For pilgrims to Shirdi, darshan at Baba's tomb is the climax of their visit and the statue above the tomb represents the living, breathing God. As such, it is the focus of all their longings, hopes and desires, and a concrete form to which they can express their love. The statue is admired as an extraordinary andexquisite image, exuding grace and benevolence, and a mysterious vitality. Baba sits relaxed, natural and majestic, gazing benignly on the millions of diverse visitors who flock to him for succour. Many have commented on the life-like quality of the eyes, as these are typically the most difficult feature to portray in a stone sculpture. In this statue, though, they really do seem to be looking at us and responding!
Baba repeatedly assured devotees that he would never cease to answer their call even from his tomb, and that his mission is "to give blessings". The pull of the tomb, above which the statue sits, is powerful and intense and draws seekers to Shirdi in numbers that increase every year. Here, devotees address their heartfelt prayers, beg for help, give thanks and offerings for prayers answered and wishes fulfilled, sing their devotion, and pay humble obeisance to their beloved deity. For them, the statue does not merely represent God, it is God; and the opportunity to prostrate before it and make oblations may be the fulfilment of a lifetime's ambition.
The statue, which has become such a famous and well-loved image of Baba, was not installed until 1954, and there is an intriguing story behind it. Some white marble arrived from Italy at the Bombay docks, but nobody seemed to know anything about it - who it was for, or why it had come. In the absence of a claimant, the dockyard auctioned it and the purchaser offered it to the Shirdi Sansthan (temple authorities). Impressed by the quality of the marble, they wanted to use it for an image of Baba and gave the commission to a sculptor from Bombay, Balaji Vasant Talim. However, the latter had only one black-and-white photo of Baba to use as his model and was struggling to get the likeness. One night Baba came to him in a dream, remarked on his difficulties and then showed him his face from various angles, encouraging Talim to study it thoroughly and remember it well. This gave Talim the fillip he needed and after that the work flowed easily and the result exceeded all expectations.