Shops and eateries in Maharashtra’s temple town of Shirdi remained shut on Sunday and vehicles were off the roads, PTI reported. A controversy had erupted after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a grant of Rs 100 crore for development of facilities at Pathri in Parbhani district, which he called “Sai Janmasthan” (the birthplace of spiritual leader Saibaba).
Residents of Shirdi have asked Thackeray to withdraw his statement that Pathri is the birthplace of Saibaba. While some devotees believe it to be the religious leader’s birthplace, Shirdi residents have claimed that Saibaba’s exact place of birth is unknown. The chief minister has convened a meeting on the matter at the state secretariat in Mumbai on Monday.
Though the shutdown began at midnight on Sunday, the Saibaba temple remained open, with devotees being allowed to offer prayers, said temple trust officials and Ahmednagar district administration. The temple kitchen was also open, the officials added. Long queues of devotees were seen in front of the “prasadalaya”, breakfast centre and the “laddoo” sale centre.
Shiv Sena MP from Shirdi, Sadashiv Lokhande, extended his support to the shutdown. “I am a Sai devotee first and an MP later,” Lokhande added. “I support this protest. Saibaba came to Shirdi when he was 16. He never revealed his caste or religion, so he should not be divided. I am going to speak to the chief minister about the matter.” Lokhande said he would try to resolve the problem and end the strike.
Several residents organised a protest march around the temple area on Sunday morning. “Devotees hailed Saibaba while starting the rally from Dwarkamai temple here,” said local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sachin Tambe-Patil. “The procession passed through Palkhi route around the Saibaba temple. It later concluded at the Dwarkamai temple, located on right side of Saibaba temple’s entrance.”
Tambe-Patil termed the bandh successful, and said 25 villages around Shirdi also participated.
Devotees who had made bookings at hotels were allowed to stay, and taxi services from the airport to the temple were also not disrupted, said an unidentified district administration official. State transport buses from other towns and cities were allowed to enter Shirdi, he added.
Former Maharashtra minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, a BJP MLA from the area, also backed the strike.