why we should go shirdi ?
Baba is omnipresent! Isn’t he? He is everywhere. Why does one need to go all the way to Shirdi to worship him? You can do that wherever you are!” This is the “advice” that many Sai devotees who frequently visit Shirdi very often encounter from their elders, friends and relatives. No doubt the advice not only reflects sound philosophical wisdom but also conforms to what Baba used to say, “Those who think that Baba is a person with a three-and-a-half cubit body or that I am present only in Shirdi haven’t seen me at all!” The essential purport of Baba’s wonderful deeds and dictum is to make us experience his presence shining in all beings everywhere or, to put it in Baba’s words, “wherever you look”. To have that “look” should be the object and vision of a Sai devotee.
All religions, however, stipulate in one form or other, that seekers should bathe in sacred waters, make pilgrimages to important shrines and visit saints, their tombs or the places where they dwelled. Indian epic literature is permeated with eulogies to such sacred places. The Islamic tradition dictates that every Muslim should make the pilgrimage to Mecca (haj) at least once in a lifetime. The Sufi tradition places great importance on taking refuge in saints and visiting their dargahs (tombs). Aithareya Brahmanam says, “There is no happiness for a person who does not make a pilgrimage. Any individual, however noble he or she may be, inevitably errs. Indra is the friend of one who undertakes a pilgrimage. So, go thou on pilgrimage!” The scriptures, on the one hand exhort us to realize the One which is everywhere and present in all living beings, and on the other hand insist on visiting holy places! How could these two seemingly opposite stands be reconciled?
Apart from what is said in the scriptures, going on pilgrimage is also an example set for us by great sages. The Puranas say that saints and even gods used to stay in sacred places for tapas. Great teachers of Vedanta such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva and Vallabha travelled at length to various holy places with fervent zeal. It is worth noting that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was blissfully immersed in the ocean of Krishna devotion and saw the form of his Lord everywhere, made enthusiastic and frequent visits to holy places, as did other great ones, such as Meerabai, Jnaneshwar Maharaj, Sant Namdev, Tukaram Maharaj, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and others. It is obvious that they undertook pilgrimages not because they were unable to see God otherwise! Not only did these great ones travel to holy places with great enthusiasm, but they counselled others to make a point of frequently undertaking such pilgrimages.
The Varkari tradition, which was instrumental in spreading Panduranga bhakti, was established by Jnaneshwar Maharaj and Namdev, and popularized by sants such as Eknath and Tukaram. The tradition enjoins that every seeker should undertake a pilgrimage to Pandharpur at least once a year. The Marathi word varkari means “one who makes a pilgrimage”. The importance given to pilgrimage is evident in the name given to the tradition. It is a pilgrimage which is both external and internal. The purpose of the external journey is to have darshan of Lord Vittal in Pandharpur, and thereby to have his darshan inwardly (i.e. to experience his presence) in all beings everywhere.