Please Note: I am not associated with Shri Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan in any manner and this should have been clear after reading the first paragraph itself. Still I am getting daily 1-2 mails for enquiries about Anand Vihar rooms availability. I have tried to reply individually to all the enquiries and provided the contact details as well. But going forward, it won't be possible. Please note that there is no system of advance booking in Shegaon and you need to reach the respective booking office. At the most, you can contact on their telephone numbers for enquiries (not for booking) when you reach near Shegaon. Contact details are mentioned in the main article below and are also available on http://www.gajananmaharaj.org/sgmsenglish/newas.htm
Update (August 2015): When this article was published in January 2012, there was no system of online accommodation booking. Now it is available through E-Accommodation link on the official website http://www.gajananmaharaj.org/
It has been more than 12 years since I last visited Shegaon. And that is a fairly long period considering the fact that there are lakhs of devotees of Shri Gajanan Maharaj, who visit Shegaon every year.
This time my elder brother and my sister-in-law planned the tour and insisted that all the members of the family should accompany them to Shegaon.
We had heard that Shegaon has changed a lot during last decade or so, especially after Anand Sagar is developed. Finally we planned our visit for the weekend on 10th and 11th of December 2011. Normally it is advised that weekends and Thursdays should be avoided to visit Shegaon since there is heavy rush, but we decided to take a chance and we did not have any other suitable dates as well. Also my birthday was on Sunday, as per Hindu Panchang (tithi). So it was a great occasion to be able to take the Darshan on that day and receive the blessings.
Now we had the options to go by own car, by taxi, by bus or by train. Since the plan was finalised at the last moment, train option was ruled out for the want of reservations. Options of going by own car or by taxi were also ruled out since normally we avoid night journeys, unless there is an urgency to travel. So if we would have started at 7 AM on Saturday morning from Nagpur, we would have reached Shegaon by 2 PM. And then we would have to leave Shegaon by 3 PM on Sunday so as to reach Nagpur before Sunday night. So we would have wasted so much of time on Saturday and Sunday in travelling, leaving us lesser time to spend at Shegaon.
So we decided to go by bus. Baba Travels from Nagpur operates a sleeper coach which leaves Nagpur at 10:30 PM and reaches Shegaon early next morning. Similarly their bus leaves Shegaon at 09:30 PM and reaches Nagpur early morning. We left Nagpur Friday night, reached Shegaon at 05:30 AM on Saturday fresh after a good night's sleep, utilised the maximum time on Saturday and Sunday and then left Shegaon on Sunday night to reach Nagpur Monday morning, ready to get back to work. And we could enjoy total lunar eclipse as well. See more detailed post here
Shegaon is located around 550 km east of the city of Mumbai and 300 km west from the city of Nagpur. Operative airport nearby is Nagpur Airport. It is located on Mumbai-Nagpur route of the Indian Railways and many major trains stop here.
The photograph of the railway time table as displayed in Anand Vihar Bhakta Niwas is shown here, although it is in Marathi language. This is attached here just to make readers aware that the management of this Sansthan is one of the few ones in India, or perhaps the only one who takes very good care of large number of devotees. Much more on that would follow later.
About Shri Gajanan Maharaj:
The origins of Sant Shri Gajanan Maharaj are untraceable in history. He first miraculously appeared in Shegaon on 23rd February 1878. He was first seen eating cooked rice grains from thrown away food in front of a house where some function was going on. He also drank water with the cattle and went away. His second appearance was when Maharaj Govindbuwa Takalikar was elaborating on a few lines from Bhagwat and just when he had explained the meaning of the first part of those lines, Shri Gajanan Maharaj sitting near a lemon tree chanted fluently the lines in second part. Govindbuwa immediately understood that this divine man has the command over the subject. He was constantly chanting the lines "Gan Gan Ganat Bote". So he was given the name "Gajanan Maharaj".
Thereafter, he became well known as a Saint in Shegaon and nearby areas. He was believed to be the incarnation of Samartha Ramdas Swami from Sajjangadh. Devotees used to offer him rich food, clothes, ornaments etc. But he used throw away all these. He used to lie anywhere, eat anything, wear any piece of cloth or nothing at all.
