There is a climax shot in popular Hindi film Amar, Akbar, Anthony of erstwhile era. Akbar is singing at the top if his voice in front of Saibaba’s giant statue. Two bright and colourful rays emerge out of the eyes of statue and enter in the eyes of Akbar’s blind mother. Mother shouts: “I can see now! God blessed me!” All the spectators in the cinema hall are excited.
“Saibaba is a GOD’ ‘What a wonderful thing to happen’.... Saibaba of Shirdi has become a symbol of money-spinners for film industry people. Without his blessings neither film shooting will start nor will a completed film be released in the cinema halls. While travelling to Shirdi, a place regularly visited by the film industry people and thousands of devotees from all over India we will hear the dialogues like “We are devotees of Baba for last twenty years’. His blessings saved me many times. “The Great Saibaba!’ There is no point in arguing with devotees since all of them have immersed in Sai miracle. The impact of this strong belief will not allow one to think rationally or think at all. While travelling one can observe many people reading loudly ‘Sai Charit”. Late Govind Raghunath Dabholkar has written this book. This book is mostly about the miracles performed by Saibaba. The followers vow that they have read the book 20-30 times. The contents have been impregnated in their brains permanently if you just glance through the pages you will find miracles like Saibaba taking out his intestine, drying it in the air and again pushing it inside the abdomen.
One will get nausea while reading such miracles. But the book had been reprinted more than 20 times in the last 50 years selling thousands of copies. Saibaba Trust officially publishes this book and glorifies such myth.
Dadasaheb Khaparde’s son had swelling on his skin and was in severe pain. His mother rushed to meet Saibaba. Saibaba told her, “Don’t worry, it will rain”. Saibaba started taking out his clothes and mother saw the swelling on Saibaba’s body. Saibaba said that he suffers all the pains of his followers. The author, Govind Dabholkar was a magistrate and he confirmed that all these events have happened in reality and no one should doubt about them. One co-passenger started babbling: ’my daughter-in-law had some problem while delivering. I took holy ash from the Sai temple and pasted on her stomach and within five minutes she delivered a healthy baby.”
As soon as we enter Shirdi town, handouts and cards will start passing through the windows. “Sai Shankar Flower Merchants: All items required for Pooja and Abhishek are available at reasonable prices”. However there is one more precautionary sentence for the benefit of devotees: “Beware of thieves”. One cannot imagine that in miracle place of Saibaba.
In the year 1838, a Phakeer (Muslim priest) lands here. For want of any other name the
local goldsmith calls him Saibaba. Shirdi was a small village consisting of dilapidated houses. Villagers had great fun to see such a stranger in their village. Most of them were farmers. Nowadays the farming has been set aside and every one is engaged in only one industry.... Sai baba industry! Sai is business for this town.
Enter any shop. By paying Rs. 25 one will get all the essential items of Abhiskek. Talkative shop owners murmur; Saibaba blesses you. “How to get Darshan?” Innocent question, but not difficult to answer! Abhishek is performed at 9 ‘O’clock in the morning. For this you should stand in queue right from early morning at 5‘O’ clock. Satyanarayana Pooja will be at noon 12 ‘O’ Clock. In the evening there will be Aarati will be at 10 pm. He listed the timetable. ‘Will it be possible to avoid standing in queue...?’
‘You need right contacts at highest level. Or you should be political bigwig like MP, MLA, Minister or Govt. Bureaucrat from secretariat. Permission is granted to enter the main temple to these influential persons only. But if one is ready to pay huge donation, say Rs.50, 000, will open the gates of main Mandir immediately. Money has more miraculous power than Sai.
A board is displayed in the office of Sai trust about the special category for Darshan. Some are more equal than others even here too. Whom do you complain? The trust has built a big hall for devotees anxious for Sai Darshan. Marble benches have been provided to take rest. Close circuit TV has been installed to view the Pooja performed in the main temple by other devotees.
Most in the waiting are fully satisfied with this virtual reality. All the walls in the hall have been painted with the scenes showing Saibaba’s miracles.
Miracle1: When the villages were infected by cholera, Saibaba put jowar flour around the village and cured cholera affected people.
