Sai Baba – Shankaracharya controversy – Jayasree Saranathan

Swaroopananda Saraswati

Shirdi Sai BabaEven the Gurus of the Hindu fold who are worshiped are shown as subservient to the God who they worshiped and not as Gods themselves. But what is happening in the case of Sai Baba is that he is being elevated as Shiva which has the potential to mis-guide Hindus into believing what he is originally not. There were many siddhas in the Hindu cult who gained extraordinary powers through their meditation and did miracles. Even they were not elevated on par with Shiva. —  Jayasree Saranathan

A controversy has erupted over the comments of Dwaraka Shankaracharya on Shirdi Sai Baba. Things seem to be escalating with Baba devotees going to court and Naga sadhus coming to defend the Shankaracharya who is facing a vilification campaign by Hindus and Bharatheeya writers. In my opinion this controversy was waiting to happen and it had happened now. With heavy commercialisation of bhakthi happening on one side and the growth of neo-Hindus on the other, who see themselves as revivalists and guards of Hinduism and think that they know Hinduism better than even the Shankaracharya, this issue was waiting to explode. What the Shankaracharya had said may have been new to neo-Hindus, but not many seemed to realise that he did not say anything new or different from what the numerous acharyas around India had been saying to their devotees. The only difference is that Dwaraka Shankaracharya had been more vociferous and his views were reported widely. Perhaps the high rate of depletion of Hindus from traditional practices in North India had an impact on the Acharya.

True to the tradition that he has to uphold, Dwaraka Shankaracharya has denounced the worship of anyone other than Rama or Krishna. Similarly any Shaivite acharya of Tamilnadu, would expect his followers to worship only Shiva. Any Vaishnavite acharya or acharyas of Madhwasampradaya would expect their followers to follow their traditional Gods and not others. One may find fault with this trend saying that Hinduism is divisive and narrow-minded. No, what these acharyas are saying is in tune with any one of the Shanmathas which ultimately lead one to the Brahman. These acharyas have the duty to uphold the tradition that they are expected to safeguard and preserve. All the six groups of deities of the Shanmatha are the manifestation of the all-pervading Brahman and anyone following one of them can attain Brahman through the path he had taken. The fact of the matter is that Shirdi Sai Baba does not come under any of the Shanmatha concepts.

As if to overcome this, Baba devotees have started telling that he is an incarnation of Shiva. Some people say that he is an incarnation of Dattatreya. If all these spinning are acceptable why leave out Jesus who is described by his devotees as Purusha of Purusha Suktha? It is a matter of acceptability by Hindus, one may argue. But one must remember that our ancestors did not even accept a Buddha or a Mahaveera as Hindu deities though they sprang from Hindu Thought. Buddha was initially regarded as an avatar of Vishnu due to his Godly attributes as those of Vishnu. But he was removed from the list of avatars of Vishnu when it came to be known that his ideas did not align with the Vedic concept. Those questioning the Shankaracharya must probe why Buddha and Mahaveera were severely rejected by all acharyas, azhwars and nayanmars. They must also probe whether they (acharyas, aazhwars etc) would accept Sai Baba as a Hindu God if they are living now.

Looking on those lines, accepting Shirdi Sai Baba as a Guru by Hindus raises some basic questions. A Guru is one who not only removes the darkness of ignorance but also connects a devotee to God. A Guru is essentially a medium between a person and God. Which God is being shown by Sai Baba as the object of ultimate realisation? Are any of the deities of Shanmatha or their parivar deities pointed out by Sai Baba as a Guru to the Hindu devotees? In the absence of this, what people are doing by extolling him as Shiva or Dattareya are attempts at cult-formation and giving a Hindu status to him.

Giving a status as a Hindu Guru and Hindu deity to Sai Baba has no basis in the Hindu concept of deification. One may argue that numerous men and women who had lived or died for some cause had been deified as rural or local Gods in the past. So what is wrong in deifying Sai Baba who lived like a saint? It is replied here that the Godhead of those men and women were aligned with or as some parivar of one of the Shanmatha deities based on the attributes exhibited by them. Such deities were not elevated as main deities either. Even the Gurus of the Hindu fold who are worshiped are shown as subservient to the God who they worshiped and not as Gods themselves. But what is happening in the case of Sai Baba is that he is being elevated as Shiva which has the potential to mis-guide Hindus into believing what he is originally not. There were many siddhas in the Hindu cult who gained extraordinary powers through their meditation and did miracles. Even they were not elevated on par with Shiva.

