Shirdi (Maharashtra): From Thursday, all pilgrims visiting the famous Saibaba Temple in Shirdi will be given a free packet of laddoos as sacrament, a top official said here.
The decision by the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) Shirdi follows the recent green signal to the proposal from the Bombay High Court, the chief official at the temple, Yashwant Mane, said.
"Until now, devotees were given a packet of three laddoos as prasad (sacrament) at a subsidized rate of Rs 10. From Thursday (August 15), each and every devotee will be given a packet of two laddoos free," Mane told reporters on Tuesday.
He said that the SST management felt this was the least they could give to each pilgrim. Many pilgrims arrive at the temple after travelling vast distances, from across the country and even abroad. Since queues are long, pilgrims often have to wait hours for darshan.
Sai Baba lived and preached in and around the Shirdi temple town, 285 km north of Mumbai, in Ahmednagar district in the late 19th and early 20th century.
He commands a large following, comprising Hindus and Muslims. Among his followers are also practitioners of other faiths, from India and around the world.
The distribution of free laddoos has been widely welcomed. This will make SSST the first temple trust in the country to provide free prasad to all devotees. Nearly 60,000 are expected to be given out per day, and over 2.25 crore each year.
Those seeking additional laddoos can buy them for Rs 20 a packet, Mane said.
The latest decision will put an additional burden of approximately Rs 13 crore on the SSST, which is among the top three richest temple trusts in the country.
In April this year, the Sai Ashram Complex with 1,536 rooms to accommodate 14,000 pilgrims simultaneously was thrown open for pilgrims, at heavily subsidised rates.
This has proved a boon, as pilgrims were earlier forced to rent rooms in hotels, and were at the receiving end of the local 700-strong private hotels` lobby, which allowed room tariffs to fluctuate wildly.
Last year, the SST earned Rs 4.50 billion from devotees, besides offerings of over 300 kg gold and 3.50 tonnes of silver.