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It’s all a matter of faith
Adi Sankaracharya, (788-820 AD), with his remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially on Upanishads or Vedanta.
Adi Sankaracharya, (788-820 AD), with his remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially on Upanishads or Vedanta, had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when chaos, superstitions and bigotry were rampant. Even young Sankara had a taste of it. The orthodox Hindus neither recognised him nor cooperated with him initially. Do you know that when his mother died in his native village at Kaladi (now in Kerala) there was no one to help him carry her body to the graveyard?
Believe it or not, but it is true, Sankara cut her body into pieces and carried it himself for cremation! He showed courage and defiance even at a tender age. Sankara then travelled through the length and breadth of the country (those days there were no airplanes or trains) mostly by foot and spread the scriptures. He advocated the greatness of the Vedas and was the most famous Advaita philosopher who restored the Vedic Dharma and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity and glory, all within his 32 years.
Fourteen centuries have passed and there was none like him among the successors of his five Mutts or Peeths that were created by him. The question is can anyone of the most religious of the Hindus name someone who was worthy of the adorable seat left by Sankara. Or for that matter most of the readers of this column would be unable to name even the present five Sankaracharyas correctly. That is the tragedy of Hinduism.
Well, one of the successors of Sankara, the Sankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth, is now in the news for all wrong reasons. He has issued a decree to the Hindus not to worship Shirdi Sai Baba because he was neither a God nor a Guru, and more importantly he was a Muslim. In a country where people worship thousands of gods and goddesses, rivers, animals, elements of nature, sages, saints and even resort to hero worship, a ban on the worship of Sai Baba is very amusing.
The infinite variety of Gods and deities in Hinduism is a point of pride for people everywhere. In Rajasthan we have a temple for rats, snake worship is common and every Shiva temple has a place for snake worship. At Trimbakeswar in Nashik people in hundreds offer ‘bali’ to the snake god. Cow is worshipped as a goddess from time immemorial. It is also a common sight, especially among politicians, to worship their leaders by touching their feet.
Shirdi Sai Baba, Swami Ayyappa (Sabarimala), Sri Narayana Guru and others have become cult figures.
Their popularity is increasing by the year. Only Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi had failed his devotees and all his fraudulent activities came to light much before he passed away. While Sathya Sai Baba was a God of the rich and the celebrated, Shirdi Sai Baba is worshipped by the common man. He remains a very popular saint not only in India but across the world. He is revered and worshipped in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Odisha. The movement has spread to the Caribbean and to countries such as the US, Australia, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore and wherever Indians have settled down. It is a well-known fact that Indians take their gods also with them wherever they go.
Sai Baba (1838-1918), the Muslim saint of Shirdi in Maharashtra, lived poor and lived with the poor. He himself cooked the food and gave to his devotees as prasadam. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, mutual help, charity, contentment, inner peace and devotion to God and Guru. The essence of his teaching was self-realisation. His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam. One of his well-known epigrams, “Sabka Malik Ek” (one god for all) is associated with Islam and Sufism. Recently a Hindi film was released on the life and teachings of Sai Baba with the same title. The film was a super hit.
Sai Baba’s millions of disciples and devotees believe that he performed many miracles such as mindreading, exorcisms, making the river Yamuna, entering a state of Samadhi at will, lighting lamps with water, removing his limbs or intestines and sticking them back to his body (khandana yoga), curing the incurably sick, rising on the third day of death (Christ’s resurrection), preventing a mosque falling down on people and helping his devotees in a miraculous way. He also gave darshan to people in the form of Rama, Krishna, Vithoba and many other gods depending on the faith of the devotees. According to some of his followers he appeared to them in dreams even after his demise and gave them advice. His devotees have documented many such stories.
“Trust in me and your prayer shall be answered,” was one of his 11 assurances (one more than the 10 Commandments) to his devotees who were mainly from among the poor. His teachings appeal to his devotees even today. No Sankaracharya can shake their faith in this Fakir, who, though born a Muslim, has become a refuge for the common man. Thousands of devotees and tourists visit Shirdi everyday; we have to book the buses several days in advance; that is a testimony to the ever-growing popularity of Shirdi ke Sai Baba.
The Sankaracharya and the members of Dharma Sansad, who issued the ban order to the Hindu devotees of Sai Baba, should better know what Gandhiji had to say about Hinduism. “The beauty of Hinduism lies in its all embracing inclusiveness. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, and so it lives at peace with all the religions.”
Well, Hinduism needs another Adi Sankara to cleanse it of all its cancerous growth. The priestly class has become a greedy lot. The rituals they perform for money have lost their value and meaning. I too liberally contribute for the Ganesh festival celebrations every year. But I consider it as horror the manner in which we worship the God for 10 days and dump it in muddy waters on the eleventh day. No wonder Gandhiji had called Hinduism a way of life and not a religion! Because no religion allows this and hundreds of such mysterious and superstitious actions.