Shirdi (Maharashtra), April 11 (IANS) On the auspicious occasion of Gudi Padwa (New Year, according to Maharashtrian calendar), Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan inaugurated the state-of-the-art, eco-friendly Sai Ashram near the famous Saibaba Temple here Thursday.
One of the largest pilgrim accommodation facilities in India, the Sai Ashram has the capacity to host over 14,000 people, an official of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) said.
While Sai Ashram-1 has with 1,536 rooms, Sai Ashram-2 has 192 dormitories. The total area occupied by the two is nearly one million square feet. The facility was built at a cost of Rs.1.10 billion (Rs.110 crore), and handed over to the SSST by Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai, in October 2012.
The entire cost of the Sai Ashram, laid out in two locations close to the temple of Shirdi Saibaba, has been funded by Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai, from its own resources. The place has been readied for the use of millions of pilgrims who visit every month, the official said.
The SSST Thursday felicitated Shirdi Sai Trust, Chennai, chief K.V. Ramani and honoured him with a 'maanpatra' (scroll of commendation).
The SSST has provided the other infrastructure for the Sai Ashram, including internal and external roads, walkways, power, street lights, water supply, parking and landscaping, at a cost of Rs.450 million.
Besides a restaurant and common services block for the pilgrims, there is also a massive open air theatre which can accommodate 2,000 devotees at prayer meetings, cultural events and also play host to Saibaba 'palkhis' (palanquins), which arrive here regularly from all over India.
The 192 dormitories can accommodate over 5,000 people.
In the main Sai Ashram, devotees can book and live in three wings, having a total of 384 air-conditioned rooms.
The entire complex has a green cover of trees, shrubs and gardens.
There are also two sewage treatment plants to recycle water, which would be supplied to toilets and used for non-drinking purposes. Hot water will flow to all rooms from a solar water heater.
Pilgrims intending to visit Shirdi can make online reservations, using the trust's 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 has, these days, a large following, comprising Hindus and Muslims, as also among people of other faiths.
SSST chairman Jayant Kulkarni Thursday also handed over a cheque of Rs.25 crore to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan towards the Chief Minister's Drought Relief Fund, for providing relief to people in the drought-hit parts of the state.