In a major twist to an ongoing imbrolio over worshipping Saibaba in temples, the Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati of Dwarka Peeth has banned the worship of the saint from Shirdi, bringing into force "Sanatan Dharma" verdict, reflecting similar diktats by Hindu preachers centuries ago.
A two-day-long ‘Dharma Sansad’ convened by the Shankaracharya on Tuesday passed a resolution that Sai Baba, the 19th century saint from Shirdi, should not be worshipped as a deity by Hindus, in keeping with the traits of the ‘Sanatan Dharma’.
Rajesh Joshi, the media in-charge for the Dharma Sansad (religious conclave), which was held in Chhattisgarh’s Kabirdham district said, ‘Kashi Vidvat Parishad’ has taken the view that Sai Baba was neither a god nor a guru, hence he cannot be worshipped.
After Shankaracharya Swaroopanand raked up a controversy by opposing the worship of Sai Baba, Divya Chaturmas Mahotsav Samiti organised the conclave at Kawardha, 150km from Raipur, to debate the issue with representatives of 13 Akharas and other religious leaders.
Other resolutions passed at the sansad include introduction of Hindu scriptures in school curriculum, making the country alcohol free, providing safety to women, construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, protection of cows, among others, said Joshi.
Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust, which runs the Shirdi Sai temple, did not attend though an invitation was sent to it by the Shankaracharya to attend the Dharma Sansad. Some devotees of Sai Baba from Delhi and Ahmedabad were present at the conclave.
The controversy is not new but the growing number of temples being constructed for Saibaba all over the country raked up the issue of the saint being a Muslim. In fact, writer Narasimhaswami, B.V. (1990), in his book "Life of Sai Baba" (Vol. 1, Madras: All-India Sai Samaj, p. 24.) quoted a close associate of Saibaba himself who was living when he wrote the book.
"One very closely associated devotee of his, now living, still believes that Baba was ‘only a Mohammadan.’ What can ‘only a Mohammadan’ mean? It means that even after 25 years of personal experience of him and 36 years of his post mortem glories, the devotee treats him as a communalist just as he did when Baba was in the flesh."
Quoting him again, Narasimhaswami, B.V. wrote: "Baba wished to convince the devotee, if he was a Hindu, that he was Mahavishnu, Lakshminarayan, etc., and he bade water flow from his feet as Ganga issued from Mahavishnu’s feet. The devotee saw it and praised him as ‘Rama Vara’, but as for the water coming from his feet, that devotee simply sprinkled a few drops on his head and would not drink it coming as it did from a Mohammadan’s feet. … So great was the prejudice of ages that even one, who thought of him as Vishnu, thought he was a ‘Muslim Vishnu’. Prejudices die hard and the devotee wondered and wonders how people can believe that Baba was a Brahmin and that his parents were Brahmins when he had lived all his life in a mosque and when he was believed to be a Muslim."
But for many of his devotees today, it is immaterial whether he was a Muslim or a Sufi saint or a Hindu. It is the simplicity associated with the worshipping and a congregation-style of people who gather for bhajans and get solace in life. There is at least one temple dedicated to Sai Baba in every village, town or city in India but similar temples for Hindu deities vary depending on geography and local deity worship.
Moreover, it has got more to do with the present-day stressful and fraudulent life that is driving the people rush to such group bhajans for solace and the Sansad should address this issue first.