The indefinite strike in the temple town of Shirdi (where 19th-century spiritual leader Sai Baba took Samadhi) over Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s reported statement that Pathri in Parbhani district was Sai Baba’s birthplace has been called off.

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While the Sai Baba temple remained open for devotees and tourists but the town’s marketplace and establishments observed bandh and shopkeepers downed shutters. The Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust and other social outfits made provisions for tea, breakfast and meals in front of the temple for the convenience of the visitors.

Residents of around 25 villages near Shirdi, too, joined to support the bandh. Demonstrations were held by the residents of Pathri to convince the locals of Shirdi that the Parbhani village was indeed Sai Baba’s birthplace.

Recently, Thackeray made an announced of granting Rs 100 crore for the development of “Sai Baba’s birthplace Pathri” to attract pilgrims and tourists there. This led to an indefinite strike by the residents of Shirdi. The CM had to personally pacify angry residents, who withdrew the strike only after he arranged a meeting in Mumbai to find a solution to the dispute.

The locals were unhappy with the CM for calling Pathri as the birthplace of Sai Baba. However, there is no evidence that Shirdi was the birthplace of Saibaba. Sai Baba himself never shared any information with anyone about his birthplace or religion during his stay in Shirdi,” Kailasbapu Kote, a former trustee of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust, was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

According to some residents, the peaceful agitation would continue till the CM clears his stand over the issue.

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The Shirdi temple and all its units like Sai Hospital, Sai Prasadalaya, Sai Bhaktaniwas, the medical shops in the town and buses of Maharashtra State Regional Transport Corporation (MSRTC) services remain unaffected during the strike, as per the reports.

The residents of Shirdi claim that during his lifetime, Saibaba never mentioned his birthplace or his religion.

Controversy over Saibaba’s birthplace

The controversies over Sai Baba’s birthplace is not new. In 2018, the residents held a protest when President Ram Nath Kovind mentioned Pathri in his address during a visit to Shirdi in 2018. He said that some people consider Pathri as Sai Baba’s birthplace so Pathri should get some funds for development. But, Kovind had to cancel his tour of Pathri after the controversy.

In 2012, there was a big debate on whether Sai Baba was a Hindu or a Muslim but no one could ever come up with a definitive conclusion. In the same year, the devotees firmly opposed the temple trust’s plan to take Sai Baba’s paduka out of Shirdi for darshan.

There are no historic records of Sai Baba’s birth date or birthplace. The folklore goes that Sai Baba appeared in Shirdi when he was a teenager. He liked Shirdi so much that he decided to make Shird his home. The British too had tried to find out more about Sai Baba but did not succeed.

Sai Baba used to live in a mosque which he named ‘Dwarakamayi’. His samadhi was built at the place where he died on October 15, 1918. The present samadhi temple too is located there.

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