Moreover there is the concept of tatkratu discussed in Brahma Sutras (4-3-14). Brahma Sutras are one among the three texts of authority for Hindu Thought. (The other two are Upansihads and Bhagavad Gita). It speaks about the ways to reach Brahman. In that context it talks about the law of tatkratu which means that one becomes what one meditates upon. Of the different objects of meditation, only the meditation on one’s own atman and the Paramatman (Brahman) make one attain Brahman-hood or Liberation. All the other objects of meditation land one into those objects. For example meditations on Sun as done in Madhu Vidya makes one reach or attain Sun God. In the same way meditation on any entity would make one reach that entity upon death.

Among the deities only Shiva and Vishnu are identified as objects of Liberation from the cycle of birth. Description of them along with the concept of tatkratu can be read in Tamil here. Worshipers of the parivara devatas of these two Gods get elevated gradually over births and attain moksha through either of these two deities. By this concept of Hindu Thought the devotees of deities of the other religions attain those deities which are anyway confined to created world, caught within the cycle of rebirth. The reason is that those religions have no idea of Brahman. In the similar vein, the devotion to Sai Baba would be limited by the rule of tatkrutu. Any attempt to elevate him as Shiva would not benefit the devotee as Sai Baba was not connected with Shiva or Brahman in his life. With the goal of Sanatana Dharma being that of enabling one to obtain the highest fruit of human endeavour, no one in the know of this knowledge would recommend a deviation from this path.

However, material quest and the urge for quick-fix solutions had overtaken people nowadays which are precisely the cause for deviating from the Hindu path. This has reached the heights of ignorance that people can be seen abusing the Shankaracharya without any thought. I do agree that people have all the liberty to pursue their own choice in seeking guidance from any person and worship him or her. But do they know what they are missing in the melee? – Non-Random-Thoughts, 4 July 2014

 » Jayasree Saranathan blogs here on different Hindu subjects and issues.

See also

8 Responses

  1. Dashrath, Ramji’s father hunted in a forest. Infact he accidentally shot an arrow to a young man who was filling water for his blind parents, was cursed by the couple, which resulted in canvas of Shree Ram. Dashrath, being a kshatriya, must have consumed meat of the animals shot by him in the forest.


  2. How could an uneducated Muslim become Guru of Hindus? He was a chilim smoking drug abuser( which means smoking marijuana and opium). He was suffering from Bipolar disorder which is a psychological disease. In any case temples should not be constructed on dead bodies of Muslims. It is against Islam also.

    Now time has come for Hindu organisations to start publicity against Sai worship. Large hoardings and posters should be displayed in Shirdi advising Hindus not to worship Sai. All pilgrimage centers should have posters to advise not to go Shirdi and not to worship him.


  3. Sai BabaAllah the same as Om? Has greed for goods overpowered Dharma and Devatas?
    Sai Baba as Lord Shiva Would Jains accept Sai Baba as the 25th Tirthankara? Would Sikhs accept him as the 12th Guru? Would Srivaishnavas accept him as an 11th Avatar? Hindus who equate a Muslim fakir with Lord Shiva have truly lost their discriminating powers!

    Hearing against Shankaracharya for remarks against Saibaba in Bihar court – CNN-IBN – Muzaffarpur – 9 July 2014

    Muzaffarpur: Hearing against Dwarka seer Shankaracharya Swaroopananda Saraswati for his remarks against Saibaba is scheduled to come up in a Bihar court on Wednesday.

    After Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati had said that Hindus should not worship Shirdi Sai Baba along with other Hindu gods, the Sai temple in Lucknow filed a petition in Allahabad High Court seeking an FIR against him. Two other case were also filed against him in Jaipur and Indore as well.

    Swaroopananda had triggered a storm by saying that Saibaba was not a Hindu because he ate meat and shouldn’t be worshipped.

    He had also claimed that the devotees of Sai Baba use pictures of sanatan dharm gods and make money. “If they don’t use pictures of our god, who will give them anything,” he questioned.

    While he admitted that people have the freedom to worship, he said that Sai Baba tries to position himself as god which is not acceptable to them. “We accept only 5 gods. Anyone who positions himself as an addition isn’t acceptable to us,” he said.

    The Naga seers have also sided with Shankaracharya. The Nagas have said if Shankaracharay is insulted they will take to the streets in protest. The Naga sadhus have also called the issue a religious war. However, Shankaracharya has claimed that he hasn’t asked the nagas to fight with him. “I haven’t asked nagas to come to fight with me but if they want to then they should. This is a religious war (dharmayudh),” he said.


  4. Shirdi Sai BabaShirdi Sai Baba’s idol looms over Sri Krishna’s Vishwaroop! How is it possible?

    “Sai Baba took the name of Allah! He said no to Ganga Snaan!” – Prabhu Chawla – The New Indian Express – 07th July 2014 07:27 PM

    Swami Shree Swaroopanand Saraswati talks to the New Indian Express Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla on his objections to the worship of Sai Baba, the Ram Temple, the scrapping of Article 370, and the promises made by PM Narendra Modi on Sachchi Baat on News X.

