A view of sanctum santorum of Sai Baba temple in Shirdi. (Express archive photo)
A tussle between two towns in Maharashtra, about 270 km apart, over the origins of 19th-century spiritual figure Sai Baba has culminated in a bandh being called in the temple town of Shirdi on Sunday.
“While the protest is for tomorrow (Sunday), if a solution is not found we will go in for an indefinite bandh,” senior BJP leader and MLA from Shirdi, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, said on Saturday.
The local MLA, and others from various protesting groups, said the bandh will not affect pilgrims and only business establishments in Shirdi will be asked to down shutters. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has called a meeting of representatives from both the sides in Mantralaya on Monday to put an end to the controversy.
Maharashtra: Devotees visit Shirdi Sai Baba temple amid bandh called today in #Shirdi town, against CM Uddhav Thackeray's reported comment calling Pathri (in Parbhani) as Sai Baba's birthplace. pic.twitter.com/z5nPzxMiFZ
— ANI (@ANI) January 19, 2020
The conflict between Shirdi in Ahmednagar district and Pathri in Parbhani district has been simmering for quite some time over claims of where Sai Baba was born. While residents of Shirdi claim there is no concrete proof of his origin, people of Pathri claim they have proof that he was born in their town.
Booming temple town
Besides faith, many believe it is also an economic tussle. A one-horse town during the 1900s, Shirdi now gets average Rs 35,000 each day, and up to Rs 1 lakh on occasions such as Guru Purnima. Also, increasing offerings made by devotees has increased the kitty of Shirdi Saibaba Sansthan Trust from Rs 200 in 1922, when it was set up to manage the temple, to investments of nearly Rs 2,237 crore in 2018-19.
The issue first came to prominence in 2017, when President Ram Nath Kovind stated in October 2017 that Sai Baba was born in Pathri. The controversy found further life after Uddhav Thackeray, soon after taking over as CM, promised to allot funds of up to Rs 100 crore for Pathri, which he described as the town where Sai Baba was born. Irked by the CM’s statement, locals in Shirdi called for a bandh from Sunday.
Vikhe Patil said: “It is the CM’s prerogative on how to allot development fund. However, if the funding to Pathri is being made with the assumption that it is the birthplace of Sai Baba, then it is a problem. There is no proof that Pathri was the place where Sai Baba was born.”
Residents of Pathri claim to have 29 pieces of documentary proof to show that Sai Baba was born in their town.