Pathri, Shirdi in a tussle over Saibaba's birthplace

Updated: 18 January, 2020 07:44 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Residents of Pathri challenge their Shirdi counterparts to prove their claim that the secular saint was born in the town of Ahmednagar district.

Many believers of Saibaba visit both Pathri and Shirdi, but find the former lacking in facilities that the latter enjoys. representation. Pic/AFP
Many believers of Saibaba visit both Pathri and Shirdi, but find the former lacking in facilities that the latter enjoys. representation. Pic/AFP

A fresh war of words has erupted between the two towns of Maharashtra over the birthplace of secular spiritual figure Saibaba. Pathri residents have challenged their counterparts in Shirdi to establish that Saibaba was born in Shirdi, Ahmednagar, — one of the biggest and richest religious destinations in the country.

Pathri city of Parbhani district has long contended that the town is the true birthplace of Saibab, a claim strongly denied by Shirdi. It has repeatedly asked the government to develop the town along the lines of other religious tourism destinations. The row resurfaced a week ago when Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assured the trustees of Sai temple in Pathri that the government would release a grant of R100 crore for development of a basic infrastructure and construction of a boarding house for the devotees.

Pathri is 260 km away from Shirdi and many believers visit both the places, but find the former lacking in facilities that the latter enjoys. Shirdi has an airport, decent hotels, better road and rail connectivity and a rich temple trust that the state controls. Former NCP MLC Baba Jani Durani, a trustee of Sri Sai Janma sthan Temple in Pathri, said the previous government had approved a development plan for Pathri after President Ram Nath Kovind had pursued the project with the then CM.

Even current CM Thackeraydirected the concerned officials to make the grant available without any delay. "The fund is for acquiring the land and rehabilitating the people who would be displaced for the project," said Durani.

'We have evidence'
When asked about Shirdi's resistance, Durani accused the counterparts in Shirdi of harbouring a fear that Pathri's development would impact their tourism and economics. "If they are so concerned they should prove that Saibaba was born in Shirdi. We have all evidences to prove our claim," he said. He said Pathri residents have formed an all-party action panel to face Shirdi's resistance and local Shiv Sena leaders are leading from the forefront.

False claim, say Shirdikars
The restive Shirdi residents have, however, rejected the claims of Parthi. Local activist Nitin Kote told mid-day that they were not opposed to Pathri's development, but have objected strongly to describing it as Saibaba's birthplace. "We have evidences to back Shirdi's claim. Pathri's claim is utterly false," he said, adding that there is a place called Pathri in Andhra Pradesh too and it is also claimed to be Saibaba's birthplace.

He said the Pathri temple trust was trying to fabricate evidences and also tricked the President and the current and former CMs into believing them. "We decry an effort to make Saibaba a saint of one particular religion because he didn't believe in discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and religion. His message of shraddha and saburi [faith and patience] is global," said Kote.

Shirdikars plan a bandh
The residents of Shirdi met on Friday over the issue and are planning a bandh soon. Political leaders, including Sena members Kamlakar Kote and Sachin Kote, have swung into action and requested a meeting with the CM.

The matter is expected to escalate further, said leaders from both the sides. Meanwhile, a senior Sena minister said Thackeray was aware of the issue and would meet the residents of both the towns to understand their concerns.

"The government cannot deny Pathri a grant because devotees also go there for a darshan. I think we should let the devotees decide for themselves. Our priority should be to develop places of spiritual and historic significance," said the minister.

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First Published: 18 January, 2020 06:41 IST

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