Miracle 2: Chandbhai who brought Saibaba to Shiridi, wanted to smoke Chilum (sort of handmade pipe). He couldn’t find fire anywhere nearby. Phakeer touched the green grass and fire was lit!
Miracle 3: A river started from the toe of the feet of Saibaba.
Miracle 4 Thousands of lamps were lit on the water while Saibaba is standing on the shore.
If someone stands in a queue surrounded by such scenes, one will certainly start believing anything. Mind will be conditioned to accept anything without thinking. The books like Sai Charit or Sai Leelamrit are continuously glorifying the miraculous power of Saibaba. The glorification of anything has become a core theme of Indian society. The believer will become helpless and intellectually week and will start losing confidence in himself and his efforts. Anything good that is happening in his life will be attributed to God, Guru or somebody except himself. Anything determined will be result of his fate. No one wanted to go into details of these miracles. Those who describe them never bother to give any references and historical evidences. Perhaps there may not be any base. Everything is just for these miracles. Probably everything is just imagination to make money. Even the photographs displayed are fake or created by Imaging. On enquiry at trust office, the concerned official said that there no original photographs of Saibaba anywhere. One starts wondering how the cult is being built around such imaginary things and the market force to flood the photographs of Saibaba. In one of the books published in 1914, there is a reference that district collector Desai has taken a snap shot. But the reference does not have any credibility. Trust released a photograph in 1922. But the trust also took the miracle route.
The serpentine queue was moving at snail’s speed. The devotees were mostly from Gujarat. Every 10-15 minutes you would hear the shouting in unison: Bolo Sainath Maharaj ki Jai, Jor se bolo Sai bolo. Every one is holding a plate with flowers and other items of worship. A saffron scarf was used as headgear. Queue was moving slowly. Even the toilets have been provided for nature call of devotees. If some miscreant tries to jump queue, people will express their anger by shouting the slogan with higher pitch. Some one said “Sai will punish the intruder”.
Meanwhile, someone started selling Laddu for Rs. Two. The devotees are expected to put
Laddu at the feet of Sai’s idol at main Mandir and eat as Prasadam, which is blessed by Sai to wash away the sins committed by devotee knowingly or unknowingly. On an average four thousand devotees are visiting every day. On Thursdays this figure will rise to sixty thousand. So you can imagine the turnover in a place like Shiridi, Satyanarain pooja will cost twenty five rupees. The Pooja itself must be fetching straight away more than 20 lakh per week. At the basement 15-18 huge sealed steel boxes are kept to receive the donations. No receipts are demanded for the donations deposited by the devotees. Some times the total collection goes upto Rs. Fifty lakh per week. In this money collecting game, one day Shiridi Saibaba will surpass Tirupati Balaji.
After going through all the hassles, battering by the security guards and the anxiety, at last one enters into the main Mandir where the devotees can physically touch the Sai Idol. Suddenly a few in the queue roll on the floor and beat their head as through possessed by some invisible thing. Devotee hands over the plate. The priest touches the plate at the idol’s feet in a flash and hands it back to the devotee. Devotee is not satisfied. He wants to be kept longer time. Everything needs to be charged by the Sai power. The priests start protesting. However, some one pacifies both the parties. Queue has to move. There are 24 priests who work in two shifts. These priests are middlemen between God Sai and the devotees. The total staff consists of 45 persons who are attending Sai round the clock. Out of 24 priests, 9 of them are holding diploma certificate from Tryambakeshwaar School of Veda, which conducts regular courses of 3 years duration on priesthood. This includes idol worship, offering flowers, Satyanarayan Pooja and various Mantras to be chanted at various occasions etc. Even the priests have to go through the shifts to earn their livelihood like any industrial worker though all of them are so near to Saibaba and everyday seeing him in person. Sai Idol is made of Italian marble. There is a throne embedded with designed carved in silver and gold plates. The Idol has been dressed with red and saffron coloured garments. A pearl necklace is around the neck. Like in any other temples, there is no mound of coconuts near the Idol but heaps of dry flowers occupy the major portion of floor space.
