A Saibaba image one doesn’t get to see in other temples. I happened by this painting at a shrine on a farmland not far from Bangalore. It has come up on a patch owned by a retired Air India pilot, Capt.V V Mahesh. What struck me about the painting is its creator’s perception of Saibaba. The message it conveys is that even a saint needs his afternoon rest. And the setting in which the Baba is cast is absorbingly down-to-earth.
It was Mrs Samyuktha Mahesh’s idea to portray the secular sage as a person, not a deified entity placed on a pedestal; as someone with whom the poor and the humble among his devotees can relate. She conveyed her thoughts to an artist who put them on canvas. Maybe Samyuktha was motivated by what she read, and, as her husband put it, she has read almost everything nearly everyone has written on Saibaba.
Shirdi Diary by G S Khaparde, they say, describes the life and times, and daily routine of Saibaba in his later years (1910-18). Though his birth and early life remain a mystery, Saibaba’s death is recorded history – Oct.15, 1918. Wikipedia refers to his taking samadhi on the lap of a devotee, at 2.30 in the afternoon.
A Saibaba devotee since the age of 12, Samyuktha spoke of a dream that prompted her to build this temple. She consulted her husband, who agreed to do it on their own farm near Bangalore, though “he wasn’t then a Saibaba devotee like his wife”. Their three sons, one of whom is also a pilot, helped to make their mother’s dream a reality.
This shrine came up seven years ago. Capt.Mahesh says the main prayer hall and a smaller one for meditation, and the landscaping have been completed. What remains is Nandadeep – a cluster of 108 brass lamps to be placed in enclosed space in the temple courtyard.
They have timeline for its completion – by January next – whether or not they raise funds through donation by this time. “We are confident of meeting the requirement, ‘observed Capt.Mahesh, adding that the project is estimated to cost Rs.6 lakhs. Samyuktha is modest about whatever they have accomplished till date. She referred to an anonymous devotee who has donated Rs.62 crores for infrastruture improvement at Shirdi to facilitate visitors. “What we are doing here isn’t much in comparison,” says Samyuktha.
The Saibaba shrine built by the Mahesh couple is located near Bididi, on a farmland some three km off the Bangalore-Mysore highway. They also run a special school for 40-odd mentally challenged children. The Mahesh’s spend much of their time out here, though they have a town house on Bangalore’s Richmond Rd. “The city traffic being what it is, we find daily cummute a hassle,” says Capt. Mahesh.
We visited the temple shortly before the mid-day prayer. Capt. Mahesh persuaded us to stay till aarthi, followed by prasad. Which gave us time to interact with the Mahesh couple.
The setting is conducive to contemplation. A visitor to the prayer hall tends to sit in silence for a while. Capt.Mahesh has thoughfully placed plastic chairs in the hall for the benefit of aged and the handicapped.
At the far end of the courtyard across the main prayer hall is a smaller hall where they keep an eternal fire going. The sanctity about it is that this flame was lit with the embers from a piece of firewood brought from dhuni in Shirdi. “We couldn’t bring it by train; they wouldn’t allow it on a plane,” said Capt. Mahesh, adding that the sacred fire from Shirdi was brought by road in a hired van.
The dhuni is the perpetually burning fire that Baba had built. The fire is today much bigger and is enclosed in a wired cage. It is said that Baba, when asked why he had the fire going, replied that it was for burning our sins, or karma. It is reported that Baba spent hours sitting in contemplation by the dhuni.
I heard about the Bangalore farmland shrine through word-of-mouth. Capt. Mahesh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org