, Aug 23 (IANS) Following strong criticism by locals, the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) of Shirdi Monday cancelled plans to take Saibaba's sandals to Britain next month, an official said here Monday.
'People from various quarters, including the villagers from Shirdi, have expressed their disapproval to take Saibaba's holy sandals to London. So, respecting their sentiments, we have cancelled the proposal,' SSST chairman Jayant M. Sasane told IANS.
The sandals were to be carried by flight in a special box with appropriate security measures, and were expected to be kept for public viewing at the Royal Albert Hall in London for two days Sep 19-20.
Over 25,000 Saibaba devotees from Britain and other parts of Europe were expected to congregate there for 'darshan' of the sandals, and take part in several prayer meetings scheduled for two days.
Now, there is no plan to take these sandals abroad at any later date, Sasane said, sounding a note of disappointment for Saibaba devotees in Britain and Europe.
'If the plan had materialised, it would have been the first time that any personal article of Saibaba -- who passed away in 1918 -- would have ever been taken overseas,' he said.
Sasane said that periodically, Saibaba's sandals are taken to different parts of India as and when devotees from various parts of the country request.
In the present case, there has been a long standing request of more than two years from devotees in Britain and Europe, especially from those who cannot undertake the pilgrimage to Shirdi, around 300 km from Mumbai.
Sasane also clarified that the sandals were not being taken abroad with the intention of garnering donations for the trust.
Presently, the SSST is among the top five richest temple trusts in the country with an annual collection in excess of Rs.3 billion.
However, he said that most of the money goes in various welfare and charitable activities of the SSST and part of it goes towards the salaries of 3,500 staff members.
Devotees of Saibaba have not lagged behind in their generosity towards their favourite, revered saint.
Two years ago, a devotee from Andhra Pradesh donated a pure gold throne weighing 18 kg, worth over Rs.15 million for Saibaba. Last month, an anonymous devotee donated a precious jewels studded gold chain, also worth over Rs.15 million.