Dabholkar, Deshpande and Saagasrabuddhe trio initially started the flourishing business of Saibaba idol worship about hundred years ago. If one critically tries to analyze the stories and myths propagated, one will start doubting whether such a person was really alive or was it a figment of imagination of a few gangsters to rob the gullible public. A Phakeer comes to remotest village, stays in a sort of mosque, and takes the name of Allah. It means the person was never a Hindu. In fact the person had a very abnormal pattern of behaviour. He was a smoker of chillum (a sort of pipe). He wandered all around the place on river banks and hill tops, always wearing torn clothes. Most of the time he stared at the sky without blinking his eyes. Villagers called him a mad phakeer. Beggars stole his food. Bayajabai cooked food for him. But he was never regular for his meals and got irritated very quickly. Sometimes he used to dance on the streets. Once he put out his hands in the fire. He used course language whenever women approached him. No one was able to make sense of what he was saying in the undertone. All these details are available in the biographies published by the trust. While going through his biography one gets convinced that there is a deliberate attempt by Dabholkar, Despande, Dasganoo etc. to project Saibaba as a Hindu saint.
Infact Saibaba stayed all his life in a dilapidated mosque and prayed to Allah in Muslim style. But most of the Hindu Traditionalists imagined him as incarnation of their favourite God or saint. Some worship him as Swami Ramdas of 16th century era. Some say he is an Avataar of Shankar. Some vouch that he is incarnation of Dattatreya. Some had gone to the extent that he is an incarnation of Akkalkot Maharaj of 18th century. There is neither logic nor consistency in these biographies. Sai baba’s famous slogan is Allah Malik Hai. But in spite of all these supporting evidences that he is not a Hindu, every devotee assumes that there was an ardent Hindu but behaved a bit abnormally.
The prestigious gang, who elevated Sai to God’s status to fulfill their vested interests, had given him a new dimension of Hinduism. Chandorkar went to an extent of saying that he had assisted Saibaba during his bath and confirmed that Sai’s ears were punctured like in Hindu tradition. Thus, an aura of Hinduism was built around Sai. In fact Saibaba had nothing to do with Ram Navami festival. This was started by the trio to make money. The tomb built on his death body was also in Hindu tradition.
Sai Baba’s Secularism appears to be deceptive:
If one goes through the historical details of Saibaba’s life there was not even a single Muslim devotee. As per Muslim religion worshipping an idol is banned. As such the secularism attached to Saibaba or to his place is an outright fraud. No Muslim visits this place. No Muslim priest performs prayer. Even then media advertises this temple as a symbol of secularism. Secularism in the world of faith is a complex concept. Both Hindus and Muslims have to come to an agreement to evolve a methodology without hurting the religious feelings. However, vested interests have dominated and Hinduism is flourishing.
One will realize the extent of exploitation while coming out of the temple and looking around it. Gullible Hindu devotees have contributed whole-heartedly to build mansions and high rise buildings, now owned by the Trust. The property may be 7-8 crore rupees worth. The building projects are still continuing and everyone except the devotees is benefited.
A Neem tree with thatched roof is nearby. The legend says that the leaves of this Neem tree are very sweet. However, you can’t confirm the same since one is not allowed to pluck the leaves from the tree for eating. However, Hindu religion has a solution for any Catch 22 situation! You can eat the leaves fallen on the ground. If they are not sweet, it means you are not a pious person. God is not blessing you. One of the trust official announced that a German scientist was not able to explore the secret of sweetness. After asking for the report, he expressed his inability to produce the same. There is a very small lane passing through this place. The lane is crowded with the beggars. At least 800 beggars might have been there out of which 50-60 are women. If you just wait for a while, a bread seller will pop up with 4-5 loves of bread and request you to distribute bread to beggars. Each loaf will cost Rs.20 or more. Like him 5-10 bread sellers are standing among beggars to give an opportunity to feed the beggars. The beggars are earning at least 400 Rupees per day; most of them are bank account holders. In this economically liberated era everything has become ‘instant’: instant beggars, instant food in the form of bread chunks. Instant sellers!
Everyone wants to make a fast buck:
Across the road there is a place presumed to be the location where Sai baba distributed the holy ash. The place is popularly known as Chandorkar Chavadi. Inside, there is a nicely carved wooden plank; above which a notice board is hung indicating Baba’s sleeping place. If you keenly observe, the plank might have been carved 5-6 years ago. There is also a notice board, which warns that no woman is allowed inside. In fact as per Saibaba’s biography, Bayajabai took care of him throughout his life.
