In the sequence of events that were destined to become famous as part of the early life of a most beloved and very great saint, this small temple is of two-fold importance: first as the spot where Shri Sai Baba halted on his entry into Shirdi with the wedding party of Chand Bhai Patil, and secondly as a place where he acquired his name.
It is said that a young man, dressed in the Muslim fashion in a Kafni (Robe) arrived in a bullock cart as the guest of the wedding party. As the party approached the temple, the temple priest, Mhalsapati, on seeing the fakir, called out, “Ya, Sai!” (“Welcome, Sai!”) and the name remained ever after (Sai is a Persian word meaning “saint” or ‘holy’, and Baba means “father”). In this way, it was Mhalsapati who was responsible for Baba’s name, which has become the sacred mantra of thousands of his devotees.
In those days, the temple was on the periphery of the village in the midst of a burial ground. The structure was very basic and did not even have a door. However, it seems to have appealed to Baba’s temperament as he commented to the incumbent priest, Mhalsapati. That being so quiet and solitary, it would make a good spot for an ascetic like him to stay.
Khandoba was the tutelary deity of the Mhalsapati family, and Mhalsapati was the temple’s hereditary priest. Khandoba, originally a pastoral deity, is popular in Maharashtra and is now worshipped as a form of Shiva. The temple here was a simple, rural temple; today, it is a small, well-maintained and neatly kept building.
The idol of Khandoba – a colourful image – is flanked on either side by one of his two wives. On the right sits Mhalsa, and on the left is Baanai, who represents the business community. Mhalsa is worshipped as a form of Parvati and Baanyani is venerated as a form of Goddess Ganga.
At the entrance to the temple is a large banyan tree which is mentioned in the ‘Shri Sai Satcharitra’ as the place where the bullock cart halted. It is now commemorated with a small shrine and ‘padukas’ at its base.
Baba would sometimes stop at Khandoba Temple on his way back from Rahata (which was then a village, five kilometers away from Shirdi).
Upasani Maharaj, a prominent devotee of Shri Sai Baba, spent about two years here, on instruction from Baba to stay in Shirdi for four years. Baba told Shri Upasani that he would win the grace of Khandoba on completion of the four years’ tenure. Later, in the 1920s, Upasani Maharaj sponsored the renovation of the temple as a gesture of gratitude for the benefit he had derived there.