    PC: Why did you raise the question on the worship of Sai Baba?

    SS: We have been raising the issue for long. But the media wasn’t giving it attention. This time they have given it attention. We really have been saying this (for long).

    PC: When did you last raise the issue?

    SS: We had raised it during my visit to Mumbai.

    PC: Did you say that people should stop worshipping Sai Baba?

    SS: We believe in what Adi Shankaracharya had said – he had said that Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Surya should be worshipped in the temples. They all are one in Brahma Roop.

    PC: What about the 24 avatars?

    SS: There are 24 avatars of Vishnu. For Shatki there are 10 Maha Vidya and Nau Durgas. The same way there are many avatars of Ganesh and Shiv.

    PC: There are 33 crore deities in the Sanatan Dharma. Aren’t people free to worship the deity they want to?

    SS: There are yantra, mantra and the method of worship related to the deities. The reward or fruit of Karma comes from the Lord. Sri Krishna has said in the Geeta that “I am the one who gives the worshippers of other Gods the fruit of their worship and devotion.”

    PC: But you raised the question….

    SS: Krishna in Bhagvat Geeta says, “I am the ‘Avinashi’. Main sab prani yonka ishwar hun. Tab bhi main apni Sachchinand Rachna prakriti kabinatyagkiye hue apni yogmaya se avatar leta hun.

    PC: Were Ram and Krishna not born? Is being born of Ram from Kaushalya mere imagination?

    SS: It’s written in the Ramayana, “Bhay Prakat Kripala, Deen Dayala…” Tulsidasji says in Ramayana, “Ram prakat hue, he wasn’t born out of Kaushalya.” Coming to Krishna, he was the Lord. He took an avatar out of his own wish.

    PC: Has your raising the issue on Sai Baba’s worship divided the Hindus?

    SS: We are not dividing the Hindus. People of the Hindu society who consider themselves part of the Sanatan Dharm were drifting. They were worshipping a man who was, by birth and deeds, a Muslim.

    PC: Where is it written?

    SS: It is written in their granths (holy books). I can show it to you.

    PC: Is it written in the granths that he was born in a Muslim family?

    SS: Yes. His devotees say it in his aarati.

    PC: His devotees worship him. He never asked anyone to worship him. People consider Shankaracharya God. You never asked people to address you as God.

    SS: I would never ask devotees to establish my statue at a temple. Why are people doing what he hasn’t asked them to? A Sikh man told me yesterday, that Guru Nanak has said that he serves the Lord and that, he is here to see the world, people who address him as the “Lord” will be consigned to hell. There is a difference between God and Guru. A Guru is the one who guides us towards the devotion to the Lord, the one who makes us relate with the Lord. He is not the guru if he starts addressing himself as the “Lord”. In the Sanatan Dharm, we believe that the Saints and the Mahatamas show us the path towards the Lord, and they direct us towards the worship of Lord. People are worshipping a person who never took the name of anyone but “Allah”, the one who said no to Ganga Snaan. People have made a God out him.

    PC: You accepted Gautam Buddha as Lord.

    SS: No. They don’t consider themselves part of the Sanatan Dharma.

    PC: What about the Jains?

    SS: Jains have 24 Teerthankars. They can’t consider Sai Baba the 25 Teerthankar.

    PC: Sikhs worship their Gurus.

    SS: Yes. They do. We have no issues with that. I am referring to people of my religion. In our religion, it is said that you would be accepted by the Lord whom you remember in your last moments. Hence, be devoted to Krishna, to Ram.

    PC: You have issues with the size of Sai Baba’s statue as well.

    SS: We are being duped. Sri Krishna showed Arjun his viraatroop. They are showing Sai Baba’s viraatroop and not Sri Krishna’s.

    PC: Do you want to say that there should be no other idol in a Sai Baba temple?

    SS: There is no need for it.

    PC: But there are temples dedicated to certain deities where the idols of other deities are much smaller in size.

    SS: It doesn’t matter in that case. We are talking about the statues and idols of a person claiming to be God. He is showing our deities smaller in size. He shows Lord Ganesha seated in his feet.

    PC: But does he show Lord Ram in his feet?

    SS: Such images are objectionable.

    PC: Do you feel that the worship of Sai Baba should stop?

    SS: Yes. The people from Puri and the society are supporting us.

    PC: Will you convince the people of the Sanatan Dharma on this issue?

    SS: Yes. I am doing that.

    PC: Has the Ram Temple issue taken a back seat?

    SS: The issue and path of Ram Temple will be pursued once the building of new Sai Baba temples is stopped.

