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Sai Baba: A Religious Figure Beyond Hardened Boundaries

Sai’s empathy for the poor stood tall in the face of rigorousness that Hinduism and Islam have often fallen prey to.

Updated
India
3 min read
Idol of Sai Baba. Image used for representational purposes. 
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‘Sabka maalik ek’ – a thought that preaches unity of the human condition, fails to find room in Shahpur Jat’s Purana Shiv Mandir from where Sai Baba’s idol was allegedly hammered and broken down last week.

After a video of Sai Baba being called a Muslim inside a Shiv temple went viral on social media, a media house found out that it had since been replaced by a Ganesha idol, while the devotees expressed despair that such a move was taken without taking them into confidence.

According to a report by Scroll.in, the man in the video overseeing the ‘demolition’ at the Shahpur Jat temple in South Delhi is Padam Panwar. Panwar can been seen in another video with Hindutva priest Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, who is seen congratulating and blessing Panwar for destroying the idol.

Saraswati is a controversial figure who has been calling for a “final war against Muslims” and believes that “Islam must be removed to save humanity”. He is the leader of Hindu Swabhiman, a Hindutva organisation.

Who Was Sai Baba?

Little can be established with certainty about the early years of Sai Baba. He was reportedly born in 1838, but where and to whom is not documented. Claims have been made by locals from Pathri town in Parbhani district, calling Pathri as Sai’s birthplace.

Sai Baba’s religious upbringing or even his real name is also unknown. The name ‘Sai Baba’ itself is only a title. ‘Sai’ is a Persian word used to denote holy, and ‘Baba’ is Hindi for father.

Most accounts believe Sai Baba to have taken birth as a Brahmin and then being adopted by a Sufi fakir or mendicant. Accordingly, in 1858, Sai Baba arrived in the town of Shirdi in Maharashtra, where he stayed until his death in 1918, according to Britannica. 

Sai Baba lived in an abandoned mosque for most of his life, which he named Dwarakamai. It’s believed that he kept a fire burning in the mosque as per some Sufi customs, according to Britannica. His teachings revolved around knowledge from the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Quran.

Sai Baba’s growth in India can be attributed to the recurring themes of faith, tolerance, patience, love, service, unity and virtue. Stories of his ‘miracles’ appeal to Hindus, as well as Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others who worship him, for whom his teachings and reverence matter more than his ‘religion’.
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Sai Satcharitra

Sai Satcharitra is a biography based on Sai Baba’s life, written by Govind Raghunath Dabholkar, alias Hemadpant.

In 1910, when Hemadpant reached Shirdi to take Sai Baba’s blessing, he found Baba grinding wheat which he later spread around the borders of the Shirdi village.

When Hemadpant asked the villagers why this was done, they told him that the ground wheat was spread in order to prevent the cholera epidemic from entering the village. On seeing this, Hemadpant was inspired to write about Sai Baba’s life and leelas (divine plays).

His worshippers represent a faith that goes beyond the formalism of separate religions. Sai Baba was an accessible, spiritual presence, who provided recourse against religious sectarianism by guiding his followers towards a divine vision of unity in diversity, something the idea of India was founded on.

What Had Happened at the Delhi Temple?

After complaints from devotees regarding the incident last week, the police on Sunday, 4 April, said that they had launched a probe into the attack video, where a man could be seen demolishing Sai Baba’s idol in a temple in Shahpur Jat, reported Hindustan Times.

A member of the temple committee said that the idol was broken, which is why it was removed. Police from the Hauz Khas Police Station said that the temple authorities removed the idol as the temple was being renovated.

Though Panwar, the man in the video, initially claimed that the videos were fabricated and he did not hammer the idol, he later explained that he had to break it down because of its weight so that the workers could lift it in order to be removed.

The locals in the area, however, don’t believe that the incident was part of a renovation and were upset. They were also unwilling to identify themselves as the people in the video are ‘goons’ and one cannot go against them.

(With inputs from Scroll.in and The Indian Express.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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