First idol installation for Shirdi Sai Baba

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First idol installation for Shirdi Sai Baba was done by Sri Sathya Sai Baba

My excitement when I got to know that the FIRST-EVER IDOL INSTALLATION for Shirdi Sai Baba was done by Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1949 at Guindy, Chennai (erstwhile Madras)! The unforgettable and now-famous marble idol of Shirdi Baba in the Shirdi temple itself came into being much later, in 1954, 36 years after the Mahasamadhi of Baba in 1918.

 The story of how the idol came about is beautiful and divine no doubt, but it is equally divine to learn the story of how the first-ever Shirdi Baba idol came to be made at Guindy. Even before we delve into that story, we should get a background of the happenings at Guindy. I gathered these from the books Lokanatha Sai by Smt.Leela and Sai Baba: The Man of Miracles written by Howard Murphet.

Lokanatha Mudaliar’s father owned a fertile piece of land in Guindy at the turn of the 19th century. In 1904 a wandering siddhipurusha (holy man with some miraculous powers) asked permission of him to build a tomb for himself there. The latter gave permission and the holy man prophesied that to the right of his tomb there would be a temple to a Mahatma (great soul), and to the left an industrial estate. The holy man lived a hundred and twenty-five years of age and then he entered the tomb, went into mahasamadhi on the Guindy land. However, before his prophecy could be fulfilled, a black magician from Gujarat began to reside on that very land in the 1940s. Everyone feared him but not Lokanatha Mudaliar (of the book Lokanatha Sai fame written by his daughter Smt. Leela) who was now the owner. Under the supervision of a bailiff, he proceeded to demolish the black magician’s hut illegally built on his site.

The enraged magician, before leaving, cursed Lokanatha to become a raging lunatic. Though Lokanatha himself did not bother much about it, in that fateful September of 1943, he began to rant and rave in fury and everyone in home was certain that he had turned lunatic. Even as he was being examined by Dr.Dhairyam from the mental hospital, he slipped into deep sleep. In that state he had a vision of a young Swami, in a red robe and with a curly mop of hair who blessed him thrice with sacred water before disappearing. The very next day, which happened to be a Sunday, Baba was at his home in Madras! Baba said,

 “How are you? I came for you last night…”

It was love at first sight and the bonding of a lifetime for Lokanatha who had found his Lokanatha (literally translates as Lord of the World). Waving His hand and creating a talisman, Swami put it around Lokanatha’s neck and also materialized a lime fruit to be kept under his pillow as he slept at night. Later on, Swami also guided the family members to dig at a particular location on the land where they found the remains of a dead goat and chicken. Once all the traces of witchcraft were removed, Swami blessed Lokanatha Mudaliar and told him to come to Puttaparthi.

We often think that blessed indeed are those that are ‘invited by Swami’ to come to Puttaparthi. But, we should realize that each and every one of us have been invited, else we would never have made it to Parthi! At least that is what the story of a disciple of Swami Sivananda teaches us. Once Lokanatha Mudaliar made that blessed trip, his whole life changed. He was convinced that he had come face to face with God on earth and wanted to build a home for Swami on the land. But Swami had other plans.

Swami’s ‘other’ plan

It was Shirdi Baba who came in Lokanatha Mudaliar’s dream and told him to construct a temple for Him instead of one for Swami. Now, Shirdi Baba was a totally unknown figure for Lokanatha Mudaliar who woke up next morning wondering what to do since he was sure that a divine personage had come in his dream. As he was between the two horns of dilemma, the postman brought a letter to his doorstep. It was from his Swami with exactly the same instructions of Shirdi Baba!

Meanwhile, a sculptor in Madras was having recurrent dreams in which he was told to proceed to Guindy where the work of his life awaited him. The dreams were so insistent that the sculptor finally took the train and alighted on the platform at Guindy. There he was accosted by a man who knew his name and who escorted him to Lokanatha Mudaliar. He introduced the sculptor as the designer for the Shirdi Baba idol and simply departed never to be seen again! And then, Swami travelled all the way from Puttaparthi to lay the foundation stone for the temple on the 10th of July, 1946.

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