourism industry. The temple trust of the Samadhi mandir is among the richest religious institutions in the world.
After the death of Sai Baba, the cult of Sai grew far and wide. This is shown by the fact that there is a temple dedicated to him even in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh. But the most respected shrine of the cult remains Samadhi mandir. That is why trains are available from major cities like Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore to Kopargaon Railway Station, 16 kilometres from Shirdi and to Sainagar Shirdi, a railway station in the city of Shirdi.
The second way is to travel by bus. All major public and private bus services connect Shirdi to major cities of Maharashtra. There is a major bus station located in Shirdi. The third way is to travel in your own car. Shirdi lies on the Ahmednagar-Manmad highway. Many people also travel through Nasik. Recently, work on a highway connecting Pune to Shirdi has also started.
The final way of reaching Shirdi, is to take a flight to the Shirdi Airport. It is a small airport whose construction was finalized in 2016. It is possible to fly to Shirdi Airport from Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Indore. Aurangabad Airport, 130 kilometres from Shirdi, receives flights from all major airports of India.
While staying in Mumbai, I knew of many people who went to Shirdi once every year or couple of years. People go there for many reasons. Sometimes family members of fatally sick people have such strong faith that they visit the Shirdi temple even when the doctors lose hope. It is proof of the strength of Sai Baba in the public… And their belief in the miracles that Sai Baba is said to have performed in his lifetime.
Author: Aniruddha Aloke