SM of DM; DM of SM

 SM of DM; DM of SM

Shirdi Maharaj of Dwarka Mai (that’s the first SM of DM) or Sai Baba as he is universally called. In 50 years, his popularity has increased manifold, making Shirdi the second most important and frequented pilgrimage place of India, the first being Tirumala-Tirupati. A small hamlet, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, Shirdi was hardly known five decades ago. A two hick town, nay, village. And today over 2,000 hotels dot it, not a square inch is left anywhere within five km of the temple and rampant commercialisation has made it a prosperous town. So much so that last year the Shirdi Trust loaned, read gave a loan of few hundred crores to the Maharashtra government! Boom time and town.

Having been interested in the process of pilgrimage I’ve been going to all such places, documenting changes for the last 30 years. Tirumala-Tirupati; Mathura-Vrindavan and Shirdi have been on my beat and three books too have come out on the subjects, all sold out. I don’t have my own copy. Airports have been added to most pilgrimage spots now and people are flocking these points. In a way, good. This is where real culture is. Not in the halls of Delhi or the malls of Mumbai. Indian culture – in its widest sense – still prevails in pilgrimage. Pity, no dance festival or music has been planned by any government or corporate body except one in Vrindavan going on for decades – Swami Haridas Sammelan. The Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) started a TV channel where the content is provided by shows they platform. Shirdi has just created a stage on the side of Gate 3 where I saw some basic Kathak going on, followed by a child artiste belting Bollywood songs.

Shirdi has outdone all pilgrimage spots by creating a 5D Sai Teerth, mounted by the Malpani family of nearby Sangamner village, just 36 km away, where a seth by this name, in farming and tobacco trade has invested crores to create the best encapsulated and immersive theme park. It is like being in Wonderland. An elephant-headed battery run remote toy train with four coaches takes one through the important pilgrimage spots of India, totally created out of silicone, Plaster of Paris and sound and light show. One starts with Mumbai scenes (for many in these villages of Maharashtra, Mumbai is the magnet, the calling card, the New York of India) then to Dwarka, Tirupati, Madurai, Kedarnath, Puri and Amritsar. All in under 20 minutes!

Next, seamlessly, one is moved to a hall with a gradient where a whole forest has been created and in walks the robotic vanarsena of Ram, and meets with Jatayu who informs them how Ravan kidnapped Sita. Next, all of the audience walks to a real swanky hall and gets 3D glasses for the most engaging animated 3D to tell the tale of Lanka dahan.

It is not for the fainthearted or ones like me with vertigo. I had to shut my eyes as Hanuman flew over the seas to Lanka for fear of falling down. Seats shake, move, rock, even punch from back so one feels the show, literally. Pregnant women are warned not to sit in these moving seats but take stable, non-dramatic ones in front. Only old women sat there. One child cried so much that his father had to abandon the show and take him out of the hall. I’ve not seen a better show in India in the last few decades. A complete family entertainer. A must-see, next time you are in Shirdi. For families, it is a boon. For once, one has had Sai darshan and walked the pilgrimage mile, meeting Hanuman, visiting Chavadi where elders met or opposite it gone in and paid respect to Sai Sevak Abdul baba family; sat in DM (Dwarka Mai) then what? 5D Sai Teerth is the perfect time pass entertainment with educational content. Kids love it. And parents are happy for four hours that they can sit peacefully too!

Last offering in this four-hour wonder feast, is the story of Sai. Surreal. Spooky the way in end Sai appears through smoke screen. Robot, no doubt, but lifelike. Confetti and firecrackers too. All computerised. Wow! The 20-minute show tells how Sai came to Shirdi, made Dwarka Mai his home and created magic and masti that still prevails in Shirdi, especially in Dwarka Mai. There’s mystic air there, the main mandir being stressful and noisy with jostling and pushing so common when devotees throng in thousands to have one minute darshan. Dwarka Mai is where Sai sat, talked, lived and did his leelas. I’ve myself experienced some. Faith begins where logic ends. Shirdi today represents a booming economy and thriving culture.


