On Sunday (January 19), a bandh was observed in the temple town of Shirdi in Maharashtra, following a controversy over the birthplace of 19th-century saint Sai Baba. While the shrine was kept open for devotees and witnessed a long queue in the morning, commercial establishments remained shut and transport services were affected.
The locals at Shirdi are protesting against the Maharashtra government’s decision of developing the Pathri town in Parbhani district as Sai Baba’s birthplace. While residents of Shirdi claim there is no concrete proof of his origin, Pathri locals claim to have 29 pieces of documentary proof to show that Sai Baba was born in their town.
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 gained traction 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.
Beliefs about Sai Baba’s place of birth
Sai Baba, a spiritual leader revered by devotees across faiths in India and among the Indian diaspora abroad, lived during the late 19th century, and died in 1918. The word ‘Sai’, of Persian origin, refers to a holy person, and ‘Baba’ means ‘father’ in many Indian languages. During his lifetime, Sai Baba is not known to have disclosed his actual name, caste, and religion.
According to a Loksatta report, the beliefs surrounding Sai Baba’s place of birth are:
1. According to the residents of Parbhani’s Pathri town, the Baba was born in that town. They cite the eighth edition of his biography ‘Sri Saisachharitra’ as a reference.
2. Sai Baba is also claimed to have been born in Tamil Nadu. According to this version, his mother’s name was Vaishnavdevi and his father’s name was Abdul Sattar. He is later said to have come to Shirdi.
3. According to the 1952 October to December issue of the ‘Sri Sai Leela Traimasik’ (quarterly), Sai Baba’s father is believed to be one Sathe Shastri and mother Lakshmibai. A Tamil text about Sai Baba is cited in support.
4. The Gujarati language ‘Sai Sudha’ magazine claims that Sai Baba was born near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem to Gujarati Brahmin parents.
5. According to the 1959 book ‘Sai Leela’ by Suman Sundar, the Baba was born in Pathri. The book claims Gagabhau and Devagiri Amma to be his parents. The Pathri town mentioned in the book, however, is believed to be located in the erstwhile Hyderabad state.
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