Shirdi is the home town of Sai Baba, an ascetic who came here as a young teenager and lived under a tree. Nobody knew his name, or where he came from but he left such a powerful mark on the town and the people who knew him that more than a hundred years since his death the town is one of the main pilgrimage places in India, people coming from all over to bask in the presence of his spirit, a thing that is named darshan. 40000 people daily come to the temple that was built and expanded around the tree that cover the saint’s head. It is now a large compound accessed by numerous gates, with high security so no electronics are allowed. In the middle of the compound is the Sheer Samadhi building where Sai Baba was buried in 1912 and where people stay in line for hours to be able to get inside and walk in front of the marble statue. As a result the town is crowded and hotel room rates are always high in spite of their questionable quality.
What is puzzling is to see how such a religious fervor started by one person is transformed in a major industry in various locations around the world. The darshan place In Shirdi is surround by tons of stalls selling anything related to Sai, his portraits, his only original image, tons of plastic statues, red hanging to be used in the temple, flowers of different types to be brought to the darshan, and more important an entire industry of prasad, holly food that is sold all over town, people queuing in snaking line in many place, while being discouraged to buy it from anybody else other than the Sai Samadhi organization. All this is happening while bajan is played and is broadcasted through speakers and people are all rushing to get inside the compound where they line up in devotion outside the window where is the saint’s statue or roam the numerous other temples and places of the large compound that occupies a large swat of land in the middle of the town.
About 4 hours away are the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, 29 caves dug in the mountain dating between the 2nd BC-6th century AD. Their calling as caves is actually somehow incorrect because they were completely carved into the side of mountain, in a tradition that is spread in many parts of Asia. Inside they were built like fully blown monasteries, with the walls painted in tempera that on some of them resisted the ages showing a beautiful. and detailed work. Others had carved on them detailed scenes of Buddhist life. In Ajanta case many of the caves are dedicated to the Hinayana Buddhism school, the original form of Buddhism that spread from Sri Lanka to the continent. Most of the caves are built as large vihara, monasteries wher monks would congregate, and few of them were built as chaitya, places of worship.