Atma ‘Ram’ Sai ‘Ram’
The greatness of Shri Prabhu Ramchandra and His importance needs no elaboration.
Prior to 1912, it was a practice to hold an Urus on the day of Ram Navami. The idea of holding such an Urus was initiated by an ardent devotee of Baba. His name was Gopalrao Gund.
With the blessings of and directions from Shri Sai Ram, the first ever Ram Janmotsav was celebrated in Shirdi in the year 1912 (before Shri Sai Baba laid down His mortal body).
The story of this first Ram Janmotsav is very amazing. It is narrated in great detail by Shri Laxman Ganesh alias Kakasaheb Mahajani (the then editor of ‘Shri Saileela’) in the issue of the periodical. It would be proper to reproduce his words. A free translation of the same follows –
“Gopalrao Gund was a government circle inspector of Kopargaon. He had married three times. But, none of the marriages succeeded in giving birth to a son. Later on he began visiting Baba and with His blessings a son was born. He began to think of a way to express his joy and this gave him the idea of holding an Urus.
Naturally, he discussed this idea with prominent residents of Shirdi like Tatya Patil, Dada Kote Patil, Madhavrao Deshpande and others. Everyone approved the proposal. But, it was vehemently opposed by the Kulkarni of Shirdi. He even went to the extent of pointing out to the district collector that with the holding of such a gathering many people will be converging on Shirdi and this would give rise to health problems and an epidemic may get spread. The collector concurred with this view and denied permission to hold the Urus. Everybody was utterly disappointed. But, Baba supported the idea wholeheartedly. Therefore, things began automatically falling in place and the collector withdrew his first order and issued a second one – granting permission to the Urus ! With Baba’s direction, it was decided to hold the Urus on the auspicious day of Ram Navami. Of course, Baba had decided upon the day after great thought and consideration. Because – on a later date – Baba gave permission to celebrate Ram Navami along with Urus. This Hindus as well as Muslims began celebrating a joint function of Urus and Ram Navami. This enhanced the feeling of brotherhood amongst these two communities.
The organizers succeeded in crossing the first hurdle of obtaining the collector’s permission. But, there were many more on their path. The district of Nagar was known for water shortage and the auspicious day of celebration was in the height of summer – the month of Chaitra. In those days, there were only two main wells in whole of Shirdi. The water from one of them was salty, while in the other, the water level used to reach the bottom ! But, with Baba’s blessings a miracle took place. He realized the plight of the pilgrims and threw some flowers into the well with saline water. And, the water began tasting sweet ! A big problem got resolved. To draw the water from the depths of the wells, a rope as long as 75-100 hands was needed. Pulling of the rope was a tiresome task. But, Tatya Patil located a distant well, arranged to draw the water with the help of two bullocks.
Urus is a kind of fair and hence, would be incomplete without shops, entertainment shows, tamasha, wrestling and giant wheels. The organizers sent messengers to villages and towns around Shirdi and shopkeepers and the like came flocking to display their wares and talents.
Like Gopalrao Gund, Damuanna Kasar had also got a son with the blessings of Shri Baba. He concurred with Gopalrao’s suggestion and on the auspicious day, began hoisting a flag on top of the Masjid. There used to be two flags hoisted on that day - Kasar’s simple flag and Nanasaheb Nimonkar’s rich flag adorned with gold threads etc. Both these were made in the house of Kondaji Sutar. A procession wound its way from the lanes and bye-lanes of Shirdi carrying them and they were hoisted on the two sides of the Masjid. The practice is followed even today.
Along with the practice of holding an Urus, another custom was also followed that of ‘Sandal’. A Muslim by the name Ameer Shakkar (from Village Korhala) sought permission of Baba and started ‘Sandal’.
Sandal means a paste made according to Muslim traditions out sandalwood. Its powder/paste are placed in a flat metal plate. Ud is burnt in the front of a procession and the plate is carried through the village. Ultimately, the parade arrives at the Masjid. Its walls are adorned with imprints of palms of the paste.