But no one could explain why such a ban or discrimination towards women in these days. It appears even in 21st century some one wants to follow the dictates of age old Manusmriti. Saibaba’s contemporary, Abdul Baba’s house is very near to this place. An old man, poses of photographs that look exactly like the portraits of Saibaba. He pointed to holy book and other items and told that all these belong to Abdul baba. Devotees are coming inside and Rahim baba blesses them. They put a few coins in return.
“Have you seen Saibaba?” ‘I don’t lie and I don’t want to talk on this issue. Everything is commercialized nowadays. Who is bothered about Saibaba and his whereabouts?’ He vented his sorrow. ‘Is there any original snapshot of Saibaba?’ ‘You see, Abdul baba was his contemporary and we have his genuine photographs. I don’t know about anything else. No place for the truth, Sir”.
There is one more place known as Dwarakamai’s Mosque. The items, like wheat bag, bath stone, Chulha etc. have been displayed in this place like in historical museum and people come to this place with all the reverence, The wheat bag has fresh look as though purchased very recently and certainly not 100 years old. The Chulla is painted in various colours. The fireplace is still burning. All devotees bow in front of each item very piously expecting blessings from Saibaba. No one seems to have any doubts in their minds about whether these artifacts are genuine or fake. No one displays inquisitiveness while looking at these almost fake items. Thinking power, rationality, spirit of enquiry are totally absent. The manipulators of religious values have made everyone slave.
Baba has all the remedies for any problems. He can cure all the diseases. Ashes given by him (or his associates) is an ultimate medicine for diseases ranging form common cold to severe type of cancer. Tatyasheb Noolkar recovered from blindness. Padmanabh Swamy was able to hear clearly though he was deaf right from birth since he had received blessings of Baba. Balasaheb Shimpi recovered from Malaria fully by just feeding the food to dog by Baba. Shrimant recovered from diarrhea.
Like these, there may be thousands of myths percolating every generation and at every place. No one dares to doubt Baba’s glory, his super power and his compassion. Mahadevrao Deshpande was cured of his piles by eating peanuts given by Saibaba. Just by exhaling, Baba cured the snake and scorpion bites. Swallowing the holy ash cured Dattopant’s stomachache. Although the whole village was suffering from plague, Chandorkar’s friend was saved because she had put holy ash on her face. TB patient of Malegaon could recover by just applying the holy ash all over the body.
All these miracles printed in Sai Leelamrit, are told, retold, modified, glorified and improved so that no one will have an iota of doubt about its truthfulness. Everything is described as though the narrator was invisibly present all the while and at all the places till the end. Mind is conditioned and devotees are addicted to listen to such trash. If the diseases can be cured by Darshan or by applying the holy ash, why has the trust built an ultra modern hospital? The hospital incurs Rs.25 lakh loss every year since it subsidizes the medical bills of ‘poor’ devotees. Why is Saibaba not able to prevent any diseases? Why is he not able to cure poor without any medical assistance? If the place and person are so powerful why do you need diagnostic centers, operation theatres, surgical facilities, ICUs, trained medical staff, experienced surgeons? Shamdas Foundation owned by a devotee of Saibaba had built an ultra modern hospital at Hong Kong. Hundreds of medical experts from all over the world are attending this Hospital in one or the other capacity. In spite of all these modern facilities and blessings received from Saibaba, the recovery rates are at par with any other hospitals of the same caliber. Saibaba did not make any difference, in spite of all these statistical probabilities, realities and apparent evidences, the Trust still publish various types of miracles in its monthly bulletin Sai Leela. One can understand the illiterate devotees may not be aware of the process of spread/origin of diseases or may not know the nuances of diagnostics, immunization, recovery process, or healing methods. However one thing is clear that anything good that is happening in the life is attributed to Saibaba. This mindset is playing a major role in the spread of curing power of Saibaba. Nowadays the patients suffering from polio, cancer, and heart ailments are visiting in large numbers. Couples come here very often to be blessed with a child. Offerings are made at the spur of the moment. Enormous amount is promised if the wish is granted without taking into consideration the financial conditions. To fulfill the vow one has to be in the clutches of pawnbrokers. However, main beneficiary is the Trust which is hoarding a large sum donated by the gullible devotees. The stories of miraculous curing power of Saibaba plays greater role in amassing wealth. Trust goes on printing and reprinting the books, magazines and other materials depicting the miraculous power of Saibaba, just changing names here and there. All stories read alike:
Sometime back KS Pathak, an IAS officer was nominated as receiving officer of the Trust. He found that misappropriation of large fund by the local trustees. They were looting the public. The golden and silver ornaments, belonging to the Trust, were found in the houses of the trustees. When police raided their houses, they threw the ornaments in the nearby fields. Charity commissioner imposed inquiries. CID officials investigated the frauds. Trustees tried their best to put political pressure on the receiving officer and charity commissioner to stall further investigations. A few of the trustees were punished and put into jail.
