The temple town of Shirdi is bedevilled with the raging controversy surrounding the birthplace of the 19th-century saint Sai Baba. The controversy erupted after Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a package of Rs 100 crore to build facilities at “Sai Janmsthan” at Pathri a few days ago.
On January 19, a bandh was observed in Shirdi in opposition to the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s statements, terming Pathri as Sai’s birthplace. While the shrine remained open for devotees, the commercial installations and establishments remained shut. About 25 villages had supported the call for bandh.
However, the bandh was called off after Thackeray assured the offended parties that their concerns will be addressed. Neelam Gorhe, Sena leader and deputy speaker of the legislative council said, “CM has assured to meet people of Shirdi and listen to what they wanted to say. He will also meet the residents of Pathri and the issue will be resolved at the earliest.” In the evening gram sabha comprising of Shirdi residents and leaders of Shirdi Shri Sansthan Trust, the decision to call off the bandh was taken.
The matter first came to notice in October 2017 when President Ram Nath Kovind said that Sai Baba was born in Pathri. However, the controversy picked up steam after Uddhav Thackeray declared allocation of Rs 100 crore for the development of Pathri as Sai’s birthplace.
The locals at Shirdi are evidently unhappy with the Maharashtra government’s decision to develop Pathri town in Parbhani district as Sai Baba’s birthplace. The Shirdi inhabitants claim that there is no concrete proof about Pathri being Sai’s birthplace, the locals in Pathri claim they have 29 pieces of recorded evidence to expound that Sai Baba was indeed born in their town.
Sai Baba, who is worshipped by devotees of varying faiths, was a spiritual leader who lived during the nineteenth century and died in 1918. According to the accounts of his life, he taught the importance of realisation of self and criticised disproportionate attachment towards the perishable things. His teachings combined elements from both Hinduism and Islam and was considered to have played a pivotal role in bridging discord between Hindu-Muslim community. Though Sai Baba embraced fragmentary parts of both Hinduism and Islam, he is believed to have never revealed about his real name, caste or religion during his lifetime.
There are contradictory claims about Sai Baba’s antecedents. According to the residents of Pathri, Sai Baba was born in their town and they cite the eighth edition of his biography ‘Sri Saisachharitra’ as a source to back their claim. However, according to Tamil accounts, Sai’s mother was Vaishnavdevi and his father’s name was Abdul Sattar and he came to Shirdi later where he took Samadhi.
In addition, the 1952 October to December issue of the ‘Sri Sai Leela Traimasik’ claimed that Sathe Shastri and Lakshimibai were the parents of Sai Baba while the Gujarati language ‘Sai Sudha’ magazine stated that Sai Baba was born near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem to Gujarati Brahmin parents.
As per Suman Sundar authored ‘Sai Leela’ book published in 1959, Sai was born in Pathri and asserts Gangubhau and Devagiri Amma as his parents. But the Pathri town mentioned in the book is believed to be located in the former Hyderabad State.