Ameer Shakkar bore the expenses of the material, musicians, lamps and fireworks. He passed away in 1923. His wife continued the tradition thereafter.
Muslim folks referred to Baba as a ‘Peer’. In cases of most of the Peers, Sandal is observed after they pass away. Therefore, Ameer Shakkar used to proudly announce that ‘Sandal is taken out during the lifetime of only the most fortunate and the most revered Peers !’... And Baba was one of them.
A Symbol of
Hindu - Muslim Unity
Thus, on the day of Ram Navami, a unique practice was started of taking out simultaneously two processions – a Hindu procession of the two flags and a Muslim procession of Sandal.
At that time, besides the usual religious festivals, this was the only festival being observed in Shirdi. It was a very important day for the residents of Shirdi and the towns and villages around it. Even people from far off places began visiting Shirdi to participate in it. Prominent amongst them were members of Radhakrishnaaai’s family.
Tatya Patil looked after the management of matters outside the Masjid while Radhakrishnaaai took care of its interiors. Her place used to resemble a house, in which a marriage is to take place. Someone would be helping in making the flags, some others would be lending a hand in cutting paper flowers. Some would be cleaning silver articles, while others would be busy in cleaning food grains. The work would be carried out through out the day and even night.
Preparation of the Masjid
Dasganu Maharaj had written a letter to Shirdi Sansthan in 1917 about the statue of Lord Ram. It narrates the practice before the arrival of Radhakrishnaaai in Shirdi.
‘...At that time, Baba Himself used to wash the Masjid on the day of Ram Navami. Around mid-day, He brought a little oil and lit lamps. He purchased gulal showered it on His head, the dhuni, the three earthen lamps and the arch in the corner.’
Later on Radhakrishnaaai assumed this responsibility.
The work of cleaning the Masjid would be carried out only when Baba was not in there.
As everyone knows, Baba slept in the chavadi on alternate nights. On the chavadi night before Ram Navami, Radhakrishnaaai would arrive at the Masjid with her people. Men and women of all ages and from all walks of life would participate with the intention of serving Baba. It was a scene worth watching.
They would carry Baba’s belongings with great care, love and affection to the sabha mandap area. The holy fire from dhuni would be brought down and kept alive. Radhakrishnaaai would play a major role in this.
After this, the work of washing the Masjid would be taken up. Due to the ever alive fire of the dhuni, the walls and woodwork would have become dark and covered with smoke. These would be cleaned with soap water and pieces of rough rope. 15-20 people would be busy with this. Another 15-20 would be fetching water from wells which were at some distance.
After thus washing the Masjid, Baba’s things would be placed back to their places. The holy fire would once again light the dhuni. Everyone would now leave the Masjid. By now, it would be 4 a.m.
When Baba arrived at the Masjid the next day, He would find it to be completely transformed.
However, there was one solitary year, in which the above practice (of doing this work during Baba’s absence) was not followed. That year for some reason the Masjid could not be washed during chavadi night. However, some people gathered courage and approached Baba. After lot of cajoling, He agreed and moved to the mandap. The group was overjoyed and began the work of cleaning and painting with great enthusiasm. The work got over before evening itself. Baba was in a lighthearted mood. He cut jokes and encouraged the folks. However, everyone was cautious. They were aware that, though He had given permission, He would be equally unpredictable and could loose His temper. Therefore, only when the work was complete, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
While the work of transforming the Masjid was going on the night previous to Ram Navami, in Radhakrishnaaai’s house another big task was undertaken. The act of giving away of food (Annadan) was dear to the heart of Baba. Therefore, in Radhakrishnaaai’s house, preparation for cooking of food on a large scale would go on. The cooks were not hired hands. They were devotees of Baba. In one corner, someone from say malgujar community would be preparing 5-10 payalees (a measure of weight in use at that time) of bundi, while simultaneously reciting Namsmaran. Somewhere else, 2-3 men would be bringing down vessels, which contained just cooked sakhar bhat. At a third place, 5-7 ladies and gents would be making laddoos. Besides these, in the morning, on a large scale items such as bhat, bhaji, poli, varan etc. would be prepared. The people will sit in rows and have a hearty meal. At least, two such groups would have food in Baba’s presence. In the mandap, lot of poor men and women, fakirs, free-loaders etc. would have their fill.”
