Seven years ago, Jyotiram M More, was a troubled man.
More (pronounced as Mo-ray) could not sleep at night because of the weird sensation he had of ants walking all over inside his head. A complete CT scan, paid for by an altruistic resident of the area of which he was the Main Recycling Man (aka Radiwallah) revealed nothing which the doctors needed to cure.
Sleepless and helpless, More was at his wit’s end. And that is when he got the call from Shree Saibaba of Shirdi. In reply to the voice that said to him, “Shree Sababa of Shirdi can cure you,” More replied, “Lord, make my head better and take me out of this poverty. And if you do that, as long as I have strength in my limbs I shall come walking to get your darshan.” And thus began his saga of faith.
Like More, thousands of men from all over Maharashtra, on an appointed day every year, undertake this bare-footed pilgrimage to Shirdi. Different men, different vows. If More did it for health reasons, others have done it for their children’s marriages, or to get a home or any other reason where they saw no succour except to resort to faith.
Shirdi is almost 296kms from Mumbai so covering 30 to 40 kms a day (in case of crossing a jungle before you settle down for the night) is almost mandatory. A princely sum of a thousand rupees per head is pooled together, beforehand to buy provisions and hire a tempo and a cook or two, along with a helper to cook food during the journey. This is a spartan trip, where you lay down your bed wherever you see a piece of empty land. No pricey hotels or lodgings for these men, and often times, it could be a cremation ground that is the temporary resting place. Fear does creep in then but singing of bhajans and chanting of ‘Om Sai’ gives the devotees the faith and enthusiasm to negotiate this difficult path.
“If the heart is pure, the travel becomes very easy and smooth. And if it’s missing, I’ve seen feet covered with boils as the journey progresses. But once they reach the temple, the boils just disappear,” says More. This is a mini miracle for More who feels disappointed he’s never seen a vision of Shree Saibaba. But his faith has not wavered. It gives him intense joy that since the last two years, his twelve year old grandson has been accompanying him.
When they finally reach Shirdi on the seventh day, they freshen up and hurry to the temple for ‘darshan’ of Shree Saibaba.
And these groups who have walked all the way to get a holy glimpse of their Lord, are ushered into His presence immediately irrespective of the snaking queues of devotees eager to see Him face to face. It is a moment of ecstasy and gratitude. Head bowed low before the diety they have that personal conversation that a year’s wait has denied them. Once, that’s done, the jubilant men are met with eager families that arrived the previous night. It is fun-times as they take in the sights and visit other temples and then, as night falls, get into the bus that will bring them back to Mumbai and the grind of daily life.
More only rues that he has not been able to get out of the morass of poverty that he is still chained to.