Our second day of touring with our new best friend Kumar began with a visit to a very holy but ecumenical temple, Shirdi Sai. In their own words…
“Shirdi is a secular place where all religions are treated as one & a belief in the power of Faith & Patience is foremost. A place where all heads bow down in prayer, where faith prevails, where hopes are built, where patience pays, and where infinite joy and everlasting contentment abound. Such is the glory of the place which belongs to the Holy Saint, a true repository of wisdom, who pleased all with pious equality and gifted mankind ornaments of humanity and peace by saying “SABKA MALIK EK”. The footprints of Saibaba have made this town a holy place. Millions of devotees continuously flock here from all over India and abroad. “
We were almost alone here in this temple complex, and in time for Muslim chanting at one of the statues of Sai Baba of Shirdi, a 19th century Indian spiritual master who is regarded by his devotees as a saint, a fakir, a satguru and an incarnation of Lord Shiva and Dattatreya. He was revered by both his Hindu and Muslim devotees during and after his lifetime.
We spent some time in the main temple, where the chanting of a follower sitting next to the altar had a hypnotic effect, as did the voice of the acolyte reading in Sanskrit in a smaller temple in the rear. Such devotion from the followers of this man. It would have been interesting to stay for the Bible reading. A beautiful setting for a magical experience.
Our next stop was another 7th century artifact called the Tiger Stage. It is another wonderful rock creation, that still entertains today, as I would bet many an Indian child is called upon to please camera-toting parents.
Other monoliths decorated this park, which led us to the beach, and the mighty Bay of Bengal. Our next stop was an ancient site of worship, only recently uncovered by the 2005 tsunami. The arched rock is huge, and was protected by a wall, or maybe an arched structure made from bricks formed by sand, honey and eggs. Astonishing to see how they have survived, hidden by sand for many centuries.
Our next temple is primarily for women who have been abused by their husbands, says Kumar. Then he spoiled the effect by saying it was also visited by men who have bad wives. Guess everyone has some complaint to share with the gods. Another monolithic temple was nearby. What these ancient people could do by hitting rocks on rocks…
As I was following the guys along our path, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of school girls who each wanted to shake my hand and introduce herself. We had a nice chat, and I admired their lovely henna decorations. The openness and friendliness of Indian children is astonishing. Despite all my sales resistance, I was unable to resist the efforts of a little bracelet seller, who let me hold all her wares while she used Don’s hand sanitizer, though she was really hoping for shampoo. Guess I should raid the supply in our bathroom for future charmers like her. (And I now have a new necklace.)
Then we traveled out in the “country,” which was not very far away, but certainly off the beaten path. We were hoping to see some of the Adivasi, the indigenous people of India. What we mostly saw were a colorful temple, an ancient banyan tree, and their fields, which featured a brown rice paddy and peanuts. All was well till I slipped into the rice paddy and one shoe got very muddy. Kumar took us to some clear water and insisted on cleaning my shoe. He is very helpful that way, but my chin dropped when he dunked my whole shoe in the water. While it is canvas, it is not waterproof, so that was a bit of a shock. No problem! says Kumar the fixit-man. He put it in the sun and promised it would dry quickly. Meanwhile, I hobbled back to the car on a dirt path with a goodly number of rocks and sticks. I would never make it as an Indian pilgrim. At any rate, my shoe should be dry by tomorrow.
Our final stop – after admiring a new calf – was at another stone temple, where Don meditated and I enjoyed the wonderful carvings. The niches inside each part of the temple once contained statues. Who knows where they might now be found? I might try the British Museum when I’m next in London however…
While waiting for our driver, who had decided to go to lunch, we went off in search of a coke, after Kumar showed us some carving of local artists, who were sitting outside a tiny shop. Our sales resistance is still strong, however, the little girl with the bracelet not withstanding. The town was a riot of traffic, buses passing each other with impossible margins, and animals romping in the streets and through a temple. I will spare you the picture of the pig, but the monkeys were charming.
Kumar has decided we should buy some land in the country – he knows a guy – and then adopt a few orphans to live there. He has it all planned out for us. Somehow, when he tells the story, it all makes a kind of Indian sense.