The controversy over Dwarakapeeth Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati's statement on Sai Baba of Shirdi resulted in angry protests in some parts of the country on Tuesday.
The Maharashtra Police booked Swaroopanand after a Sai Baba devotee filed a complaint against him for saying "Sai Baba should not be worshipped as he was a human being and not a god".
While protesters burnt Swaroopanand's effigies in Haridwar, Shirdi and Varanasi, a section of saints came out in his support and sat on a hunger strike at Mumukshu Bhawan in Varanasi.
Issuing a statement from Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Swaroopanand had said on Monday, "Worshipping Sai Baba was a conspiracy to divide the Hindus. Sai Baba should not be worshipped as he was a human being and not a God, and his temples should not be built."
The police in Shirdi (Maharashtra), which is the home to Sai Baba, filed a case against Swaroopanand under sections 295A (outraging religious sentiments) and 298 (hurting religious sentiments) of IPC following a complaint by one Nitin Kote.
"We have filed a complaint against Shankaracharya Swaroopanand. We will probe the matter and act accordingly," said an official at Shirdi police station.
Reacting to the controversy, Swaroopanand reiterated his stand and showed no sign of relenting.
"Sai Baba used to say sabka malik ek hai (god is one for all). If so, why do Buddhists and Jains worship separate gods?" Swaroopanand asked, but acknowledged Sai Baba as a "great man".
"By building temples, Sai Baba's disciples are making mockery of the great man, who was a human being and not a god."
Shankaracharya added that Sai Baba devotees were free to worship the latter, but then they should not go to Hindu temples.
Manish Srivastava, a Sai Baba devotee in Varanasi, said, "Sai Baba never asked his devotees to worship him. Devotees of Sai Baba express their love for him by worshipping him."
"A saint (Shankaracharya) must not issue such remarks against another saint."
Sai Baba devotees also asked the Shankaracharya to withdraw his controversial statement.
However, after the effigy burning incident in Varanasi, several saints came out openly in support of Swaroopanand.
Several mahants of various ashrams of Varanasi also expressed their solidarity with him. Mahant Santosh Das of Satwa Baba ashram was one of them.
"Whatever the Shankaracharya has said is absolutely correct. Those who are burning his effigy must oppose him by their logic, if they have any," said Santosh Das.