DM of SM

That’s Deeksha Mahotsav of Sonal Mansingh. Every year, the IGNCA platforms one guru and followers of the GSP or the Guru Shishya Parampara. In the past, Birju Maharaj, Amjad Ali Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Hariprasad Chaurasia have been featured. This year, it was SM. Her many pets and fans, admirers and students had come and gathered in Delhi for two days. While mostly adulatory speeches dominated the two-day morning sessions, the opening one by her first disciple, Swati Bhise nee Gupte, was honest and humorous. She, a New Yorker since four decades, shared insights into Sonal Mansingh’s zigzag mind. Kumud Mohan, the musician, in another panel, added to the Sonal lore. Her sing song way of narration added to the morning session of day one. It was left to the only dance historian and critic present (yours truly) to CONTEXTUALISE her role and place in art world. Five points someone: First, when she came on the professional stage in the 1960s, it was the start of first city bred, college-educated, smart girls taking to a rather hereditary profession. I’m talking of the 1960s and BN beyond the Madras region.

culture column

Next, she was a lone ranger in that she is mostly self-made. Spunk with substance. You see now the finished product, the diva, the influencer, icon, legend and the MP with a big house but did you see her hardships, sufferings, tyaag and tapasya of last 50 years? True, it is a path she chose someone might say but the journey is for all to see. Third point is, she put babu-dom, neta-dom – and she chirped in from the hall as she often does! – Plain dum(b)-dums! In place. Fourthly, she is not one person but 10 rolled in one. Dashavatara. One never knows which one shows up or acts up. Lastly, she mastered two very different forms and excelled in both. Taking an extra minute, allowed by an indulgent chair, I had to also share that she was the first dancer to be nominated to the Parliament on the culture seat. Rukmini, a devi, was there too but for vegetarianism and animal rights. Since I was standing in service of dance, I cajoled the audience to do the same. Automatically, it translated into a standing ovation. Talian talian! Claps the IGNCA deserves for mounting this mega focus, with a representative exhibition to boot. A brochure and a book too. And two evenings of a gala show. Those who missed it missed much but internet to rescue. IGNCA live streamed it.

From among those of her disciples who performed, Meera Krishnan showed effortless grace and danced with a freeness rarely seen these days in BN. Most dancers today are starched or studied; scared or stressed-looking. Their gurus are mere teachers who wish to show their product, not art. Meera danced with joy and involvement and showed what beauty of old school can be. Hassle-free and free-spirited. She was the find of the festival for me. Alas, Delhi lost her to Dallas long ago. A young debutante, Nandini next went through the paces and acquitted with youthful energy. Dashavtara, by the repertory group, was fetching and the cameos, neat and clean. Especially of Vamana avtara and Narasimha (Hriyanakashyapu). Sonal Mansingh reserved the best for the end – her own katha format rendition – of Parvati’s penance and Shiva’s baraatis. The first day was under her sway all the way. Need more be said? Yes, once I get a copy of the zigzag mind, I’d perhaps know her mind better!

culture column

A most amazing mind I met was Sandip Dwivedi who drove us to the airport next day. I often engage with Uber or other sarthaks, to learn about their lives. In metro India, we are so busy with ourselves or our better halves – the cellphones! That we rarely make time for others. So Sandip’s car is spotlessly clean. He too is squeaky clean-looking but behind that is as he says “poor background, village school in Pratapgarh near Lucknow, then graduation from IGNOU and now a team leader for a digital marketing company called Vestige. He is self-made, informed, courteous, hardworking and punctual. And when he says “zigzag mind? I want to buy that book. Is it available on Amazon?” I’m most impressed. Here’s someone desirous of learning and knowledge from a totally different field.  Way to go and indeed India’s achche din index is here.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is an artivist too, raising questions and issues that help society. This after 45 books and
5,000 articles in mainstream media in last 40 years of writing, teaching, filming, mentoring makes him the
most original voice in dance documentation field. A historian, backed with proof and academics,
he is hailed as the gold standard of Indian dance heritage writing. 


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  • Thanks for your lovely feedback regarding to me, I want always you

  • Very illustrated article written by our humble and good hearted Ashishji. DM of SM is way to explained in a experienced way.Thanks for the details. Good information. Om Sai Ram

  • Impressed, informative. Wish you could share more articles similar to this For ever GREATFUL

  • Thank you for your detailed information about Shirdi and the new attractions it holds now.
    Very informative.

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