Guru Sai Baba greets visitors at the entrance to the Shirdi Saibaba Temple in Northwest Phoenix. The Hindu temple opened in March of 2011.
Play music from the Temple while you read the page!
However, one would not recognize the Temple from the outside. This sacred shrine is hidden in plain sight, perhaps making it all the more sacred for those who worship here. The Temple brings a wealth of benefits to the metropolitan landscape and those who wish to devote their time to Sai Baba himself.
The temple is led by several gurus who are teachers or spiritual guides
in the Hindu religion. The guru with whom I interacted requested that I not take photographs of any people and in this essay I respect his wishes. But I was able to obtain some amazing photos of other significant items at the temple. All info provided in this photo essay has been revealed to me by a guru of the temple.
The guru explained that 2,000 people attend the services of the temple weekly. The majority of them are Indians who left their homeland because they heard that America could provide them with improved infrastructure and financial assets. I observed that some of the Indians who attended the service stepped out of Nissan 350z's and appeared to be pretty well off. Many Indian immigrants work in the high-tech industry in metro Phoenix. The guru said that a small minority of Americans also attend the services at the temple.
Aarathi is a ritual that involves a plate with cotton wicks placed at the edge, which are then lit aflame. The fire and smoke is an offering to either a god, goddess, or guru. The guru told me that at Shirdi Saibaba Temple, Sai Baba is worshiped. Sai Baba was a famous guru in India during the early 20th century, towards the end of British rule over the country. He was believed by many Indians to be a saint. When one takes part in Aarathi, they feel a sense of calm wash over them due to the smell of incense and chants that are repeated for several minutes. Also, the worshiper becomes closer to their deity during the process, it is a ritual of both discipline and respect.
Abhishekam involves pouring libations over Sai Baba himself and placing gifts such as clothes, fruit, and more next to him. The act of bathing Sai Baba symbolizes not only a sign of respect to him, but a sense of cleanliness to those taking part.
Where Aarathi and Abhishekam focus mainly on the deity, Archana places the emphasis on a specific worshiper. Chants, incense, and most importantly the individuals family linage are recited repeatedly for many minutes. When a worshiper has a wedding, birthday, or other special occasion, this ritual is carried out. It ultimately brings joy and love to them and their family given straight from Sai Baba himself.
During all three of these services, many worshipers meditate. Meditation is similar to Yoga, thus it provides important health benefits such as reduced stress, relaxation of muscles, and reaching a state of sustained serenity. Once one has reached this final state of otherworldly calmness, they are considered to be one step closer to attaining true enlightenment, or liberation of the soul.
Music also accompanies the rituals. At the service I attended, the guru vocalized a steady stream of hums while audio speakers in the background emitted further chants by a female voice backed by various folk instruments. This combination of meditation and music enhanced the rituals further by creating an almost divine atmosphere.
This traditional Vegan Indian meal was cooked by a woman in the shrine. The top left is an assortment of nuts and raisins. The bottom is two kinds of rice. The left is comprised of saffron rice, vegetables, and a few red chilies for some added spice while the right is white rice saturated with light butter and beans. The top right section is a sweet Indian style custard. These meals are homemade and are given to all worshipers once the rituals are finished. I was delighted to receive one too, and it was delicious. The yellow rice was a bit
spicy, but not too much. The white rice had a light buttery flavor and was softer in texture. The nuts and raisins were crunchy, but the white custard was similar to tapioca pudding. The combination of spicy, buttery, sweet, soft, and crunchy juxtaposed against the backdrop of the temple itself, further added to the already impressive palate of diversity on display. This meal is nutrient dense and assists with balancing the overall health of both mind and body. If this meal is meant to increase concentration during the rituals, it surely must be better than eating a Big Mac at McDonald's.
The Shirdi Saibaba Temple appears to have migrated straight from India itself. Since 2011, the guru explained, temple's population has grown from a few dozens to a few thousand. Why do Indians and Americans worship Sai Baba? Maybe it's because they wish to accumulate good karma, fulfill their Dharma (duty), and reach moksha (peaceful plane above earth). Or maybe to reduce stress, relax the muscles, and reach a state of sustained serenity. Or perhaps, it's akin to attending a university with the intention of gaining additional knowledge. Surely the traditional Indian food waiting at the end of the rituals is both healthy and tasty. Regardless of why one worships at this temple, one thing is for sure, anyone is welcome to join the altruistic shrine. The fruits of many immigrant traditions enrich the Phoenix metropolitan landscape, and Shirdi Saibaba Temple adds some well-needed enlightened sweetness.