Baba Budangiri Dargah or Dattatreya Peetha in Chickmagalur of Karnataka popularly referred to as Ayodhya of the South is in the news again. Recently, remarks by Hindu nationalist bloc including BJP ministers have worsened the situation.
They are armed with the Karnataka High Court order of 28 September 2021, which asked the state government to form a new committee to investigate the controversy as per law.
In this pretext, Karnataka Kannada and Culture Minister Suresh Karkala had asked Muslims to leave their claim on Baba Budangiri and remove the grave of 17th century Sufi Saint Baba Budan and his descendants from the disputed land.
Saint Baba Budan is considered to be the one who introduced coffee to the region.
The local BJP leaders have also asked Muslims to shift the graves to nearby Muslim villages [without naming which Muslim villages] immediately.
The HC order had no reference to the earlier Committee formed in 2018 in which the state government (under Indian National Congress) had allowed a government-appointed Muslim priest as a caretaker.
This irked many stakeholders who have been fighting for the Dargah since the controversy erupted.
Muslim organizations, especially Popular Front of India, had decided to file a petition against this HC order in the apex court. Meanwhile, the 15th generation grandson of Baba Budan was not in favour of questioning the HC order. He said it would further escalate the matter, possibly stirring communal tensions in the otherwise peaceful region.
For over three decades, Baba Budangiri or Sri Guru Dattatreya Swami Matha has been the centre of controversy. From the ’90s, BJP used this as a focal point to their political advantage.
The Karnataka High Court has rescinded the order issued by the then Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah, which allowed Mujawar (the priest who looks after rituals in Dargah) to perform daily rituals as usual.
With this latest order of the HC, the report of Justice HN Nagamohana Das is considered null and void, and the current state government under BJP have to form a new and fresh committee to end the controversy.
BJP National Secretary C T Ravi, MLA from Chickmagalur Assembly Constituency, has asked all Hindu priests to demand Hindu priests’ appointment in the Peetha.
Justice H N Nagamohana Das Committee
The case reached the Supreme Court in 2003. The Supreme Court directed the state government to consult with all concerned persons and decide who has a legitimate claim over the shrine. The state government set up a committee headed by retired High Court judge Nagamohan Das. The Committee received statements from all factions and submitted its report in December 2017.
The members of the Committee reviewed the various documents available from 1837 and came to a few conclusions. The first is the name of Shraddha Kendra – Sri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swami Dargah. It is undisputed that both Hindus and Muslims are devotees. Religious rituals – Fateha, offering flowers to burials and burial grounds, incense sticks, lanterns, flags, brawls, and pilgrimage.
It was said that the head of the branch should continue to be the ruler, and the Mujawar should perform the ritual. In a statement filed before the Supreme Court on March 10, 2010, by the Commissioner of Religious Endowment Fund, the Committee rejected the recommendation made by the Hindu Priests to appoint Hindu priests. The decision was taken based on the report submitted by the Nagamohan Das committee to the government.
What is the controversy?
The dispute focuses on the essential characteristics of the Shraddha Kendra. The local citizens’ forum for peace wanted the shrine to remain home to Sufi saints. Hereditary Administrator Shah Qadri wanted the shrine to stay under their control.
The Sreeguru Dattatreya Peetha Promotion Committee has demanded that it be the Hindu shrine of Dattatreya and allow Hindu priests to perform rituals.
The controversy arose in 1975. However, the controversy was not communal, but instead an administrative one. Then the Karnataka Waqf Board took the Dargah into its accession; the Administrative Officer went to court challenging the order of the Waqf Board. In 1980, the Chikmagalur district court ordered the Dargah to be re-shifted to the Muzarayi department. And in its judgment, it said that it is a spiritual place for both Hindus and Muslims.
The controversy went up again when the government tried to take Shraddha Kendra into its own hands. The Karnataka High Court, in its 1980 verdict, directed the Commissioner of Religious Endowment Department to recognize and order the rituals prevailing at Shraddha Kendra before the 19th century. Accordingly, the Commissioner listed the practices in 1989.
In 2003, the Committee (Samvardhana Samithi) challenged the order in the High Court. The High Court ordered a fresh investigation into the matter in 2007. The Supreme Court upheld the decision in 2008. The court had asked the state government to maintain the status quo, which had been in practice since 1989.
In 2010, the then government filed its report in a closed envelope. The then Charitable Endowment Fund Commissioner had recommended the appointment of Hindu priests for customary rituals.
Politics at play
Datta Jayanti, Datta Mala Abhiyan, Anasuya Jayanti, Shobha Yatra, Sankirtana Yatra — so many such programs demanded that the place be declared a holy place for Hindus. It has been many years since the BJP and its supporters have launched new rituals to politicize the same issue.
Ananta Kumar, Union Minister, once stated in 2003 that “Bababudanagiri will become the Ayodhya of South India”. Before that, in 1999, Ananta Kumar Hegde was the one who threatened to send a suicide squad to free the Dattapeeta from the clutches of the Muslims. He was later appointed as Union Minister for Skill Development in Modi Government.
Dattamala campaign, Datta Jayanti, is held every year. Thousands of Hindutva activists participate in the event. These processions are usually used for hate and provocative slogans. Congregations were exploited to spread communal hatred.
One who is aware of the tradition and conventions of this region would not fall into the Sangh Parivar’s communal trap. This is why many progressive minds of the country have taken to the streets against the politics of the Sangh Parivar, which is trying to disqualify the communal harmony prevailing in the region.
There are historical documents to support the argument. Pilgrims from across the religion have been praying in this land for centuries.
The document says that it was originally said to be the Dargah of the Sufi saint Dada Hayat Mir Khalandar. Locals believe that he was a companion of the Prophet Mohammed who came to the locality as part of Islamic propagation and later settled down in the region. For the same reason, this hill is also called ‘dada ka pahad’ (Dada’s Mountain). Simultaneously, the Hindus believe that it is a three-faced Dattatreya site. It can be observed here that both the words Dada Hayat and Dattatreya sound alike. Then, another Sufi, Baba Budan, came and settled there. It is said that he is the one who brought coffee to this part. Since then, his descendants have been serving as administrators.
According to the records of the Mysore State, a total of 9788 pilgrims visited the place between 1904-05. 7,337 (Seven thousand two hundred thirty-seven) were Muslims, 638 were Hindus, 83 were Brahmins, 140 Gosaias, 984 Fakirs, and 706 Parayas. (Brahmins are distinguished from Hindus in that list). Thus, much historical evidence proves that this is not a shrine to any religion. Instead, it is a place with a friendly heritage background that brings everyone together.
For many years, Hindu pilgrims performed their rituals through Muslim priests — Mujawars — until the onset of Hindutva politics. Mujawar has been practising religious rituals ever since.
The verdict is now on the petition filed by the Datta Peetha Promotion Conservation Committee challenging the government order. The government has to decide what comes next. The previous government had appointed a committee to gather the opinion of all the factions. We have to wait and see what turn it will take under the BJP government.
Technically, the cabinet can take a decision and issue an order. If anyone has any objection to the decision, it can be questioned only in court, leading to another judicial fight.