Mohanji’ Birthday – New birth for all of us!
Written by Shashank Jaitely
February 23 was Mohanji’s Birthday. It was celebrated at Shirdi, in the lap of Sai Baba.
The day started with attending Kakad Aarti at the Shirdi Sai Temple. It was wonderful and electrifying atmosphere with Sai chants and aarti reverberation. Mohanji was feeling at home and after the aarti, took everyone around the temple and explained every corner of the place. The first place to be visited was Baba Samadhi. He explained to us that Baba had promised, “I shall be active and vigorous even from the tomb,”.
After attending the aarti, we visited Gurusthan. The first thing that caught our eyes at Gurusthan was the huge neem tree. This tree gave shelter to Baba for a few years when he stayed beneath it. Neem has many medicinal properties, though its leaves are notoriously bitter. However, some people once reported that the leaves of one of the branches tested sweet. For them it was a sign of Baba’s grace; others see it as evidence of the tree’s exceptional sanctity.
We visited Dwarkamai and meditated near Baba’s Dhooni. To the devotees of Sai Baba, Dwarkamai is one of the treasures of Shirdi. The spirit of tolerance, acceptance and welcome for all is very much alive. Baba has said that merely going inside the mosque will confer blessings, and the experiences of devotees confirm this. Sai Baba respected all religions and creeds, and all had free access to the mosque. It is typically unique of Sai Baba that he regarded a place of worship – the mosque – as a mother. He once told a visitor, “Dwarkamai is this very mosque. She makes those who ascend her steps fearless. This masjidmai is very kind. Those who come here reach their goal !”
On entering the mosque one is struck by its powerful atmosphere and the intensity and absorption with which visitors are going about their worship. Another point we notice is the great diversity of devotional expression. Some people will be kneeling before Baba’s picture of making offerings, others will be praying before the dhuni (perpetually burning sacred fire), some may be doing japa or reading from sacred texts, and others will be sitting in contemplation. If we spend some time here we may become aware of a mysterious phenomenon, unexplained, only experienced….
We felt that Baba came to welcome His Son and His family to his house. There was so much love, so much compassion…
After spending a couple of hours at the temple, we reached Khandoba temple. Here Mohanji narrated the story about how Baba got his name – Sai. In the sequence of events that were destined to become famous as part of the early life of a most beloved and very great saint, this small temple is of two-fold importance: first as the spot where Shri Sai Baba halted on his entry into Shirdi with the wedding party of Chand Bhai Patil, and secondly as a place where he acquired his name.
It is said that a young man, dressed in the Muslim fashion in a Kafni (Robe) arrived in a bullock cart as the guest of the wedding party. As the party approached the temple, the temple priest, Mhalsapati, on seeing the fakir, called out, “Ya, Sai!” (“Welcome, Sai!”) and the name remained ever after (Sai is a Persian word meaning “saint” or ‘holy’, and Baba means “father”). In this way, it was Mhalsapati who was responsible for Baba’s name, which has become the sacred mantra of thousands of his devotees.
In those days, the temple was on the periphery of the village in the midst of a burial ground. The structure was very basic and did not even have a door. However, it seems to have appealed to Baba’s temperament as he commented to the incumbent priest, Mhalsapati that being so quiet and solitary, it would make a good spot for an ascetic like him to stay.
After spending some beautiful moments at the temple, we came back to the hotel to have tea and breakfast and after resting for a while, headed towards the Shirdi shrine again for Satya Narayan katha. After attending the katha, we visited Sai Sansthan Prasadalaya for lunch. It was an amazing experience. Baba himself was there at the entrance to welcome us. Everyday,25 to 30 thousand Sai devotees take meal as a Prasad. During the time of festivals of Lord Sai baba the number of Sai devotees hikes up to 55 thousand. Free Prasad meals are served to poor, blind, handicapped and sages.
We then visited Sakori to the temple of Upasni Maharaj. Mohanji explained to us about the role and greatness of Shri Sai of Shirdi in the the life of Kashinath Govind Upasani Sastri, who later came to be known as ‘Shri Upasani Maharaj’. Shri Sai’s deeds and life were full of miracles, but the greatest miracle was His creation of this once inconsequential person to the status of a Sadguru within a period of four years! The methods used by Shri Sai to completely transform Kashinath Sastri, the pain taken by him to protect the neophyte and the assurance with which he grew this unsure and confused disciple to the state of a Perfect Master, would indicate where in the spiritual hierarchy of this world Shri Sai remains.
