Shirdi Saibaba Mandir’s Mega-kitchen

The Shirdi Saibaba Mandi Mandir is one of the most popular holy sites in India. Millions of devotees flock to the shrine each year to pay their respects. Many devotees travel for weeks to reach the holy site, where they may spend several days standing in line for darshan. The main Mandir, open for daily worship from 5am to 9pm, is a large space that allows visitors to feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere while soaking in the spiritual splendor of the surroundings. The daily schedule features a number of events, including aarti and pothi. 

One of Saibaba's teachings was that food must be freely available to all people. The temple has taken it upon itself to continue that mission. Supporting the large number of devotees who visit the temple is the world-class mega-kitchen that now serves approximately 100,000 people daily and millions of people every month. A huge dining hall named Prasadalaya was designed to serve thousands of devotees each day. It is among the largest ‘dining halls’ in the country and was built in 2009 on 7.5 acres of land at a distance of 700 meters from the main Sai Baba temple. Food is served continuously throughout the day at the hall. It is believed that the goddess Lakshmi cooks the food served at the temple. As a result, it is not uncommon to see thousands of people eating at the prasadalaya, which has a seating capacity of 5500. 

The trust spends Rs 190 million every year on the food and prasadalaya.  At one time, there was a nominal charge of Rs 1 per meal, but that fee has since been eliminated and food is now served free throughout the day. To provide a high-quality meal, the temple administration maintains strict food hygiene standards and treats its water supply using reverse osmosis. 

The food menu at the pradadalaya changes frequently, and there's something for every palate. The meal is simple, comprising two vegetarian dishes and desserts. The food itself is based on an ancient Ayurvedic method of cooking. It is cooked in earthen pots, stacked nine high, and then offered to the goddess Lakshmi. Local farmers of the region also donate grains to the temple. Some even reserve part of their land for this purpose.

The dhuni (sacred fire) in the Saibaba mandhir is a powerful offering. During the morning a cloth is immersed in ghee and ignited, symbolizing eternal life. The sacred fire also provides a place for offering fruits. Legend has it that during the first 40 years of Saibaba's life, he never touched meat. However, he broke this tradition in later years, some claim, to bring Hindus and Muslims together and keep his religion secret. Some followers say the most important lesson their Guru imparted was not to abstain from food but to practice regular habits. Saibaba himself regularly ate food brought by his devotees. 

The prasadalaya has one of the largest solar-powered kitchens in Asia. The cooking process is simple: a solar panel heats water and converts it to steam. The system consists of 380 mirrors and produces 3500 kg of steam per day! This steam is piped into the kitchens to cook 30,000 rotis in five hours. The kitchen is also equipped with two imported dishwashing machines and a cutting machine. 73 solar dishes are used for food preparation and washing. This process reduces expenses and helps conserve environmental resources by significantly lowering the amount of gas used to cook food.

The Shirdi Saibaba temple also has a small shrine where the statue of the great saint is placed. During his lifetime, Saibaba is said to have performed miracles to help people live a happy, healthy life. For instance, one story says he lit the Masjid's lamp without oil, raised the water level in a well for drinking water, and even lowered a well that was full of water. Another miracle attributed to Sai him is said to have occurred when a 3-year-old girl fell into a well and was pulled out by a townsman. The Mandir has two separate shrines. The Khandoba Temple is the place where Saibaba was given the name Sai. The entrance to this temple is adorned with a large banyan tree, which is mentioned in the Shri Sai Satcharitra. It contains a Shivalinga and marble padukas. The Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir has several other shrines and temples. A visit to the temple is a must for anyone visiting the Shirdi region.