Shri Gajanan Maharaj was a Siddhayogi. He did so many unusual things which were miracles. He brought odd behaving animals on track. He ordered birds like crows to behave properly. He brought water to the dry well. He cured the sick, helped the helpless, showed right path to those who wanted. He gave advice to his devotees. He could read the mind of his devotee. Those who came to see him with some purpose in mind, always went home satisfied. It is said that there was always a sense of peace and satisfaction around him. His eyes could give proper direction to the erring. That's why he is worshipped nearly in every house in Vidarbha, Maharashtra and nearby states. Because of the immense good deeds, he has become a legendary phenomenon. There are hundreds & thousand of temples in all the parts of Maharashtra as well as outside Maharashtra in his name. He has become the Daivat of Vidarbha, and Shegaon has become the Pandharpur of Vidarbha.
After blessing so many devotees for years together, he himself decided to take a leave from this world and decided the date and place of his Samadhi as well. And that date was 8th September 1910. But his innumerable disciples and devotees believe that their Daivat Sadguru Shri Sant Gajanan Maharaj is still alive and guides and helps them. They tell their own experiences of his blessings. That's why thousands of devotees come to Shegaon.
About Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan:
As per the advice from Shri Gajanan Maharaj to his disciples, a trust was established in his presence named as "Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan" in the year 1908. Official website of this Sansthan is http://www.gajananmaharaj.org
A temple was erected at a place where Shri Gajanan Maharaj took the Samadhi at a place of his choice. He had said that "YA JAGI RAHIL (I will stay here)". So it is believed that this temple is still blessed with his presence.
Sansthan undertakes various religious, social and charitable activities, apart from managing the activities of Mandir.
About Day to Day Management:
Despite of the fact that thousands of devotees come to Shegaon daily, Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan wonderfully manages the day to day affairs. And the facilities provided for devotees are excellent. Here everybody is treated at par. There is no such system here like VIP entrance for those who provided large donations. Everybody has to pass through same queue.
For queueing, huge halls are built with proper ventilation and air cooling. Queues are formed in such a way that there are benches on one side. So you can sit and still be in a queue. Washrooms are there in these halls itself and people may use those after getting a pass. Drinking water is provided then and there itself. Tea is served in those halls for the devotees, free of cost. Even where you have to exit from one hall and enter another hall, and need to pass through an open roofed space, foot mats and runners are spread to that you shouldn't feel the heat walking barefoot. All in all, you don't feel tired to wait in queue, even if the time required for darshan is 2-3 hours, depending on rush. Picture beside shows how the queues are formed and people sitting on bench on one side of the queue.
Name of the old man seen in this picture is Laxman Tayde and he lives in Shegaon only. Still this man visits mandir twice daily in the morning and evening for darshan, irrespective of how long the queue is and how long it takes for him to have the Darshan. Incredible...isn't it? And where ever one queue ends and we need to pass freely through a passage before next queue starts, he runs so fast. Reminded the videos of Shri Anna Hazare running at Raj Ghat.
Entire area is continuously kept clean. They use machines for cleaning. So you don't have to walk barefoot on sticky floor with spilled kunkum, flowers, rice grains and prashaad, as is the case in most other temples. They even hold the queue from moving forward till the time, floor is getting cleaned. They spray some perfumed liquids to get rid of houseflies as well.
Daily Mahaprasad is provided to thousands of devotees and excellent quality material is used to cook the food, while maintaining complete hygiene as well. We saw a huge machine to prepare rotis. Atta is mixed on one side of it to form a dough, round shaped rotis are cut by machine, remaining material after cutting the rounds is passed back and rotis are roasted on conveyor belts.
Sevak is man you will find everywhere in Shegaon. In Mandir, in Bhakta Niwas and in Anand Sagar. They are the people from nearby villages who come to Shegaon for offering free services, one week at a time and in groups. Its amazing to see their dedication in work. Nobody seems to direct them on what is to be done.
Still you will find a Sevak at every place where he is needed. They prevent the people from wearing shoes while walking on lawns, they clean the entire area, serve the food, maintain the discipline in Mandir and in queues. And they are always polite.
