The phenomenon of God is probably the most complex one in the World. For believers there is a range of belief system about the supernatural powers. For agnostics it is ‘I don’t know’ and for atheists there is no supernatural power.
The systems of thought relevant to the topic range from Animists, polytheists, tri-theists (Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh), Monotheists (single Universal God) to Atheists. In the concept of God we have god as a physical being to formless the God.
Hinduism, too, have a Goddess each for Wealth (Laxmi), Knowledge (Sarswati) and Power (Durga). They also have a God each for lightening (Indra) air (Marut) sex (Kamdev) liquor (Som devta) amongst the plethora of the divine powers.
Hindu mythology is a rainbow exposition of the diversity and complexity of the lives of Gods and Goddesses. There is no fixed timeline of the phenomenon of God. Diverse concepts begin in different time periods. From animism, the most ancient concept to polytheism-monotheism and atheism come up over a period of time but not in a sequential fashion. Simultaneously, there come up the traditions of Charvak, Buddhism and Jainism which either do not talk about God or deny the existence of God. While today the prophet based religions like Christianity and Islam have a definitive concept, the Hindu religion has plethora of divine powers, Hinduism also has assimilated the diverse concepts, which merrily co-exist.
Last three decades in particular while on one hand one saw the plethora of Godmen like Mahesh Yogi, Rajneesh, J.Krishnamurthy, Asaram Bapu, Satya Sai baba (Bhagwan) coming to the fore, the popularity of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Mata Vaishno Devi has gone up exponentially.
Bhagwan Satya Sai, who died few years ago, had vast following and he was regarded as the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai baba. At the same time Shirdi Sai pilgrimage became very popular and his temples came up in most cities. Sai Baba of Shirdi has a beautiful syncretic background. While he was born in a Muslim family he came up more in Sufi tradition and intermingled with equal affection amongst Hindus as well as Muslims.
His major focus was bringing Hindus and Muslims together. One major landmark in his life will give the essence of his efforts. In 1896 he instituted the annual Sufi ‘URS’ festival with the explicit purpose of bringing these two communities together. In 1912 he combined this Urs with Hindu Ram Navami festival. This effort of his strengthened his Sufi initiative of co-operation, symbiosis and tolerance. During the festival Hindus would worship in the mosque along with Muslims, each community following their own rituals. The Baba would put the sandalwood paste on the forehead of Mlahspati, the priest of local Khandoba temple, who in turn would reciprocate the gesture.
Baba was deeply steeped in humanism, the core of all religions, and so initially Muslims as well as Hindus started respecting him.
By and by more and more of Hindus started worshipping him and today he is more of a Hindu deity than a Muslim one. In Hinduism as such there is a scope for new Gods and Goddesses also (e.g. Santoshi Ma, Satyanarayan). Apart from Sai Baba; Swami Parmhans is another one who has been raised to the level of divinity, and his more famous disciple Swami Vivekananda, also started a mission in his name.
The controversy around worshipping of Sai Baba was raised by Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand (June
2014) who described Shirdi Sai baba as a Muslim ascetic, and proclaimed that he cannot be worshipped like a Hindu deity. He also said that his campaign is to protect the Hindu religion and that he will continue irrespective.
Sadhvi Uma Bharti currently Union Minister of Water Resources, who was one of the prominent figures in Ram Temple agitation, leading to demolition of Babri masjid and deepening the dividing line between Hindu and Muslim is also worshipper of Sai baba. In a letter to Swaroopanand she explained the rationale behind her statement where she had said that looking upon someone as a god was people’s personal choice.
People should be left to their own wisdom in matters of the faith. Imposing, asserting a particular version from the interpretation of the texts does complicate the matters.
While on the topic of God, recently a book has come out, “Why Atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky” written by Nigel Barber. This book predicts that religions, believers, will become a minority Vis a Vis the practice of secularism in the decade of 2040s.
If the prediction is right, world would be a safer place in 2040 and onwards.