To Worship or Not to Worship Shirdi Sai Baba: That Is the Question…


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Dwarka Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)
Dwarka Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati seems to be an outspoken person. A few days before the recent parliamentary elections the seer was in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh to attend a religious programme. A reporter from a news channel pressed him to know his views on Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate. The seer lost his cool and instead of answering slapped the reporter.

The incident was politically coloured with both Congress and BJP taking different stands. The seer brushed aside the matter, saying he did not want to discuss politics.

Mayank Aggarwal, the State Congress leader said: “Sadhus should not be asked political questions in the first place.” He also added that the seer wanted the discourse to be around religious issues and felt bad at being asked about Modi.

The BJP spokesperson Hitesh Bajpai,  said: “We believe that the religious leaders are the flag-bearers of religion, ethics and truth. They should be the epitome of forgiveness. Questions from the media are of prime importance and should not be brushed aside.”

However, the unperturbed seer brushed aside the matter, saying he did not want to discuss politics. Elucidating on the matter he said: “I slapped the reporter and told him ‘you are talking about him (Modi) so that he can remain a topic of discussion’.

On June 30, 2014, while addressing a meeting of the central working committee of the Bharat Sadhu Samaj at Kankhal near Haridwar in Uttarakhand, the forthright Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand stood steadfast on his stand on Shirdi Sai Baba. He asserted that Sai Baba was a Muslim fakir and should not be worshipped like a Hindu deity. He said his campaign to protect the Hindu religion will continue even if he is sent to jail, “They may burn my effigy or even send me to jail, but my campaign to protect the sanctity of the Hindu religion will continue,” Shankaracharya said.

On June 30, 2014, while addressing a meeting of the central working committee of Bharat Sadhu Samaj at Kankhal near Haridwar in Uttarakhand, the forthright Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand stood steadfast on his stand on Shirdi Sai Baba. He stressed that there is a need now to guard against forces that were “corrupting” the Hindu religion by arbitrarily creating new gods and propagating them. He said his campaign to protect the Hindu religion was being opposed by those who had made religion a means of livelihood and some people were making money in the name of Shridi Sai Baba. He said worshipping Sai Baba was a conspiracy to divide the Hindus.

Uma Bharti (Source: dnaindia.com)
Uma Bharti (Source: dnaindia.com)

At that meeting a letter sent by Uma Bharti, the Union Minister of water resources, to the Shankaracharya explaining the rationale behind her statement made the previous day was also read out at the confluence. In the letter she had said, looking upon someone as a god was people’s prerogative.

Shirdi Sai Baba - 2 Shirdi Sai Baba - 1 Shirdi Sai Baba - 3

However, Uma Bharti’s justification did not seem to satisfy the seer. Known to be a Congress backer, the Shankaracharya, belittled Uma Bharti saying he thought a devotee of Lord Ram had become a Union minister and a Ram temple in Ayodhya would soon be a reality, instead, she turned out to be the “worshiper of a Muslim.” He asked whether she had not seen the pictures of Sai Baba depicted like Hindu Gods including Shiva and Vishnu?

Now, while people are ranting and raving over this controversy of whether it is right to worship a human or not, some might wonder who the protagonist, Shridi Sai Baba, is.

The early life of Sai Baba continues to be an enigma. There are no reliable and consistent records of his birth and parentage. He is believed to have been born around 1838. He arrived at Shirdi as a nameless individual at a young age.

At Shirdi, he stayed on the outskirts of the village in Babul forest and meditated under a tropical evergreen Neem tree. Many villagers after perceiving him as an embodiment of discipline, penance and austerity, revered his saintly figure and gave him food.

After wandering in the woods for days, Sai Baba took shelter in a disused decrepit mosque. He referred to his new dwelling as “Dwarkarmai“, after the abode of Lord Krishna in Dwarka.

Very soon he had a large number of devotees among the Muslims, Hindus and Zoroastrians, who regarded him according to their individual beliefs, as a saint, a fakir, an avatar or an incarnation of god, or a Sadguru. They flocked to Dwarkarmai seeking spiritual guidance.

Unlike the present day spiritual leaders, Sai Baba had no love for corporeal materials. His sole concern was teaching self-realization.

Sai Baba is worshiped by people in India and around the world as a saint. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to the Almighty and the guru. He did not distinguish people based on religion or caste.

It still remains a mystery and almost everyone is uncertain of Sai Baba’s true religious leaning – Islam or Hinduism. His teachings combined elements of Islam and Hinduism. He practiced Islamic rituals, but taught using words and figures drawn from both traditions.

A minor section of the Islamic community in India considers Sai Baba as a Muslim Fakir and as a Sufi Pir or Peer, translated into English as “saint” and could be interpreted as “Elder”. In Sufism a Pir’s role is to guide and instruct his disciples on the Sufi path.

Zoroastrians like Nanabhoy Palkhivala and Homi Bhabha, worship Sai Baba who has been cited as the Zoroastrians’ most popular non-Zoroastrian religious figure.

Sai Baba died on October 15, 1918. He was buried in Shirdi. He is well known for the aphorisms such as “Allah Malik” (“God is King”) and “Sabka Malik Ek” (“One God governs all”), which is associated with both Islam and Sufism. He also said:

Trust in me and your prayer will be answered“.

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