And they don't accept any tips as well. This board displayed in Anand Vihar says that you should let the service be served as a service only. And rather than making Sevaks fall in love for money, you should love them for their service. They are the first point of contact for you in case you need any assistance.
It is said that there is always a waiting list for the next few months for those who want to work as Sevaks.
About Bhakta Niwas:
Sansthan has done an incredible work to provide well maintained accommodation for the devotees. There are a number of Bhakta Niwas for this purpose. There is no system of prior booking. So you have to look for the accommodation, once you reach Shegaon. Sansthan urges that devotees should make telephonic enquiries when they come near to Shegaon on the numbers provided in this advertisement published on http://www.gajananmaharaj.org/sgmsenglish/newas.htm
There are different types of rooms available, depending on everyone's budget and requirement. But in general it is very reasonable. Accommodation is provided for a maximum period of 72 hours only.
About Anand Vihar Bhakta Niwas:
We were fortunate enough to get the accommodation in Anand Vihar Bhakta Niwas, which is the newest and the best amongst all. It is located at a distance of 1 KM from Anand Sagar.
Even though it is a Bhakta Niwas built, owned and operated by Sansthan, it is no lesser than a luxurious holiday resort but at a reasonable rate. We got a room with 6 beds in just Rs.900 per day. Rooms are neat and clean with attached washrooms, hot water for bathing and fortunately no television. There are beautiful sculptures everywhere with picturesque landscaping and gardening. You won't see a piece of paper lying on ground.
There are tea, coffee vending machines installed at every building's ground floor and Sevaks are there to assist you and collect the charges as well.
Free bus service is provided to commute to Mandir from Anand Vihar.
Posting some pictures and to view more full size pictures of Anand Vihar, click here
About Anand Sagar:
Shegaon is a small town and even though devotees wished to extend their stay in this holy environment, there were no places of interest nearby for them to spare their time peacefully and relax in a spiritual environment. Recognising this need, Sansthan started the development work for AnandSagar in the year 1999. But this place had the acute shortage of water. So it was believed that this project won't be a success. But Sansthan took this as a challenge and they brought water from Man River which is 9 kms away. Rain water harvesting is also done here. It required 4 lakh trucks full of soil for landscaping as per the design and over 60,000 trees were planted.
Total area of this project is 350 acres, out of which first phase of 120 acres was opened for public service in the year 2003. Out of this 120 acres, 60 acres is for the lake, 30 acres is for lush green lawns and 30 acres is for parking and other utility areas.
Most incredible thing is that there is no Executive Engineer for this project, nor it has a site office kind of a thing. Over 500 labourers worked at full efficiency without any monitory compensation, once a week. Over 200 expert sculptors from Rajasthan worked here to create Main Entrance, Marble Temples and other sculptures. Apart from that, 3 JCB machines and 10 tipper trucks, all owned by Sansthan were deployed for this project.
This information is provided here so that the readers would get an idea about the size of this project.
Now Anand Sagar has a beautiful lake, Dhyan Mandir (Meditation Centre) at the centre of the lake, 3.5 kms long train ride, fish aquarium, kids play area, amusement park with many rides, musical fountain, temples and Sant Darshan area. There are many amenities for the devotees, including free wheel chairs, baby prams and umbrellas (for rainy season). Here also, very reasonable food is served with good taste. Free bus service from Temple is available for commuting. There are beautiful artefacts and carvings all around.
Shegaon is the place which is visited by lakhs of devotees every year. Sansthan receives huge donations from them, but they have done well to return it back to them in the form of services and amenities. It is a completely non-commercial place and Sansthan has undertaken many religious and charitable projects like Educational Institutes, hospitals etc. At such a place where it is certain that donations are utilised well, it gives a sense of satisfaction on donating.
Even though Anand Vihar is like a luxurious resort and Anand Sagar is like a tourist place, people are requested to visit Shegaon and stay there, not like a tourist, but like a devotee and maintain the sanctity of this place.
Posting some pictures and to view more full size pictures of Anand Sagar, click here:
Feels good to complete this article and taking this post live on Thursday, the day on which Shri Gajanan Maharaj is worshipped.