There is no denying the warmth and sense of belonging that you feel when you visit the Shirdi Sai Temple in Chelmsford, Mass. The temple is smaller in size compared to other local Hindu temples, but you are certainly made to feel at home, thanks in large part to the devotees who embody the spirit of Shirdi Sai Baba. Devotees move about quietly, some performing seva to the murti, others distributing prasad to visitors, and still others engaged in meditation. One can easily spend a quiet Thursday morning there, lost in prayers. Formed as a 501 (c) (3) organization in 2006, the New England Shirdi Sai Parivar (NESSP), which is located in a small complex on Littleton Road, was begun by about 25 local families 5 years ago. The organization has experienced steady growth over the years, and now can boast a devotee base of more than 3000 from across the New England area.
Devotees are more than happy to talk about their love for Shirdi Sai Baba and this temple, and they allude to a sense of homecoming that makes them want to return often to the temple. Pointing to the significance of the organization’s name, founding member Sandeep Kaushik says, “Our organization’s name includes the word ‘Parivar’ for a reason – it means ‘family’, and we treat everybody who visits our temple like they are part of the family.” According to Kaushik, it is this feeling that has drawn devotees from various parts of New England and the East coast, with people willing to drive more than a couple of hours to get to the temple on a typical day. Founded on the principles of the Shirdi Sai Sansthan in India, this temple is unique in that it is entirely run by volunteers. The concept of sanctum sanctorum does not seem to apply; Sai Baba’s murti sits on an open and slightly raised platform that is accessible to everyone, and it is the devotees, and not priests, who conduct sevas.
It is a testament to the growth in the number of devotees, that the temple has changed locations twice already since its inception, moving to the current location in 2010. NESSP is now actively seeking a location to build a larger and permanent temple facility, and fundraising efforts are underway. The temple has also commissioned a life-size marble sculpture of Shirdi Sai Baba from Jaipur, and plans are afoot to celebrate its installation this June.
According to Kaushik, NESSP also wants to stay true to Shirdi Sai Baba’s spirit of philanthropy and is building a culture of giving, by undertaking services that give back to the community. Charitable initiatives are implemented every month to aid various causes, such as the annual Children’s Hospital Walk in Boston, fundraising for disaster relief at Haiti, winter donation drive for “Cradles to Crayons”, and distributing food at Lowell’s homeless shelter. The organization will be partnering this month with the Red Cross for a blood donation drive, following it up with participating in NStar’s Walk for Children’s Hospital in Boston in June. “What you give stays with you, and to help people we do not know is even better,” says Kaushik.