Complete Shirdi Guide to Plan Your Sai Baba Pilgrimage

What to Know When Visiting Sai Baba in Shirdi

Sai Baba Temple Vesa at Shirdi In India

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Shirdi is a small town in India that's devoted to the popular saint Sai Baba. He preached tolerance towards all religions and equality of all people. About 60,000 devotees flock to Shirdi every day, as an important pilgrimage place for people of all faiths. It's one of the busiest pilgrimage sites in India.

Who Was Shirdi Sai Baba?

Sai Baba of Shirdi was an Indian guru. His place and date of birth is unknown, although he passed away on October 15, 1918. His body has been entombed at the temple complex in Shirdi. His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam. Many Hindu devotees consider him an incarnation of Lord Krishna, while other devotees consider him to be an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. Many devotees believe that he was a Satguru, an enlightened Sufi Pir, or a Qutub.

Sai Baba's real name is also unknown. His name "Sai" was apparently given to him when he arrived at Shirdi, to attend a wedding. A local temple priest recognized him as a Muslim saint, and greeted him with the words 'Ya Sai!', meaning 'Welcome Sai!'. The Shirdi Sai Baba movement began in the late 19th century, while he was living in Shirdi. After 1910, his fame began to spread to Mumbai, and then throughout India. Many people visited him because they believed he could perform miracles.

Sai Baba
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Getting to Shirdi

Shirdi is located about 250 kilometers (143 miles) northeast of Mumbai, and 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast of Nashik, in Maharashtra. It's most popularly accessed from Mumbai. By bus, traveling time is seven to eight hours. It's possible to take a daytime or overnight bus. By train, travel time ranges from six to 12 hours. There are three trains, all of which run overnight.

If you're coming from somewhere else in India, Shirdi's new airport started functioning on October 1, 2017 and is currently being expanded. It's about 30 minutes southwest of the city. Alliance Air (a subsidiary of Air India), and low-cost carriers SpiceJet and IndiGo, service the airport. Alliance Air operates daily Shirdi flights from Mumbai and Hyderabad. SpiceJet flies from Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Kolkata. IndiGo recently added daily non-stop flights from Delhi and Chennai.

Ventura Airconnect operates non-scheduled flights to Shirdi from Surat in Gujarat.

The other nearest airport is at Aurangabad, around two hours away. Alternatively, trains from quite a few cities stop at the railway station in Shirdi. Its name is Sainagar Shirdi (SNSI).

When to Go

Weather-wise, the best time to visit Shirdi is from October to March, when it's cooler and dry. However, crowd peak during the festive months from September to December, with maximum crowds around Dussehra and Diwali.

The most popular day to visit is on Thursday. This is Sai Baba's holy day. Many people who want a wish granted visit the temple and fast on nine consecutive Thursdays (referred to as the Sai Vrat Pooja). However, if you do visit on Thursday, be prepared for it to be extremely crowded there. There's a procession of Sai Baba's chariot and slippers at 9.15 p.m.

Other busy times are on weekends and during the Holi, Gudi Padwa, Guru Purnima, Ram Navami festivals. The temple is kept open overnight during these festivals, and the crowd swells to a suffocating size.

If you want to avoid the crowds, apparently Fridays at 12-1 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. are good times to visit. Also, daily from 3.30-4 p.m. In general, the least-crowded days are Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Visiting the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple Complex

The temple complex is made up of a number different areas, with different entry gates depending on whether you want to wander around the temple complex and have darshan (viewing) of the Sai Baba idol from afar, or whether you want entry to the Samadhi Temple (where Sai Baba's body is entombed) and make an offering in front of the idol. The Samadhi Temple is the hub of activity. It's the main temple, and attracts the most devotees.

You'll be allowed into the Samadhi Temple for the morning aarti (worship ritual) at 5.30 a.m. This is followed by the Holy Bath of Sai Baba. Darshan is allowed from 7 a.m., except during aarti time. There's a half hour aarti at noon, another one at sunset (around 6-6.30 p.m.) and a night aarti at 10 p.m. After that, the temple closes. Abhishek puja also takes place in the mornings, and Satyananarayan puja in the mornings and afternoons.

Offerings such as flowers, garlands, coconuts, and sweets can be purchased from the shops in and around temple complex.

You should bathe before entering the Samadhi Temple, and washing facilities are provided at the temple complex for doing so.

The time taken to line up for the Samadhi Temple and have darshan varies. It can be completed in one hour, or can take up to six hours. The average time is 2-3 hours.

All the main attractions related to Sai Baba are within walking distance of the temple.

Do be aware that phones, cameras and other electronic devices aren't permitted inside the main temple area. You can leave them in the lockers outside.

Tip: Buy Admission Passes Online to Save Time

If you don't want to wait and are willing to pay a bit extra, it's possible to book both VIP darshan and aarti online. Darshan costs 200 rupees. It's 600 rupees for the morning aarti (Kakada aarti), and 400 rupees for the noon, evening and night aarti. Visit the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust Online Services website to make bookings. Entry is through Gate 1 (VIP gate). You can also get darshan tickets at the VIP gate, except on Thursdays.

It's also possible to opt for a Quick Darshan, at a cost of 1,500 rupees.

Where to Stay

The temple trust provides a huge range of accommodations for devotees. There's everything from hall and dormitory accommodations, to budget rooms with air-conditioning. Rates cost from 100 rupees to 900 rupees a night. The newest accommodations were built in 2008 and are at Dwarawati Bhakti Niwas. The biggest accommodation complex, consisting 542 rooms of various categories, is Bhakta Niwas around 10 minutes walk from the temple complex. Book online at the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust Online Services website. Or, visit the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust Reception Center in Shirdi, opposite the bus stand.

Alternatively, it's possible to stay in a hotel. Recommended ones are the very popular Marigold Residency (2,800 rupees upwards), Hotel Sai Jashan (2,800 rupees upwards), Keys Prima Hotel Temple Tree with a swimming pool (3,000 rupees upwards), Saint Laurn Spiritual Resort with spa and meditation (3,000 rupees upwards), Jivanta Boutique Hotel (3,500 rupees upwards), Sun n Sand (5,500 rupees upwards), Daiwik Hotel (2,000 rupees upwards) and Temple View Hotel (2,000 rupees upwards).

If you don't have a place to stay in Shirdi, you can keep your belongings at the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust for a nominal fee.

Things to Do Nearby

The Sai Teerth Devotional Theme Park near Sun n Sand hotel combines technology with entertainment, providing four informative shows (including one about Sai Baba's life and a 5D episode of the Hindu epic The Ramayana) and a train ride past replicas of holy temples in India. It also has a restaurant that serves decent, reasonably priced food.

The Wet n Joy Water Park is another attraction in the area, with water slides and water-based rides.

You can see some of Sai Baba's personal belongings and other items at the Dixit Wada Museum, within the Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is free to enter.

Dwarkamai is an unusual mosque with a temple inside, situated to the right of the entrance to Samadhi Temple. It was restored by Sai Baba, and he stayed there.

The Sai Heritage Village is modeled on Shirdi from a century ago, and lets visitors experience living in Shirdi during Sai Baba’s time.

Dangers and Annoyances

Shirdi is a safe town but it does have its share of touts. They will offer to find you cheap accommodations and take you on temple tours. The catch is that they'll also pressure you to buy from their stores at inflated prices. Be aware of and ignore anyone who approaches you.