Even though the temple town of Shirdi in Maharashtra observed a bandh Sunday following a controversy over the birthplace of 19th-century saint Sai Baba, the shrine was open for devotees and a long queue was witnessed in the morning. However, local eateries, commercial establishments remained shut while transport services were affected too.
Former Maharashtra minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who is the local BJP MLA, said the protest would turn into an “indefinite bandh” if the government doesn’t come up with a solution. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has convened a meeting over the issue at the state secretariat in Mumbai on Monday.
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh requested people to maintain law and order in Shirdi. “We are requesting people to protest peacefully and maintain law and order. We’ll listen to people in Pathri and Shirdi about their demands and try to resolve it amicably. We’ll call them for a meeting to Mumbai or ask our workers to visit them and hear them out,” he told reporters at an event in Dadar.
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 locals are protesting against the Maharashtra government’s decision of developing 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.
State transport buses from other locations were allowed to come to the town. Devotees who made pre-bookings at hotels were allowed to stay and taxi services from the airport to the temple were also unaffected, PTI quoted a district administration official as saying.
The ‘prasadalaya’ and the temple kitchen were also open to ensure devotees were not inconvenienced, officials of the temple trust and Ahmednagar district administration said.
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 offerings 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.
Terming the bandh as “successful”, local BJP functionary Sachin Tambe Patil, who is former trustee of the Sai Baba temple, said, “Commercial establishments, shops, restaurants and local transport (autorickshaws and other private vehicles) are closed and a complete shutdown is being observed in the town as well as in 25 villages around Shirdi.”
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.
One of the most popular religious destinations in the country, Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi witnesses lakhs of devotees visiting the holy site every year.
(With inputs from PTI)
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