Separating faith from fear, a group of men is trying to make devotees realise that prayers to God should come from faith and not from fear. In order to do so, the Shri Sai Balaji Charitable Trust undertakes a yearly sojourn, from Kopargaon to Tirupati, with the palkhi of Sai Baba on board a special train with 1,500 devotees.
In 2007, a hotelier from Nashik, Nilesh Jape, felt that many people from his region wished to travel to Tirupati but the logistics and language were a problem. He thus founded the trust that same year and booked 300 tickets for the Kanyakumari Express taking devotees to Tirupati.
This tour has become popular over the years and the management was awarded the ISO 9001-2015 certificate. This year, the train left Kopargaon on Jan-uary 30.
Every year, the S-9 coach hosts the Sai Baba palkhi that carries the Sai paduka. “The aarti and discourses are all carried out in this coach, and with a sound system and a megaphone fitted in each coach, all the passengers can be a part of it,” says Jape. There is a control room set up in S-9 and all the volunteers are connected via wireless sets.
The tour begins with a meeting on January 26 every year. Forms are released online for the four-day tour and 1,500 men are selected, of whom 50 per cent are newcomers. People from Ahmednagar, Nashik, Dhule, Aurangabad, and mostly from Kopargaon, Shirdi and Rahata take part in the tour.
Every participant is given a code number and a travel kit that includes T-shirts and puja paraphernalia with ashtagandha. Every coach has two heads, who ensure that every member follows a code of conduct that entails no consumption of alcohol, pan, gutka or tobacco, and bars card-playing and abusive language.
“We have blacklisted about 50 to 60 passengers over the years and they are not allowed to participate now,” Nilesh says, adding that the emphasis is on purity of thought and behaviour.
On reaching Tirupati, the palkhi is taken to Shri Vari Sannidhi, where a mandap is set up
for it. The next day, the palkhi proceeds on the 9-km or 3,600-step walk from Tirupati to Tirumalla till it reaches the Hanuman statue where the aarti is performed. Here, all the members take an oath of conserving nature, abstaining from addictions, opposing female feticide, and social and communal unity. “Over the years, we have seen 900 people overcoming their addictions because of such an activity,” Nilesh says.
From the Hanuman statue, the palkhi is taken back to the mandap and the members proceed for darshan to Shri Venkateshwara. After the darshan, abhishek of the padukas of Sai Baba is held.
The tour is conducted on a no-profit-no-loss basis. The activities on the tour are conducted in a paperless manner and the event even has its own Facebook page.
“I believe that prayers to God have to come naturally and not out of fear. This is what we talk to people about, with the help of the preachings of Sai Baba and other sants. Prayer should come in the form of noble work and with sincerity. ‘Karme Ishu Bhajawa’ is what Sant Dyanadeo said and we need to follow that. Dharma is related to science. This has to be understood and we give works of literature to people on why to follow certain things and how are they related to science,” Nilesh concludes.