Shops and eateries were shut and vehicles remained off roads in Maharashtra's Shirdi temple town on Sunday, while an MP of the ruling Shiv Sena also extended support to the bandh called over a controversy on the birthplace of 19th century saint Saibaba.
The controversy erupted after Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray announced a grant of Rs 100 crore for development of facilities at "Sai janmasthan" (birthplace) at Pathri in Parbhani district. Local residents and leaders in Shirdi are demanding that Thackeray withdraw his official statement where he described Pathri as Saibaba's birthplace.
The chief minister has convened a meeting over the issue at the state secretariat in Mumbai on Monday. The bandh began here at midnight, but the Saibaba temple remained open with devotees being allowed to offer prayers, officials of the temple trust and Ahmednagar district administration said. The 'prasadalaya' and the temple kitchen were also open to ensure devotees were not inconvenienced, they said. Long queues of devotees were seen in front of the 'prasadalaya', breakfast centre and 'laddoo' sale centres of the temple.
Shiv Sena's Lok Sabha member from Shirdi, Sadashiv Lokhande, on Sunday extended his support to the bandh. "I am a Sai devotee first and an MP later. 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 issue," he told PTI.
Lokhande also said he will see how to resolve the issue and call off the bandh. To mark the protest, several locals took out a rally around the temple area on Sunday morning. "Devotees hailed Saibaba while starting the rally from Dwarkamai temple here. 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," local BJP functionary Sachin Tambe-Patil said.
Terming the bandh as "successful", Tambe-Patil, who is also former trustee of the Saibaba temple, said, "Commercial establishments, shops, restaurants and local transport (autorickshaws and other private vehicles) are closed and a complete shutdown is being observed in the town as well as in 25 villages around Shirdi."
"However, the Saibaba temple is open and devotees are coming to offer prayers," he said. Devotees who made pre-bookings at hotels were allowed to stay and taxi services from the airport to the temple were also unaffected, the district administration official said. The state transport buses from other locations were being allowed to come to the town, he added. Former Maharashtra minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who is the local BJP MLA, on Saturday said he supported the bandh call.
Local residents and leaders in Shirdi have taken exception to the chief minister's announcement, saying the birthplace of the famed saint was not known, and Pathri cannot make a claim to being his birthplace. It was at Shirdi in Ahmednagar district where Saibaba, whose devotees cut across religious lines, spent much of his life.