Storm is gathering along the banks of river Ganges. Emergency calls of ‘dharma yuddha’ are ringing across the akharas of naga sadhus who have been asked to stand up now to protect the ‘sanatan dharma’-Hindu religion. The militant naga sadhus have been tasked with “restoring the lost glory of the religion” that can be allegedly harmed by followers of certain deified figures, like Sai Baba of Shirdi. Entangled with the war cry is the ‘honour’ of a Shankaracharya who feels Sai Baba is certainly not an incarnation of God.
To buttress this view of the Shankaracharya across the Hindu matrix, the akhara leaders have asked all the naga sadhus to assemble in Prayag (Allahabad) and Haridwar. Their target would be to formulate a strategy on “demolishing the belief that Sai Baba was a God.” The naga sadhus are believed to be in a state of meditation (tapasya) round the year, except during the Shahi Snan in Kumbh. But now they have been asked to take a break from asceticism and get ready for a war to save the religion. There are about two lakh naga sadhus in the country. Observers say in case the naga sadhus take to the streets, it could be a major law and order problem.
It all began recently when Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, objected to the worship of 19th-century religious figure Sai Baba by the Hindus. Swami Swaroopanand had said Sai Baba of Shirdi was a Muslim and Hindus should not worship him. He had also claimed that Sai Baba was declared a Hindu avatar by those who have been trying to weaken the Hindu religion.
All of it irked hundreds and thousands of Sai Baba’s followers who are now gunning for the Shankaracharya. Swami Swaroopanand’s effigies were burnt and there have been allegations that his stance will promote enmity between the communities. CAUGHT in the middle of it is BJP leader and Union minister Uma Bharti who had supported worshipping Sai Baba. Bharti had even said in Haridwar that she sees a “bhagwat satta” (presence of God) in Sai Baba, much to the chagrin of the Shankaracharya and his supporters. The Shankaracharya retorted by saying that he used to think Bharti was a follower of Lord Ram, but she actually followed a Muslim and because of that she failed to construct the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Interestingly, Swami Swaroopanand is known to be a harsh critic of the BJP, PM Narendra Modi and the Ram temple movement.
He is perceived to be close to the Congress. His jibes come at a time when the BJP is in power. Meanwhile, Swaroopanand’s anti-Sai Baba stance has been criticised by many. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had said Swaroopanand’s criticism of Sai Baba was unnecessary. Two days ago, RSS leader Indresh Kumar said in Varanasi that the Shankaracharya shouldn’t interfere into the religious affairs of others. “I feel that the saints and seers shouldn’t interfere into the affairs of others concerning gods and goddesses,” Kumar had said.
Manath Gyan Das, former chief of Akhara Parishad, said, “It is a nonissue. We cannot stop people from worshipping a particular spiritual guru. But Swaroopanand is creating unnecessary controversy for strange reasons.” But, the Shankaracharya’s supporters are in no mood to relent.
They think any attack on their spiritual figurehead -who is revered as a God-is nothing short of an emergency. So, they are counting on the naga sadhus.
Govindanand Brahmchari, secretary of Agni Akhara, said, “There is a religious emergency now and the naga sadhus are expected to take up the job actually assigned by Adi Shanka-racharya who founded the akharas in the eighth century to train the sadhus as protectors of religion. We have asked them to assemble in Prayag and Haridwar.”Acharya Narendra Giri, secretary of Niranjani Akhara said, “Some of our members have already started removing the idol of Sai Baba from the temples… The disrespect that Sai followers have shown towards the Shankaracharya wouldn’t be ignored. Our weapon-wielding sadhus would soon take up the issue.