How beautifully Kakasaheb has penned down the scene and happenings on the auspicious day of Ram Navami !
Today’s mammoth scale
After Baba left for His heavenly abode, the number of people coming for the yatra diminished to some extent. However, from 1925-26, the number kept on increasing every year. The trend has continued till today.
75 years have been passed since Kakasaheb described the event. However, even today Shri Sai Sansthan celebrates Ram Navami, Guru Pournima and Sai’s Punyatithi with great fanfare, love and affection. And we – His devotees – witness and participate in these celebrations with incessant enthusiasm.
All the trustees, prominent citizens of Shirdi and devotees take part in all the above activities.
The program of Ram Navami as celebrated in Shirdi today -
The Ram Navami function is spread over 3 days.
Every morning, as usual, kakad aarati is performed. On the day of Ram Navami, the Samadhi Mandir is kept open for the entire night. Therefore, on the morning of the third day the kakad aarati is not performed.
After that, Shri’s statue is given a ceremonial bath. Thereafter, pooja is performed at His feet (padya-pooja).
The holy book (Shri Sai Sat Charita pothi), veena and Shri’s photo are taken in a procession in certain parts of the Mandir coplex.
After the procession reaches, Dwarkamai, non-stop recitation (akhand parayan) of Shri Sai Sat Charita begins.
In the afternoon, chapters from Shri Sai Sat Charita continues in the Samadhi Mandir.
Every year, on the day of Urus (1st day of Ram Navami celebrations) a sack containing wheat is placed in the Samadhi Mandir and pooja is performed. Thereafter, it is shifted to Dwarkamai - Masjid. It takes place of the last year’s sack (the contents of which are utilized for prasadalay). This practice is being followed over many decades.
On the first day, a well-known kirtankar is invited to perform a kirtan at about 4.30 p.m. On the second and third day other well-known kirtankars perform kirtans at about 10.00-10.30 am. Similarly, on the main day of the celebrations, there is a kirtan on Ram Janma. On the last day of the celebrations, there is a kirtan on kala.
After the kala kirtan, dahi handi is ceremoniously broken. This is the last part of the celebrations.
Fireworks, ornamental lighting, flower decorations and showering of flowers from the sky are a part of the annual festivities. Even wrestling competitions are held and the winners are rewarded handsomely.
The Flags of Nimonkar and Rasane Families are taken in a procession led with a musical band.
The Sansthan makes complete provision for drinking water at different places. There are arrangements for the stay of the devotees and even hot water is supplied for their bath. Breakfast, snacks and meals (with sweets) are made available in the prasadalay.
The Sansthan tries is best to provide additional amenities and ensures that the devotees can avail of Shri Sai darshan with more and more comforts every year.
The pleasing and holy atmosphere of these three days is to be seen and believed.
The first ever Ram Janmotsav was celebrated in Shirdi in the year 1912. And this is its glorious centenary year. This is a unique opportunity for the Sai devotees. I am sure that every Sai devotee would like to be present at the occasion. Not only that, I am also confident that every devotee would do his utmost to make the function a great success and will not shirk responsibility by saying that “the Sansthan is there to take care of such matters.”
Before Shri Sai Baba laid down His mortal body, He began certain practices with a view to ensure unity and peaceful coexistence of different religions, castes and communities. The Sansthan has strived to continue those traditions. It has also coped up with the ever increasing number of devotees and their requirements of modern amenities. It has contributed substantially to the development of the Shirdi town and its surrounding areas.
Of course, Baba has blessed the festival of Ram Janmotsav with immortality. But, let us also pray to the Almighty that it continues with more and more fervor in all the years to come.
– Mrs. Mugdha Sudhir Divadkar
61, Hindu Colony, 1st Lane,
Dadar (E), Mumbai.
E-mail : email@example.com
Translated from original Marathi into English by Sudhir
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