After a four day ceremony of Yajnopavita Dharana(Thread Ceremony) of my brother-in-law involving multiple Homams(Sacrificial Fire Altars) and Vedapathanams(Recital of Vedas) and after a break of a day, it’s time for the next trip, it’s time for Shirdi now.
It’s the standard route – Hyderabad to Nagarsol by train and Nagarsol to Shirdi by cab. We reached Shirdi by around 6:30 AM but the counters to issue the rooms are to be opened only by 10:30 AM. It opened at 10:28 AM exact instead of 10:30 and we got our rooms finally after a long wait.
After getting ready, me and my spouse went to the temple complex. While entering through Gate 3, you’ll be in a position to see the main idol of Shirdi Sai from a window just before the Gurusthan. The target of this trip is to the temple is to complete the circumambulation of the Gurusthan 108 times, which my wife committed to perform after the marriage. Gurusthan is the place where . While walking, we noted people waiting for the leaves to fall from the tree so as to keep them as souvenirs. Total distance which I was able to calculate, which we walked is around 5 km(my each step is around .5 m, number of steps in one circumambulation is around 85 and number of circumabulations 108. 108*85*.5 = 4590 m). This trip is done, went back to an Andhra Brahmin Satram(Choultry) to have the lunch. Here, the food is free and it’s upto you to offer something in cash or kind after you have your meals. You will have to remove your shirt before eating and should do before eating. Whatever, the food here is very good.
Since we booked for Aarti in the evening, we went there in time and stood through the complete Aarti of around 40 minutes. Though I am not able to see it, it’s a very good one. A few things to note here – males and females are separated. Come well ahead to stand in the queue for Aarti. If you come a bit late, chances that you will be seeing the actual ceremony live is very slim. You should be content by watching the proceedings on TV. Dogs will be roaming freely in the temple complex. Don’t mind them. They say Baba gave freedom around him. Aarti done, collection of Udi done, now it’s time for other temples in the complex – of Ganesh, Sani and Lord Shiva. Note that you are not expected to look back at the idol of Sani once you cross the statue. Only problem here is this statue, black in colour, is very attractive to look at. Now it’s time for the Choupai and Dwarkamai. Day one complete.
After dilly dallying for a few hours in the night and the morning next day, we decided to go to the temple of Saptashrungi(Goddess of Seven Peaks), which is considered to be one of the 51 Shaktipeethas. The cab driver whom accompanied us didn’t know the way to the temple just like the one who accompanied me to Cherrapunji. On a bad road with a dirver with no knowledge in hot sun, we start for the temple. The temple is located around 135 km from Shirdi. The base town for the temple is Vani. We crossed the dried up river bed of Godavari and entered a belt of fruit plantations on both sides of the road dominated by grape wines. The main plantations were of grape, chikkoo, pomegranate and sweet lime. Enter the ghat section, which in itself is a very nice setting. Though we went there in the peak of summer, the raw beauty was very impressive with the sheer drops and dried up water falls. I don’t know how safe it is to do the same journey in the peak of rainy season, but I would expect the beauty of nature to be too majestic. Note that this is some thrown out corner of India about which no one knows and is not considered to be a place of beauty worth visiting. This is what India can offer – something comparable to Scotland or Lake District, about which no one knows, and no one cares about. As there were some old people in my group and since we are supposed to climb 564 steps to reach the temple, we decided to go to Vani only because we were told that there’s a ropeway as a commutation for piligrims. But when we reached there, there’s nothing such and the ropeway which was supposed to take passengers is under construction. There was an argument as to whether we should go to the temple or not. One of my wife’s uncles said I will be going come what may, and climbed the steps. Me and my wife were stopped under the pretext of my foot ache which I acquired on 16th when me and my wife fell down when the bike skidded. Finally, it was decided that me and my wife will take Dolis, rest of them will stay put. Each doli is carried by five persons. It’s something like a poor man’s palanquin where the central area is replaced by a chair without any legs. Each doli trip costed 500 rupees and the trip duration, some 25 minutes. Once we are at the top, we were taken to a different gate and entered the sanctum sanctorum through the exit gate, which goes by the name Chandra Dwara. The door arch is intricately carved with Dasavataras and other sculptures in silver(?) which I didn’t notice. Coming to the main idol itself. The goddess is a manifestation of Mahishasuramardini with 18 arms holding different weapons. I will give the story of the temple, chopped from different sources after some time. The statue of the goddess is about 8 feet tall, with a slightly angular pose(it’s not exactly vertical) and with the regular adornments of an Indian goddess – ear and nose rings, a big tiara(kireetam) and necklaces and gives you instant peace of mind. The statue is carved into the surface of the cliff and is completely coated with Sindhoor(a sacred Hindu preparation made using Borax) with very bright white eyes. The height of the statur from sea level is said to be at 4130 feet and is not at the top of the mountain. This creates a very big problem – if someone wants to circumambulate the statue, they’ll have to circumambulate the whole hill. Another anecdote worth noting is that when I thought of buying an idol of the goddess, my mother asked me not to saying that that goddess accepts sacrifices(Animal sacrifice was rampant at the start of the steps). Also to note are the multitude of temples on the steps enroute the main shrine like that of Lord Ganesha at the base, a turtle(Lord Vishnu’s form), a temple for Lord Rama and others, and a statue of a bull symbolizing Mahishasura at the base of the steps.
Once this leg of the tour is completed, it’s time to turn back first to Shirdi, then have a sumptuous meal and a mad rush to Manmad to catch the train back to Hyderabad which we caught with ten minutes to spare.