Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir

Thu 24 November 2016

Episode 7

Shirdi is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in India, and Sai Baba is the saint who put it on the map. Learn more about the man worshipped by a wide, interreligious range of devotees, described as "neither a Hindu nor a Muslim - such was this Sai, the very incarnation of sanctity.”

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I was at home transcribing the interview with Jaya, playing it out loud, and my brother poked his head into the room and said, “Oh, you’re doing the Christians now?” Jaya was talking about her acceptance of God’s will, weaving “thy will be done” into her prayers when she speaks to God, seeking good health and wellbeing for her son or relatives, or things for the temple. It reminds me of the limitations of language, that make us choose from a small pool of words to describe what might be vastly different essences - a lowest common denominator - but then you look at it from the other side, and can see the surface flecked with commonality, the same human needs welling up just below the surface.

So when they talk about love, eyes shining, I wonder, what kind of love? Love for Sai Baba for sure, but love expressed in such different ways. Love for Catherine was wrapped up in a temple where nothing was demanded of her, a place free from political bickering and structure and organization, where she could show up and soak in the hymns and chanting, and leave, lightly, carrying it with her. Love for Jaya was within the miracles, in (if we use Christian parlance) God’s hand in everything, saving her sister-in-law and healing spondylitis, and yet - the part at the end seemed to be the closest to an encounter with God that I could imagine. That layered realization that her love could be freed from attachment, that the deep care and affection she feels for her son, could, in fact, mirror God’s - released from the anxiety and loss and concern that would have fractured her identity. To experience that freedom from such an earnest, human reaction - is that parsing love, or liberation, or both?


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