In spite of these headlines in the media, the devotees are deterred to visit. ‘Saibaba is great! He will take care of our sins’. That is the attitude of the devotees. Political leaders come here to enhance their ‘power’. But sometimes they too suffer badly. Ex-President Shankar Dayal Sharma paid a visit with all its pomposity: within a few days after the visit he was suffering with severe ailments. Sharad Pawar visited the temple while he was experimenting with like-minded parties. Three months after the visit his experiment utterly failed. Shankarrao Chavan, Vasantdada Patil also suffered very badly. P.V. Narasimha Rao came to this place as a Prime Minister, but by the time he returned Delhi he was no more a minister! This may also be a miracle of Saibaba!
Even if we keep aside the devotees and their problems, the trustees and local population are at daggers head. Each party wants its share of flesh in this money game. One of the trustees was arguing that villagers don’t know what they are missing since too much familiarity breeds contempt.
Villagers argue that Trust has turned whole villages into five star hotels with money flowing like water. High rise buildings, asphalt roads, even airport but local population is still deprived of basic necessities... Trustees want that the local people should also cooperate with trust so that they too can get benefited. Villagers erected shanty shops all around the temple and started earning their livelihood by selling the goods required by the devotees. This irritated the trustees. They wanted these ugly structures should be removed immediately. Since years together this confrontation is continuing and sometimes the situation is turning violent. If Saibaba cannot solve these problems amicably how can one expect him to take up problems of other individuals? Nowadays devotees have to take care of their belongings, cash etc. The question that arises is that why pick-pockets and thieves are flourishing at a place that is blessed by Saibaba? Even while one is inside the main temple bags, purses etc. are stolen. While devotees are gathering on auspicious days like Ram Navami, Guru Purnima, Dasera it becomes very easy for thieves to do their own business! But ardent belief in Saibaba gives the devotees to absolve these misdeeds.
To overcome the minor problems trust has started ‘Sai Darshan’ on internet. The prominent message on the internet is “If you look at me, I will look at you”. Devotees from distant places can have instant Darshan and get blessed by Saibaba. A few foreigners’ e-mails pasted on the website make very interesting readings. Varah Appikatla is an NRI staying in US. He took ‘Darshanam’ of Saibaba and managed to secure top position in IBM. Now he is ready to send huge donation to the trust. The assistance of advanced science and technology is sought to strengthen their superstitions. Saibaba cult is contagious and is not restricted to only Maharashtra region. In the south Puttaparthy Saibaba has surpassed the original Saibaba in all respects. Dharma Sai Seva Trust has already spread its tentacles asking for huge donations to feed the children of downtrodden and marginalized poor people and to construct Hindu nationality and Veda teaching school.
People from all over India come to Shirdi. All of them are emotionally choking while they visit this place. Each one’s story is quite unique. But if one probes deeper, the devotees have lost their self-confidence and are afraid of everything – the wealth, luxuries, people around them, the place where they stay, family members etc. They are not in a position to trust anybody. A sort of mental disease has taken over these devotees. From outside they all look normal human beings who can believe all these legends, miracles and power of blessings and artifacts like amulets and charms.
While returning from a place like this, even a rational human being will start doubting whether this society is normal enough to realize in what trap it is bound.
Once again you are amidst “Saibaba Bolo ... Saibaba Bolo...”
(Author is an active Rationalist and Humanist, Editor of Thought & Action-Internet monthly, Pune, Maharastra, India)
Posted by Administrator on Saturday, 13. August 2011