Mandir ki Maaji Bestows Last Blessings on Her Admirers

BY JAWAHAR MALHOTRA

HOUSTON: If you are in Little India on any day or night and want to get some blessings, all you had to do is visit the temple on Hillcroft behind the first row of shops, almost behind Karat 22 Jewelers. It is small and cozy and until recently, sitting by the entrance on a padded chair was Maaji (Respected Mother) who greeted you with a wide toothless smile on her pretty round face with the large round tilak on her forehead and a disarming “Ajao beta, kaise ho?” (Come in child, how are you?)

It would be fair to say that the Jalaram Sai Baba Temple was synonymous with Maaji as she was the one who founded the Little Temple on Hillcroft (as many knew it) over 20 years ago. And for her, it was a fervent passion to impart the blessings of Shridi Sai Baba every day of the year. Her husband Bechardas Thakkar who owned East West Video (now East West International) at the corner of Hillcroft and Harwin Drive would drop her off at the temple at 9:30 every morning. “And Maaji would stay there until he picked her up at 7:30 in the evening,” recalled her daughter Jyoti Thakkar, “seven days a week.”

Maaji was also the main donor for the purchase of the property on West Bellfort and Highway 6 which she envisioned would become a vridh ashram – old age home – but has now become the Shridi Sai Jalaram Mandir.

The gentle, bright light of Hillcroft was extinguished two weeks ago on the morning of Thursday, February 14 as Maaji passed away. Maaji was 85 years-old – her real name was Laxmiben Thakkar – and had struggled with multiple ailments for many years.

Still, Maaji’s deep devotion brought her each day to the temple, even in a wheelchair, and she would delight in the almost 300 to 400 people – “her children” – who came daily. With her gone, Jyoti intends to keep the tradition alive by staying daily at the temple.

Maaji’s faith in Shridi Sai Baba was solidified from a very early age and Jyoti recalled being taken to Shridi 63 years ago “with my sister Pratima on a bullock cart”. Born on October 6, 1933 in Bhuj, Kutch she was raised in Ghatkoper, a suburb of Bombay.

When their sons moved to the US, the parents came to be with them over 30 years ago. In Houston they opened East West and got into other businesses too. survived by seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

The outpouring of love for Maaji was apparent at her funeral which was held on Sunday, February 18 at Sugar Land Mortuary on Eldridge, with almost 800 people coming to pay their last respects. One of those who eulogized her was a man who the Thakkars befriended in California and traveled just for the funeral who said he “was struck by Maaji’s affection and warmth.” Many others from across the country and India came to pay homage, one last time, to a lady who showed them so much love. The sanskar (last rites) were performed by Pandits Prakash Kumar Adhavaryu, Pradip Pandya, Narayan Prasad Sharma, Jiwanbhai and Sai Pariwar. 

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