It was almost evening when we ended darshan at Upasni Maharaj temple and it was time for the dhoop aarti. We all moved towards the temple. Another miracle was waiting to happen there. We got a bit late and there was huge crowd that had already gathered in the queue. We were almost at the end and it was literally impossible to get the glimpse of Baba during the aarti. There were some more people who had joined us and they were disappointed that they would not be able to see Baba. But when the door opened, somehow the people ahead of us scattered to different directions and we ended up just ahead of Baba’s idol! We could experience the full glory of Baba during the Dhoop aarti. It was not less than a miracle!
After the aarti, Mohanji asked us to go get Udi before the counters close. Few of us went to get it but the queue was overwhelming. Some of us took the courage and managed the queue to get it. Few of us were left. This was the manifestation of another plan of Mohanji which we came to know only later!
As it was Mohanji’s birthday, we had planned a dinner at a local restaurant. It was a blessed dinner with the family. Mohanji was in cheerful mood and acted as a host as he was feeling at home!
Finishing the dinner when we were planning to go back to the hotel, Mohanji suddenly asked if everyone had got Udi. It was almost 10 pm but four of us who had not taken Udi, decided to go back to the temple to get it. It was a matter of chance as the Udi counter closes early. But somehow we were pulled towards the temple. We were supposed to reach gate no 4 and there was a way from the temple compound to reach there. But we decided to take some other route. We were not sure why we did that, but we kept on going. When we reached gate no 4, the counter was closed. We were not really disappointed as we knew we were late, instead of returning back from the same route, we decided to take yet another detour. The moment we did that, we saw a small child in the corner crying! And there was no one with him. He was alone and scared. We tried talking to him but he did answer. We asked people around about his family, but no one knew about it. We picked him up and started walking toward the announcement door. The child kept on crying and did not answer any of our questions. We got hold of a security officer and very reluctantly he offered to help. After walking few meters, a man approached us and declared that he was child’s relative and has been looking for him! We wanted to be sure so walked with him to the child’s mother who was thrilled to see her lost child. We did not really reprimand them as we had understood by this time that it was all part of Mohanji’s leela. Few of us could not get Udi earlier as we were supposed to come back to the temple, not to get Udi but to help the lost child find his parents.
Symbol of Protection – Fragrance of our Master
After the visit to Mahakumbh where we had experienced divinity in the lap of mother Ganga, it was time to head for Shirdi, the penultimate destination of a two week long pilgrimage.
Rajni Dasgupta and I planned to reach Pune on the 22nd February night so that we could reach Shirdi by midnight, well in time for the first early morning Kakad aarti, marking the beginning of birthday celebration of Mohanji. Our schedule was tight but we had full faith that we would be able to make it on time.
Our flight landed on time and we hopped in the cab for Shirdi. We got the first sign of Divinity when we realized the number of the car. It totaled up to 9 which is a very sacred number!
We started our journey to Shirdi. I was wanting to sleep as the next day was starting very early, but could not. There was something unusual and I could feel it strongly. I tried to figure out and felt a familiar fragrance in the car! The fragrance that is associated with Mohanji! I looked around for car for the source but could not find any. The fragrance became strong as if some was wearing it was sitting amongst us. It struck me that Mohanji must be here! I went in silence and started to feel his divine presence. Till now I was not sure what Rajni was feeling. I turned towards her to share what I was feeling, and suddenly she said, “He is here!”. Even she has been experiencing the fragrance moment we had left the airport.
The fragrance remained with us for the rest of the journey. We were feeling elated and thrilled with joy that Mohan ji was with us, travelling with us on his birthday eve! And of course we could not sleep of excitement.
Somewhere in the middle of the journey, we noticed that the speed of the car had slowed down. We were running on a very tight time schedule and wanted to reach Shirdi as soon as possible. We asked the driver to hit the gas paddle a bit but he kept driving at a slow speed. I then noticed the reason for his driving…he was sleeping! I jolted him up and asked him to stay awake and drive carefully and offered that he could stop for a while to have tea to get fresh. But he continued to drive and became alert after that. We kept a watch on him for the rest of the journey.
We reached Shirdi and checked into the hotel where Mohanji was staying. We had to get ready in an hour’s time to attend the morning Kakad aarti at 4 am. We met Mohanji in the lobby. After wishing him on his birthday, we thanked him for being with us the whole of the journey but wanted to know the reason. He smiled and said, “I protected you from an accident! The driver had slept and I was driving the vehicle and avoided it getting hit by another car! “. The thought sent the chill in the spine..YES, the driver was sleeping and the car was still moving straight. It was Mohanji who had taken control of the car.
We could only express immense gratitude. He did ensure that we not only reach in time but also safe and sound. What a wonderful beginning to a blissful day!