    PC: But you played a role in the laying of the Ram Mandir foundation. Buta Singh was present. The matter became controversial later. The building of the Temple hasn’t begun.

    SS: The matter was in the High Court. We disputed on the subject for 45 days in the court. Our advocate proved it that Mughal emperor Babar never came to the land, thatit has been Ram Janmabhumi since the beginning.

    PC: Your critics say that you reflect the views of the Congress.

    SS: You are calling me a Congressman. I will answer this. When T R Balu was in the Congress, former PM Manmohan Singh had said that Ram Setu is a symbol of the victory over the Aryas. We objected to it. The matter reached the court. We said that the Setu shouldn’t be broken. The central government gave the affidavit that there is no historical evidence to establish the fact that the Setu was built by Ram.

    PC: They made changes to it.

    SS: That was because I objected to it. Had I been a Congressman, I wouldn’t object to it.

    PC: You criticised Uma Bhartiji. You said that she is a Sai Baba devotee.

    SS: She said that it’s a personal matter. It was said that there is devotion towards the parents. How can we stop that? We had said that we can’t let it be established as the parental faith and devotion of the other people. They are establishing those statues instead of the deities’ in the temples. We said that there are people who haven’t gone to worship Sai Baba. Why does one need Sai Baba if the Ganga, their Krishna, Ram and deities accept them? We don’t need them. They need us.

    PC: What about the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi?

    SS: The guru of Uma Bharti, he gave me a telephone call. He said that he agrees with me completely. Her guru agrees with me.

    PC: Has he supported your views on Sai Baba or your views on Uma Bharti?

    SS: He has supported my views on Sai Baba.

    PC: Will everyone protest on this issue?

    SS: Yes. The core issue is that if we are occupied with the devotion towards Sai Baba and his temples, how will people have the devotion for the Ram Temple?

    PC: What is your agenda?

    SS: Our agenda is to increase and strengthen people’s faith and devotion in the deities of the (Sanatan Dharma). People who are talking about Sai Baba are actually not devoted to him. They are occupied with their ambitions.

    PC: Is it a conspiracy against the Hindu religion?

    SS: Yes.

    PC: You also made statements on the impact of Westernisation on our society.

    SS: Our sisters and mothers are being ill-treated. They are being raped despite the tough laws. Alcoholism and drugs are the core issues. The youth is falling into the trap of alcoholism and drugs. They are not in their senses. They don’t realise what they are doing. In Kottayam in Kerala, a man allegedly assaulted his mother in the state of intoxication. People should get alcohol and drug rehabilitation. The supply of drugs from abroad should stop. The sale of alcohol should stop. Drugs are being sold outside schools. That should stop. In China, there was a movement against drugs. The dictatorial communist rule in China stopped the use of drugs. There should a movement against drugs and alcoholism in India. China curbed the use of drugs. China encouraged the long hours of hard work among people. People in our country don’t want to work hard. The country will develop only through hard work and by stopping the use of drugs and alcohol.

    PC: Did the Hindus of the country consolidate their vote for Modi?

    SS: We had said before the polls that we want a “Majboot” (strong) and not “Majboor” (weak) government. We have got a strong government.

    PC: Will he fulfil all the promises made?

    SS: He must.

    PC: What do you think?

    SS: It’s a test. If he scraps Article 370, if he renews the free flow of a clean Ganga, if he builds the Ram Temple, people will appreciate him.

    PC: Until when will you wait?

    SS: We will see. I will open my mouth when I need to. But let me tell you, I am not a Modi critic.

    PC: What are your expectations from Modi?

    SS: People have trusted him.

    PC: Should he make a Hindu Rashtra?

    SS: I am not talking about that. He must fulfil his promises. Article 370 should be scrapped. The Kahmiris will benefit from it. They will be accepted in India. Otherwise, they will be limited to ….

    PC: But the RSS talks about making a Hindu Rashtra. Do you agree with them?

    SS: We want a Ram Rajya. We don’t want Hindu Rashtra. We are people of principles.

    PC: Thanks for coming to our studio.


  5. writer’s conclusion “However, material quest and the urge for quick-fix solutions had overtaken people nowadays which are precisely the cause for deviating from the Hindu path. This has reached the heights of ignorance that people can be seen abusing the Shankaracharya without any thought. I do agree that people have all the liberty to pursue their own choice in seeking guidance from any person and worship him or her…” is most apt. hindus are most prone to abusing fellow hindus!


  6. In recorded history, Anadal was deified and there is separate shrine for Andal in most Vishnu temples.Her birth place has also become a temple. Even then she was not elevated on par with Vishnu but as a deity who directs her devotees to Vishnu Bhakthi.


  7. True. Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Only one human being has attained the status of a God in the last many centuries, that is Ayyappan who is the incarnation of Dharma Sasta.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: