The Sai Darbar

During Meher Baba’s first extended stay at Meherabad during 1925-26, the number of visitors seeking His darshan grew and grew (on Sundays and holidays several thousand would gather in the area around the Table House). But increasingly there was not enough space to accommodate all.

On November 29, 1925, to celebrate Datta Jayanti (a Hindu holy day), one of the larger school buildings was used, but even that was not sufficient. Thus Baba decided that a large hall was needed. He selected a spot across the road from the Dhuni, broke ground with His own hands, and construction commenced.

Ninety-six by sixty-six feet and built in the typical early Meherabad style of tatta (bamboo mats) and corrugated steel, it was completed by the end of the year and named Sai Darbar (Court of Sai), honouring Baba’s master, Sai Baba.

In early February of 1926, a raised platform made of masonry walls and earth filling was added at the north end to serve as a stage. The regular bhajan (devotional song) programmes of those days were then held there.

Artist’s rendition of Sai Darbar. (Courtesy Avatar Meher Baba Trust)

Just before the celebration of Baba’s 32nd birthday on February 18, 1926 (His birth date that year according to the Zoroastrian calendar), Baba had a small (6′ x 5′ x 5½’) wooden box-like cabin built on the stage. Throughout the birthday, seated in its doorway, He gave darshan to the throngs of devotees. It was estimated that 50,000 attended. Never before (or since) have so many been at Meherabad!

Even though Baba gave darshan continuously until midnight, many still had not received it. After He retired for the night, those who had come from long distances stayed on. By early morning, when Baba returned, Sai Darbar was tightly packed, and the darshan continued up until midday.

Baba sitting on the Sai Darbar platform, probably
on the morning of February 19, 1926.
(Photo courtesy Avatar Meher Baba Trust Archives)

Over the ensuing months Sai Darbar also served as a gathering place for those living at Meherabad—several tea parties were held there as well as other activities (including a few rounds of tennis!). On March 21st, the Jamshed-e-Naroz. (Parsi New Year) celebration took place there with much fanfare and a grand feast.

During April and again in July and August Baba began regularly staying the night in Sai Darbar. During this time He also continued writing “The Book” there. Various events, including social gatherings, small darshan programmes, holiday celebrations, a stage drama, meetings and other activities all took place there. For example, in April Baba and the mandali played a game of cricket inside the hall; and on August 31st for Krishna’s birthday, a “fancy dress carnival” was held!

Commentary on the winners of the “fancy dress carnival,”
from the Combined Diary, Volume 1, page 330
(Image courtesy Avatar Meher Baba Trust Archives)

But then, near the end of October, Baba became irritated with some of the mandali for ignoring His order not to make gestures of obeisance to Him without His permission. He ordered that Sai Darbar and most of the other new structures of that time be taken down, explaining, “All these are just the scaffolding for my work and the scaffolding is unnecessary once the actual building is completed.” [Lord Meher, p.730] On November 2-3,1926, Sai Darbar was in fact demolished, although the small cabin was left standing.

On February 18, 1927, covered by a temporary pandal (tent), this area was the site of Baba’s 33rd birthday celebration and was used again three months later for the observance of Upasni Maharaj’s birthday. Chanji describes in his diary, “A grand mandap [a structure supported by posts] stood at the sight [sic] of the original ‘Sai Darbar,’ nicely decorated with a platform in front and Shree’s cabin standing over it—all beautifully bedecked with flowers, koonkoon, flags, etc.” [Chanji’s Diary, May 18, 1927]

This photo was likely taken in 1927. Baba (with a white scarf on His head) is seen
to the left of centre amid the group walking up the Hill.
The pandal covering the Sai Darbar cabin can be seen in the background (red arrow).
(Photo courtesy Avatar Meher Baba Trust Archives)

The cabin remained on the Meherabad landscape for some years to come. But even later when it too was gone in the 1940s, the stage platform was rebuilt and used for two important sahavas meetings. On December 27, 1942, Baba delivered the “Work for the Spiritual Freedom of Humanity” message there, and in May of 1943, He also had copies of His “Divine Theme” distributed there.

Lower Meherabad, mid-1930s, with a view of the Sai Darbar
box cabin from atop the partially demolished Post Office wall.
(Photo Courtesy of the MSI Collection)

The legacy of Sai Darbar continues today as Meherabad itself serves as the Great Hall of the Lord for those who come to be in His presence.

—Meredith Klein for Avatar Meher Baba Trust, 22 June 2017