On our way back from Lonavala to Pune, we made a detour to visit a Sai temple at Shirgaon. Temple was constructed by an ardent devotee and now run by a Trust. There were two main buildings inside the complex. One was the shrine where Sai Baba holds his darbar, the arches are believed to be gold plated and appeared rich and over powering. People were busy gaping more at those gold pillars and arches than concentrating on seeing the Sai Baba seated on a beautifully decorated seat with special effects lighting which was on display. Another super imposing building on the side was where free meals twice a day was served. It looked like a 3 storeyed golden palace where many visitors were taking selfies and pictures against the backdrop of this golden structure.
It was peak summer when we visited. Footwear had to be removed and left at the entrance and all have to walk barefoot till the shrine’s entrance which was quite some distance away. The pathway was exposed to sun, heating it up like amber. It felt like walking on fire in the early evening hours. A girl accompanying me suggested i walk on the white patch of the path in the middle, instead and avoid the red tiles. As i stepped on to the white pathway, my bare feet could instantly feel the coolness. A good idea to dissipate sunlight was achieved through painting the middle path in a thick white coat of paint. Simple solution indeed to beat the heat.
Many were waiting for free lunch and dinner at the Food Court. Free meals are certainly an attraction at religious centers. The best examples are the Langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the ISKCON – Hare Krishna temples all over the world, Tirupathi in Andhra, Shirdi temples all over, many Hindu temples like Kanchipuram Shankara Mutt, Udipi, etc. where food is served free for visitors. The taste is divine as it is temple food, basic, simple and prepared with devotion as offering to the divine before consumption by us mortals. Food has been a universal binder and brings people together.
Reminds me of the free noon meals served at government schools in Tamil Nadu to ensure children attend regular school to get one free meal thereby reducing the burden of the poor in having to cook and feed their children and getting them educated free of cost too. This was started by the most popular matinee idol of all times in South India, the Puratchi Thalaivar, Late MGR – ex-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu which is continued till date.