Shirdi (Maharashtra): President Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to inaugurate the newly-constructed, state-of-the-art and eco-friendly Sai Ashram near the famed Saibaba Temple here Nov 16, an official said.
The President will take part in a small function, during which one of the largest pilgrim accommodation facility in India will be thrown open for over 14,000 people, said Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) deputy chief administrative officer Yeshwant Mane.
"Besides the President, (Maharashtra) Governor K. Sankaranarayanan, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, other dignitaries and pilgrims from all over the country shall be present for the occasion," Mane told IANS here Sunday.
Five years ago, former president Pratibha Patil had inaugurated the sprawling Sai Prasadalaya where pilgrims were offered food, as part of the expansion projects of the SSST and Saibaba Temple precincts.
Last month, the Sai Ashram 1 with 1,536 rooms and Sai Ashram 2 with 192 dormitories -- spread across nearly one million square feet and constructed at a cost of Rs.1.10 billion -- was handed over to SSST by the Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai.
The entire cost of the Sai Ashram - laid out in two locations close to the Shirdi Saibaba Temple - has been funded by the Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai, from its own resources for the use of the millions of pilgrims who come each month.
In turn, the SSST, Shirdi provided the other infrastructure for the ashram including roads, walkways, power, street lights, water supply, parking and landscaping at a cost of Rs.450 million, and a proposed `travelator` at a cost of Rs.60 crore.
According to a Trust official, besides a restaurant and common services block for the pilgrims, a massive open air theatre can accommodate 2,000 devotees at prayer meetings, cultural events and also Saibaba `palkhis` (palanquins), which arrive here regularly from all over India.
The 192 dormitories can accommodate over 5,000 people, with facilities for a restaurant and common services block.
In the main Sai Ashram, devotees can book and live in three wings having a total of 384 air-conditioned rooms with similar facilities.
The entire complex has a green cover of trees, shrubs and plantations and gardens.
There are also two sewage treatment plants to recycle water for toilets and other non-drinking purposes. Hot water will flow to all rooms from a solar water heater.
After the inauguration, pilgrims intending to visit Shirdi can make online reservations from Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad or the Trust website.
Sai Baba lived and preached in and around the Shirdi temple town, 285 km from Mumbai in Ahmednagar district, in the late 19th and early 20th century. He is revered equally by Hindus and Muslims, as by people of other religions, who throng here from all over India and other parts of the world round the year.
The handing over ceremony of Sai Ashram took place Oct 16 with the SSST chairman, Judge J.M. Kulkarni, receiving the documents from the Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai.